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The mysterious cold case killing of an elderly widow found viciously stabbed to death in her South Carolina home more than three decades ago has been solved, police said.
Alice Haynsworth Ryan was found dead on Oct. 8, 1988 after a fatal knife attack at her Tudor mansion near Greenville’s Cleveland Park.
Ryan, a cancer patient, had arrived home from a chemotherapy treatment at a nearby hospital shortly before her murder. Her daughter, Katherine, assisted her mother inside the home and then left to run errands at approximately 2:30 p.m. Upon her return 40 minutes later, she found Alice Ryan’s body in the kitchen of the home, which had been broken into.
The 80-year-old had been stabbed 37 times — with both a screwdriver and a butcher knife — the Greenville Journal reported. She was pronounced dead at the scene. The knife and screwdriver (both wiped down), a bloody dish cloth and Ryan’s house key were found discarded nearby outside the property.
Ryan’s 1967 Ford Galaxy sedan, which had been parked in the driveway earlier, was also missing, according to local authorities. The car later turned up abandoned a short distance away.
“You just don’t have that type of murder every day,” Buddy Burgess, a detective who worked on the case’s investigation years ago, told The State. “[A] lot of legwork. We worked every angle. We just couldn’t put it together.”
Investigators followed up a torrent of tips and spoke with friends, family and neighbors of the elderly woman, but came up with little information. Evidence collected at the crime scene proved inconclusive at the time.
“It upset the whole community,” Burgess said.
For decades, no arrests were made and the investigation came to a standstill. But in 2017, a newly-constituted cold case unit in the Greenville Police Department reopened the case.
"For over three decades, many dedicated detectives have worked to find answers for the Ryan family," former Greenville Police Chief Ken Miller told reporters in 2019. "Teams of investigators, then and now, have been committed to finding the evidence or the information needed to bring the killer to justice.”
Greenville Police now have a newly-identified suspect: Lamar Green, an alleged serial burglar who died shortly after the murder. Authorities pinpointed him after evidence in the case was re-tested following advancements in DNA technology.
In this case, the suspected murder weapons — the knife and screwdriver — along with a cigarette butt found in Ryan’s car were sent to a crime lab for DNA testing in early 2018.
Trace genetic material found on the cigarette led investigators to Brian Munns, who was both in Greenville at the time of Ryan’s slaying and had prior arrests for armed robbery and sexual conduct. He intially refused to talk and was charged with Ryan’s murder in 2019.
But then Munns fired his lawyer ahead of his pending trial and agreed to talk. In 2021, he finally revealed to detectives that he had been in Ryan’s car with Green the day of the widow’s killing. Munns insisted that Green had killed Ryan and later tried to sell him her car, and denied taking part in the killing or even entering the South Carolina socialite’s home.
“Based on the evidence, we felt this all made sense,” Deputy Solicitor William McMaster said this month.
Munns pleaded guilty to not reporting the incident to law enforcement and was sentenced to four years, time served, in September. The other charges were dropped.
Green was killed months after Ryan’s death; his mother-in-law shot him for allegedly holding family members at gunpoint, according to the State. It was ruled a justifiable homicide.
Ryan came from a prominent South Carolina legal family with political ties. Her nephew is former federal judge Clement Haynsworth, who was once unsuccessfully nominated as a Supreme Court justice during Richard Nixon’s administration. Ryan’s great nephew, Knox White, is Greenville’s current — and long-time — mayor. He was a sitting city council member at the time of his great aunt’s murder.
A spokesperson for White’s office didn’t immediately respond to Oxygen.com’s requests for comment regarding the recently solved case on Friday afternoon.
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