January 31, 2000



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As recent events regarding the Confederate flag would indicate, tradition dies hard in South Carolina. So too, do family ties, it would seem...

On June 12, 1994, the lifeless body of Vickie Lander Beckham, 36, was found in her car, by the side of a road near Little Mountain, South Carolina. Although this location was the site of numerous car accidents, it soon became clear that Beckham had been beaten to death, and that the scene was doctored to LOOK like an accident.

Vickie was from nearby Newberry, South Carolina, and her death received quite a bit of attention, since she was the daughter of state senator Jim Lander, the local Democratic representative. Besides, in a town of 15,397 people, brutal murders aren't commonplace.

After a one-year investigation, police arrested Richard George Anderson, 35, a bouncer at a Myrtle Beach, SC, nightclub, and charged him with the crime. Anderson pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, and is now in prison, serving his life sentence, with the possibility of parole after 20 years.

But--the plot thickens. Anderson said he didn't kill Vickie Beckham alone. Rather, he said he was hired to do so by the victim's husband, 37-year-old Stephen Beckham. Thus, speculation in Newberry about a crazed serial killer turned into a sort of clash of the Titans, between the prominent Landers and the equally prominent Beckhams.

Beckham, you see, is the son of retired Episcopal Bishop William Beckham, who boasted of ordaining 10,000 ministers. Perhaps the good bishop should have devoted a wee bit more time to raising his son.

The cliché of the preacher's son gone bad is an old one, but Stephen seemed determined to live it big time. As would come out in the trial, Beckham was involved in gambling and drugs, and was not above using hired violence to get his way.

The State built an insurmountable case against Beckham, in which a financial as well as a self-protective motive (Vickie was going to expose his drug-dealing) for the murder was established. Furthermore, Beckham had tried to hire at least two other individuals to perform the killing.

Bishop Beckham hired the expensive defense team of Dick Harpootlian and Jack Swerling, but their case was weak.

The Beckhams' daughter, Shannon, 17, shocked at the murder of her mother, and more distressed in coming to grips with her father being the perp, could only put slight holes in the prosecution's time line.

Other defense witnesses served merely to contradict trivial details in the prosecution's case.

The defense's last witness was the Bishop, who nearly got thrown in jail for contempt during his testimony, because of his wild editorializing and bad-mouthing of the prosecution. On cross- examination, prosecutor Knox McMahon came very close to accusing the cleric of being an accessory to the crime after the fact, because of certain omissions in what he told the police, and his obtaining passport applications at a very suspicious time. Knox suggested that the passports were for a flight from the law.

In the end, it took the sequestered jury only seven hours to find Stephen Beckham guilty on all counts.

During the penalty phase, it was brought out that Beckham had confided to a cell-mate that he regretted not killing Richard Anderson, to keep him quiet. The defense brought out the usual weepy family members and friends of Beckham, who was sentenced, on October 4, 1996, to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for thirty years.

At that time, Stephen's guilt, though obvious, was still denied by at least Shannon and Bishop William.

It's been three years since the big trial, and life in old, proud, Newberry is back to normal. Restoration of their famous Opera house, and re-vitalization of Main Street keep up the idyllic environment.

Idyllic it may be, but not too peaceful for murder in a small southern town.


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