HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – A 45-year-old Little River man has been charged with murder after the body of a 29-year-old woman was found decomposing in a closet in a Little River apartment.
The body of 29-year-old Christian Hope Phipps was found by police responding to a call for a suicidal man on Tuesday afternoon; Leon Edward Collier, identified in the police report as Phipps' boyfriend, was found inside that apartment and taken into custody.
Collier was booked into the Horry County Detention Center Tuesday and charged with murder and two counts of unlawful neglect of a child on Wednesday in connection with Phipps' death, police confirmed. Arrest warrants state that Collier placed a 6-year-old and a 10-year-old child in "unreasonable risk of harm" due to "unsanitary home conditions and lack of food in the residence."
Collier appeared before a magistrate court judge in Conway Thursday morning. Bond was not set, as bond for a murder case must be set by a circuit court judge. Collier will remain in jail until he can be seen by a circuit court judge during a general sessions hearing.
He was quiet during the bond hearing process and declined comment when the judge asked if he wanted to say anything.
"I would at least try to address the judge, give my apologies, say something through the judge to me or anybody," said Chris Williams, Phipps' brother said. He was at the bond hearing Thursday. "Honest, I couldn't believe he didn't say anything really."
Horry County Deputy Coroner Darris Fowler said Phipps died several days before she was found by the Horry County Police on Tuesday. Preliminary findings are still under investigation as to determine her cause of death.
Officers responded to the apartment in the 4200 block of Pinehurst Circle at 10:34 a.m. for an attempted suicide call, said Lt. Raul Denis with Horry County Police. Crime Scene Investigator Lt. Peter Cestare said police got no answer when they first arrived at the condo, and then they found a window open to enter to open the front door.
Once they entered the apartment, the responding police officer identified himself, and Collier came from around the corner, according to the police report. The officer detained Collier due to accusations given to police that Collier may have a gun and a box cutter. They asked Collier about the whereabouts of Phipps, and he said that she went out shopping earlier in the morning.
Police checked the apartment for other residents, and found Phipps' body in the master bedroom closet with items piled on top, the report states. She was cold to the touch and obviously deceased.
Detectives and Crime Scene Investigators secured the condo, obtained a search warrant around 2 p.m., and started collecting anything that could explain what occurred in the condo, including computers, cell phones and other pieces of evidence. They began investigating the woman's death as a potential homicide.
A third-person call reported Collier was attempting to commit suicide, according to authorities. Lt. Raul Denis said the apparently suicidal man was arrested and is presently detained at the Horry County Detention Center. .
The property manager for the condo said Phipps rented the apartment with her two children. They moved in over the summer after the woman's husband died from cancer, the property manager said.
Phipps' brother, Chris Williams, said the children are safe with family members. He said he talked to them Thursday and they're handling the difficult situation well.
Williams said his other sister shot and killed their father in 1997. Their mother died the same year from a diabetic coma. Then, the sister died while in prison. He said both he and Christian had dealt with some difficulties during their lives, which the next generation will also face now.
"Them poor kids are growing up going through the same kind of stuff that me and her both went through growing up," he said. "I hope and pray, man, that their future is a lot brighter."
He remembers his sister, who he calls Chrissy, as someone who was well liked and would always make people smile.
"It's unbelievable, man. I guess I'm still trying to take it in," Williams said. "That's my baby sister. She's a good girl she did not deserve nothing, nothing of that nature."
He said his heart also aches for his niece and nephew. He said the nephew said he was home when Collier and Phipps went into the bedroom after an argument.
"The kids heard her hollering that she couldn't breathe, she can't breathe, she can't breathe," Williams said.
He said when the children asked Collier to see their mother, they were told they couldn't.
"The kids would be wanting to go in the bedroom and see or talk to her mama and he'd tell her she's sick, she's sick, you can't go in there right now," Williams said.
A close friend of both Phipps and Collier said she tried warning Phipps about getting in a romantic relationship with Collier. She said the last time she heard from Phipps was November 21. She said Phipps asked her if she should stay with him, to which the friend advised her to end things.
She said she'll remember Phipps as a devoted mother, wife and friend.
Hope Phipps, Christian Phipps' in-law, said she will also think of Phipps in that way.
"I called her cell phone the other night and I heard her voice. I played it over and over and over last night," Hope Phipps said. "I miss her so much."
She said Phipps only made positive comments about Collier when they spoke.
"She would always talk highly of him," she said. "She was always saying he treated her well and that he was her guardian angel her husband sent to her."
Hope Phipps said she'd like to see justice for Phipps.
"We see stuff like this on the internet and the news and stuff, but to actually go through it is horrifying," she said. "It's not fair that he actually took her from us."
Stay tuned to WMBF News on air and online for more details as they become available.