Ever since S.C. Hospitality Association CEO Tom Sponseller was first reported missing eleven days ago, virtually nothing about his disappearance (now alleged suicide) has made any sense.
The 61-year-old State House lobbyist – regarded as a devoted family man and well-respected advocate for the state’s tourism industry – appears to have shot himself in the head with a nine millimeter handgun because he was embarrassed over his failure to detect an alleged embezzlement scam perpetrated against his organization by a former employee.
“It is quite disappointing that all the work our members and staff put into building one of the best associations in the state has been jeopardized by the stupid actions of one person and not detected until the amount was so large the police found it first because I had failed to make sure everything was right,” Sponseller allegedly wrote in a suicide note obtained by WIS TV 10 (NBC – Columbia, S.C.).
“I am sorry it ended like this,” Sponseller continued. “I am a huge disappointment to everyone, my family, my friends, business associates and others. I let everyone down and have embarrassed those who I love the most, my wife, kids, and grandkids. I am so sorry I have failed you. Please find a way to forgive me in your hearts.”
The note – like Sponseller’s body – wasn’t discovered for ten days despite the fact that it was sitting in a desk in his office, which the Columbia Police Department claims to have searched thoroughly.
Ten days …
Forgive us for asking the obvious question … but why in the hell didn’t police open Sponseller’s desk? Seriously … how do you conduct a thorough search of an office without opening the missing person’s desk drawer?
Makes you wonder what else these “investigators” failed to search …
More egregiously, police conducted three separate searches of the parking garage where Sponseller’s body was eventually found and discovered nothing. Only on the fourth search did they finally obtain a master key that opened the “double-enclosed room” where Sponseller’s body was found.
How is that possible? Didn’t they use K-9 dogs to search the premises? And aren’t these dogs supposed to be specifically trained to locate cadavers?
Yes … and no. In searching for Sponseller, the Columbia police used dogs from a volunteer group in Swansea, S.C., according to The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper.
Wait … volunteer dogs? Both the Richland County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD) and the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) have trained K-9 units … why didn’t the Columbia Police Department contact them and ask for help?
This is astoundingly incompetent police work … of course it is probably about what we should expect given the way the department handled its last high-profile case.
Many have compared the saga of Sponseller’s disappearance to a Law & Order episode. That’s half-accurate. We have a Law & Order mystery, for sure … but instead of intelligent, attractive detectives like Olivia Benson (a.k.a. Mariska Hargitay) we’ve got the Keystone Kops B-Team on the case.
Anyway, despite dropping the ball on the Sponseller case for ten days, within hours of discovering his body Columbia cops (and Richland County Coroner Gary Watts) had already determined that the Air Force officer and Citadel graduate not only shot himself, but died “instantaneously.”
Forgive us for being skeptical … even if the gun was indeed registered to Sponseller and tests conclude that he fired a weapon on the day of his death (neither of which has been conclusively established at this point).
Even if we had Benson on this case, though … and had discovered all of these important clues days ago … we would still be staring down a major mystery.
For starters, why did Sponseller choose this location to shoot himself in the head after leaving his suicide note locked in his office drawer? Do most people who kill themselves go to elaborate lengths to hide the evidence?
Seems to us like that’s what murderers do … although we’re told by law enforcement sources that there is evidence from a car crash last year involving Sponseller that lends itself to the suicide theory.
Still, though … why would a man who is about to kill himself take such elaborate measures to conceal his location (and the location of his note)? And why were the security cameras in the parking garage not working on the day he chose to off himself?
Of equal importance, what happened to the estimated $900,000 missing from Sponseller’s organization? We know that 41-year-old Rachel Duncan – the employee referenced in our story referencing the missing funds – is a target of an ongoing federal embezzlement investigation. We also know that the missing money is somehow tied to a gambling issue.
Beyond that? It’s a big mystery …
At every turn, the Tom Sponseller saga is generating additional questions … none of which the “professionals” charged with investigating his death seem capable of answering.
At this point all we really know is that a man is dead, a family is grieving, a lot of money is missing, an organization is trying to pick up the pieces and a bunch of national news executives and crime drama producers are about to have a field day with the State of South Carolina.