“I got this urge again — the urge to tie them up.”
The following article contains graphic details of rape and murder of teenage victims. Mature audiences only.
The weekend of May 23, 1973, passed far too quickly for 13-year-old Alexis Ann Latimer and her best friend Sherri Jan Clark, 14. While bummed that their weekend at the beach was up, they were ecstatic to know that since Mary, Alexis’s mother, owned the beach house, the two would have the entire summer to relax and enjoy the beautiful weather in Folly Beach, South Carolina. The girls just had to get through three more weeks of school before their summer break began.
Sadly, neither of the girls would ever see the beach again, much less spend anymore summers together.
As Sherri’s mother packed the car, her daughter made one last-minute request. She and Alexis wanted to go for a quick walk on the beach — no more than thirty minutes, they promised. The weather was beautiful, and the tide was rescinding, making it the perfect time to grab the now exposed sea shells; perhaps even a complete sand dollar if they were lucky.
Neither mother objected to Sherri’s proposal, plus she and Alexis had been an invaluable help the entire weekend with painting the summer house.
Once the last piece of luggage had been stowed in the car’s trunk, Mary Latimer glanced at her watch. Thirty-seven minutes had elapsed, and Sherri and Alexis had still not returned.
For the remaining daylight hours, the panicked mothers combed the beach, climbing up each dune for a more complete view of the landscape. The two girls were nowhere in sight.
An Unlikely Scenario
The Folly Beach Police seemed to not be at all interested in the teen’s disappearance. Mary Latimer would later claim:
“the girls were reported missing immediately, but the police laughed at me. They thought I was just an overwrought mother.”
When the Charleston County Police took over the case, they decided that the girls simply ran away, joining the thousands of other adolescents fleeing from home in the early 1970s.
Their decision was devastating, and left the two families hopeless and distraught. Both Alexis and Sherri were both Beta club members, A+ students, and popular in school. They were not runaways. Still, the search for the girls was abandoned.
With help from several family members and friends, Mary Latimer distributed flyers to local restaurants and small businesses. In sheer desperation and with no help from law enforcement, Mary contacted a renowned Dutch psychic, who produced a fairly accurate map and instructions that the girls’s bodies would be located on the north side of Folly Beach.
To Mary, this map only verified what she had already known. The girls did not run away, but their bodies were somewhere still on the beach.
An entire year would pass before the families of Sherri and Alexis would learn the awful, actual truth about their daughters.
Wild-Eyed and Trembling
April 12, 1974 — nearly a year after the disappearances of Latimer and Clark, had been a memorable day for Patrolman Edward Ott. His morning started with a wild goose chase after an irate Folly Beach resident had phoned into the station multiple times, complaining about illegal surfing in the waters. Ott had proceeded up and down the beach, but saw no signs of anyone, much less illegal surfers.
Frustrated, Ott was returning to his cruiser when he passed by 1101 East Atlantic, a vacant beach home. It was here that Ott heard what he thought was a woman’s cries for help, coming from the outdoor shower room. He hastened quickly to its source and gasped with unbelief.
Three terrified teenage girls were lying side-by-side, all bound by their hands and feet. Two of the girls were gagged, the one crying for help had somehow dislodged hers. Tears welled up in the girl’s eyes when they saw Ott’s blue and black police attire.
“Thank god you heard me. Get us out of here. He’s coming back!”
Ott quickly busied himself with untying each girl, assuring them that they would be safe from now on. He asked them who it was that was coming back.
“The man … the man who made us walk under the house. I can still see his eyes. He was crazy or something. He was excited. He was trembling like he was cold.”
The three girls, who wanted nothing more than to spend their day off from school sunbathing, were lucky the beach cop had walked by when he did. Surely the man would have returned to finish what he had started.
They claimed that the man approached them on Folly Beach, concealing a pistol underneath a beach towel. He had told them that he had already killed three other people and they would be next if they didn’t follow him.
The man took the girls to a nearby shower room that rested under a beach house on 1101 East Atlantic Street.
There, he bound each girl up by her wrist and ankles, but was interrupted by an approaching patrol car. He waited until Patrolman Ott was out of sight and then he took off running.
Ott heard the screams coming from the area and luckily rescued the girls from their certain death. They gave police a detailed description of their attacker, which authorities used to identify a local sailor, Richard Valenti, 31 as the perpetrator.
The Folly Beach Serial Killer
Born in Brooklyn to a “seriously disturbed family”, Richard Valenti as a child “suffered from domination by his mother.” Even at an early age little Richard Valenti showed signs of sexually deviant behavior.
Richard’s wife, Sharon Valenti, could not contain her tears as she testified about trying to control her husband’s fetishes. She claimed that she had long known of his sexual perversion of his thrill of binding, gagging, and dominating women. Perhaps Richard’s abusive mother caused him to develop the need to have complete control over a female.
Sharon admitted that she tried to satiate her husband’s desires by letting him tie and bind her up, but her attempts never satisfied him, and his perversions only increased as his age progressed.
“I knew he wasn’t normal, but I didn’t think he was dangerous. I tried to get him to see a psychiatrist, but he said, ‘Why — there’s nothing wrong with me.”
Valenti joined the Naval Reserves in 1962 as a radar expert, and he married his wife Sharon soon after. The sailor fulfilled his initial enlistment contract, leaving the military and working a few menial jobs. But with a baby of his own on the way, he reenlisted in 1972, putting him in Charleston, South Carolina, where he had access to female beachgoers.
Inside Richard Valenti’s home, police seized hundreds of glossy photos and BDSM magazines.
The bodies of Alexis Latimer and Sherri Clark were nothing but skeletons when they were finally unearthed on April 17, 1974; Valenti leading officers to their location. It turned out that law enforcement had been wrong to peg the two teenagers as runaways. Even worse, one more small body was dug up as well; the decomposing corpse of Mary Earline Bunch.
Initially, a resident’s dog had led police to Mary’s scent buried under the beach sand. Mary was last seen in February walking with her father, who ironically served as the Police Chief at the time.
Valenti confessed to all three murders.
Richard Valenti was walking along the deserted Folly Beach when he saw both Sherri Jan Clark and Alexis Ann Latimer wandering in his direction. Neither girl noticed him at first, as they kept their heads down, looking for seashells.
Using a toy pistol concealed inside his beach towel, Valenti threatened the girls that he would shoot them unless they followed him to a vacant home. The girls walked into the outdoor shower, followed closely by Valenti. He demanded both girls to disrobe, and then, using strips of cloth he had brought from his apartment, Valenti bound the hands and feet of both Sherri and Alexis.
Valenti then demanded that the girls pose in various positions and eventually stand on a rickety chair, during which he placed hand-twisted nooses around each of their necks.
“I told the girls to stand still, but they became scared and began struggling and fell off the chair.”
A jury convicted Richard Valenti of murdering three teenage girls, to which he received two life sentences without parole. This sentence would have suited the victim’s families, but a South Carolina law was enacted soon after, that allowed the killer to apply for parole every two years, sending the victim’s families into a torment and nonstop fear of his constant release.
In 2020, Richard Valenti was again up for parole, but he never showed up to his hearing. Richard Valenti had died; suffocated and deprived of oxygen much like the three teenage girls he so ruthlessly murdered.
His killer… was Covid-19.