When 26-year old Haley Danielle Sanford was found dead in her Jonesville, South Carolina home on February 9, 2020, her family didn’t need to know ‘who.’ There was little question in their minds as to the individual responsible for her death.
The sudden void in their hearts demanded answers – and accountability – but from the very beginning of the investigation they had no doubts as to where it would ultimately lead.
Haley’s family was expecting a promising change in circumstances for their beloved girl – one which would set her on the path to a new life. The last thing they were expecting was the tragedy that soon consumed them.
Haley was found at the bottom of a staircase in her home – with one toe on the bottom step in a position her family members describe as “posed.” Intended to appear as though she had fallen down the stairs and died as the result of an accident – her family was disinclined to fall for such a ruse.
There was only one other adult in the house when Haley died. Her husband, 24-year-old Dylan Thomason. According to family members, Thomason told them the couple had fought the night before. The argument lasted until daylight, he claimed – at which point he finally sent Haley upstairs, too angry to sleep in the same bed with him.
According to Thomason, that was the last time he saw her before discovering her at the foot of the stairs when he awoke at 3:30 p.m. later that fateful afternoon.
Thomason’s version of events failed to explain why the couple’s two young children were locked in their bedroom – or why he left the house twice before noon (returning each time a few moments later). Nor did his narrative explain why he waited so long to call for help – or why he called his mother instead of 9-1-1 upon “discovering” Haley’s body.
More ominously, the “accidental” fall down the stairs suggested by Dylan failed to explain the injuries noted in Haley’s autopsy report three days later.
Referencing neck injuries consistent with manual compression and a deep laceration on the back of her head inconsistent with a fall down stairs, the autopsy determined the cause of death to be blunt force trauma of the head.
Haley’s manner of death? It was ruled “undetermined.”
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(Via: Newberry Pathology Group)
A PRISONER IN HER OWN HOME …
For 18 months leading up to her death, Haley increasingly felt like a prisoner in her own home. It’s a thought she verbalized on several occasions to her aunt, cousin and other family members who observed what was going on in her household.
Thomason was demanding complete control over her every move and all of her communications. Gregg Sanford, Haley’s father, said when Dylan went to work he was constantly checking on her – both directly and through a cousin who lived across the street. When he did not receive an immediate response, Dylan would leave work to check on her in person, Sanford said.
When he left their house for any reason, Dylan would allegedly take the Wifi router with him so Haley could not access the Internet. Her attempts at working a job of her own were thwarted by the sabotage of her car, which made it impossible for her to go anywhere. Outings with family members – and with her mother in particular – met with similar interference when he intercepted her messages and responded as if the negative messages were coming from her.
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About six weeks prior to her death, Dylan allegedly made Haley’s phone disappear and pretended she lost it.
Unable to stand such constant, crippling control, Haley made a plan to leave the home as soon as the family’s income tax money became available.
“It finally came to a head and Haley was ready to a divorce and make a better home life for her and her three babies,” Haley’s aunt, Tracy Smith said. “And we all knew this. We all knew it was coming. She had gotten to the point where she said she was in her bedroom all the time and her room had become her cell.”
One night, Haley sat on her bed discussing these future plans with her neighbor and cousin Holli Barnes. Without notice, Dylan busted through the door angrily – nearly taking it off its hinges in the process.
“He had to have heard,” Barnes said.
The most dangerous time for a woman in an abusive relationship is when she decides to leave her abuser. To Haley’s family, it was readily apparent who had caused her death.
Stunned, they waited for an arrest.
Within weeks Dylan was arrested – on a series of drug charges for which he did not see significant consequences, according to court records. Sixteen months passed before he was arrested and charged with Haley’s murder.
By that time, he was already remarried.
(Click to view)
LOST IN A SCANDAL …
Despite everything that was known – and the certainty of Haley’s family – the murder charge against Dylan Thomason was ultimately dropped after a few months. S.C. sixteenth circuit solicitor Kevin Brackett told the family he did not have enough evidence to prosecute the case.
The investigation into Haley’s death may have fallen victim to a corruption scandal that was shaking up the Union County sheriff’s office at the time. Ten days prior to Haley’s death, FITSNews reported then-Union sheriff David Taylor was the subject of a corruption investigation involving allegations of embezzlement and sexual impropriety. A substantial amount of evidence against him was discovered in the diary of a former female employee who had committed suicide.
It was not the first time the three-term sheriff was in trouble for this kind of behavior – but it would be the last time. Sheriff Taylor – who clearly had other things on his mind at the time – was indicted in July 2020 and charged with misconduct in office and disseminating obscenity in the midst of his campaign for re-election.
When sheriff Jeff Bailey took the reins in 2021, he inherited three unsolved murders and three suspicious deaths – including that of Haley Sanford. The other victims included Christopher Rhinehart (April 2015), Curtis Bomar (May 2020), Jabbrie Brandon (May 2020), Jessica Ashmore (May 2019) and Kevin Ammons (January 2020).
UNSOLVED AND UNSATISFIED …
Haley’s family finds it difficult to comprehend how there could be a lack of evidence in her case – and how that translates into no consequences for Dylan and no justice for Haley.
“We tried to be good and wait,” said Sonya Sanford, Haley’s mom. “We are tired of waiting.”
Haley’s family is actively encouraging the sheriff’s office and the coroner to keep working the case – and encouraging members of the public with information to come forward and help strengthen the investigation. They want the case reopened – and they want a coroner’s inquest to be held so the cause of Haley’s death can be conclusively determined.
ABOUT THIS SERIES …
Unsolved Carolinas – sponsored by our friends at Bamberg Legal – is a new series by FITSNews devoted to shining a spotlight on cases which have fallen off the front page. We hope to tell the stories of those individuals who are seeking answers and justice on behalf of their lost loved ones. We will dive deeper into their stories, get to know them through their families and friends and hopefully help find answers for those they have left behind.
In every unsolved case, someone out there could know something that provides a missing link – a critical clue that could bring peace to a family in pain and help them write the next chapter of their stories (even if it is the final chapter). If you know someone who is missing – or has been a victim of an unsolved homicide – email their story to [email protected].
The more stories we share, the more hope we can spread …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Callie Lyons is a journalist, researcher, and author whose investigative work can be found in media outlets, publications, and documentaries all over the world – most recently in the Parisian newspaper Le Monde and a German documentary for ProSieben. Lyons also appears in Citizen Sleuth – a 2023 documentary exploring the genre of true crime.
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