2 charged in horrific killing

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Gunshot followed by slow death, dismemberment, burning, burial

By Greg Summers

Seasoned law officers and crime-scene technicians were mortified Thursday by what they discovered during a day-long search at a residence off S.C. 200 south of Lancaster.
A teenager’s torso, with no head or limbs, was buried in the yard at 1838 High Point Circle. A head was found behind a building underneath several bags. A barrel contained burnt body parts. Human bones were strewn across the property and in a box stashed under a mobile home.
“I just wouldn’t have believed it,” Lancaster County Sheriff Barry Faile said at a Friday afternoon press conference. "It’s probably one of the worse cases I’ve experienced in my 28 years” as a law officer.
Faile said investigators believe the slain teen was Austin Tyler Steele, who would have celebrated his 19th birthday Friday.
The husband and wife who Steele lived with in a small mobile home there have been charged in his death. 
Christopher Allen Holford, 30, was charged Thursday with murder, possession of a firearm during a violent crime, aggravated domestic violence and failure to register as a sex offender. Holford is jailed at the county detention center, and his bond has been denied.
Holford’s wife, Brandy Nicole Faye Duncan, 19, was charged Friday with accessory after the fact of murder. A magistrate set Duncan’s bond at $220,000. As of press time Friday, she was still in jail.
Holford was already in custody when the victim’s body was found.
Lancaster police arrested him about 3:30 a.m. Thursday at the Springs Memorial Hospital emergency room for criminal domestic violence. According to an incident report, a nurse told police that Holford had hit his pregnant wife in the back and pushed her down.
Duncan, the report said, told officers that Holford “often commits acts of violence toward her” and “that he is a killer and she knows he is a killer.” 


Motive unknown
The sheriff said Holford, Duncan and Steele were friends.
Authorities still haven’t come up with a motive for Steele’s murder. Investigators believe he was shot in the neck on the property sometime between Jan. 29 and Feb. 12, Faile said. A preliminary autopsy report shows Steele died from a single gunshot wound.
It appears Steele lived into the night, but died the next morning, according to investigators. Holford then allegedly dismembered the body and concealed the body parts on the propert with Duncan’s help, according to the arrest warrants. Faile noted that the remains were well hidden.
According to her arrest warrant, Duncan “was present for the shooting” and tried to help Steele live through the night, but didn’t “notify law enforcement or emergency medical services at any point” until Friday.
“This is stuff like you see on TV,” Faile said. “I would never imagine that we would find… someone living in Lancaster capable of doing this kind of thing.”
Steele had been living with the couple for just over a month, but had not been seen for about three weeks.
The teenager had not been reported missing, and the remains found Thursday still haven’t been positively identified as Steele, though a sheriff’s office release said investigators conducting interviews are satisfied that it’s him.
So is Lancaster County Coroner Karla Deese, though DNA test results are still pending.
“No death investigation is without mental burden, but this particular case, from initial notification, to recovery, to processing is very haunting and disturbing,” Deese said.
Faile said Steele’s family has been notified. He did not say where they are.
“You can imagine what they’re going through,” Faile said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to them and we want to do all we can to bring some closure in the case.” 

Tip to authorities
Faile said an acquaintance of the three tipped off authorities about the crime around 5:30 a.m. Thursday. The complainant told deputies she had been told that a murder had occurred at the home several weeks ago. 
Deputies, he said, had been to that area of High Point Circle for disturbances before, but never for any violent crimes. High Point Circle is off S.C. 200 just south of Airport Road.
“Our deputies documented what they could and immediately started trying to verify the information,” Faile said.
Investigators were called in and were able to get search warrants for 1834 and 1838 High Point Circle.
SLED crime-scene investigators were also called in to assist the sheriff’s crime-scene technicians as other investigators and detectives worked the case.
A handler with a cadaver dog from Foothills Search and Rescue as well as a forensic anthropologist from the Richland County Coroner’s Office were also summoned to help the Lancaster coroner’s office and investigators with the effort.
They worked through the night and were still recovering evidence at the scene Friday morning.

Follow reporter Greg Summers on Twitter @GregSummersTLN or contact him at (803) 283-1156.