As the white hot glare of the national media spotlight began receding from the white brick facade of the Colleton County courthouse – site of convicted killer Alex Murdaugh’s dramatic double homicide trial this winter – many began musing as to what South Carolina’s next true crime saga might be.
“The moving finger writes; and, having writ, moves on,” reporter John Monk of The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper tweeted upon the conclusion of the Palmetto State’s ‘Trial of the Century’ (channeling his inner Omar Khayyam, presumably).
Moves on … but where?
“In search of new horrors?” Monk wondered.
As I’ve often noted, the story of Alex Murdaugh and his family’s fallen legal dynasty is much bigger than “true crime.” And goes much deeper than its gory particulars. It is an ongoing crime and corruption saga … one with many cases remaining on the docket (or in the works).
It is also a saga still crying out for institutional accountability … hence our ongoing coverage.
But while the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ story rolls on, numerous other cases warrant attention – including multiple high-profile stories which contain an ample sufficiency of “horrors.” One of them? The yet-to-be-christened “Rose Petal Murder” – a savage slaying which occurred shortly after 10:00 a.m. EST at 122 Canebrake Drive in Greer, South Carolina on the morning of October 13, 2021.
On that date and at that location, an absolutely horrific stabbing took place – one which claimed the life of 41-year-old Christina Parcell, a technician at Foothills Veterinary Hospital in Greenville, S.C.
Several national media outlets were reportedly in Greenville this week conducting interviews and preparing stories on this saga – which has witnessed numerous twists and turns over the last seventeen months.
Gifted with a “personality the size of a high-rise,” Parcell was described by her veterinary co-workers as “always trying to make everyone feel better.”
“The dogs loved her and she did such an incredible job with them,” one hospital employee wrote.
As for her relationships with humans, Parcell “always had an ear and always tried to make you smile even in the worst of situations,” the co-worker added.
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“She did just a really good job of exhibiting compassion and empathy, and she was always very even-tempered,” hospital owner Dan Randall told WSPA TV-7 (CBS – Greenville/ Spartanburg). “We traveled some difficult journeys with her over the last three years, and I just like people to know, she was an amazing person.”
“She loved her daughter, was extremely close to her sister, and she’s just not another nameless faceless victim,” Randall added.
The violent, seemingly random murder of Parcell prompted a wave of shock and a deluge of grief in and around Greenville. And given the South Carolina Upstate’s status as a bastion of social conservatism, thousands of prayers were lifted up on behalf of Parcell’s friends and family – particularly her surviving daughter, who was under the age of ten at the time her mother was murdered.
As the story has unfolded, though, a vastly different picture of Parcell has emerged. Meanwhile, the investigation into her death has volleyed back and forth between absolute certainty … and unresolved mystery.
Was there another side to this cheerful and empathetic vet tech? A side the public didn’t see? A side that could have played a role in the ghastly end she met on that fateful fall morning?
Also, why do police and prosecutors seem to be frantically searching for additional evidence in a case where they certainly appear to have Parcell’s killer dead-to-rights?
To answer those questions (or at least attempt to answer them), we must start at the very beginning of this investigation …
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The body of Christina Parcell was discovered shortly after 11:00 a.m. EST on October 13, 2021 in the front living room of a suburban home owned by her sister, Lutina Parcell. She was found, unresponsive, by her fiancee, Bradly Post.
According to Post, he had placed multiple calls to Parcell on the morning of her murder – calls which went unanswered. When he drove to her sister’s home to check on her, he found her savagely slain.
“It was a very brutal crime scene, for sure,” Lewis said.
Details from this “brutal” scene have yet to be released publicly, but there are reportedly some truly disturbing ritualistic components to it. For example, this news outlet has learned the killer allegedly sprinkled rose petals around Parcell’s body after dragging (and posing) her in the front living room of the 2,100-square foot home.
“Rose petals were sprinkled around her body,” a source familiar with the killing told this news outlet. “She was dragged – there were drag marks. The scene was staged.”
Officially, Parcell’s cause of death was recorded by the Greenville county coroner as a homicide caused by “multiple sharp force injuries.”
How many such ‘injuries” are we talking about? During an April 6, 2022 court hearing related to this case, S.C. thirteenth circuit solicitor Walt Wilkins indicated Parcell “was brutally stabbed to death in her neck and head area” – sustaining “approximately 31 different stab wounds by a sharp object.”
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Deputies with the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO) – the lead investigative agency in this case – found “memory cards and a laptop” in the living room near Parcell’s body, according to an incident report. They also recovered a “clear ziplock bag that had (a) white power substance inside” on the living room table.
“This clear bag appeared to have dried spots (of) blood on it,” the report added.
A cell phone located “near Christina’s body” was retrieved and processed for “data extraction,” while a purse belonging to Parcell containing two envelopes (each with $500 in cash inside) was discovered “on a table near the hallway” of the living room.
That’s not all deputies found …
“In the back room a small single shot firearm was located inside of a bag that was inside of a suitcase,” the report added.
Meanwhile, “multiple documents regarding (an ongoing) custody battle” were retrieved from Parcell’s bedroom – along with numerous “usb drives.” Parcell’s bed sheets were also collected “as they appeared to have blood on them.” In fact, a Bluestar spray test was conducted in “several areas (of the home), to include the bathrooms, and (produced) a positive response for the possible presence of blood.”
Multiple arrests have been made in the aftermath of Parcell’s murder – exposing several unexpected layers to this graphic homicide.
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For starters, her fiancee Bradly Post was arrested on October 19, 2021 – but not for killing Parcell. Instead, Post was apprehended in connection with a child pornography investigation related to evidence obtained from the murder scene. He is currently facing five counts of sexual exploitation of a minor in the first degree, one count of sexual exploitation of a minor in the third degree, one count of third degree criminal sexual content with a minor and one count of buggery.
All of those charges are being prosecuted by the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson.
No court date has been scheduled for Post, and as of this writing he remains incarcerated at the Greenville County detention center.
Additionally, Post and Christina Parcell (or rather, her estate) are listed as defendants in two civil lawsuits – one brought on behalf of Parcell’s own daughter and the other brought on behalf of another minor female allegedly victimized by the couple.
According to the first lawsuit (.pdf) – filed in February 2022 – “Parcell and Post took pictures/ videos of and with (the minor female) in states of undress and in sexually provocative positions.” These images and videos were uncovered “during the investigation of the murder of Parcell.”
According to the second lawsuit (.pdf) – filed last August – Parcell’s own daughter was allegedly photographed and videoed “in various stages of undress and in sexually explicit and nude positions.” Some of these files (graphic content warning) “graphically depict(ed) her genitals and breasts.”
As with the initial civil complaint, this second pleading indicated both Post and Parcell were involved in the alleged abuse – and that the evidence referenced in the civil complaint was uncovered “during the course of the law enforcement investigation of Christina Parcell’s murder.”
Who killed Parcell, though?
That may be the most bizarre element of this case …
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According to police and prosecutors, Parcell’s murderer is 31-year-old Zachary David Hughes – a California native and graduate of the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City. A classically trained concert pianist, Hughes studied and performed piano sonatas written by famed composer Ludwig van Beethoven.
A Lord of the Rings fan, Hughes wrote on his website that when he was growing up any “free time not spent practicing piano was employed crafting wooden replica swords from the LOTR books and movies and taking them into the Appalachian woods to do battle with the forces of darkness.”
Hughes also had military training to employ in waging his “battles.”
“In 2019 he felt the itch to see a different side of life, and after six months of rigorous physical training was selected from a competitive pool of candidates to attend Marine Corps Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Virginia,” his website noted. “Despite earning top marks at OCS, he was dropped from training due to severe stress fractures sustained in both legs.”
On November 3, 2021 – GCSO deputies arrested Hughes and charged him with murder and use of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime in connection with Parcell’s death. He has been held at the Greenville County detention center since his arrest.
The case against Hughes certainly seems strong. During an April 2022 bond hearing before S.C. circuit court judge Edward W. Miller, Wilkins told the court a Ring camera from a home across the street showed “the defendant dressed in a black hoodie and a backpack entering the front door” of Parcell’s home just before she was killed.
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Hughes was later seen on another Ring camera “leaving the subdivision on a bicycle” after Parcell’s murder, Wilkins told the judge.
That bicycle – or at least a bicycle “matching the exact bicycle leaving the neighborhood at the time of the murder” – was spotted on yet another camera in the back of Hughes’ truck, according to Wilkins.
Hughes’ attorneys disputed the video evidence, claiming the clips cited by prosecutors “don’t show Zach.”
However, prosecutors have further asserted Hughes’ DNA was found under Parcell’s fingernails – which would definitively link him to the crime scene.
“The victim’s fingernails were processed for DNA, and the (result) conclusively shows that Zach Hughes’ DNA was under the fingernails of the victim,” Wilkins told judge Miller.
According to Wilkins, “the premeditation and calculation and planning that had to go into this crime was pretty impeccable.”
What could have possibly motivated Hughes to commit such a gruesome murder, though? There is a working theory …
Wilkins told the court Parcell was involved in “an extremely contentious custody battle” with 62-year-old John Mello – her ex-husband and the father of her daughter.
Mello and Hughes “are very close friends,” Wilkins said, and the two routinely used the encrypted smartphone application WhatsApp to communicate with each other.
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Limited information from Hughes’ phone has already been obtained by investigators and prosecutors, but they have yet to crack all of the encrypted messages between him and Mello.
“We have emails and texts showing their close relationship as well as when (Mello) was arrested for custodial interference for leaving with (his daughter) to Italy,” Wilkins said. “When he was arrested, on his jail screen he put – the only family member that he put on the jail screen – was Zach Hughes. So their relationship is very, very close.”
Hughes also worked for Mello, according to prosecutors, cleaning his home and performing other random jobs. Mello also gave Hughes exclusive rights to retrieve his belongings from the airport after he was arrested returning from Italy on October 21, 2021 (eight days after the murders).
Hughes was recently ordered to provide his iPhone passcode to investigators so they can complete the forensic extraction of all 1,769 encrypted WhatsApp messages allegedly exchanged between him and Mello. Last September, S.C. circuit court judge Letitia Verdin – who was recently elected to the S.C. court of appeals – ordered Hughes to turn his password.
So far, he has refused to comply with this order.
In other messages already obtained by prosecutors, Mello and Hughes appear to be speaking in code.
“How did the music research go?” Mello asked Hughes in a message dated the day of the murders.
“Good, I’ll tell you over the phone,” Hughes responded.
“We’re still concluding – trying to conclude the extraction of his phone,” Wilkins said last fall. “We don’t have his code and he’s refused to give us his code. And on that phone, we believe, is a lot of very valuable information.”
Hughes’ murder case is expected to be tried sometime in early 2024 in Greenville County. Stay tuned for additional reports from this news outlet as this story moves forward.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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