THE ISSUE: Dedication of rest stops; OUR OPINION: Fitting remembrance to patrolman who died in long-unsolved case
In October 1992, Robert Caffey had all but given up hope of ever finding out what happened to his father, S.C. Highway Patrolman Roy O. Caffey, who was killed during a traffic stop on Interstate 26 on Oct. 8, 1972. Robert spent 20 years keeping the case alive, though even the optimists had their doubts about finding answers in what was the only unsolved killing of a South Carolina law enforcement officer.
“It’s got to the point where I just want to put it behind me,” Caffey said in 1992. He was “tired of the frustration” and the failure to get more cooperation through official investigation.
But Robert Caffey did not give up, and he got new interest from law enforcement in South Carolina, notably from then-director of the State Law Enforcement Division Boykin Rose and the late SLED spokesman Hugh Munn. The renewed push for information about the case led to the “Unsolved Mysteries” TV show airing a segment on the murder investigation in 1991.
It took five more years, but things changed when an arrest was made in the case of a Santee woman who told the story of being along with her brother and another man that night in 1972. The two men, both dead by that time in 1997, killed the patrolman during the traffic stop, Betsy Kemmerlin told authorities who had been following up on statements she had made over time. Kemmerlin, then in her 40s, pleaded guilty in 1999 to being an accessory after the fact of murder. She has since died.
It has been more than 15 years since the break in the Caffey case, and four-plus decades since the death of the patrolman, but the sacrifice of Caffey and his family this past week was given appropriate recognition by the state of South Carolina.
State and local officials on Wednesday dedicated two Interstate 26 rest areas as the SCHP Patrolman First Class Roy O. Caffey Memorial Rest Stops in an action made possible through the legislative initiative of Orangeburg Sen. Brad Hutto.
“He served bravely and honorably, and was killed in a cowardly act,” Col. Mike Oliver of the S.C. Highway Patrol said in a ceremony at Cornerstone Church in Orangeburg. “We learn to live with the loss, but we can never forget them.”
A plaque was unveiled during the dedication ceremony held at Cornerstone Community Church in Orangeburg, two plaques were unveiled on I-26, one for eastbound traffic and another for westbound about five miles away.
Not there for the ceremony was a man who also spent much of a professional lifetime haunted by the unsolved Caffey case. And though he was not there this week to speak, the words of the late local Highway Patrol commander and Capt. J.C. Pace from 1999 should be part of the record recognizing all who sought resolution of the case and in remembering SCHP Patrolman First Class Roy O. Caffey:
“I regret that the people who actually murdered Roy couldn’t have been tried by a court of law and brought to justice, but the Lord entered into it, and they died before that could happen. Capt. Carl Fairey was the patrol commander at the time of Roy’s murder. I succeeded him as commander.
“Capt. Fairey went to his grave knowing this case hadn’t been solved. It stayed with him ... stayed on his mind, I’m sure, until his last moment.
“I felt like I would go to my grave, too, before the case was solved. It really worried me through the years.
“... I just hope and pray that Robert Allen and his family can be at peace now.”