Florence County double murder victims' family speaks out

Florence County double murder victims' family speaks out
Investigators told the family new technology will be used to revive the investigation.
Investigators told the family new technology will be used to revive the investigation.
The two victims were brutally stabbed to death in 2011.
The two victims were brutally stabbed to death in 2011.

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - Three-and-a-half years have passed since the bodies of two women were found brutally stabbed in Florence.

Two men were charged in the crime, but a lack of evidence forced investigators to drop the charges.

Now, family members are finally opening up about the gruesome crime with hope the case will finally be solved.

The Patel family traveled from England, Missouri and Illinois to speak with WMBF News about the case.

Mother and nurse

Punam Gopaldas, 31, had made a life for herself in Florence. She worked as nurse at McLeod Hospital and was raising her toddler son, Jai, at home in the Country Club of South Carolina.

In June 2011, she was nearing the end of a contentious custody battle with her estranged husband and had her mom, Vinaben Patel, living with her to care for Jai.

“From my conversations with Punam, [2011] was a very difficult year for her,” said Bhav Patel, cousin of Gopaldas and nephew of Vinaben Patel.

Difficult, because [Punam] was finally trying to end her arranged marriage to Hiral Gopaldas - a man she claimed abused her.

“She was very close to freeing herself from the day-to-day tensions she had,” Patel continued. “I think she was looking forward to just having it settled. She was very confident she was going to get Jai.”

Gopaldas felt certain she was going to get full custody of her son, Patel said.

Punam and Vinaben checked in with family weekly on Skype, usually when Jai would come and go from the home for custody arrangements. But when they missed connecting with family on Saturday, June 25, 2011, Florence County deputies were sent to the home for a welfare check.

Deputies found both women stabbed to death with Jai by his mother's body.

The crime

“There was no forced entry and nothing was taken,” Patel told WMBF News. “It's obviously someone they know and knows the area very well.”

Investigators told the family this attack was personal.

“She fought him off quite a lot,” Patel said about Gopaldas' relationship with Hiral. “My aunt fell down quite easily, [Vinaben] was stabbed 4 times and died quickly we were told, but Punam put up a fight, she suffered.”

Investigators make an arrest

Days after the murder, Hiral Gopaldas was arrested for murder. Investigators claimed to have linked his father to the crime scene, too.

The family was not surprised to hear about the arrest.

WMBF News Anchor Paula Caruso asked Patel if he got the feeling Gopaldas was scared for her life.

“I did ask her that question and she said no,” Patel responded. “But she was, I would say, what she was talking about was not normal in a loving, caring relationship.”

Dropped charges

One year after the murders, all charges in the case were dropped. The victims' family entered into a drawn out custody battle for time with Jai.

The family court judge put a gag order on the case -- leaving the family, and they say some investigators, at a standstill with the criminal case.

“We felt we couldn't talk about certain subjects and if we had, then we would lose our rights and it would have a detrimental effect on custody of the child,” Patel told WMBF News.

“All that mattered was Jai, for Punam and my sister, that's all they cared about,” said Ramesh Patel, brother of Vinaben Patel and uncle of Punam Gopaldas.

Last year, the judge gave full custody to Hiral Gopaldas and Punam's family hasn't seen the boy since.

"We're optimistic, we just want justice," said Hansa Patel, sister of Vinaben Patel and aunt of Punam Gopaldas.

Now, the family wants the criminal case back in the spotlight.

Case status

They've been in contact with SLED and say witnesses are being re-interviewed.

“There's new DNA technology [investigators] are saying they are very excited with it, and they'll be applying those techniques,” Bhav Patel told WMBF News.

What the family needs now are more witnesses. Anyone who may have noticed something out of the ordinary on that Saturday afternoon in June.

“There must be other people out there, who may be afraid of coming up previously, who would like to furnish more information which will help in this case,” Bhav Patel said. “Victims of these crimes and their families should be afforded justice, that's why this crime should be thoroughly investigated.”

Anyone who may have information on this case should call 1-888-CRIME-SC.

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