The Brutal Murder of Tina Milford

The Brutal Murder of Tina Milford

She was abducted while working ovenight at a convenience store.

Tina Milford felt uneasy as she reported to work at midnight on June 24, 1983. The 23-year-old worked as an overnight clerk at a Little Cricket convenience store near Interstate 85 in Anderson, South Carolina, but she had recently requested to be moved to the day shift. A few months earlier, while she was working at a different Little Cricket store located four miles away, Tina had been badly beaten during a robbery. The experience had traumatized her; she told friends that she no longer felt safe working there. She had transferred to the store closer to Interstate 85, but it would prove to be even more dangerous.

The first indication that something was wrong came around 2:45 am, when a customer entered the Little Cricket store and found it seemingly abandoned. Although the front door was unlocked and all the lights were on, no one was inside. The customer waited in the store for a few minutes, but no employees appeared. Realizing that something was wrong, the customer called the police.

The first deputies to arrive at the scene immediately feared the worst. Although there was no indication that any kind of struggle had taken place inside the store, the cash register was open and had been emptied of its contents. Tina’s brown sandals, which she often slipped off while she was working, were behind the counter. Her purse was there as well; it contained her identification, makeup, and $70 in cash, all untouched. Her car was sitting in the parking lot in its usual parking space. Only Tina was missing.

The manager of the Little Cricket told police that Tina was an excellent employee. She was reliable and dependable; he was certain that she never would have left the store unattended. This, coupled with the fact that cash was missing, led police to believe that Tina had been abducted during a robbery. The Anderson County Sheriff’s Office quickly launched a search of the surrounding area, hoping they could find her before it was too late.

More than a dozen deputies took part in the search for Tina, but they found nothing to indicate what might have happened to her. They had no idea when the robbery had taken place; the last confirmed sighting of Tina at the Little Cricket had been around 1:30 am. It was possible she had been missing for well over an hour by the time police started looking for her.

The search for Tina came to a heartbreaking end around 11:00 am that day, when a group of people searching for bottles and cans to collect stumbled across her half-naked body about 15 miles away from the Little Cricket. Her body had been discarded in a field located off Elrod Road near Piedmont, just a few miles away from the Greenville County line and right next to Interstate 85. It seemed probable that her killer had used the interstate to make a quick getaway from both the Little Cricket and the crime scene.

Tina had been shot once in the head; she had also sustained multiple other injuries, likely from struggling with her attacker. Investigators weren’t sure if she had been killed at the location where her body was found, which was known to locals as a lovers’ lane. It was possible that her captor had sexually assaulted her inside his vehicle and then taken her into the field to kill her. The coroner determined that she had died shortly after she was abducted from the convenience store.

Tina (Photo credit: 1977 Westside High School Yearbook @ www.ancestry.com)

Tina’s death came just a few weeks after a clerk at another area convenience store had been stabbed to death during a robbery attempt. Fearing for the safety off all convenience store employees, Anderson County officials recommended closing all stores during the overnight hours. They were forced to abandon the idea as it was deemed unconstitutional, but stores were still encouraged to find ways to improve employee safety.

Tina wasn’t the first employee to be killed at the Little Cricket store near Interstate 85. Two years prior to her murder, a male clerk had been shot twice during a robbery attempt; although he was still alive when ambulance crews arrived, he died on his way to the hospital.

In the aftermath of that murder, the store stopped allowing customers inside during the overnight hours. Instead, the customer would go up to a window and tell the clerk inside what they wanted; the clerk would then grab the desired items and ring them up. Once the customer handed their money through the window, the clerk would give them their items. The system worked — there were no attempted robberies while the window was in use — but at some point the company decided to stop using it. Had it still been in use in 1983, Tina would likely still be alive.

Tina’s family was devastated by her death. She had been extremely close with her parents and three siblings, and she had a daughter who was only 19 months old at the time of the murder. Tina was in the process of divorcing her husband, Tony; she had accused him of being physically abusive to her.

As Tina’s soon-to-be ex-husband, Tony was considered a possible suspect in the initial stages of the investigation. He told investigators that, despite the fact that Tina had filed for divorce, they were still living together and were thinking of giving their marriage another try. He was able to provide detectives with an alibi for that night, but he refused to submit to a polygraph examination after talking it over with a lawyer.

Tina’s sister, Ann Hollingsworth, disputes Tony’s claims that he and Tina were getting back together. She stated that Tina had been in the process of moving all of her belongings into their parents’ house and had never expressed any desire to work things out with her estranged husband. Despite Tony’s alibi, Ann thinks it’s possible that he had something to do with her sister’s murder.

Tina’s cold case card (Photo credit: www.facebook.com/SC-Cold-Case-Deck)

Ann is adamant that Tina would never have voluntarily gotten into a car with a stranger; if someone she didn’t know had attempted to abduct her, she would have put up a fight. Some of the investigators agree and believe that Tina likely got into a car with someone she knew, perhaps thinking they were just going to talk for a minute. It’s an intriguing theory, and it would explain why there was no sign of a struggle inside the store. Yet it fails to take into account that all the cash in the register was missing. Unless a random person came into the store after Tina was abducted and decided to help themselves to the contents of the register, one has to assume that Tina’s killer robbed the store before abducting her.

If Tina had been abducted by a stranger, he must have been able to quickly overpower her. It doesn’t appear that she made any attempt at hitting the panic button that was installed near the cash register for use in emergency situations. If she had pressed the button, it would have immediately alerted the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office that she was in trouble. It’s possible that the killer used a gun to threaten her into doing exactly what he wanted, and Tina was so afraid of getting shot that she forgot about the panic button.

Although Tina’s abduction and murder received a lot of publicity in local newspapers during the initial stage of the investigation, after a few days it faded from the headlines. Investigators had little physical evidence to work with, and they didn’t get much help from the public. No one had seen or heard anything suspicious that night; with no leads to follow and no potential suspects, the case quickly went cold.

In 2009, Tina’s murder was one of 52 cases included in a deck of cold case playing cards that were distributed through the South Carolina Bureau of Corrections. More than 10,000 inmates purchased these decks, which included a number for inmates to call if they believed they had any information on a case. Although to date no new tips concerning Tina’s case have been called in, several other cases have been solved as a result.

In 2018, the Anderson County Coroner revealed that DNA had been collected from an item of Tina’s clothing that was found at the crime scene. Although he refused to release specific information about what was found, he was hopeful that this evidence would be enough to finally identify Tina’s killer. There have been no updates about Tina’s case in the past few years, so it’s unclear if investigators were able to develop a full DNA profile of the suspect.

Tina’s grave (Photo credit: www.findagrave.com)

Tina’s family has been waiting for justice for over 40 years now. Although her mother and father both died without learning who was responsible for their daughter’s death, her siblings continue to hope that the killer will be identified and forced to face the consequences of his actions.

Tina Milford was just 23 years old when she was killed in 1983. She was a talented musician; she played the piano and organ and enjoyed writing songs. She adored her daughter and was robbed from getting to see her grow up by an unidentified killer who has never been found.
The Brutal Murder of Tina Milford
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