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Crime & Courts

Rose Petal Murder: Zach Hughes’ iPhone Unlocked

Deleted WhatsApp messages remain elusive, though …

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Prosecutors in the office of South Carolina thirteenth circuit solicitor Walt Wilkins say they have unlocked the Apple iPhone 8 belonging to Zachary David Hughes – the man criminally charged in connection with the gruesome ‘Rose Petal Murder’ of 41-year-old Christina Parcell.

The device was unlocked on February 8, 2023 after nearly 700,000 attempts to crack its code, according to an affidavit from Greenville County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO) investigator Charlie Cunningham.

It was not unlocked thanks to any help from Hughes, however …

Despite a court order compelling him to supply the device’s passcode, Hughes is accused of repeatedly failing to do so – claiming he had forgotten it. He later offered suggested passcodes which turned out to be “bogus,” according a new court filing from prosecutors. In that filing – a “rule to show cause” motion – Wilkins’ office accused Hughes of having “intentionally attempted to mislead investigators by providing a bogus iPhone passcode with an accompanying fraudulent backstory for the creation of the bogus passcode.”

Hughes’ efforts amounted to a “willful intent to deceive the court and to undermine the administration of justice,” highlighting “the lengths (Hughes) was willing to undertake during his attempts at deception,” deputy solicitor William C. McMaster III wrote in the filing, which was submitted on April 6, 2023.

“(Hughes) knew this information was incorrect,” McMaster added. “(He) intentionally undermined law enforcement’s attempts to unlock his iPhone.”

Prosecutors have asked for a hearing on their motion, and are seeking criminal contempt charges and sanctions against Hughes in addition to the murder and weapons charges he is facing. Specifically, the court is asking for an “active incarcerative sentence” to be imposed. A hearing on this motion could be scheduled as soon as next week.

(Click to View)

Zachary David Hughes (Greenville County Detention Center)

A California native and graduate of the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City, Hughes is a classically trained concert pianist who studied and performed piano sonatas and concertos written by famed composer Ludwig van Beethoven. Our research director Jenn Wood published this expansive piece on his background just last week.

On the morning of October 13, 2021, he is accused of traveling by bicycle to 122 Canebrake Drive in Greer, S.C. and savagely murdering Parcell, who worked as a technician at nearby Foothills Veterinary Hospital in Greenville, S.C.

As noted, the details of this crime scene were shocking – “disturbingly ritualistic,” according to our previous report. For starters, the killer allegedly sprinkled rose petals around Parcell’s body after dragging (and posing) her in the front living room of a 2,100-square foot home owned by her sister, Tina Parcell.

“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.”

Others cited the presence of multiple “deadheaded roses” around Parcell’s body.

Either way, the case has been christened by local law enforcement officers as the ‘Rose Petal Murder.’

Parcell’s cause of death was recorded by the Greenville county coroner’s office as a homicide due to “multiple sharp force injuries.” Specifically, 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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Parcell’s body was discovered shortly after 11:00 a.m. EST by her fiancee, Bradly Post – who has since been arrested (but not for Parcell’s murder).

During an April 6, 2022 court hearing, Wilkins indicated Hughes’ DNA had been found under Parcell’s fingers.

“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 S.C. circuit court judge Edward W. Miller.

A Ring camera from a home across the street also captured Hughes “dressed in a black hoodie and a backpack entering the front door” of Parcell’s home just before she was killed, according to Wilkins. Hughes was later seen on another Ring camera “leaving the subdivision on a bicycle” after Parcell’s murder, Wilkins said.

Hughes’ attorneys disputed the video evidence, claiming the clips cited by prosecutors “don’t show Zach.”

Hughes has no prior arrests or convictions and surrendered voluntarily to authorities on the charges he is facing.

The ‘Rose Petal Murder’ – and its bizarre fallout – has rocked the socially conservative South Carolina Upstate.

Less than a week after the murder, Post was arrested in connection with a child pornography investigation related to evidence obtained at the murder scene. Post 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 (more on that last charge in a moment).

All of these charges are pending – and are being prosecuted by the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson.

Post and Parcell (or rather, her estate) are also 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.

There have also been reports of bestiality – which would be consistent with the buggery charge against Post.

At the time of her murder, Parcell was involved in “an extremely contentious custody battle” with 62-year-old John Mello – her ex-boyfriend and the father of her young daughter.

(Click to View)

John Mello (Greenville County Detention Center)

Mello and Hughes “are very close friends,” Wilkins said, and the two routinely used the encrypted smartphone application WhatsApp to communicate with each other. In fact, Mello and Hughes are said to have exchanged at least 1,769 encrypted WhatsApp messages.

In one conversation via WhatsApp on April 17, 2021, Mello – who is facing a custodial interference charge in connection with his custody case – indicated he had obtained Christina’s private number and instructed Hughes to use it to “harass the shit out of her.”

Authorities also uncovered numerous conversations between Mello and Zachary Hughes via WhatsApp between October 8 and October 13, 2021 – the day of Christina Parcell’s murder. On October 13, for example, there is a conversation in which Mello asked Hughes “how did the music research go?”

“Good,” Hughes responded. “I’ll tell you over the phone.”

A source familiar with the ongoing extraction efforts from Hughes’ iPhone told me recently that “every time we download we find something new,” but that there are still hundreds of messages police and prosecutors cannot access.

The iPhone is reportedly in the hands of an expert who is attempting to access those encrypted messages.

Police and prosecutors believe many of the relevant messages they are seeking “were deleted off the app in the phone.”

Count on this news outlet to keep our readers updated on the very latest developments in this case. Also, count on us to attend any upcoming hearings scheduled in connection with the latest court filing.

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THE FILING …

(Via: S.C. Thirteenth Circuit)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

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Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

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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