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Law enforcement officers are always grateful when they receive tips, especially when the information thwarts a crime in the making.
That’s exactly what happened Sunday, May 11, when an acquaintance of Joseph Ray Hegler took the teen’s threats seriously enough to alert authorities about a plot the 19-year-old was hatching.
As a result, Hegler, of 4345 Taxahaw Road, was charged with attempted murder and attempted kidnapping.
“We are extremely fortunate that someone came forward with the information needed to get this investigation started,” said Lancaster County Sheriff Barry Faile.
“We are thankful we were able to bring this investigation to a conclusion so quickly before Hegler was able to hurt someone.”
Faile said he has little doubt Hegler planned to kidnap and murder another man he was angry with due to that man’s relationship with a woman.
From the facts, detectives were able to ascertain, that’s what Hegler had in mind, according to a Lancaster Sheriff’s Department incident report released Tuesday, May 13.
“In all my years of law enforcement experience, I’ve never seen anything quite like this before,” Faile said.
Not only did Hegler intend to kill the man, but the report paints a grisly picture of what he had in mind. According to the report, the informant said Hegler planned to dismember his victim’s body with an axe, place it in separate trash bags and wrap the head in a towel or cloth, before making concrete blocks with them and disposing of them in a river or pond.
“Any time and every time we get information, we continue to follow through on every bit of it until we can prove otherwise,” Faile said.
The report said a deputy was approached by someone in the sheriff’s office parking lot on Pageland Highway about 4:30 p.m. Sunday, who told him what Hegler was going to do in the upcoming days and how he had been planning the crime for about two weeks.
“The subject realized Hegler was serious about committing the act; they felt they needed to contact law enforcement,” the report said.
Hegler planned to place sticks and branches in the intended victim's driveway, the report states, then, when the victim returned home and got out of his vehicle to remove them, Hegler planned to approach him with a gun and force the man to drive to a remote location off Tabernacle Road.
Hegler then planned to “have a talk” with the man before shooting or murdering him, the report said.
“The subject stated the only part of the plan Hegler had not figured out was what he was going to do with (the victim’s) vehicle,” the report said.
The informant also told deputies Hegler had a .22-caliber pistol, but had gotten rid of it because he didn’t like how it fired, and was looking for another one. The report also said Hegler had a .22-caliber rifle at his home and if he couldn’t get another pistol, would use whatever he had.
The report said the informant told deputies Hegler had a machete, a night stick, a baton and baseball bats, including one that had been sawed-off “to make it easier to swing as a club,” as well as knives he had hidden in a trailer washroom.
When investigators talked with the woman, the report said she told them Hegler recently sneaked into her high school, where he was not a student. Hegler walked in to her classroom carrying a book bag, gave her flowers and walked out, completely undetected, the report said.
Faile said the woman had not filed any kind of police reports about Hegler’s activities or his behavior at the school that day.
Sticks in the driveway
Investigators then visited Hegler’s intended victim.
When the man learned about the “sticks in the driveway,” he told the investigator he came home a few nights ago to find sticks and branches strewn across his driveway and got out of his car to move them.
“At this point, (he) appeared very scared and I told him this might be a test by Hegler to see if that part of his plan was going to succeed,” the report said.
Before leaving, the investigator urged the man to be careful and notify authorities if he saw anything else suspicious.
On Sunday, the informant told investigators Hegler planned to kidnap and kill the man that night.
Hegler was arrested at a traffic stop at Buford Crossroads about 10:30 p.m. Sunday.
A release said Hegler was wearing rubber gloves at the time of his arrest and was “armed with a number of weapons.”
A search of the vehicle Hegler was driving also turned up duct tape, handcuffs, a flashlight, skinning knives, clean clothes, trash bags, bleach, a 5-gallon can of gasoline and an ax, according to the release.
After Hegler’s arrest, deputies went to his home with a search warrant.
A family member there told investigators a red car parked there belonged to him, and that it had been broken down for several weeks.
Deputies asked the family member to open the trunk, where they had been told Hegler had hidden the concrete mix.
When he did, the report said he seemed “genuinely surprised” to see six 10-pound bags of concrete mix in the trunk. There was also a bag of concrete mix on the porch, though he did not know why it was there, the report said.
“There is no doubt in our minds what was going on,” Faile said. “These investigators and deputies did an outstanding job. We’ve always talked about and stressed the importance of building strong community relationships. Thank goodness we were able to follow through on it and keep something from happening.”
Hegler remains jailed at the Lancaster County Detention Center. His bond has been denied.
The S.C. Judicial Department online data base shows no previous violent crimes charges or arrests of Hegler. This past January, he was found guilty of a seatbelt violation during a bench trial and fined.
Contact copy editor Greg Summers at (803) 283-1156