Episode 87-Missing and Murdered in Columbia, S.C.

Mike O’Boyle

On the morning of Tuesday, May 27, 1980, 20-year-old Eugene Carmichael “Mike” O’Boyle left his home in West Columbia and drove to the Shandon area of town to pick up a friend who was going to work on his car. The friend, a 29-year-old student and part-time mechanic named Chris Clifton, was not home when the two were supposed to meet. He came back to his home about 15 minutes after their designated meeting time and found the note and apartment key he’d left for Mike undisturbed. Mike’s roommate, a young man named Bobby Burch, called his father on Wednesday to let him know his son hadn’t returned home Tuesday night. At first, his dad, Peter O’Boyle, didn’t think much of it. After all, Mike was a media arts student at the University of South Carolina and had his own life going on. He had also worked as a page in the South Carolina Senate.

But when he didn’t come back home on Wednesday night, either, his family grew concerned and started retracing their son’s steps. They contacted the authorities on Thursday. On Friday, Peter received a letter from the previous owner of Mike’s car, telling him the 1974 Volkswagen Dasher had been found burning on a side street near the intersection of Parklane Drive and Farrow Road. The previous owners had not yet transferred the title of the car to Mike, as it was a recent purchase, and that’s why they received notification of the burned vehicle. There was still no trace of Mike, though. An investigation later determined on the Tuesday Mike was supposed to meet his friend Chris Clifton, he was at a Citizen and Southern Branch near I-20 cashing a $17 check sometime between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. that day. It was the last known sighting of Mike O’Boyle. At the time he went missing he stood six feet tall, weighed about 150 pounds, and had brown hair and blue eyes.

Despite the discovery of the burned car, the Richland County and Lexington County Sheriff’s Departments and the State Law Enforcement Division publicly stated Mike was considered a missing person rather than a victim of “foul play,” according to an article that ran in The Columbia Record on August 25, 1980. Along the way, there had been tips that Mike might still be alive. A bartender in the Five Points district thought he sold a bottle of champagne to a man that looked like Mike O’Boyle the July after he went missing. While Mike didn’t love academics, he did dream of finding a good job in the broadcasting industry when he graduated college. He got along well with his friends and family. No one thought Mike had any reason to leave on his own that day in late May of 1980.

In early December 1980, two boys playing in some woods about a mile from where Mike’s burned-out car was found came across a set of skeletal remains. A forensic odontologist from Spartbanburg helped make the positive ID from Mike O’Boyle’s dental records. At the time, the coroner said it was too early to try and determine how the young man had died, but it appeared the remains had been in those woods for some time, possibly as long as Mike had been missing. They announced they would handle Mike O’Boyle’s case as a homicide going forward.

The case went cold. Local news outlet WISTV 10 ran a story about the unsolved murder in 2006. An investigator with the Richland County Cold Case Unit said they believed the case was an acquaintance-related homicide, with multiple suspects involved. I did notice on their cold case page there was a mention of an unidentified female with Mike when he was seen at the bank cashing his check. I had never seen that detail reported anywhere else. A witness claimed to have seen two cars pull down the dirt road where Mike’s car was later found. One was a blue mustang driven by a few white males with light-colored hair. Mike’s older brother Pete O’Boyle told WISTV that he will not stop in trying to get answers about Mike’s death. He said, “After 31 years, I think the main thing we want to know is why or who.” He just wants a name, a person to reveal what happened to his brother.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call the Richland County Sheriff’s Department at 803-576-3000.

Paula Louise Merchant

Next I want to talk about a young woman named Paula Louise Merchant, because I came across her case while I was reading about Mike O’Boyle. Paula went missing from Forest Acres, South Carolina, on Sunday, January 3, 1999. The 25-year-old was last seen by her parents that evening around 6:30 p.m., when she left their home on Sandy Ridge Road to head to a church near the Columbia-Owens Downtown Airport. Police found her 1989 Nissan Sentra on Commerce Drive behind an abandoned building in the early morning hours of January 4.  Paula’s parents filed a missing persons report later that morning. It appeared the car had been burned deliberately, and unlike when Mike O’Boyle went missing, investigators told media they were concerned about foul play. Paula had recently graduated from Georgia State University and had moved back home to stay with her parents while she applied to graduate school for anthropology.

Paula’s older brother told the local media he believed drugs may have played a role in Paula’s disappearance. She had suffered debilitating migraines for years, and while her doctor’s had been unable to help her, he said she had become dependent on drugs to help manage the pain. She had gone through rehab while in college. Investigators said her car was found in an area that was known to be frequented by heroin dealers. Her purse was found in the car, with the keys still in the ignition.  The church she had been heading to that night was the site of a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. Investigators attended a meeting of the group and talked to people there. By all accounts, no one could confirm Paula had made it to the N/A meeting that evening before she went missing.

At the time she went missing, Paula Louise Merchant was a Caucasian woman with strawberry blonde hair and brown eyes. She stood five feet six inches tall and weighed around 120 pounds. She was wearing a green sweater, navy coat, grey pants, black shoes, and a dark pink knitted hat, along with a large silver ring. Anyone with information on the case is asked to call the Richland County Sheriff’s Department at 803-576-3000. There is a reward being offered for information leading to an arrest in this case.

Jack Robinson

On August 17, 1996, 65-year-old Jack Robinson drove to the Rosewood Boat Landing near the South Carolina State Fairgrounds in his 1991 white four-door Dodge Dynasty. He was seen walking down the boat ramp with a younger man who witnesses described as being a Latino male around five foot ten, one hundred and sixty pounds, with a mustache, wearing sunglasses. The man appeared to be between the ages of 25-35.

Not long after he arrived, witnesses heard the two men begin to argue. Jack told the man he could get him money, and then loudly yelled, “What is it that you want?”  Not long after, Jack stumbled out of the woods, having been stabbed multiple times in the stomach and chest. He died from his injuries just a few hours later at a local hospital.

Jack had served in the Air Force for more than 25 years, having enlisted right after he graduated from high school. He served a tour in Vietnam, and after retirement, worked at the Moncrief Army Hospital on Ft. Jackson in the drug dispensary.

His daughter Tammy told Dateline parents eventually divorced, and Jack stayed in Columbia while his daughter and ex-wife moved to Florida. She also told Dateline that her father had a lifelong obsession with trains, that he had been a great father and grandfather, and that he spent his spare time volunteering in homeless shelters and working on campaigns for the local Democratic party. She said about a year after her father’s murder, she received news that a man charged in another death in the county was a person of interest in her father’s case. But the man was never charged in Jack Robinson’s murder.

In 2021, on the 25th anniversary of Jack’s murder, his daughter Tammy told a local news affiliate that she believed her father may have been gay, and he could have been murdered in a crime of passion. She is now around the age her father was when he was murdered and she has worked closely with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department Cold Case Unit to try and drum up leads in the case. She also runs the Justice for Jack Robinson Facebook page. She recently posted on the page that police may have found the person responsible for her father’s murder. I’ll keep you posted with any updates.

Shelton Sanders

In April 2003, the white car Shelton had been driving in June 2001 was discovered at the Greenbrier Apartments off Parklane Road in Columbia. The Richland County Sheriff’s Department began treating the case as a homicide, and looking closely at the person Shelton was last seen with, a man named Mark Richardson. Mark had been at the Embassy Suites with Shelton for the bachelor party planning. The two knew each other well—they had been roomates at one point. Investigator’s discovered that late on the evening of June 19, Shelton had gone back to Mark’s home in Olympia. He was not seen after that.

Mark Richardson was charged with Shelton’s murder in 2005, even though the man’s body had never been found. The trial began three years later, and according to The State, was only the second trial in Richland County where there was no body. Prosecutors laid out the following details:

Witnesses near Mark’s home reported hearing gunshots from his property the night Shelton went missing. Mark admitted to police that he and Shelton were the only ones at his house when the gunshots went off. Other witnesses, who signed sworn statements, said Mark said he wanted to kill one of his friends. Mark’s cell phone placed him near the Greenbrier Apartments the night Shelton disappeared. Was he there getting rid of Shelton’s car? Mark also made a telling statement during his police interrogation, saying “How can I explain disposing of the body?”

Unfortunately, because there was no clear, concrete evidence that Shelton Sanders had been murdered, Mark Richardson’s attorney argued that he may still be alive. He told the jury there was no hard evidence that pointed to Shelton being murdered. The jury was split on what to do. Seven jurors found Mark guilty but five found him not guilty or were undecided. The judge had no choice but to declare a mistrial. Mark Richardson has never been tried again for the murder of Shelton Sanders, and The State newspaper reported in 2021 that he moved away from the area.

Shelton’s family continues to search for answers in his case. His sister Wilveria has worked to share his story on social media, news outlets, and has even put up billboards in Columbia, Sumter, and Greenville. His case has been featured on The Vanished Podcast, Dateline, “Someone They Knew with Tamron Hall, “Still a Mystery” on Investigation Discovery, and more. The family is offering a $50,000 reward for any information leading to the discovery of Shelton’s body. Anyone with tips is asked to call the Richland County Sheriff’s Department at 803-576-3000. You can visit FindingSheltonSanders on Facebook, Instagram, and X.

Candy and Darcel Sanders

When I was researching the Shelton Sanders case, I came across another missing persons case of two sisters from Columbia that I hadn’t heard of before. The first mention of them was in the September 22, 2022 edition of The State newspaper. Shelton was listed, along with several other members of the community believed to have been missing. That’s where I noticed the names Candacy and Dawn Sanders, who did not appear to be related to Shelton. The news brief stated:

The Sanders sisters were last seen about midnight August 26 at the Blockbuster video store at 7541 Garners Ferry Road.

Twenty-four-year-old Candacy Sanders—wearing pajamas and with her hair in curlers—went to the store to pick up Darcel, 18, from work. The pair never returned to their home at 1611 Dry Branch Road in Hopkins.

Investigators have not found the car the sisters were in—a white 1999 Ford Escort with S.C. tag 676 HKG. The car has a dent on the driver-side door, and the left fog light is out.

Both Candacy and Darcel Sanders are five feet, five inches tall, weigh 160 pounds and have brown eyes. Candacy has brown hair; Darcel has black. Both are black.

Darcel Sanders was wearing a navy blue shirt, khaki pants, white tennis shoes and carried a jean purse.

Part of the investigation into the two women’s disappearance included police viewing surveillance tape from Blockbuster video, where Darcel worked. They noticed a man had visited Darcel at the location three days before she and Candacy, who also went by Candy, went missing, and her parents didn’t recognize him. The Blockbuster was only a few miles from the Sanders home.

Two months later, on October 26, their mother, Christine Sanders, was driving her daughter Britney home when she rounded a familiar curve, noticing flashing blue lights up ahead. She drove past the police cars, and the people who had gathered at the bridge, because she said she didn’t want to know what had been found. Two men fishing in Cabin Branch creek just off Lower Richland Boulevard had discovered a white Ford Escort in the water. State Highway Patrol troopers believed the car had veered off Clarkson Road about four and a half miles from the Sanders home, hit two trees, and flipped into a deep stretch of the creek, landing on its roof. It had been a rainy night and visibility would have been poor. It appears they died as they were attempting to escape the car. When they were found, they did not have their seats on, and they always wore them. This led investigators to think they had unbuckled them after the crash.

Christine Sanders told The State newspaper that she had a heavy sense of guilt about the accident because she normally picked Darcel up from work. She was tired that night after a long day teaching and asked Candy to do it instead.

Their father said he had gone to that very bridge looking for signs of his daughter’s car. But because the water was murky and trees blocked a lot of the view, you could not tell there was a car underneath. The police had also driven by there too, looking for signs of the two young women. No one had seen any sign of the car because it was upside down in the water, which had raised levels due to the rain. One of the fishermen who found the car said about 20 yards away from the bridge, the water got deeper, probably an estimated seven feet.

The community renamed the bridge at the scene of the accident the Candacy-Darcel Sanders Bridge, and it was also rebuilt.

Mike O’Boyle Cold Case, South Carolina



The Columbia Record

August 25, 1980

Family, authorities baffled



The State

December 3, 1980

Missing student found dead


The Columbia Record

December 3, 1980

Finding of remains ends hopes for student’s return


The State

November 5, 2004

Police still seek killer in 1990 case


Victim’s family keeps faith (Paula Merchant)


The Columbia Record

December 6, 1984

Victim identified after head found



Paula Louise Merchant


The State

January 5, 1999

Missing woman’s car found burned




Shelton Sanders


The Item

December 31, 2001



The Item

July 11, 2001

Sanders investigation yields few clues or answers, investigators say


The State

July 18, 2021

‘We still have hope’


The State

October 7, 2005

Man charged in 2001 slaying


The State

April 16, 2008


Page 2


The Item

April 17, 2008

Trial begins in Sanders’ death


The Item

April 18, 2008


The State

April 16, 2008



Jury hears murder allegation

Jack Robinson

The State

September 30, 1997

Web site daughter’s tool to catch killer



Candy and Dawn Sanders



The State

October 28, 2002

Family grieves over sisters’ deaths