It’s become the ultimate “Whodunit.”
Tom Sponseller – the leader of one of South Carolina’s most influential political organizations and a man generally considered to be a devoted husband, loving father and doting grandfather – appears to have vanished into thin air.
In his wake of his disappearance this well-liked, well-respected State House lobbyist – who is also a retired Air Force officer and graduate of The Citadel military college – has left behind nothing but sadness. Well … sadness and troubling questions regarding the circumstances associated with his vanishing act.
By now, the facts of this case are well established: Sponseller was last seen at his downtown Columbia, S.C. office early Saturday afternoon. When he failed to show up as planned for a 2:00 p.m. Cub Scout event featuring his grandson, family members became worried. That evening, they called the Columbia, S.C. police department after numerous attempts to reach the 61-year-old had failed.
By Monday, news of Sponseller’s disappearance was all over local media, and Columbia cops had launched a full-scale investigation.
Since then, things have become incredibly murky … and increasingly suspicious.
Police say that a search of Sponseller’s car (which was discovered in its usual spot near his office building) revealed nothing suspicious. Ditto for a search of his office. They also confirmed that Sponseller’s phone and wallet were missing – but have refused to provide any information regarding efforts to track him via his phone or his credit cards. Nor have they revealed whether surveillance cameras captured any of Sponseller’s movements on Saturday (or thereafter).
That’s understandable … information like this is routinely withheld from the public in missing person cases.
Further fueling conspiracy theories, though, Columbia Police have told Sponseller’s family members and employees at the S.C. Hospitality Association not to speak to members of the media about the case – advice that they have followed (on the record, anyway).
Police also allegedly rebuffed efforts by Sponseller’s friends to form search parties – although a source close to the department tells FITS that Columbia police have not actually sought to discourage such activity.
So what really happened to Sponseller?
At this point we don’t know … nor do we pretend to know.
We can say, however, that multiple sources (including employees at the S.C. Hospitality Association, law enforcement officers with the Columbia Police Department and friends of Sponseller’s family) are independently confirming a similar story line to FITS.
Specifically, they believe the lobbyist’s disappearance is somehow tied to a former secretary at the association who was recently accused of embezzling funds from the organization. In fact, this woman is apparently the “new lead” referenced in our story Wednesday covering the State House vigil held for Sponseller.
Details about this woman (whose name we are withholding at the request of our law enforcement sources) are incredibly sketchy at this point. All we have been able to confirm (aside from her name) is that Sponseller recently fired her from her job at the association. We can’t even confirm at this point whether her termination had anything to do with the embezzlement allegations – which may involve as much as $900,000 of association money.
Beyond this basic information, theories regarding her connection to these events are literally all over the map – and once again we’re going to exercise restraint when it comes to speculating.
We can say that police have identified this woman as a person of interest in the ongoing investigation and that she is being actively sought for questioning.
Obviously we will bring our readers additional information on this “new lead” just as soon as we’re able to confirm it.
Once again, we would like to remind our readers that anyone with information regarding Sponseller’s disappearance should contact Midlands Crime Stoppers at (888) CRIME-SC or the Columbia Police Department at (803) 545-3500. Anonymous tips can also be emailed to Crimestoppers’ official website, or you can text “TIPSC” to “CRIMES” (274637) with any information you may have regarding Sponseller or any other missing person.
Our law enforcement sources say that they have received numerous tips related to the investigation over the last 48 hours, although they declined to say whether any of these leads produced actionable leads – or whether any of those tips involved the former employee referenced in this story.
Also, we would continue to urge our readers to keep Sponseller and his family in their thoughts and prayers …