Richard Valenti: Super Christian – Serial Killer

Valenti is coming up for parole … click here to sign the petition to keep this monster behind bars.

Folly Beach is a barrier island, six miles long and one-half mile wide. It is the closest beach to historical Charleston, South Carolina, twenty minutes away. During the War Between the States, Folly Island was the staging area from which the Union troops attempted to take back Charleston from the Confederacy, and in 1934 George Gershwin rented the bungalow at 708 West Artic Avenue and composed the music for Porgy and Bess. 

   A small town with a population of just over 2000, Folly Beach is a low-scale community which is primarily a residential and family vacation beach it also happens to have the one of the best surf areas on the east coast at the washout on the east side of the island. It also boasts to have the fastest surfcam in the world. During the busy summer season, Folly Beach is cherished by tourists as a slower paced, less commericalized resort and during the off season, the locals cherish the return of their all-American small town. It is certainly not a place one expects to find a monster living with a view of the surf and dunes.

center street

Center Street, Folly Beach, SC

  Wednesday, May 23, 1973. Thirteen-year-old Alexis Ann Latimer and her fourteen– year-old friend, Sherri Jan Clark, told Mrs. Latimer they were going out for a walk. They left the Latimer’s Folly Beach cottage in the mid-afternoon, and never returned.

   When the girls had not returned by dark, Mrs. Latimer immediately reported the girls missing and got no help from the Folly Beach police. She recalled that the police ”thought I was just an overwrought mother.” The police assumed the girls had run away. It was more than two weeks before the they took any action and began an investigation. They admitted to being baffled. None of the Charleston papers mentioned the girls’ disappearance.

   During the following months, the family became frustrated by the lack of police urgency and success. They became frantic. They distributed leaflets about the girls and placed ads in local papers asking for any help. Mrs. Latimer went as far as consulting with famed Dutch psychic Gerald Croiset, Jr. Mr. Croiset, examined pictues of the girls and drew a fairly accurate map of Folly Beach, complete with bus stops, even though he had never been to the community.  He told the parents that Alexis was dead and they should search the north area of the island near the Coast Guard station.

   Saturday, Sept. 19, 1973. A nineteen-year-old woman picked up a sailor at the local naval base at a party and brought him back to her North Charleston apartment. Without warning, he suddenly savagely assaulted her.  He pushed her, throwing her to the floor; she vainly fought back. He quickly tied her and bound her to the bed. As she struggled he undressed and greedily watched her. She summoned more courage than most would have in that situation. She challenged him, ”Well, if all you wants is a piece of pussy come on. I got things to do and places to go.” The man suddenly lost his erection. He carried his clothes from the room. She could hear him dress and soon he left. The next day she contacted the naval authorities. She was told to take her complaint to the local sheriff’s office so she let the matter drop.

   February 14, 1974. Police discovered a teenaged girl bound, gagged and tied to a tree behind the James Island Shopping Center, six miles from Folly Beach.  One week later, sixteen-year-old Mary Bunch was last seen walking down Center Street on Folly Beach, heading for her home, two blocks away. She never arrived.

   Mr. E.D. Pickerall was walking his dog along the Folly Beach shore a month later. The dog became excited and begin to dig frantically in one spot. Mr. Pickerall walked over and noticed the area where the dog was digging was bloody and full of maggots. Assuming it was the carcas of some dead sea creature washed into the sand, he dragged the dog away from the spot. 

   April 12, 1974. A Folly Beach policeman was investigating a beach complaint on the northern end of the island. As he was walking the beach he heard a call for help coming from a nearby vacant vacation cottage. As he approached the raised cottage the officer realized the cries were coming from beneath the cottage. He discovered three sixteen-year-old girls bound and gagged. One of the girls had managed to slip her gag  and began to scream for help.

   The girls told the officer they had ditched school to come to the beach from Summerville, a town 30 miles away. While they were sunbathing on the deserted beach, a man had approached and pulled a gun. He told the girls he had killed two policmen and if they didn’t do what he said, he would kill them. He forced them into the outdoor shower room beneath the house where he tied and gagged them. Then their abductor left. 

   The girls provided police with an excellent description of the men, he had a beard and mustache and one very distinctive feature – a birthmark on his ankle. By the next week, the composite drawing was in wide circulation throughout the area, and many people began to make uneasy connections to past events. Mr. Pickerall began to wonder about the odd incident with his dog and on Tuesday, April 16 he contacted John Wilbanks, Folly Beach city manager and voiced his concerns. The two men went the spot on the beach where the dog had been digging; it was only several hundred feet from where the three girls had been abducted.

   Pickerall and Wilbanks began to dig through the sand with shovels and discovered a piece of clothing. Next, they contacted a local who owned a bulldozer who began to scrape away sand in the area. On the third pass, a body was unearthed beneath two feet of sand. The body was clad only in underwear and due to the fact that it was only skeletal remains, the gender could not be determined. The body was bound with the same kind of nylon clothesline that had been used on the three recently rescued girls. The next day the coroner was able to identify through dental records as Mary Bunch.

   After the body was discovered, digging continued through the night and into the next day. Huge floodlights were erected and could be seen throughout the entire island. Locals arrived to stand in silence along the dune to watch the police conductr their dig . . . with the unspoken fear that more bodies would be discovered,  thirteen-year-old Alexis Ann Latimer and fourteen- year-old Sherri Jan Clark, foremost in their minds. People who lived in nearby houses allowed officers to use their bathrooms, telephone and supplied drinks to the workers.

   Police set up a roadblock on the one highway and bridge off the island, and conducted a house-to-house investigation, asking questions, gathering information. Navy jets surveyed the island beach with infared sensors, and the police composite sketch of the assailant on the three girls was distributed throughout a three county area. They had held back on key piece of information, the birthmark on his ankle, which police hoped would make a positive ID easier.

   The young woman in North Charleston who had survived the attack from the sailor saw the composite drawing and she contacted naval authorities. She was shown photos of navy personnel stationed at the base and she made a positive ID. Charleston County police officers were dispatched to the home of Richard Valenti, a six-year radar operations specialist on the rescue submarine Petrel.Valenti, age 31, was renting the beach house across the street from where the beach excavation was taking place. In fact, officers already knew Valenti, he had been one of the specators on the beach, and had offered them drinks. When Mary Bunch’s body was discovered, Valenti told the neighbors, “Don’t worry, everything’s going to be all right.”

   Valenti had just recently shaved his beard and mustache.

    He was arrested  at 6:40 P.M. and within one hour he had admitted to the attempted rape of the woman in North Charleston, the kidnapping of the three Summerville girls and that of Mary Bunch, and also, the kidnapping and murder of Sherri Clark and Alexis Latimer. He took police to the beach and pointed out a section of sand to where he claimed the two girls’ bodies were buried. He then lead police to the place where he killed the girls – the outdoor shower room beneath his beach house and described the abduction of the two Folly Beach girls. The police found their bodies in a common grave later that night.

valenti newspaper

   Valentio said he enountered the two girls on the beach and immediately had the urge to tie them up. He walked to his house and got a toy gun and forced them into the outdoor shower room. Inside he tied their hands and feet and made them stand on chairs while he tied nooses around their necks. He then partially undressed them and fondled them. In their attempts to get away from his groping the fell from their chairs and strangled to death. Valenti sat and watched, masturbating as the two girls gagged and struggled and finally died.

   Before he was taken back to jail, Valenti was allowed to go to his house and pick up two Bibles.

   The small community was in shock. One of their own was a monster! Everyone remembered Valenti and his family as “quiet people who seemed so good.” He was described as a “straight dude” and a “Jesus Freak”.  One person recalled that “He seemed to be a super-Christian . . . the one time I visited their home, they were singing Christian songs and talking about the Bible.”

   May 27, 1974. Richard Valenti was charged with three counts of murder, four counts of assualt and battery with intent to kill, and one count of assault and battery with intent to ravish. He was held without bail.       

valenti mug shots

   During the trial Valenti’s wife testified. She said that it was in 1969 that she discovered a hidden stash of pornographic magazines that featured women bound and gagged. She claimed that his hidden (and shameful) desires caused him to attempt suicide on once occasion. She also claimed that she had allowed her husband to tie her up to satisfy his desires, but it did not seem to work. When they moved to Charleston, they both became Christians and Mrs. Valenti thought the crisis had passed.  

  Valenti had grown up in a dysfuntional house, with a domineering, all-controlling mother, which planted in him the desire to reverse the domination which led to only reaching sexual gratification through domination and control. 

   The trial lasted four days; the jury took less than an hour to find Valenti guilty on both counts of murder. He was given two life sentences to be served consecutively. Two dogwood trees were planted at the Harborview Elementary School as a memorial to Alexis Ann Latimer and Sherri Jan Clark. The trees still bloom each spring. 


Richard Valenti

CAROLINA CRIMES: The Holy Trinity of Saxe-Gotha

A chapter from a book-in-progress, Carolina Crimes.

Lexington County, South Carolina


Saxe-Gotha in South Carolina was originally called the Congaree Township, located on the south side of the Congaree River in what is present-day Lexington County. As part of the Township Act of 1730 the Congaree was a grant of 20,000 acres. Royal agents were sent across Europe to recruit families as settlers, offering inducements such as free transportation to South Carolina, free provisions for one year, and free land. The Congaree Township was mainly settled by German Lutherans who renamed it Saxe-Gotha in 1735 as a reflection of their native land.

Saxe-Gotha town plat

Saxe-Gotha town plat

This township movement of the Carolina backcounty created a region that was economically, culturally and politically distinct from the lowcountry and Charleston. The backcountry tended to be more loyal to the British government than their lowcountry counterparts. It was also a more diverse religious area. Whereas the lowcountry was heavily Anglican, the backcountry was a “mix’d Medley [of] Sects and Demoninations” which included Baptists, Presbyterians and Lutherans.

The folks in the backcountry also had to deal with more volatile relations with Indians. As more white settlers encroached on Indian’s lands, skirmishes between the groups were more common, and just as common, was the quick brutal rebuttal. The more refined lifestyle of Charlestown was far removed from Saxe-Gotha. Many of the backcountry settlers were illiterate farmers. Lutheran minister, Henry Muhlenberg, described them such:

woodmasonThe people in the country, in general, grew up without schools and instruction. Occasionally a self-taught minister may labor for awhile amongst them, yet it continues only a short time. The people are wild, and continue to grow wilder …

Rev. Charles Woodmason, an Anglican priest who traveled as an itinerant minister throughout the backcountry, was horrified by their lifestyle. He wrote that:

The Open profanation of the Lords Day in this Province is one of the most crying Sins in it – and is carried to a great height – among the low Class, it is abus’d by women frolicking and Wantoness. By others in Drinking Bouts and Card Playing … the Taverns have more visitants than the Churches. They delight in … low, lazy, sluttish heathenish hellish Life and seem not desirous of changing it. Out of 100 Women that I marry … six are without child.

Jacob Weber was born in Switzerland on December 30, 1725 and was “reared and instructed in the Reformed church.” At age fourteen he and his brother Henirich immigrated to South Carolina and settled in Saxe-Gotha in 1739. Heinrich died shortly after arriving in the colony leaving Jacob in “much adversity and suffering.”


By this time Jacob was married. He and his wife, Hannah, had two children and acquired 200 acres of land in the Dutch Fork area west of Saxe-Gotha, north of the juncture of the Broad and Saluda Rivers. He also completed a spiritual crisis which had begun with his brother’s death. Weber wrote that he was taking:

More pleasure in …. Godliness, and in god’s word that in the world. I was often troubled about my soul’s salvation when I thought of how God would require of me a strict accounting and how I would then hear the judgment pronounced upon me, not knowing what it would be.


Weber began to invite his neighbors to gather at his house on Sunday for worship, which consisted of singing hymns and listening to Weber read from a book of sermons. In his journals, Rev. Muhlenberg discussed Jacob Weber, writing that “gradually, the hearers began to admire and honor and praise the reader, which in turn caused him to begin to admire himself.” That led Weber to preach more “out of his own spirit” and ignore written texts. Soon the “astonished” neighbors” began “to deify him.”

Like any cult of religious fanatics, it is difficult for outsiders, in particular in hindsight, to understand the dynamic that created the atmosphere leading to the establishment of a sect called the Weberites. But within this remote, enclosed society a new Holy Trinity was established, with Weber as God. A man named John George Smithpeter was the Son and a slave known only as Dauber was deemed to be the Holy Spirit. Hannah Weber was elevated to the role of the Virgin Mary.

According to Muhlenberg, the Weberites began to practice:

atrocious blasphemies … as groups of both sexes went about unclothed and naked, and practiced the most abominable wantonness. In their religious rites, they often fell into trances. They sanctioned nudity and marital confusion.

The sect quickly grew in number.

Reverend Christian Theus, a Reformed minister in the region, attended a Weberite meeting. As he reported to Rev. Muhlenberg, it nearly cost him his life. Theus described the Trinity was seated on an elevated platform as the congregation sat at their feet. Smithpeter asked, “Little parson, do you believe that I am the redeemer and savior of the world and that no man can be saved without me?”

Theus answered the “blasphemous question with a stern rebuke.” The Trinity and the congregation sentenced him to death and discussed whether he should be “hanged from the nearest tree or drowned in the deepest depths.” Theus managed to escape on foot to the Broad River where he was rescued by a passing boat.

February 23 & 24, 1761

The Trinity had a falling out, most likely over the heavy-handed behavior of Smithpeter. Smithpeter decided that Dauber had failed in “properly exercising the office of the Spirit.” According to Muhlenberg:

They placed a mattress on the bottom of a pit, threw Dauber in and piled more mattress and pillows on him. Members of the sect leaped in upon Dauber and trampled him until he suffocated. The corpse was taken out of bed and thrown into a burning pile of wood, to be consumed to ashes.

Michael Hans, an indentured servant who refused to join the Weberites, was then murdered. Webe and Smithpeter then quarreled over the two murders. According to the account written by Muhlenberg, Weber then:

declared him [Smithpeter] to be the Dragon … and chained him to a tree. The members of the band surrounded him, struck him with their fists, and beat him until he fell to the ground, and finally danced around him and trampled upon his throat until he had had enough.

Four Weberites were arrested by the Charlestown militia and put on trial for murder. Some sources claim that seven were arrested, three of them were pardoned and four executed:

  • Jacob Weber
  • Hannah Weber
  • John Geiger
  • Jacob Bourghart

However, a look at the record indicates that only one may have been executed, Jacob Weber.

April 25, 1761

The South Carolina Gazette wrote:

Some unhappy wretches, who in a fit of religious fervor and enthusiasm, had in a most barbarous manner, murdered on Michael Hass and Captain John George Smithpeter on the 23rd and 24th February last, at Congaree. Were brought down from thence and committed to jail. This delusion was so great that they acknowledged the murders, and for some days attempted to justify themselves; but at March sessions they were too well convinced of their error, that seven of them were indicted and tried and four convicted. Jacob Weber, John Geiger, Jacob Burghard and Hannah Weber, who all received sentence of death on the 31st and on the 17th, Jacob Weber was hanged pursuant to his sentence, behaving in a very becoming manner and dying a true pentitent. The other three were reprieved until May. 

April 26, 1761

Lt. Governor William Bull wrote a letter to William Pitt, the British Secretary of State, requesting pardons for Hannah Weber, John Geiger and Jacob Burghard.


I am to acquaint you that at the last General Sessions … held at Charles Town, Jacob Weber, Hannah Weber, John Geiger and Jacob Burghard were tried and found guilty of murder, and received the sentence of deaths on the thirty-first of March last, and in pursuance thereof Jacob Weber was executed. I though Hannah Weber, John Geiger and Jacob Burghard, who acted by his commands, to be objects of His Majesty’s mercy and therefore reprieved them till His Majesty’s pleasure therein shall be known.

I thought it necessary that one, the Chief, should suffer, and as Public Justice is thereby satisfied for the blood of Murder, and as Hannah Weber, John Geiger, and Jacob Burghard each with numerous Families, bear the Character of being long known, orderly and industrious to recommend them as Objects worthy of His Majesty’s most gracious Pardon.

I must further take the liberty of representing to you, that as they are very poor, they have no Friend but your Compassion to solicit for their Pardon, no money to defray the expense of issuing this Act of Royal Grace through the usual Channel particular persons, and stand no chance of receiving this Benefit, if they shall fortunately be thought worthy of it, but by being inserted in some General Pardon.

I have the Honor to be with the greatest respect, Sir,

Your most humble Servant,

William Bull

Contrary to the claims of the Gazette, Weber did not die as a “true penitent.” In his written confession before execution he blamed Satan and Smithpeter for his “great calamity.” Like many convicted criminals, Weber claimed that was a victim, lured into sin by Satan who used Smithpeter as the “author and instrument of my ghastly fall.”  He also wrote:

I am again experiencing the testimony of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God is bearing witness with my spirit that I am the child of God.

According to Francis Asbury, Methodist bishop, Weber also promised “to rise the third day” after his execution, certainly not the words of a penitent man.

Weber never rose.