It's an old clichÃ©, but this book would have never been possible without the help and cooperation of my family, friends and associates.
First and foremost, I would like to express my appreciation to Jack and Marie Summey and Jane Lovett. Thank you for your continued kindness and your willingness to share information, even at the risk of casting dark shadows on yourself and your family.
A debt of gratitude is owed to Detective Terry Altman, Captain Sam Hendrick, and many other members of the law enforcement and medical emergency team who provided valuable information and shared their special insights into the Brent Poole case.
I am also grateful to Attorney Bill Diggs for his contributions and giving me access to his files. Some of the same courtesies have been extended to me from attorneys Ralph Wilson, Greg Hembree, Fran Humphries, Tommy Brittain, and Morgan Martin. These officers of the court have never said no to my request for an interview and are always willing to assist in any way.
Thanks also to my agent, Peter Miller, who so gracefully presented this project, and to Michaela Hamilton and B. Tweed at Kensington Publishing Corporation.
Many thanks goes to my writing partner and close friend, Dale Dobson. Your continued faith, friendship, and encouragement has helped me through this project and many more like it. Included in that same list is longtime supporter and friend Jo Clayton.
To my friends and business associates who protect and keep me financially afloat while I am writing and ignoring my day job: my attorney, Ralph Stroman, my accountant, Morgan Lewis, my banker, Richard Causey, and my associates in the Eldercare business, attorneys Bruce Robinson Jr., Dennis Worley, and Paul Eksterâyou have my deepest gratitude.
A special thank-you goes to Edward and Kathleen Burroughs for your long and devoted friendship. You've always been there to keep us laughing and lift our spirits when we've needed it the most.
I would like to thank Kimberly Renee Poole, who has revealed the most intimate and deepest secrets of her life. That really took a lot of guts!
Finally, my deepest and heartfelt appreciation is reserved for my faithful and loving wife, Deborah, and my creative and high-spirited children, DJ and Deegan. You not only give me the time to write, but still continue to support me when my obsession fuels me at three o'clock in the morning and on holidays.
And to my mom, I'm eternally grateful for your encouragement and your continued love and support. I just wish Dad was still around to enjoy it. He'll always be the greatest storyteller in my life.
Every man likes to think he is a great lover.
Brent Poole grabbed his wife's hand and followed the panorama of crystal sand juxtaposed and running north between the Atlantic Ocean and the dunes. As they walked from their hotel parking lot, past a strip of private beachfront houses and onto the darkness of one of the last miles of undeveloped maritime forest along the beach, it dawned on Brent just how romantic Myrtle Beach was.
What a wonderful place to fall in love all over again
, he thought.
Like so many lovers before him, Brent was mesmerized by the rhythmic waves breaking into rivulets of bubbling foam and spilling out onto the white sand. With his wife walking next to him, he felt so warm and alive. So sexually aroused.
Brent giggled like a schoolboy. “Let's do it over there.” He locked onto Renee's arm and pulled her from the surf into one of the many hollows hidden in the dunes. Unfurling a beach towel, as if it were a white sail that had been lifted from a flagship, he spread it across the sand for them to lay on.
“I don't think anyone will see us here,” he whispered.
Renee smiled and began unfastening her jeans.
Frigidity had never been at the top of Renee's shortcomings list. She and Brent had always been experimental when it came to intimacy. The way she saw it, most people joined the “mile-high club,” but this adventure was a little more daring than that. The thrill of making love in the open and being seen really turned them on.
A sharp breeze whipped across the ocean and onto the beach, cooling their naked bodies. When they finished making love, Brent rubbernecked the sand hills, curious to see if there was an overly inquisitive person idly standing by. He'd thought he had chosen an isolated spot on the beach, but he wasn't certain. The last thing he needed at this point and time in his life was to discover some wide-eyed pervert had been hiding in the dunes, spying on him and his wife. He had grown weary of people like that. Consumed by lust. Always goggling and gawking. Envying their relationship.
Brent dressed, then helped his wife up and back into her jeans. He reached down and grabbed the beach towel and with a quick light motion shook it to remove the sand. He handed Renee her pack of cigarettes, which had spilled out of her jeans, then slid his watch over his wrist.
He looked at the time. It was almost midnight. In the distance, they could see the headlights of a truck driving past them on the beach. Renee poked him on the shoulder, then asked, “What are those headlights doing on the beach?”
“Oh, it's probably a police officer making sure no one was doing what we just finished doing.” He laughed out loud. “Just think if we would have been any longer, we might have gotten caught in the act.”
Although the thrill of “being seen” truly excited the Pooles, they had no real desire to get caught by the police. The possibility of going to jail for engaging in a lewd act or indecent exposure on the beach didn't necessarily appeal to either of them.
“We better start walking toward the hotel.” He nodded at the lights shining ahead from where they were staying. He grabbed her hand and led her out of the dunes. The Carolina Winds Resort Hotel at Seventy-sixth Avenue was only five blocks away. “We promised not to keep the baby-sitter waiting.”
Brent and Renee headed southward along the shore and toward the resort. They talked about their 2Â½-year-old daughter and marveled over her day at the beach. It was Katie's first trip and she had been captivated by the unfathomable seashore and the mysterious deep blue ocean that stretched before her. She had reveled especially in the time spent with her daddy, making mud pies and digging holes in the sand, where the waves crashed and ran gently to the shore.
As the Pooles strolled toward their hotel, they noticed a man dressed in long black pants and a long-sleeved black sweatshirt. He was in the dunes about twenty yards to their right, near a small hurricane fence, and was walking in the opposite direction. With temperatures that had soared past the nineties earlier that day, leaving the night air hot and muggy, they wondered why someone would be wearing winter clothes in June.
Brent looked back and was startled to see the man had turned around and was now following them. Alarmed by the stranger's appearance, he quickened his pace. Keeping his back turned toward the stalker, he cautioned Renee not to look behind her.
“Just keep moving forward,” he told her. “Don't give him any opportunity to stop us.” Sensing imminent danger, he hurried them down the beach. He believed the guy would back off once they reached the lit perimeter at the hotel.
Somehow, though, the man ran ahead of Brent and Renee, jumped out in front of them, and blocked their pathway. He was a large man, over six feet tall, with a big body and a big head. He was wearing a black ski mask. When they stopped and took a step backward, the stranger raised a semiautomatic 9mm pistol and pointed it at them. The gun was black and looked almost like a plastic toy gun.
Brent froze. Letting the beach towel fall from underneath his arm, he slowly lifted his hands with palms facing outward toward the jittery man. He wondered what he wanted with them.
“Get down on the ground.” The man's deep voice was muffled inside the thick ski mask. He was jumpy. Clearly on edge
Probably on some kind of dope
, they both imagined.
Brent hesitated. He first turned his head toward Renee, then back at the robber, as if he had recognized something familiar about his grumpy voice. He was certain she had recognized it, too. But before he could speak, the gunman lunged forward and tackled him to the ground. Brent fell backward, momentarily losing his breath when the burly man slammed down on him. The man's legs were the size of tree trunks. They pinned Brent's arms and buried them in the sand like small artifacts.
“I told you to get down on the ground!” the man shouted in the wind. He pointed the black muzzle and held it at Brent's head.
Brent felt as if his head had been riveted to the ground. He had a Swiss Army knife in his pocket, which he had bought at a flea market two Christmases past. But even if he could have gotten to it, it would have been useless against this rotund man wielding a 9mm and an itch to kill. He figured it was best to do exactly as he said and give him what he wanted.
But just what did he want with them?
Brent's face searched for an answer.
Was he a robber? A rapist? A killer?
The man in black wasted no time in telling them that what he wanted was for Renee to lie down and put her feet against her husband's feet. “I told you to get down on the ground, bitch.” He scowled.
Renee quickly dropped to the ground, then inched forward until the bottom of her sandals rested against the soles of her husband's tennis shoes. She lay as stiff as a cadaver, her arms and hands fixed rigidly by her side.
The gunman eased upward, keeping Brent's arms pinned underneath his legs. Still straddling his body, he held the pistol nervously at his head. “Give me everything you got,” the man said, holding out his open left hand toward Brent.
Brent nodded his head. Keeping a close eye on the pistol, he lifted his backside, retrieved his wallet and surrendered it to the gunman. Then he took off his watch and gave it to the man.
Renee was shaking so badly she couldn't get her rings off her fingers.
The robber swung the gun away from Brent and pointed it toward her.
“Hurry it up, bitch!” he shouted at the same time he slid the muzzle underneath Brent's chin.
“I'm trying . . . I'm trying,” Renee mumbled through clinched teeth. She removed her wedding rings from her left hand and a diamond ring from her right hand, then handed them to him.
“Is there anything else?” the robber demanded. He jerked the gun away from underneath Brent's chin and started waving it in his face again.
“Yes, my wedding ring,” Brent answered somberly. As always when he got excited, his eyes had turned clear blue.
The masked man kept the gun aimed at Brent's head while he freed Brent's arms. “Then give me that, too,” he snarled.
Brent anxiously pulled on the small band of gold and pried it from his finger. Beads of perspiration trickled down across his face and fell on his shirt. He stared into the eyes of this crazed man hiding behind a ski mask and begged for his life.
“Please, I'll give you whatever you want, just don't shoot me,” he pleaded.
The gunman turned around and looked at Renee. He lowered the gun's muzzle, pressing it once again to Brent's forehead.
Brent held his breath. His arms were numb. He shut his eyes.
Renee didn't want to witness what she knew was going to happen. She saw the gun resting against Brent's forehead and closed her eyes when the man's index finger flexed, then slowly curled around the trigger.
There was a maniacal laugh. The gunman squeezed the trigger.
Nothing more. Only silence.
Renee opened her eyes. The gun had misfired. Brent was still alive.
The gunman was enraged. He squeezed the trigger again.
The gun misfired again. The man anxiously rolled the gun over in his hand and ejected the brass cartridges.
Brent's eyes widened. His teeth shone white from the moon's glow as he clinched them in fear. He could see the robber was having difficulty getting his gun to fire. He released the breath he had been holding and tried to sit up.
Renee lifted her head and watched the man slapping the gun with his hand, as if that was what was needed to fix it.
He's not going to kill him,
This has to be a joke
He's going to get up and run away now.
Brent's face was the color of ash. His skin tightened against his face.
When the man raised up to fix his gun, Brent leaned forward just far enough to lift his arms in a submissive gesture. Begging for his life a second time, he cried, “Please don't shoot me.”
The man sneered back at him, then exchanged glances with Renee. He pointed the gun at Brent and pushed it back against his head, forcing him down to the ground.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn't kill you.”
Brent's heart jumped into his throat.
It was probably the greatest test of Brent Poole's fleeting twenty-four years. He had always been a happy-go-lucky personâjust a whimsical kid who believed his whole life was still waiting ahead of him. He never, in his wildest dreams, imagined being in a position where he would be forced to bargain for his life. But without flinching, he swallowed hard and answered with the thought dearest to his heart. “Because I have a daughter that I love very much,” he said bravely.
The gunman's eyes narrowed. He shoved the cold steel underneath Brent's chin and lifted him off the ground. Brent was off the ground and nearly on his knees when the man squeezed the trigger a fourth time.
Only this time the gun didn't misfire.
The blast of the 9mm handgun rang out in the dark night like a firecracker.
Brent never heard the shot. And, doubtfully, he never felt it.
His head snapped backward as the spiraling bullet rocketed from the gun's black muzzle and burst through his skin. It pierced his tongue, blasted through the roof of his upper mouth, speeding behind and ripping through his brain. The chunk of lead finally slammed against his skull and embedded itself into the boney surface. His body stood upright momentarily as if suspended by the force of the blow. Then, as if someone had let go of the rope, he fell to the side and crashed to the ground.
The limp body sounded like a fallen sack of potatoes.
Brent's brain was already torn and hemorrhaging when the gunman knelt down beside him. With no regard for human life, the shooter placed the gun above Brent's left ear and fired a second round into his brain.
In killer's terms, he “finished him off.”
The noise from the second shot echoed inside Brent's head. Even though the triggerman wanted to make certain he was dead, it wasn't necessary. In a split second, with his first shot, he had already robbed Brent of all consciousness.
Renee Poole had witnessed it all.
The shooter turned around, stepped toward her and lifted her T-shirt.
She was startled. She had given him all of her jewelry and Brent had given him all of his jewelry and his wallet. There was nothing else left to give him. She lay there frightened, but waited until the man finished, then watched as he ran off toward the dunes.
Brent lay motionless in the white sand. Spurts of crimson blood oozed from his open wounds and drained across his head and shoulders. His garbled moans grew weaker. His breathing shallower. He was dying.
Renee got up on her knees and called out to her husband. “Brent . . . Brent . . . ,” she said softly through her tears. She saw the wet, sticky blood trickling from his head, sliding lazily across his face. It sounded like water moving over rocks in a creek. She prayed, “Oh, God, please let him be okay.” Brent was dying, but she didn't know what she could do to save him.
William Brent Poole Jr., just ten minutes earlier, had been celebrating his third anniversary. Loving and caring for his wife. Making plans for their child and their marriage. And sharing hope that marked their future. It didn't seem right.
The masked man did not yet understand the magnitude of the tragedy he had inflicted on the night of June 9, 1998, when he shot Brent Poole at close range, putting two bullets in his brain and leaving him for dead. A young life had suddenly been snuffed out at the threshold of his adulthood.