Sisters search for clues in 40-year-old cold case
It’s been 40 years since Linda Mazetis was last in Myrtle Beach, a place to which she promised never to return. Her sister was murdered here.
Linda sat in the front seat and her other sister Donna sat in the back seat on their way to visit the area where a murderer left Nancy Mazetis beaten and shot.
Linda’s eyes strained on a printout of The Sun News from June 27, 1978. Tears filled her eyes as she read each paragraph.
“I hadn’t read that before,” said Linda, the most emotional of the three sisters, holding a Kleenex to her eye. It was the first time Linda read the initial news report about how Nancy was battered and how a stranger found her in a ditch. “Just how much suffering she went through.”
She quickly passed the article back to Donna. Half to get it out of her sight, half so Donna could read the account.
Minutes later the two sisters were standing where, 40 years before, Nancy died. They were about a half-mile south of the U.S. 501 bridge near the Intracoastal Waterway. The location is just a best guess based on descriptions and photographs of Fantasy Harbour in 1978.
The sisters talked about Nancy’s personality, growing up in Massachusetts, why she was five miles from her usual spots, their family, and what the last 40 years have been like without answers.
It was then that Donna, who keeps an emotional distance from most, started to cry as she thought about the story and Nancy’s last moments.
“It’s the first time I really know how much pain and how much hurt she was going through.”
Linda’s tears parted for just a moment as the realization of Nancy’s last seconds took hold.
“I’m angry because I read the story,” Linda grumbled, livid over the terror Nancy certainly felt. “It had to be someone who she knew.”
‘If she came home’
The Mazetis family is half Lithuanian and half Italian — with some Boston culture, and areas where they grew up, mixed in for good measure.
Outwardly, Nancy was all Lithuanian. She stood 5-foot-4, weighed 120 pounds, with dirty blonde hair cut to a perfect late-1970s shoulder length. She had green doe eyes that led to the nickname “Bambi.”
There was still plenty of Italian. There is a picture of Nancy with her fingers pointed together, her right hand raised giving the photographer hell and telling him to “fuhgeddaboutit” at the same time.
All arms and legs, Nancy also was athletic and strong. Easily able to do a pullup unlike Linda.
Nancy was the middle sister of the Mazetis clan.
Linda is the youngest and self-professed ugly baby. She also was closest with Nancy. Linda is taller than her sisters and maintains some of the Boston accent despite leaving the area as a young adult.
Whether it was 1978 or 2018, Linda’s curly black hair is one of her most distinguishable features as it grows outwards, not down.
Her height led to her nickname, and she and Nancy were known as Bigfoot and Bambi in their year on the Grand Strand.
Donna is the oldest and likes to serve as mother hen. She is shorter and has a keep-everybody-at-arms-length defense. In 1978, she was a bit estranged from her sisters.
There was a hint of jealousy between Donna and Nancy. Nancy stole her clothes and shoes and stretched them out, Donna laments. There also was the time Nancy won a writing contest despite not following the regulations. The prize? A basset-hound named “Davitt.”
Nancy was the artistic one of the three, which led her mind to work differently than most people, as Linda put it.
“She could look at a picture and duplicate it,” Donna bragged. “If she heard the harmony of a song, she could sing it five minutes later.”
Music stations were often set to some offbeat or alternative while in the Boston area. The FM dial regularly set to WBCN and Linda couldn’t remember the AM favorite.
The family also grew up listening to musicals, “we used to sing all the time when we were younger,” Linda recalled.
Nancy dropped out of high school in the 10th grade, Linda said, and she thought her sister never finished her education. Despite her talents, Linda felt her sister had an attention-deficit disorder, which nobody diagnosed in the 1970s.
After dropping out, Nancy worked odd jobs and left for Alaska.
As the sisters reached their late teens and early 20s, Linda fled the harsh Northeast winters. Donna remained in Massachusetts. Linda first moved to Myrtle Beach and worked at a two-bit hotel in exchange for rent.
Nancy soon followed her sister to the Grand Strand. For the pair, Myrtle Beach mornings consisted of breakfast at a North Kings Highway K-Mart and then time at the beach. Afternoons were waiting on golfers at the Sea Mist, which at that time was a Doo Wop hotel featuring a couple of buildings and a restaurant near a sprawling beach. Today, it’s a block-long entertainment complex in the heart of Myrtle Beach.
Nights were spent playing billiards and pinball at My Brother’s Tavern or other dive bars. The sisters lived in an apartment along 21st Avenue South, within walking distance of everything in that life.
It was the late 1970s, so hanging out and living care-free was part of the picture. Linda followed a boy to Louisiana. Nancy stayed behind, but talked about returning to Massachusetts. Donna discouraged that idea.
Two weeks later, Nancy was brutally murdered.
“After that, I felt guilty for years,” Donna admitted. “If she came home, maybe she wouldn’t have been murdered.”
‘A lot of denial’
Someone knows who killed Nancy Mazetis, but they aren’t talking.
A 67-year-old mechanical worker found Nancy on June 26, 1978, around 9:30 a.m. in a dragline ditch. The dragline created by a large, red excavator that was present in pictures of the crime scene. Short weeds grew from the sand in the area where Nancy’s body was found. Trees lined the area closer to the Intracoastal Waterway.
Nancy was beaten and shot in the neck.
The next morning Horry County police officers, wearing white shirts and dark slacks, processed the scene.
Linda said officers stated they found evidence under Nancy’s fingernails, which led to a belief she fought off her attacker. There also were barefoot prints and tire tracks at the scene. Nancy had a $20 bill in her pocket — which Linda was once given, but no longer has — making it unlikely that it was a robbery-gone-wrong.
The sisters say Nancy had to know her killer given the evidence and her background. Nancy had a bad experience as a hitchhiker years before so she wouldn’t have gotten into a stranger’s car.
There only are guesses as to how Nancy ended up in that ditch, which is why in 2018 Nancy’s murder remains unsolved and one of Horry County’s oldest cold cases.
Identifying Nancy based on remains was an arduous task in 1978. Police provided her physical description to the news. They also took to downtown streets and placed photos asking for help identifying the victim.
Diane Bevis was a close friend to both Linda and Nancy. She spent her Myrtle Beach, early-adult days selling jewelry near the Bowery and free time with the sisters. She remembered the posters didn’t have Nancy’s face, only a picture of her hand with a silver ring with Malachite stone.
Another friend, Gene, recognized the ring and told police it was Nancy, Diane recalled.
Nobody knew where she was living before the murder — possibly a small room somewhere. Friends guessed at the murderer’s identity.
“I don’t know if we ever got more information from police. I didn’t. Maybe Linda’s family did,” Diane said.
Linda remembered the call when a friend said Nancy was dead. The caller said, “Diane said, your sister Nancy, is dead.” Linda didn’t hear it correctly and said Diane was a friend, not her sister.
“It took me probably several times before it really registered that it was my sister who died,” Linda said. When it finally did, “Sad? No. I’m absolutely mortified. How else do you feel? A lot of denial. Then I don’t know. I must have called my mom.”
Two weeks later, Horry police paid for Linda to fly from Boston, where she was for Nancy’s funeral, to Myrtle Beach to talk about the killing. Investigators kept trying to show Linda pictures of Nancy’s murdered corpse.
“Look at this one, this one is not so bad,” Linda remembered police telling her. “No I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to be … I don’t know how at 19 I had the balls to say no I’m not going to look at this.”
She didn’t want those images to be the last memories of Nancy.
Police also pushed a theory that an escaped convict committed the crime, Nancy remembered. She said she tried to give officers information, but they weren’t listening.
“I wasn’t any help to them at all because whatever I said to them they really didn’t take stock in.”
“Whatever I told them, my gut feelings … I still believed it was someone she knew,” Linda said. “She was probably going to get high with them. And I think he probably made a sexual advance and she didn’t like it and I think things escalated and I still think it was to this day someone we both knew.”
Reporter John Monk, who now works at The State newspaper in Columbia, worked in Myrtle Beach in 1978. He didn’t remember much of the case, but says there wasn’t public pressure to solve it.
“I never really … I mean I’ve wondered,” Linda said of who killed her sister, “and when they asked me to come down, I wanted to help. Yes, I wanted to find out who did it. I thought I knew at the time.”
Now, 40 years later, Linda seems resigned to fate and knowing it’s impossible to change the investigation long ago.
“What do you do?”
‘We’re still coming’
The sisters lost their grandmother and then their father in the years just before Nancy’s killing. It was Bambi’s death that changed Linda.
“That one catapulted me at 19 [to think], ‘Hey you know this may be the last time I talk to you, I want to be nice,’” Linda explained.
The family wondered who killed Nancy, yet it never morphed into anger as the case remained unsolved.
Nancy’s case weighed on the sister’s mom, Angela, who was devastated over burying a child.
Nancy died in the age of disco and Star Wars, not social media. Nobody in the community made it their project to keep the case alive through Facebook posts. No investigative television shows. There were no true-crime podcasts.
America’s Most Wanted called Angela in the 1990s to feature the case, but she didn’t know the program and declined. She later admitted she wished she participated. Angela died in 2015.
While Nancy’s killing is cold, police plan to take a fresh look at the case.
Horry County Police Detective Jack Johnson declined to talk specifics about the Mazetis case. Recently, a Samuel Little, 79, admitted to dozens of murders spanning decades across the country. He was connected to a 1978 murder in the Columbia area, The State reported. Horry officials say they are looking to see if Little is connected to any of their cases, but can’t yet say if he is a suspect in any specific crime.
Johnson leads a group of 12 volunteers — mostly retired cops from other areas — that reviews cold cases in Horry County. There is no specific definition or wait time before a case becomes cold, Johnson said. Typically cases should be reviewed every eight to 12 years because technology and relationships change.
For example, in the 1980s nobody knew about DNA and it being used to solve crimes. People also might have been hesitant to talk when the crime occurred, but it has weighed on their conscience for decades.
The evidence in each cold case is reviewed and scored not only solvability, but the chance to get a conviction, Johnson said. Many of the times they can see the lead investigators had, but they didn’t pan out for whatever reason.
Reviewing decades-old cases is an effort to give the victim’s family some answers.
“If you think you’re getting away with it,” Johnson said, “we’re still coming after you.”
‘Still be my friend’
Linda first proposed returning to Myrtle Beach for the first time in 40 years. She never explained why she volunteered to visit. For Donna the reason was apparent, the self-dubbed “bulldog” wanted answers from Horry County police.
She was unhappy with the one paragraph and two crime scene photographs HCPD provided as a result of a Freedom of Information Act Request The Sun News filed to research this story.
The sisters wanted to see the handwritten notes, the photographs, the leads, the evidence from 1978. As part of their trip, they had a morning meeting with some officials from the department — including Det. Johnson.
The Sun News wasn’t allowed in the meeting, but the sisters did learn a bit more information about the investigation and the current status. They said that case file might have been destroyed in Hurricane Hugo flooding of the old storage area — a jail cell in the basement of the old courthouse.
Someone also looked into the case at the start of the 21st century, but no information about who or why.
Police interviewed a suspect in the 1970s and, obviously, no arrest followed. That suspect’s whereabouts are not easily tracked down 40 years later.
After 48 hours in Myrtle Beach, the sisters left no closer to knowing who killed Nancy. But, they seemed OK after meeting with police and some of the information learned. Though they still don’t know why someone looked at the case file in 2001.
If life took a different turn, Linda believes she and Nancy would have remained close. For Nancy, who knows where her path would have led? Maybe she’d be a long time Grand Strand resident. Maybe she’d move away again.
Linda believes they would still be close and playing pool in the basement of her suburban-Atlanta home, just like at My Brother’s Tavern.
“I know she’d still be my friend,” Linda confidently declared.
After Nancy’s death, Linda had constant thoughts about her. Those memories dissipated over time, until this story brought them back.
Donna reported that Linda would frequently retreat to her basement and cry after talking with The Sun News. That’s who she was and how she deals with the memories. Linda turned on a Bonnie Raitt album — who the sisters had a life-size cutout of in their Myrtle Beach apartment — and processed.
Bonnie Raitt is one of several triggers that causes memories of Bambi to flood her mind.
“When they hit, they hit just as hard,” Linda says, “It doesn’t get any easier. When it hits, it’s still a tidal wave. It’s not just a little. It still hurts.”