JEFFERSON, SC (WBTV) – Folks in South Carolina communities are in shock and stunned after a brazen kidnapping, sexual attack and killing of a 30-year-old woman the day after Christmas.
Beverly Hope Melton, 30, was found dead in a field near two barns after kidnapped and sexually assaulted in the Jefferson area of Chesterfield County on Monday, according to Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews.
Dozens of women's Facebook profile photos have been changed to the image of Melton – also known as Hope Roscoe Melton -- in her wedding dress from her marriage last September.
Hundreds of comments filled the site by late Tuesday – most of them asking why or sharing condolences. A special Facebook page has been set up to honor her.
The suspect in the case did not know Melton, authorities say. And, the attack happened in the afternoon – starting at a Chesterfield County convenience store just 2 miles from Melton's grandmother's house.
The victim's family is relieved Nickolas Jermaine Miller, 23, is in jail, but their devastation and heartbreak are hard to handle.
"People don't know what they have, until they don't have it anymore," said Juan Garces, who is married to Melton's sister, Chanda Garces. "Her demeanor, she could take a bad situation and make it better."
But this situation was beyond Melton's control. Authorities say Melton told her grandmother she was being followed by Miller and that she was afraid of him. That was the last time anyone spoke to Melton.
Melton was well-known in the town of McBee. Bill Tolbert, the owner of "T and T's County Store" says she worked there for 12 years first as a clerk and then manager.
Tolbert says Melton genuinely cared about her customers and co-workers at the store.
"She was a good person," Tolbert added. "She was loved by everybody. I don't know how a human being could do that to another human being."
The suspect in the case later led Chesterfield deputies to Melton's body in the Mount Pisgah area of Kershaw County. Matthews said the woman had been "brutally murdered" with a baseball bat.
Authorities say Melton told her grandmother -- who lives just 2 miles away -- that she was being followed by Miller and that she was afraid of him.
Now investigators are trying to figure out if Nicholas Miller may have stalked another woman the same day he's accused of raping and beating Melton.
Surveillance video Hope Melton paying for her gas with a smile, not knowing hours later the man she bumped into at the door would be the last to see her alive.
Yet little is known about the suspect Nicholas Miller.
"He went from being a non offender to doing the worst thing you can do criminally," said Kershaw Sheriff Jim Matthews.
"We want to know everything from his birth to the day he was arrested about his lifestyle," said Chesterfield Sheriff Sam Parker.
Police found out the day before he's suspected of beating Melton with a bat he was fired from his job, and his girlfriend kicked him out of her house.
Now Sheriff Sam Parker is looking into a lead that Melton may have not been his only target that day.
"We have an allegation from an individual we're in the process of interviewing that might have been a person of interest to this young gentleman," said Parker.
The woman told police she believed Miller followed her almost to the North Carolina line before he broke off his chase.
However, Parker says one thing is hindering his investigation.
"The social networking creates a serious problem for law enforcement," said Parker.
Facebok postings of allegations and threats that other victims of Miller were in the woods around Chesterfield county.
"We searched them and last night we searched quite a few areas with negative results," said Parker.
Though he's ruled those fake reports out he still has to check them and that takes time from the real murder investigation.
"Running down lies and allegations takes away a lot of time from the actual investigation," said Parker "And it's not fair to us it's not fair to the family."
Matthews says Melton was assaulted and driven to Kershaw County, where the killing happened.
After Kershaw County deputies were alerted of the possible abduction, Chesterfield County deputies found Melton's car in a ditch in the reverse gear with Melton's purse still inside on along Angelus Road in Jefferson.
Matthews says surveillance footage shows Melton at a convenience store earlier in the day as she was being harassed by Miller. That footage also helped to provide a description of Miller and the car he was driving.
Chesterfield County deputies later stopped Miller and took him in for questioning. During questioning, Miller admitted to kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing Melton.
After the admission, Miller took deputies to Melton's body.
Local authorities used a SLED helicopter using infrared radar, were able to locate Melton's body in a field behind two abandoned turkey barns.
It was subsequently determined that the homicide had taken place off of Sandy Grove Rd. in the Mt. Pisgah area of Kershaw County, Matthews said.
"This was a horribly brutal and senseless crime. One of the worst I have ever seen. To our knowledge Ms. Melton did not know her killer," said Sheriff Matthews.
"Since the actual homicide took place in Kershaw County, the Kershaw County Sheriff's Office will take over the homicide investigation. I must give credit where it is due. Chesterfield authorities jumped on this case with a vengeance. They are the ones who solved this crime."
Miller was being held Tuesday on a murder charge. He is currently charged with kidnapping and assault in Chesterfield County.
No bond has been set. Because this is a capital offense, bond will be set by a circuit court judge at a later time.