The Deck - Natasha Warren (4 of Hearts, South Carolina)

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Our card this week is Natasha Warren, the four of hearts from South Carolina.

In 2008, Natasha was a young mother of two who was working two jobs to provide for her

family, when one night, on a dark stretch of road, a stranger came across her path and

forever changed her life.

That person has gone unnamed and unknown for 14 years, and now, law enforcement is opening

up, hoping justice can finally be served.

I’m Ashley Flowers, and this is The Deck.

On Sunday, August 24th, 2008, in Columbia, South Carolina, Adrienne Warren was on her

way to help a friend move.

Her friend had worn out her welcome at her sister’s apartment in Columbia, so Adrienne

volunteered to help the woman until she could find her own place.

Now Adrienne was pretty sure that her friend could stay with her sister, Natasha, for a

Natasha had a three-bedroom apartment nearby, and she worked so much that she was hardly

ever there.

But Adrienne hadn’t actually gotten around to asking Natasha if that plan would be okay

because she hadn’t seen her sister for a week.

Now Natasha did have two small kids, two boys just two and three years old.

But Adrienne and Natasha’s mom often watched the kids because Natasha had been working

two jobs and finishing up college, and their dads weren’t really around.

It was about 10 a.m. when Adrienne was driving on the highway to her friend’s house, thinking

about all of that, when she noticed a car parked on the side of Interstate 26.

And that car looked a lot like Natasha’s car.

She wondered for a minute if it was her sister’s because where it was located was only a few

miles from where Natasha lived.

Adrienne wasn’t able to stop or turn around to check because it was a busy morning and

she was due at her friend’s place to help her start packing.

And honestly, the glimpse of the familiar car didn’t cross Adrienne’s mind after that.

When Adrienne finished helping her friend pack, she drove over to Natasha’s apartment

to arrange for her friend’s stay and run the plan by Natasha.

But Natasha wasn’t home.

Again, that wasn’t all that unusual since Adrienne knew Natasha worked a lot and was

never really at her apartment for very long.

At the time, Natasha didn’t have a working cell phone, so Adrienne couldn’t call or text

her to see where she was or relay a message about Adrienne’s friend wanting to crash

at her place.

But Adrienne did have a working number for Natasha’s fiancé, Michael, though.

So she called him and he told her that he hadn’t heard from Natasha since Friday night,

almost two days earlier, when she called from a payphone and left a voicemail saying she’d

gotten a flat tire on her way to work the night shift at the post office.

Like I said earlier, Natasha had two jobs.

One was at the Columbia Postal Mail Processing and Distribution Center, and one was as a

patient care assistant at Providence Hospital.

After hanging up with Natasha’s fiancé and learning that her sister had car trouble,

Adrienne thought about the car that she had seen on the side of the interstate.

Now, she was sure that that familiar looking car must have been her sister’s after all.

It would make sense why it was pulled over.

And not only that, where it was parked would have been on the way to the postal processing

center where Natasha worked.

While Adrienne is connecting the dots in her head and talking with Natasha’s fiancé,

a South Carolina state trooper had stopped to check on the car.

He didn’t do this because any of Natasha’s family had asked him to, he was just making

his normal patrol rounds.

He saw the car pulled over in a really busy area on the highway right near an exit for

Bush River Road.

He could tell right away that the car had a flat tire, so he pulled behind it to see

if the driver needed help.

From where he parked his cruiser, he couldn’t see anyone inside.

It didn’t look like anyone was in the driver’s seat, and he figured whoever had broken down

probably walked off to get help or had been picked up.

So he thought he might need to report the car as an abandoned vehicle.

But as he got closer to the driver’s side window, he saw something alarming.

A woman’s lifeless body propped in the driver’s seat, covered in blood.

The trooper immediately radioed for the Richland County Sheriff’s Department to respond,

and within minutes, deputies arrived along with the county coroner.

Now the timing of the trooper’s discovery is wild, because by the time Adrian got off

the phone with Natasha’s fiancé, figured out it was likely her sister’s car that

she spotted earlier on the highway, and then drove back to check it out, the roadway had

turned into a crime scene.

When Adrian pulled over near the Bush River Road exit, all she could see were cop cars

and yellow crime scene tape around her sister’s car.

A deputy told her to stay back because they’d found a deceased female in the vehicle.

Adrian spoke with our reporter Emily for this episode, but she didn’t want to be recorded.

She said that in that moment, talking with the deputy and seeing all the chaos unfolding

around Natasha’s car, she couldn’t even think straight.

She remembers the investigators asking her why she was there, and her telling them that

she thought the car belonged to her sister.

She said one deputy asked her if Natasha had any tattoos to try and help them determine

if the woman in the vehicle was, in fact, Natasha.

They needed some concrete form of identification from someone who knew Natasha, because at

the time, investigators had not found Natasha’s driver’s license in the car, or any form

of ID that could help them identify the dead woman.

And so they specifically asked Adrian about any tattoos because they didn’t want to

walk her over to see the body, in case it was her sister.

At that point, the coroner had looked over the body and determined that, based on her

stage of decomposition from the August heat, she’d likely been in the car and dead for

at least a day, if not two.

So she wasn’t in a physical state that police felt would be good for Adrian to see.

So Adrian told police about a tattoo Natasha had on her back, and that is how they were

able to confirm that it was, in fact, her sister.

Adrian was horrified by the news and quickly left the highway scene in a state of panic.

She went back to Natasha’s apartment, and by that point, there were cops everywhere.

But not just cops.

Upstairs, Adrian ran into Natasha’s fiancé Michael and his brother looking around.

Adrian says that she was surprised to see the two of them there, so she asked what he

was doing, and he said that he came over to look for any clues or evidence.

Adrian knew that he lived a town over, and actually would have had to pass right by the

crime scene to get to Natasha’s apartment.

She told Emily that she immediately felt it was odd that he wouldn’t have stopped

at Natasha’s car first to speak with police or do any of the stuff that she had just done

with the cops on the side of the highway.

Adrian pressed him about why he hadn’t mentioned anything to anyone about not seeing or hearing

from Natasha for two days.

She also asked him why he’d not followed up with Natasha after he got her voicemail

Friday night about being stranded with a flat tire.

His response, according to Adrian, was that he hadn’t seen the voicemail until hours

after Natasha left it, and so he figured that Natasha had probably called one of her cousins

or a friend to help her.

This response didn’t really sit right with Adrian, and Richland County investigators

also felt that something about Michael’s answers were odd.

At the time, Natasha and her fiancé didn’t live together, and because of their busy schedules,

mostly Natasha’s, they didn’t see each other every day.

But investigators wondered, what couple goes days without speaking, especially when one

of them knows the other is without a working car or having car issues?

Here’s Richland County cold case investigator Dottie Cronice discussing this very point

with our investigator.

Do you find it odd that like her boss or a family member didn’t call her in missing?

It’s hard to say, because she lived close enough, I mean she was just off of her St.

Andrews Road exit, that the family may have thought that she got a ride back to her apartment

or that she got a ride to work, and the boss may have thought, well, she’s having car difficulties,

she can’t get the tire changed, so she’s just, you know, she just didn’t show today.

I can’t really say what they thought.

Those are simply speculations on my part, as to what might have been reasonable, because

she lived here in Columbia, she didn’t live with family members who were out of county.

Dottie sat down with us to go over what investigators were working off of at the start of the investigation.

By midday on Sunday, hours after finding Natasha, detectives launched a full-blown murder investigation.

They labeled it a homicide because it was determined on scene that Natasha had been

shot in the chest, and no weapon was found near her or in her car, so it wasn’t possible

that she’d chosen to take her own life.

Someone else had definitely killed her.

Natasha’s remains were taken for an autopsy, where the coroner officially ruled her death

a homicide by gunshot.

A closer forensic examination of Natasha’s body further ruled out any kind of suicide

theory, because the wound in her upper chest had entered at an angle that police said would

have been virtually impossible for anyone to make if they had a gun pointing towards

themselves, holding it with both hands or even one hand.

What happened was most definitely not accidental.

Detectives towed her car to the sheriff’s department and combed it for more evidence.

As police were gathering evidence and lining up interviews with possible witnesses and

family members, Adrienne, her mom, and Natasha’s other family members were reeling with grief,

and trying to figure out how to explain to Natasha’s two sons what was going on and

why their mother would never be coming home.

She’s 23, has two young children, I believe one was two years old, and the other little

boy is four, and they are now left with some very hard explanations for the adults to try

to give them.

Natasha’s fiancé, Michael, was not the father of her two kids.

The boys had different dads from Natasha’s previous relationships.

But the fathers of Natasha’s two sons were ruled out really early on because Richland

County determined that they had alibis and weren’t even in the area at the time Natasha

was believed to have been killed, which police were pretty certain was late Friday night

or possibly early Saturday morning based on the state her body was in when they had found


Michael also had a fairly solid alibi for that Friday night.

He told police that he was at work late on Friday at a Food Lion grocery store plant.

He said he worked his regular 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift.

Detectives confirmed his story after interviewing his co-workers, and they all vouched that

he was at work late Friday night and didn’t get off until early Saturday morning.

Records from his cell phone show that it was turned on but inside his car in the plant’s

parking lot because he was working in the freezer rooms on Friday night.

So that fact supported his claim that he had not received Natasha’s call for help about

the flat tire until he got off work Saturday morning and checked his phone.

Which all of that makes me wonder why Natasha even called her fiance from the payphone of

the gas station in the first place, if she knew that he was at work and wouldn’t answer.

The best thing I can think is that maybe she thought he would take a break, see the voicemail

and decide to come help her and change her tire.

Or maybe she assumed he wouldn’t be working in the freezer section that night.

He didn’t always work in that part of the facility.

Police say that they don’t know the answer to these questions either.

Back in 2008, the main lead they chose to follow was looking further into Natasha’s

relationship with Michael.

Detectives wanted to figure out if there was something they were missing, something that

could be a red flag.

And it turns out, there was.

According to Natasha’s sister Adrienne, Natasha and her fiance planned to get married

in late September of 2008, just one month after she was killed.

It’s a small detail, but one that stuck out to law enforcement, especially because

when Natasha was found in her car, she wasn’t wearing her engagement ring.

Police initially thought that was odd, but when they talked with her family and friends,

they learned that it wasn’t all that uncommon for Natasha to leave her ring behind at home

when she went to her jobs, and they did find her ring back at her apartment.

So her not wearing it wasn’t a huge red flag.

But what was, was a conversation Adrienne told police she’d had with her sister not

long before she had died, and it was regarding her upcoming wedding.

In July, so just a few weeks before she was killed, Natasha and Adrienne went wedding

dress shopping.

Adrienne said that while she was helping Natasha pick out a wedding dress, she noticed that

Natasha didn’t seem very excited about getting married.

She said there was no sense of joy in her sister’s mood, and it felt like Natasha

was maybe even a little bit sad.

Adrienne, who’s seven years older than Natasha, said it got to the point where she told her

baby sister that if she didn’t want to get married and didn’t feel like this decision

was the right one, that she didn’t have to go through with the wedding if she didn’t

want to.

She said she told Natasha, right there in one of the dress boutiques, that she should

consider either a longer engagement or a breakup with Michael if the wedding wasn’t what

she wanted.

Natasha and Michael had only known one another for about a year before they got engaged.

Adrienne told our reporter that throughout most of his and Natasha’s relationship, she’d

always been a little bit skeptical of him.

She said the way Natasha and Michael met was kind of a whirlwind and atypical.

She said that one night after working a long shift and attending college classes, Natasha

had dozed off at the wheel and actually crashed her car.

A guy showed up and offered to help her, and less than a year later, he’d proposed and

the two were engaged.

But here’s where things get even more interesting.

Adrienne said that about a week before the murder, which would have been the last time

she saw her sister alive, the whole family was at their grandparents’ house for a Sunday


Natasha and Michael were there, but Natasha barely said anything.

Adrienne found out that the reason there seemed to be so much tension was because Natasha

had recently tried to break things off, but her fiancé wanted to work it out.

Adrienne said that she remembered going out to their car as they were leaving dinner and

Natasha had a look in her eyes that told Adrienne she was unhappy.

And Michael just looked at Adrienne and said that he and Natasha were going to work everything


Adrienne says that she took that comment as less of a reassuring gesture and more of a

way of him saying, mind your own business.

To this day, that interaction and the dress shopping conversation breaks Adrienne’s

heart to think about, because she feels guilty for trying to help her little sister get out

of a bad relationship, but not being able to actually do anything to really help her.

After learning all of this information from Adrienne, the police investigating Natasha’s

death at the time had no doubt that the couple’s relationship was rocky and not in the best


But again, Michael’s alibi checked out, and when asked directly by police in an interview

if he had anything to do with Natasha’s death, Michael said no, he didn’t even own a gun.

Investigators had nothing to go on to say that he was involved in any way, so they had

to move on.

They began re-evaluating everything they’d learned and tried to piece together the moments

leading up to Natasha’s murder, and here’s what they determined.

Natasha was driving to her job at the post office at 10.30 p.m. on Friday, August 22nd.

While she was nearing the Brush River Road exit, she likely realized something was wrong

with one of her tires and pulled over.

She got out and saw the flat tire, and because she didn’t have a cell phone, she walked

down the exit ramp to a nearby Sonico gas station to use the phone.

Here’s Dottie again to explain who Natasha called and what police believe happened next.

She goes into Sonico, she calls a family member and she called her boss, one to get

help and the other to let him know that she was going to be late, and then she goes back

to the car, and I believe she goes back into the Sonico station three more times, and one

time she actually goes in and uses the restroom, and then goes back to the vehicle.

For whatever reason, as we well know, she was killed and left there on the side of the

road in her vehicle.

According to Dottie, the female gas station attendant working in the store that night

was never a suspect.

She cooperated with police and told them exactly what she remembered from that night, including

all the times Natasha came and went from the store to her car and back.

They had spoken with her, you know, they tried to get her to let, you know, use our phone,

don’t use the payphone.

No, I’m going to use the payphone.

You know, she was, she was independent, I’m going to use the payphone.

She got her quarters from the register and used the payphone and made the phone calls

that she needed to make, and it’s just a sad set of circumstances, perhaps even a perfect

storm that you’re a single female and you’re stuck there on the side of the road and nowhere

to go, and you can speculate all day long, well, why didn’t she just stay at the Sonico

station, any number of things, but she didn’t.

She walked back to her cars, as far as we know, that’s what she did.

And the most tragic thing that could happen then.

Based on surveillance video, the interview with a gas station employee, and the logs

from the payphone, detectives think Natasha was alive and going back and forth between

her car and the gas station for at least an hour.

So that would mean she likely was alive up until close to midnight.

The last phone call she made was around 1130, 1120 that night on the 22nd.

She’s not discovered until 1130 Sunday morning.

So we’re 36 hours from basically the last phone call till her body is discovered there

on the side of the road in her vehicle.

So to recap, the calls to her fiance and to her boss were the only calls police know of

that Natasha made that night.

So either Natasha decided to wait for Michael to get her voicemail and come help, or she

ran out of change to call more friends or more family for help.

Now, the crime junkie in me has to wonder why the boss didn’t think it was weird when

Natasha never showed up for work.

But according to police, her boss has never been considered a suspect, and they don’t

know why he didn’t report her overdue and she didn’t show up.

But like Dottie said, maybe her boss figured Natasha couldn’t resolve the car issue and

just was a no-show for her shift.

Detectives didn’t have too much time to focus on why Natasha’s boss didn’t do what would

have been helpful, because as investigators dug for more information about who else was

at the gas station Friday night, detectives saw a lone man on surveillance video waltzing

into the service station at the exact time they knew Natasha was there.

In a press release that followed the discovery of this man on the store’s videotapes, authorities

were careful not to refer to him as a suspect.

They called him a person of interest, basically just someone they wanted to talk to in case

he was a witness to anything that could help lead the investigation in a helpful direction.

He was there in the store, I believe, with her at the time, and came from the same area

where she was walking from in the parking lot, and thought that he may have seen somebody

near the car.

I believe he came in, gave a statement.

Detectives have never released what information the man gave in his statement, but it was


They gleaned some new info from him that they hoped would come in handy someday.

But as far as what exactly he told them, authorities still won’t say.

But they will say this.

As far as I know, he was not involved.

The next person they see on the store’s surveillance video takes investigators by surprise.

Another man crossed paths with Natasha that night, but this guy was wearing a police uniform.

During one of Natasha’s trips back into the gas station, as she was waiting in line

for change to use the payphone, she’s seen standing behind a uniformed police officer.

On the video, you don’t see Natasha and this officer have any interaction or conversation,

and detectives trying to solve her murder wonder why she didn’t ask the officer for

help if she was having car troubles.

In hindsight, police were thinking he could have changed her tire for her, and she would

have been well on her way to work before her killer had the chance to attack.

But detectives probably didn’t take into consideration that as a young black woman,

Natasha might not have felt comfortable asking a police officer for help.

As it turns out, the officer actually worked for the Richland County Sheriff’s Department,

the very agency who would end up investigating her murder.

Detectives followed up with him, and unfortunately, he didn’t remember seeing or hearing anything

suspicious in that area while he was in front of Natasha in line.

He didn’t even see Natasha’s car, because he didn’t take that highway exit ramp to

get to the gas station.

He’d actually approached the store from a different direction on Bush River Road.

Natasha’s family told investigators that it didn’t surprise them Natasha had not

asked the cop for help.

She was fiercely independent, and Adrienne said that she did everything on her own.

It’s safe to assume that if she had known how to change a tire, she would have done

that before calling for help or asking a police officer to help her.

She also never called 911 from the payphone.

She only called Michael and her boss.

Adrienne wasn’t surprised at all to learn that Natasha had likely waited in her car

for help rather than hanging around the gas station.

She said her sister maintained such a busy lifestyle that she would sometimes take power

naps in her driver’s seat in between obligations.

According to everyone who knew her, Natasha wasn’t afraid of being alone.

And she also didn’t have any enemies to be afraid of.

She, from all accounts, a good student, attentive mother, good sister, daughter.

Not causing anybody any aggravations or problems, trying to get her education, working two jobs

to do the things that she really wanted to do and accomplish, and to have a better life

for her children.

You go back and you wonder, you know, why do good people have bad things happen to them?

This is one of those instances.

And it’s so hard for the family to understand what would make someone want to do this.

Figuring out the motive behind the crime was authorities’ biggest challenge.

Answering the hard questions that Dottie just asked were constantly on detectives’ minds

in 2008.

Fortunately, authorities caught a small break about a week after the crime.

Some information came in that completely changed who authorities thought could be

responsible for such a brutal murder.

A few days after Natasha’s body was found, a group of teenagers was arrested in Richland

County for robbing a convenience store not far from the murder scene.

One of the suspects who’d been caught was a young woman.

She told police that she’d acted as a getaway driver in a string of robberies, and three

guys she’d been associated with had been the ones to actually rob the stores.

She told police that on Friday night, August 22nd, the three guys she’d been working

with had borrowed her van, and the next day she overheard them talking about something

they’d done to someone.

It was a super vague statement, but the girl went on to tell police she also found some

weird stuff in her van after the boys brought it back, like a comb and a part of a woman’s


So police interviewed all four of the teen suspects separately since they were already

in custody for the robberies.

And they straight up asked them if they’d been involved in what happened to a woman

on the side of the Interstate 26 on August 22nd.

Detectives figured because Natasha’s driver’s license had been missing from her car, one

possible motive for whoever killed her could have been robbery.

And there were things missing from the car, but there was nothing in that car, as her

sister Adrienne said, that was worth killing her over.

Police won’t say on the record what specific items were missing from Natasha’s car, but

they confirmed that it wasn’t anything of value.

Two of the teenagers got lawyers right away, but the others started talking more with investigators.

The female suspect, who said that she thought she heard the guys talking about something

that could have been the murder, even agreed to take a polygraph.

But during the questioning, she kept changing her story.

At first, she said she thought her co-robbers killed Natasha.

Then she said she was just telling police what they wanted to hear so the robbery charges

against her would be dropped and she could get out of jail.

She ended up failing two polygraph tests, one where they questioned her about being

at the scene of the murder, and another where they questioned what she knew about it based

on what the male suspects had said.

The fact that she failed both polygraphs didn’t help the investigation at all.

It just muddied the process.

At that point, investigators were running short on any evidence connecting the teens

to Natasha’s killing, and the changing stories weren’t helping things.

On top of that, the gun that the group had been using during their gas station robberies

was not the same type of gun that police knew had been used to shoot Natasha.

You see, it was a semi-automatic pistol that had been used to kill Natasha.

And according to Richland County, the gun that the teens had was not semi-automatic.

So what police thought was going to be their big break was looking more and more like a reach.

They didn’t have enough to charge any of the teens with Natasha’s murder, so

they had to let them go.

They still faced punishment for their robbery crimes, but over the next several years,

Natasha’s case went cold.

Detectives continued to try and connect the teens or any of their associates to the crime,

but nothing ever materialized.

According to Dottie, sexual assault has actually risen to the top of the list as a more likely

motive for Natasha’s murder than just a random robbery.

Police have their reasons for thinking this, but the details that back up that theory are

completely off the record.

So we just don’t know what they found out since 2008 that makes them think that.

What police did tell us, though, is that Natasha’s body was too badly decomposed when it was found,

so they were unable to get any sexual assault determination from a post-mortem exam.

The results from what forensic swabs they did submit were inconclusive.

In 2015, evidence technicians cut apart Natasha’s car and did forensic tests to see if they could

lift any skin cell tissues.

They remained tight-lipped about what they found, but whatever it was, it didn’t match

the teen suspects, nor anyone else whose DNA is in national or local databases.

A male fingerprint on Natasha’s car was also lifted and preserved,

but it didn’t match anyone.

Not her fiancé, not anyone in her family, no one close to her.

Investigators think that the fingerprint could belong to the killer, or it could belong to

anyone else who had contact with the car prior to the murder.

I mean, the car had not been washed leading up to the crime,

so who knows how old the fingerprint was.

Dottie says despite all the near misses and lack of corroborating evidence,

Natasha’s case is still solvable.

She firmly believes that there is someone out there who has a small piece of information

that could help solve it.

The leads are there.

It’s just a matter of getting whoever in the community that knows about the case,

that knows Natasha, that may have some information of who they think may have had

last interaction with her, to come forward and let us know.

Detectives have gone as far as regularly searching national crime databases to try

and find patterns for similar murders.

But so far, they’ve never come across one that perfectly matches Natasha’s.

There are highway murders daily in the United States.

But according to Richland County, there were none before, nor have there been any since,

that were done in the same manner as Natasha’s.

Even the thought that Natasha could have died at the hands of a random violent predator

scares Dottie.

That’s why she urges anyone listening, or who learns about Natasha’s case,

to contact her department if you have any information.

If you even think you suspect something, call us.

Let us run it down.

Let us see if it works with what we already have.

Whatever you can give to us, don’t think that you’re worrying us,

or that it’s silly, or anything else.

Just simply think about Natasha’s little boys are growing up without a mom.

They won’t have their mom there on their wedding.

They won’t have mom there for graduation from high school.

And so many events that they have missed having their mother.

And it would be nice to at least give them the opportunity

to find out who did this to their mom.

Natasha’s sons are teenagers now.

And even though they were so young when their mother was killed,

her sister Adrienne says that they still remember her.

They remember her taking them to the beach and to Chuck E. Cheese.

Adrienne says that her family will see news stories

about cold cases getting solved after 20 years,

thanks to DNA or a tip.

And she’s still holding out hope that one day that will be the case for them.

Thinking about her family and even what Natasha’s life would be like today

keeps detectives like Dottie motivated to find resolution

and give Adrienne and everyone else in Natasha’s life closure.

I’m sure she would be very successful.

The kind of person you would want in your hospital room.

So it’s just very, very frustrating.

Adrienne says that if she ever gets to confront her sister’s killer,

she only has one question.


Help the Warren family find some peace in the way of answers.

Please, if you know anything about the 2008 murder of Natasha Warren,

call the Richland County Sheriff’s Department in Columbia, South Carolina

at 803-576-3000.

Or you can call South Carolina Crime Stoppers

at 888-CRIME-SC.

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