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South Carolina Woman Murders Ex, Then Checks Herself Into A Mental Hospital After His Body Is Found
Kenneth Wayne Coates' relationship with Wanda Haithcock appeared vibrant and fun at first, but it eventually crumbled. When they began arguing over shared assets following their breakup, their relationship turned deadly.
The town of Conway, South Carolina is known for its slow pace of life. Many families have lived there for generations and earn their livelihood working the land, and it stands in stark contrast to the Southern vacation mecca of Myrtle Beach just down the road.
The community's peace and quiet, however, was shattered on Jan. 24, 2001, when a call came into the Horry County 911 dispatch about a dead body found in an abandoned house outside Conway. A local artist who was scouting the location had spotted a foot sticking out of the entryway as she entered the front room.
“I thought it was a scarecrow, but it still looks too real. It’s got to be a dead body,” the woman said in a 911 recording obtained by "Snapped," airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.
When officers arrived at the scene, they first thing they noticed was the stench of death.
“Being January, it had been cold, so the decomposition was not that advanced. You could see that he had been there for a while,” Horry County Police Lt. Jamie DeBari told “Snapped.”
“I could already tell that he was a male, white, middle-aged, probably in his 40s to late 50s,” former Horry County crime scene technician Anne Pitts told producers. “Before we moved the victim at all, you could see that he had some type of injury to his forehead.”
An autopsy later revealed that the victim had been shot twice, once in the back of the neck and once more on the left side of the forehead. The latter injury was determined to be the cause of death, according to court documents.
Two .25 caliber shell casings were found on the floor near the victim. His pockets had been turned out, and his wallet was missing.
Horry County Police began scouring local missing persons reports, hoping to find someone who matched the victim’s appearance. They ultimately zeroed in on a man named Kenneth Wayne Coates, a 53-year-old Myrtle Beach resident who had not been seen or heard from in more than three weeks.
Dentures ultimately confirmed it was Coates' body that had been found in the abandoned home.
Coates, who had grown up nearby on the South Carolina coast, was known as a hard worker who was well-liked by all his friends. In 1966, he married his high school classmate, Margaret Taylor, after which he enlisted in the military and became a combat engineer. He was stationed in Germany for a few years before returning to South Carolina, where he worked as a structural engineer.
A son, Kenneth "Kenny" Wayne Coates Jr., was born in 1969.
“I grew up wanting to be like my dad. When I was a child, he was my hero,” Kenny told “Snapped.”
Wayne and Margaret’s marriage had its ups and downs, and the couple divorced, remarried, and then finally separated for good, with Margaret and Kenny relocating to North Carolina. While his marriage was a failure, Coates' personal and professional lives were unmitigated successes. He made good money and spent his free time socializing with friends on the local bar scene.
“Wayne was a very engaging, charming man. He would talk to everybody,” friend Phil Whittaker told producers. “If he walked into a bar or a restaurant and sat down next to somebody, they would become his friend.”
In speaking to Coates’ loved ones, investigators learned he had an extensive dating history.
“My dad, he wasn’t a womanizer, but he liked ladies. He dated a lot after him and my mom divorced,” Kenny told “Snapped.”
Coates was a happy bachelor until a woman named Wanda Haithcock made him consider settling down again. Haithcock was born Wanda Ward and had been raised in Charleston, South Carolina. She married young and moved with her husband to Conway, where he worked as plumber and she was a stay-at-home mom.
After about 15 years of marriage, the Haithcocks divorced. Now in her early 40s, Haithcock started dating again and fell hard after meeting Coates. She soon became a fixture on his arm as they frequented the bars and restaurants of Myrtle Beach. Although she fit in well with Coates’ friends, not everyone was a fan.
“She was always kind of loud. Kind of wanted to be the center of attention,” Kenny told “Snapped.”
Things moved fast for the couple: There was soon talk of marriage, and they even bought some property together.
“Wanda and my dad did end up acquiring a couple pieces of property together,” Kenny said. “One was a condo townhouse in Myrtle Beach, and one was a manufactured home in Conway.”
By the late 1990s, however, friends noticed a change in the relationship. Coates didn’t bring Haithcock out with him anymore, and after eight years together, they split up in 1999.
Investigators spoke to Whittaker, who went out with Coates on Friday, Jan. 5, 2001 for a night of cocktails, pool, and karaoke. Whittaker said Coates had just received his Christmas bonus and was flush with cash, buying people drinks all night.
Coates and Whittaker lived on the same stretch of road, and after last call at 2 a.m., they convoyed home in their cars. Phil watched Wayne make the turn off to his home, and that was the last time anyone saw him alive.
Following Coates’ murder, suspicion quickly turned to Haithcock.
“Everybody that knew Wanda knew that she was bad news,” Whittaker told “Snapped.”
It was a sentiment shared by Kenny, who told investigators he believed Haithcock could be behind his father's disappearance. As authorities dug deeper, they learned Coates and Haithcock continued to fight after their breakup over their shared assets, and they argued over who would live in which residence.
“She would constantly call him and harass him. She stole his golf clubs. She was just a bad person,” Kenny told “Snapped.”
Fearful of what Haithcock might do next, Coates had begun recording his conversations with her and documenting her increasingly violent outbursts.
“I’ve got two locks on the doors at the house so you can’t get in there,” Coates told Haithcock on a recording obtained by “Snapped.” “I am not letting you go in that house again by yourself because you have stole everything.”
A member of Haithcock’s family later called investigators to report that Coates’ truck had been parked behind Haithcock’s sister’s house in Charleston. They said Haithcock had driven it there and then asked her sister if she could park it on the property.
“The fact that she had possession of Wayne’s vehicle tells us that she is most likely the last person to be with Wayne when he was alive,” Lt. DeBari told “Snapped.”
When investigators finally went to interview Haithcock, they learned she had checked herself into a mental hospital immediately after Wayne’s body was found. A search of her home and her belongings, however, turned up damning evidence.
“On a bookshelf in the living room, I located a live round of ammunition that was .25 caliber and matched the same brand that was located at the crime scene,” Pitts told “Snapped.”
Investigators also located receipts for both a Taurus PT-25 caliber handgun, purchased in 1997, and a magazine clip for the gun, purchased in November 2000, according to court documents. The murder weapon itself was never found.
Following her release from the hospital, Haithcock was arrested and charged with murder and attempted robbery. Over the ensuing three years, she repeatedly used her mental illness as an excuse to push back her trial date, and authorities agreed to allow her to remain in custody at a mental health facility until she was able to stand trial.
In October 2003, Haithcock was deemed competent to stand trial, but the trial ended in a hung jury, according to local newspaper The Horry Independent.
A month later, she was tried again. On Nov. 5, 2003, Haithcock was found guilty of Coates' murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison without the possibility of parole, reported The Horry Independent.
Now 67, Haithcock is currently incarcerated at Camille Griffin Graham Correctional Institution in Columbia, South Carolina. She will be released from prison in October 2033 when she is 80 years old.