2 men arrested for their alleged involvement in woman's death

Michelle had a pure heart who helped her family and anyone in need no matter what it was. She loved to draw and her laugh filled the room. It was the most pure and honest sound. Never forced. She touched the hearts of everyone she came in contact with. We will never be able to fill the void she leaves in our hearts.” - Family statement

Two men arrested in woman’s death.

 

Authorities have identified Brandon Lee Phillips, 34, of 107 Guthrie Street, Gaffney, and Billy Wayne Ruppe, 53, of 155 Bright Road, Gaffney, as accessory suspects in the death, ruled a homicide, of Michelle Marie Dodge, of York.

Warrants allege that the homicide occurred in Gaffney, but since Dodge’s body was found near Ekom Beach in rural Laurens County, the local Sheriff’s Office has made the accessory charges and has taken the men into custody. Tuesday morning they were awaiting a bond hearing.

Dodge, 27, died on July 20; and while her body was found in a wooded area at 905 McDaniel Road, south of Laurens, her 2006 Dodge Challenger was discovered in the Gaffney area.

Phillips was arrested and charged with accessory before the fact of a felon and conspiracy to commit kidnapping, a report said. He is alleged to have take Dodge to the place where she was kidnapped, and allegedly conspiring with two more people to commit the act of kidnapping which led to her death.

Ruppe was arrested and charged with accessory after the fact to a felony and criminal conspiracy, a report said. He is alleged to have helped dispose of evidence, and participating in a conspiracy. 

 

THE HOMICIDE:

 

“Senseless act of violence”

 

York Victim: shot in the back of the head

 

By Vic MacDonald

Editor

 

Authorities are investigating when, how and why a young woman was shot in the back of the head, and her body was placed near Ekom Beach in rural Laurens County. 

A Coroner’s Office statement said Michelle Marie Dodge, 27, of Deer Trot Lane, York, was found dead in a wooded area at 905 McDaniel Rd., in Laurens  on July 20. “An autopsy was performed and she died from a gunshot wound to the back of the head. Time of death was 12:00 pm on July 20, 2019,” the statement said.

Law enforcement in Laurens, Cherokee and York counties are working to find Dodge’s killer. Her car was found near Gaffney.

Meanwhile, Laurens County Sheriff Don Reynolds is turning down on-air interview requests from TV stations so he can concentrate on the investigation.

Dodge’s family says (statement by aunt Kris Allison), “Michelle had a pure heart who helped her family and anyone in need no matter what it was. She loved to draw and her laugh filled the room. It was the most pure  and honest sound. Never forced. She touched the hearts of everyone she came in contact with. We will never be able to fill the void she leaves in our hearts.”

Dodge was born Sept. 15, 1991 in Greenville, Pa. Her memorial service was 5-7 p.m. Thursday at Wright Funeral Home, York, with a family visitation, 6-7 pm.

The Laurens County Advertiser reported that Dodge had a Facebook page under the name “Michelle Smith,” and it indicated she went to work for TG&R Landscaping Group in February. It showed she had friends in Greenville and Anderson. Her connects to Laurens County, and the type of weapon used to kill her, are still under investigation, according to reports.

Local law enforcement issued a BOLO for her white Dodge Charger with distinctive wheels and it was found  along Wolf Den Lane near the Broad River, Gaffney, abandoned. It was being processed to possibly develop a person of interest. 

A citizen saw it and called in the discovery around 7:20 p.m. last Tuesday. (Also in Gaffney last week, the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office served warrants on more than 30 people in a meth eradication effort called “Operation Crystal Clear.)

WLBG Radio, Laurens, reported that Reynolds issued a statement July 24 saying, “We can’t release much information at this time because we don’t want to jeopardize the integrity of the investigation. Our investigators are working around the clock alongside investigators with the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, York County Sheriff’s Office and the York Police Department to follow up on leads. At this time, I won’t be doing any on camera interviews regarding the investigation, however we will continue to update everyone as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience and cooperation, as we all want to bring justice to this senseless act of violence.”

Laurens Mayor Nathan Senn was criticized on Facebook for not expressing concern about the death, ruled a homicide. This was his response:

“Thank you for your question, but I don’t think it is appropriate for me to comment on an ongoing criminal investigation, and especially one in the County that does not involve the City of Laurens. With that said, I have confidence that the Sheriff’s Office will do a thorough investigation and that justice will be done. And I hope that the friends and family of the victim will find peace and comfort in this difficult time.”

Asked what words would make the situation better for her, the Facebook poster said in response, “That I am outraged that a young girl lost her life and this town didn’t even blink. That nobody is holding a candlelight vigil for her, that life just went on with no indication of what had just happened. I never said that I doubted the police ability to solve the murder. I said simply that I’ve never before seen such a cold, uncaring response to such an incident from an entire community. ...”

The matter remains under active law enforcement investigation.

The car discovery site and the body discovery site are about 70 miles apart. Cherokee County Sheriff Steven Mueller said the car discovery site is a “very remote area,” and investigators were looking into whether someone intended to burn it or sink it in the Broad River.

Dodge was never reported missing. York Police are trying to put together a timeline of where she was just before her disappearance, Sgt. Detective Kevin Hoffman told the Rock Hill Herald. Also, a court records search shows a 2018 conviction for Dodge, charged with possession of marijuana and 3rd offense possession of meth - she pleaded guilty to possession and forgery, and was sentenced to a year in prison.

 

 

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