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Crime & Courts

Unsolved Carolinas: Haley Sanford’s Parents Uncover New Evidence

A break in the case?

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Parents of a Union County, South Carolina mother who died under suspicious circumstances have collected new evidence as they seek to assist law enforcement in its investigation of the case. So far, though, calls for a renewal of the criminal inquiry have fallen on deaf ears.

In the aftermath of Haley Sanford‘s death nearly four years ago, her parents Gregg and Sonya Sanford pinned their hopes on an investigation that would secure an arrest – and a conviction – for their daughter’s murder. Instead, they have been forced to traverse a trail of un-pursued leads … a trail that grows colder by the day.

FITSNews shared the heartbreaking story of Haley’s suspicious death in September. To recap: Haley was found dead in her Jonesville, S.C. home on February 9, 2020. She was found at the bottom of a staircase – with one toe on the bottom step in a position her family members describe as “posed” – her killer intending to make it appear as though she had fallen down the stairs and died as the result of an accident.

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At the time of her death, Haley was married to 24-year-old Dylan Thomason – but was looking to change her situation. In early 2020, she was making plans to leave Thomason – unable to countenance his controlling behavior any longer. In an escalating pattern of intense overreaction, he had limited her ability to communicate, go anywhere or do anything without him.

Haley had recently landed a new job and was looking forward to starting this position, but Thomason allegedly sabotaged her vehicle so it would not run – preventing her from going to work. When Thomason left the house, he took the wireless router with him so Haley could not go online. In the weeks before her death, he was also accused of stealing her phone and leading her to believe it had been misplaced.

Even outings with her mother were disrupted as Thomason allegedly sent messages pretending to be Haley cancelling plans they had made.

“I’m a prisoner in my own home,” Haley lamented on her Facebook page.

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While some close family members knew of her plans for a new life without Dylan, they did not realize the danger she was in. They thought she had the situation under control – and she had not given them any reason to believe otherwise. As domestic violence survivors know all too well, though, the most dangerous time for a victim is when they decide to leave their abuser.

As previously reported, Thomason was in the home at the time of Haley’s death. He told family members they had argued until daylight – at which point he 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. 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. Her manner of death? It was deemed “undetermined.”

The initial investigation into the suspicious death was handled – or rather mishandled – by the office of Union County sheriff David Taylor, who shortly thereafter found himself under criminal investigation in an unrelated matter. Investigators collected minimal evidence and failed to interview Dylan Thomason – the only other adult who was in the house at the time she died.

After Taylor’s fall from grace, sheriff Jeff Bailey took office and vowed to solve Union County’s list of unsolved murders. He put resources into investigating Haley’s suspicious death and months later arrested her husband, Dylan Thomason, for his role in it. A short time later, though, Thomason was released and the charge was dropped.

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(FITSNews/ YouTube)

REVISITING THE CRIME SCENE …

Haley’s body was found in a position that appeared to her parents to have been staged. As noted above, the autopsy failed to establish the manner of her death – although it didn’t rule out the possibility she had fallen down the stairs.  

New evidence does, though.

Gregg and Sonya Sanford were already frustrated with the situation when they solicited help from the public – and began collecting evidence on their own. It took time, but they were able to uncover new information from multiple sources.

“No parent should have to investigate the crime scene where their child was killed,” Gregg Sanford said. “But we did. We got the evidence. And now, no one wants to pay attention.”

The new evidence provides unmistakable clarity about the nature of Haley’s death – and directly contradicts the theory that her death could have been caused by a fall down the stairs. It also indicates Haley tried to get help.

FITSNews has seen the evidence – which is not being publicly released at this time because there is still hope it could be used in a court of law. Investigators have seen it, too, although as of this writing they have yet to act on it.

In fact, when Gregg Sanford contacted authorities offering what he feels strongly is proof of his daughter’s murder, he was told without explanation that there would be no follow-up.

No longer acting solely on parental intuition, the Sanfords had valid evidence of the crime that led to Haley’s death. When Dylan Thomason was released and the charge against him dismissed, the grieving parents were told that despite strong feelings about how the incident occurred – it could not be proven as a murder.

With this new evidence in hand … why is that still the case?

FITSNews reached out to the Union County Sheriff’s office and the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) for comment on these latest developments. A spokesperson for SLED said the agency was looking into it. Sheriff Bailey has yet to respond. Likewise, a FOIA request for records pertaining to the case has yet to be answered.

UPDATE: On December 20, 2023 a spokesperson from SLED reached out to clarify their response. The spokesperson is looking for information on the case to share with FITSNews. The agency’s involvement in the investigation – if any – is not known as Union County was the lead agency.

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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 of 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 research@fitsnews.com.

The more stories we share, the more truth we can uncover, the more justice we can achieve … and the more hope we can spread.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Callie Lyons (Provided)

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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1 comment

Anonymous December 20, 2023 at 7:18 am

Please do not give up on this case. I remember Haley as a child. I taught her brother and son. Her parents are good, honest people. Union County has so many cold cases for such a small county. If the powers that be perceive you as “unimportant” or not a person with “money connections,” then you can forget about them caring to solve the case. The solicitor thinks he can’t win the case so he doesn’t want to pursue it. That is just wrong. Haley deserves justice, her precious children deserve justice, and her family deserves justice.

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