After Sixteen Years, Coroner Revised “Manner of Death” from “suicide” to “Undetermined” as Sheriff Reopens Investigation – Persistence of Parents and Family’s Search for Truth Produced Results and Relief
Thanks to the dedication and professionalism of a Charleston County Coroner, the sixteen-year nightmare of a Greer family may be coming to an end. Their persistent belief that their South Carolina Highway Patrolman son-in-law may have killed their bright, attractive daughter and that the investigation into her death was “botched” is finally coming to fruition.
On March 7, 2014, the sixteenth anniversary of the mysterious death of their daughter Susan, Tom and Shirley Beacham of Greer received a phone call from Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten who said she was changing the official ruling on their daughter’s manner of death from “suicide” to “undetermined.” Wooten was not Coroner at the time of the original report. A spokesman for the Charleston County Sheriff informed the Charleston Post and Courier that the ruling would require a prompt review of the case.
One week later, on Friday, March 14, Tom Beacham received a call at his home from the Charleston County Sheriff’s office stating that the Sheriff was reopening the investigation into the death of Susan Beacham Shaw.
Susan was a graduate of Blue Ridge High School and Clemson University and at the time of her death was employed by the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
Many issues during the investigation of the death raised questions that troubled Susan’s parents, friends and some Charleston County officials as well as SLED agents who traveled to Arizona in an unsuccessful attempt to question her husband William Shaw. Some law enforcement officials informed Susan’s parents that they were convinced that Shaw had taken his wife’s life but could not prove it. Happenings, since her death that culminated with the violent death of the husband, the former state trooper, shed additional light on the case.
William Shaw had resigned from the South Carolina Highway Patrol shortly after Susan’s death, moved to Arizona and remarried several times. Last year he was killed by police bullets in a domestic violence-related shootout in Phoenix, Arizona.
The domestic violence involved his last wife of only four months. His lifestyle after leaving South Carolina and the Highway Patrol sheds new light on the character and behavior of William Shaw.
It seemed the highway patrolman husband had been given every benefit of a doubt in the investigation of his wife’s death. He consistently refused to make a statement to police and submit to questioning claiming advice from his attorney. He resigned from the highway patrol several months after his wife’s death, collected her $130,000 life insurance and moved to Arizona.
Media reports indicate a sloppy investigation of Susan’s death and disregard or destruction of evidence that could have linked the husband to his wife’s death.
When emergency crews arrived at the home after a 911 call by Shaw on March 7, 1998, they found him with his wife Susan’s limp body on the back porch of their home. He had allegedly been administering CPR. He told emergency workers that he had found her in the driver’s seat of her Chevy Tahoe with the engine running. He apparently removed her from the car to a bedroom and then onto a porch. Reports indicated that burns covered most of her body. Tests revealed carbon monoxide poisoning was the cause of death and that Susan had allegedly consumed anti-depressants and wine.
The wineglasses had not been preserved for evidence to determine if a drink had been spiked with drugs.
The investigation determined that William Shaw had called and left a message for Charleston Defense Attorney Andy Savage at 10 a.m. on March 7, 1998, three hours before he allegedly found his wife unconscious in her car. Records also show that authorities even allowed Shaw’s attorney Andy Savage to take the car Susan was found in to a detailing shop, within a few hours of her death, and have it cleaned of whatever evidence may or may not have been contained therein.
Glenn Smith reported in the Charleston Post and Courier that attorney Savage declined to comment on Wooten’s decision to change the cause of death determination when contacted by the newspaper.
Her mother said Susan had been trying to save the marriage as Shaw became more distant and was away from home for as long as a week at a time without calling or providing an explanation. It was later learned that Shaw was involved with a woman in Arizona that he met on the internet and he had visited her claiming to be going on a duty related funeral detail.
When Susan and Shaw visited her parents, he was frequently disagreeable and didn’t want to go places and do things with his wife while she was back home. “Some days he would just stay on the couch and sleep.” Shirley Beacham said.
The visitation at Wood Mortuary in Greer the night before the memorial service for Susan Beacham Shaw was a strained affair with William Shaw seemingly unemotional and strangely accompanied by members of the State Highway Patrol and his attorney.
Susan’s distraught family members were crushed by the report that their daughter had taken her own life. Susan’s mother spoke to her daughter frequently and her parents were convinced that she would never take her life. They were aware of marital problems and knew Susan was very troubled, but never believed for a moment that she took her own life.
Reports indicate that the night before her death Susan informed a Highway Patrolman friend of her husband that she was going to inform Shaw that he must move out. It is not known whether that conversation was conveyed to Shaw.
After receiving calls from Coroner Wooten and the deputy sheriff informing them that the cause of death had been revised and that the investigation would be reopened Tom and Shirley Beacham on Friday evening were pleased that finally the stain on their daughter’s name is gone. It has been a painful sixteen years for the Beacham family, but they never lost faith in their daughter nor accepted the conclusion of the botched investigation into her death. They are thankful and very complimentary of Coroner Wooten who soon after her election began looking into the case and communicating with the parents.
With so much of the potential crime scene destroyed, the necessary evidence may never be available for a determination of homicide. However, Tom and Shirley Beacham, who share a strong family Christian heritage, can live with the clearing of their daughter’s good name and knowing that their persistent search for truth eventually bore fruit.
After his death in a shootout with Phoenix Police, William Shaw is described as a self-centered man with a capacity for violence and a lack of concern for the consequences of his actions.
It is possible, with the recent decisions by the Charleston County Coroner and Sheriff that additional facts may be uncovered pertaining to the case and those who may have assisted in protecting Shaw.
In an interview with the Post and Courier, former 9th Circuit Solicitor’s office investigator and later SLED agent, John Burnett, now retired, said he was glad to see Susan’s parents get some relief after so many years fighting to prove that their daughter did not kill herself.
“In my heart of hearts, I always believed that guy killed her.” However, “There was just no way we could prove that,” he told Glenn Smith of the Post and Courier.
Tom Beacham is philosophical at this point in time. It has been a hard 16 years for his family, however, persistence paid off, prayers were answered, and he believes justice has been somewhat served although it was a long time coming, required some changes in public officials and was bittersweet.
“William Shaw is dead. He’s already got his sentence,” Tom Beacham concluded.