Investigation Discovery’s ‘Swamp Murders: Dark Water’ follows the tragic rape and murder of 53-year-old Barbara Hefner inside her Thomson home in McDuffie County, Georgia, in March 2004. The police found her body floating in a nearby river and solved the homicide using forensic evidence. If you’re interested in knowing how the case was solved, including the perpetrator’s identity and current whereabouts, we’ve got your back. Here’s what we know so far.
How Did Barbara Hefner Die?
Barbara Oliphant Hefner was born to Jack Brown Oliphant and Alma Howell Oliphant in Jefferson County, Georgia, on December 12, 1950. She had been married to her husband, Shawn, for more than two decades before getting separated in the late 90s. They had two daughters together — Marijane Hefner and Heather Warner. Although a native of Jefferson County, Barbara lived in Thomson in McDuffie County, Georgia, for most of her life. She was a Material Manager at Augusta Coating and Manufacturing Company.
Barbara’s family and friends recounted her as a decent person who loved to be in charge and get things done. She was a workaholic, even working out of her home and bringing work home. According to reports, the 53-year-old was scheduled to shop with a friend on March 6, 2004. However, the concerned friend called her brother when Barbara failed to turn up, and the latter informed the authorities. A deputy from the McDuffie County Sheriff’s Department went over to her White Oak Road residence to conduct a welfare check.
The deputy was shocked to find the house in disarray and a considerable amount of blood on the bedroom walls and floor. While there was no evidence of a break-in, the state of the residence indicated a violent struggle had occurred inside the room. Authorities discovered drag marks in the back of the home, and two fishermen found Barbara’s floating body in Folly Lake, Augusta. It was wrapped in a comforter, and an autopsy indicated the victim had been strangled, beaten, and sexually assaulted.
Who Killed Barbara Hefner?
According to Marijane, her mother wanted to remodel her house after the divorce and had workers swarming everywhere. She had transformed her home into a sanctuary, decorating the entire lodging according to her wishes. When the authorities reached the residence, they found a worker named Wade working on the premises. He told the officers he had been working for the past few weeks and had come early that day to get a jump on his workload. Since Wade seemed reserved and dodgy, the officers marked him as a person of interest early on.
Forensic experts combed through the house and found a concerning amount of blood on the bed, floor, and bedroom walls. They indicated a violent struggle had ensued between the victim and the perpetrator, and the missing comforter added to their worries. When Barbara’s body was found wrapped in the comforter, their fears turned out to be true. The investigators could not see any obvious signs of death except for blunt trauma to the back of the head and bruising around the eye.
In addition, Barbara’s eyes had petechial hemorrhages — tiny dots of blood — indicating she had been strangled to death. This observation was confirmed when the coroner ruled the cause of death to be manual strangulation, along with blunt force trauma to the head, chest, and extremities. Moreover, forensic evidence established severe genital injuries, suggesting she had been brutally raped. The detectives concluded everything about the murder made it seem quite personal.
The investigators initially went after the ex-husband, Shawn, and the contractual worker, Wade, as prime suspects in the murder. Since the latter was allegedly the last person to have seen Barbara alive and had a petty criminal record involving minor drug issues, the detectives interrogated him. According to the show, Wade had been involved in suspicious activities after the murder, including getting rid of a black trash bag with the help of his minor nephew. Yet, the officers learned the bag contained marijuana, so nothing else that tied Wade to the crime.
The officers also got hold of Barbara’s husband, though their daughters and family embers ruled him out as a suspect. After learning she had allegedly been having an affair with him, the detectives were suspicious of her supervisor, Frank, despite him being married. They collected DNA evidence from all the suspected individuals, but they were ruled out after none of them were found a match. However, the police took vaginal swabs from the body and were tested for DNA.
Where is Dannie Lee Samuels Jr. Now?
The results were run through the DNA computer index system, and they had a hit. The DNA profile belonged to Dannie Lee Samuels Jr., then 29, who worked with Barbara at her company, where she was his supervisor. When a match for his DNA was found, he was arrested and taken to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s (GBI) office. After receiving Miranda warnings, Dannie executed a waiver of rights and agreed to speak with the investigating officers.
Dannie confessed that he raped and killed the victim, dragged her body from her home, and left it at the lake. According to the show, he had a prior criminal record, including robbery and firearm possession. Consequently, Dannie was charged with malice murder and felony murder in the commission of aggravated assault, aggravated assault, rape, aggravated sodomy, aggravated battery, and concealing a death on June 12, 2006. The indictment further alleged the existence of multiple statutory aggravating circumstances concerning the charges of malice murder, felony murder, and rape.
The prosecutors intended to seek the death penalty but dropped it after Dannie signed a written agreement waiving the right to trial by jury. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole for malice murder on August 20, 2009. The court also gave him life imprisonment with parole for rape, 15-year terms for aggravated sodomy and aggravated battery, and a 10-year term for concealing a death. According to official court records, Dannie, in his late-40s, is incarcerated at the Hancock State Prison in Sparta, Georgia.
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