EDGEFIELD COUNTY, SC (WJBF) – An Edgefield County wife and mother vanished without a trace in September of 2014. Seven years later, family members of Tammy Kingery remain hopeful that she will be found or they will get answers.
“From a child she loved playing baby dolls,” said Tammy’s mom Carolyn Russell. “When the other girls got into the Barbie dolls, she wasn’t interested. She wanted to do baby dolls.”
She was the child most parents would dream of having.
“She was always getting along with friends, classmates and sisters. Even parents,” her father Philip Russell told us.
Born in Crown Point, Indiana in 1977, Tamara Sue Russell, who goes by Tammy, could be described as sweet and kind, nothing short of the perfect child. All characteristics that fostered a special bond with her sisters.
“We shared a room when we were young because we needed to, but then later when we were older we shared a room because we wanted to,” Rebecca Alerding, Tammy’s older sister shared with us.
Amy Thomas, her younger sister, added, “She used to ask for a baby for Christmas. And my other sister, she will tell a story where when my mom told them that she was pregnant and going to have a baby, Tammy was just like ‘Oh, thank you!'”
After graduating from high school, Tammy worked at a drugstore where she met Park Kingery. They married and shortly after, left Indiana for Edgefield County, South Carolina. But the distance was no match for such a close family.
“When I found out she was going to have a baby, we decided to move down here,” her mother explained.
Tammy’s mother added her daughter’s first born, Caitlyn, made her the mother she always wanted to be since she was a child. Then came a came a son, Carter, followed by the couple’s third child, Cameron. Her younger sister Amy Thomas said even with her own clan, there was still room in Tammy’s heart for other kids.
“She treated my kids like her own,” her sister recalled. “She was excited about anytime I was pregnant. She’d be like, ‘I can’t wait for the baby!’ She loved babies and kids.”
September 20, 2014, Tammy Kingery went missing from her home on Mealing Road. Thomas remembers a conversation that took place one day before.
“I was texting her. I was like, I know this is really short notice, but Tony’s going to be in town for a Braves game,” Thomas said. “Would you be able to get off work and maybe we could meet in Atlanta and see each other for the weekend?”
While she tried to get someone to pick up her shift that Saturday, Thomas said she could not. So she went to work that morning at a nursing home in North Augusta. But a little more than an hour into her shift, she began to feel sick.
“She started taking her own blood pressure and then continued to do it. Each time she did it the blood pressure was going up,” her father recalled.
Family members report coworkers told them she kept checking her blood pressure and even raised her voice at one point. They say her husband picked her up and took her home.
“Park called me after he got her home and Carter, the oldest son, was going to mow my lawn so he brought him over here,” Carolyn Russell said. “He took the little one and did some errands and then came and picked up Carter after he mowed the lawn. He went home and right away he called me. It only takes me 10 minutes to get there. I just dropped everything and got in the car and went over.”
Cold Case Project sat down with Edgefield County Sheriff Jody Rowland, who was not with the office at that time, to learn more about that day. With the help of an investigator who was a deputy at that time, he said after Kingery drove around looking for his wife on her normal walking area, he called the agency for help and to report her missing after failing to find her where she said she would be going.
“Found a note saying that she’d gone for a walk, she’d be back after a while. And after a while he got worried about her, I believe,” Rowland told us.
The Sheriff’s Office responded, even calling in a helicopter search. And Kingery then notified the rest of his wife’s family.
“He didn’t want me to worry too much and didn’t want me to drop everything and come right away. He felt like she would be found and found well,” Alerding recalled.
“I remember I was just really scared because she suffered with depression and I was afraid that she had hurt herself,” Thomas feared. “That she left the house and hurt herself.”
Keeping all options open and hoping for the best outcome, family, friends and the fire department and sheriff’s office joined in on several searches of the Merriweather area. Her older sister recounts a suspicious find inside a shack near the Kingery home with a strong smell that she feels should have been explored more.
“They ended up finding a dead dog tied up in a trash bag and that’s what the smell was. They also found a bag tied up with a bowl and a sponge and some gloves,” her sister revealed.
Alerding said police told them they discovered those dog remains and items before, but did not feel it was connected to the case. She and some family members grew weary that more should have been done with the investigation in case a killer was nearby.
Tammy’s father added, “I would bring concerns up to them and it didn’t seem like they would respond and I know they’re doing other things and there’s probably other things going on in the background, but it didn’t seem so to me.”
“I felt like as the mother they should have questioned me or asked me what maybe I thought about it or what I noticed,” Carolyn Russell said. “But no one ever spoke to me and I was there all the time.”
Looking back, Sheriff Rowland said he would have treated Tammy Kingery’s case not only as a missing person’s case, but also as a homicide.
“In my opinion, it was suspicious from day one,” Sheriff Rowland said. “I think that between the hours that the husband returned home and shortly after dark, you’re out in the rural community, I think you can draw a line there that something is truly not right.”
We looked at all of the possibilities that law enforcement and family explored. We’ve shared that Tammy could have walked off, having been clinically depressed, started a new life or ended her life. There’s also the option that she was harmed by someone, either intentionally or someone who saw her out walking and used the moment as a crime of opportunity. The family also shared concern after Park Kingery’s lie detector test results returned inconclusive.
“One of my greatest fears is always when you hear those stories of someone who’s being kept by a criminal alive. You always worry what if she’s still out there and we can’t find her,” Alerding said.
There were also reports from another story that Tammy exchanged romantic text messages with two men, but investigators cleared them of any involvement. And Carolyn Russell said she still does not believe her daughter had time for an affair. Additionally, Tammy’s family contends that she would never willingly leave them and her children and make the decision each day to stay out of their lives. The manner in which she left also raises a lot of questions.
“She didn’t have her phone or her purse with her and I just felt like that was really strange,” Thomas thought. “Something that stood out to me is why she wouldn’t have texted Park to say hey I’m going to go on a walk.”
That day is not lost on Tammy and Park’s oldest daughter, Caitlyn, who was 15-years-old at the time. She’s now enrolled in college. She describes her mother as the sweetest person, taking camping trips and always being happy with her loved ones. She shares this message with Cold Case Project:Caitlyn Kingery, Tammy’s Daughter
The night before, I begged my dad to spend the night with my friend (Karla Moore) who lived right down the street. He reluctantly allowed me to go. The next morning I woke up and checked my phone and saw a text from dad saying “come home now, your mom is missing.” I called him immediately and he answered and frantically told me what was going on and said the police were on their way to the house. He was running through the woods looking for her when he answered and begged me to go drive around immediately and look for her.
Caitlyn also said she remembers seeing a motorcycle with a woman riding on the back that appeared to be her mother, but when she and her friend tried to follow that bike, they lost it. She adds, “Now that there’s a new sheriff for Edgefield County, I’m hoping they will reevaluate my mom’s case and make an effort to investigate it more.”
“Back to 2014, no tip, no piece of information, no piece of evidence, no work in progress has led to anything.”
South Carolina Law Enforcement Division or SLED came on to help investigate the case. A spokesperson said they could not speak for this story and deferred to the local authorities.
“The disadvantage is you bring SLED in with all of their wealth of ability, but the case is so cold there was honestly nothing for them to do except try to create what was known and unknown out of the information that the Sheriff’s Office had. And the Sheriff’s Office just did not have enough work to go on,” Sheriff Rowland said.
We asked, “What does closure and justice look like for your family?”
“I don’t know,” her mom said. “I just wish we could, it would be comforting to know where she is. I still have a fear in the back of my head that someone has her somewhere, that she can’t escape or something.”
Alerding added, “When you just don’t know what happened it can be, I don’t want to say extra painful, but a different kind of grief.”
Anyone with any information on Tammy Kingery’s case can call the Edgefield County Sheriff’s Office at 803-637-5337.
Next time on the Cold Case Project, we take on a very different case, a Jane Doe who’s body was found in a dumpster in Jenkins County in 1988. What family and law enforcement need to get justice and close the case.
Photojournalist: Regynal Mckie