Improved technology in the last several decades has made surveillance cameras an increasingly useful tool for police investigations, including during the search for 20-year-old Heather Elvis.
Camera footage, in part, prompted the arrests of Tammy, 42, and Sidney Moorer, 38, and a search of the couple’s home on Secondary Highway 814 in February, according to police and statements Monday from senior 15th Judicial Circuit solicitor Donna Elder.
The Moorers are charged with murder and kidnapping in connection with Elvis’ disappearance. The Socastee woman was reported missing Dec. 19 and her body has not been found.
Dennis Cangelosi, president of the Coastal Carolina Shield, which is a group of retired law enforcement officers, said he wishes surveillance cameras were more readily available when he was an officer in Rockland County Township in New York. He retired about 20 years ago and said there weren’t many cameras to help his investigations.
“When I started in the 70s, it was a rare occurrence that you had cameras,” Cangelosi said. “Unless the crime happened at a jewelry store or a bank, there were very few cameras used in the public.”
He said now, it’s hard to move throughout major cities like Manhattan without being caught on public surveillance cameras.
Cangelosi said his cases often relied on witnesses, which aren’t always as reliable as video.
“Eye witnesses are not as great a tool because you can have three people see the same crime and give you three different descriptions of the assailant,” he said. “Different things in peoples lives will cause them to see different things. Physical evidence is the best testimony because physical evidence doesn’t lie.”
Myrtle Beach has such cameras, primarily on Ocean Boulevard, and police Capt. David Knipes said they have been useful in investigations over the years.
Surfside Beach and Pawleys Island are the most recent agencies in the area to add the technology, having installed cameras last fall.
In Pawleys Island,cameras are in place to look at licenses plates of every vehicle that enters the island, said Police Chief Mike Fanning.
He said the photographs of tags are run through State Law Enforcement Division records and the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles and sends the department alerts for wanted cars, stolen cars, amber alerts, sex offenders and suspended vehicles.
Cangelosi said with video and technology such as facial recognition software that has been developed in the last few decades, it’s become easier to use surveillance cameras as a tool to solve crimes.
Elder said during a bond hearing Monday for the Moorers that Horry County police found video of the roadway on the route between the Moorer home and the Peachtree Boat Landing that showed a pickup truck going down the road to the boat landing and then returning the same route a short time later on the night before police found Elvis’ vehicle at the landing. Video surveillance was captured at a private home and a business.
The video from the house, which is 1.7 miles from the Moorer’s home, showed a pickup truck going to the boat landing at 3:36 a.m. Dec. 18, Elder said. At the business, which is a mile from the first camera and closer to the landing, the vehicle passes at 3:39 a.m. that night, she said.
At 3:45 a.m. Dec. 18, the business video shows the truck traveling back toward the Moorer home and less than a minute later the truck speeds by the house toward the Moorer home, Elder said.
Horry County police found Elvis’ vehicle Dec. 19 parked at the boat landing and the investigation into her whereabouts began. Her purse, car keys and cell phone were not found in the locked car, authorities said.
The video surveillance of the vehicle was sent to the FBI in Quantico, Va., and to the S.C. Highway Patrol’s Multi-Disciplinary Accident Investigation Team with a request to identify the vehicle, Elder said. The agencies sent reports that the truck was a 2013 or 2014 Ford F-150, that is dark with silver toolbox in the bed, a moon roof, silver rims and high-end bulbs in the headlights.
MAIT Team investigators learned there were 82 such trucks registered to owners living in Horry County, so they went and visually inspected 81 trucks, Elder said. She said the last of those trucks was owned by the Moorers, so police got a search warrant and executed it on Feb. 21.
Defense attorneys, during the hearing Monday, disputed that the video connects the couple to the case.
Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381, or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_akelley.