recent events regarding the Confederate flag would indicate, tradition
dies hard in South Carolina. So too, do family ties, it would
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Beckham hired the expensive defense team of Dick Harpootlian and
Jack Swerling, but their case was weak.
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
defense witnesses served merely to contradict trivial details
in the prosecution's case.
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.
the end, it took the sequestered jury only seven hours to find
Stephen Beckham guilty on all counts.
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.
that time, Stephen's guilt, though obvious, was still denied by
at least Shannon and Bishop William.
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
it may be, but not too peaceful for murder in a small southern