Police went to Chad Moretz's home to ask him about a friend who had gone missing and quickly found themselves in a tense standoff when a relative answered the door and whispered: "He's got a rifle. He's going to kill y'all."
It was at least the fourth time in 18 months deputies had gone to see Moretz. Neighbors and relatives had accused him of chasing his wife with a machete, threatening to kill a man with a handgun and stabbing a dog with a pocket knife. But none of that prepared investigators for what they found Jan. 11 after Moretz walked onto his front porch with an assault rifle and was killed by a SWAT team sniper.
Inside the home, amid filth and roaches and foul odors, police found the missing man's severed head and two hands hidden behind a kitchen cabinet inside a hole in the wall. The rest of the body, dismembered by a power saw and wrapped in bags, was discovered in a storage locker a half-hour away in neighboring South Carolina.
"I don't believe there was a motive," said David Ehsanipoor, an investigator for the Effingham County Sheriff's Office. "It wasn't a drug deal gone bad or a love triangle. Chad was just crazy."
Medical examiners confirmed the body belonged to Charlie Ray, 35. Ray had been a friend of Moretz, and his family had been searching for him since New Year's Eve.
An autopsy showed Ray was stabbed more than 40 times and had been dead more than a week before his remains were found. Moretz's wife told investigators her husband and Ray had been drinking and talking, then started arguing. She said Moretz grabbed a knife and started repeatedly stabbing Ray in their kitchen, Ehsanipoor said. Investigators suspect Ray's body was dismembered to make it easier to hide.
Ray's mother, Sandi Ray, said in a brief phone interview her son struggled with Tourette's syndrome.
Megan Edgerly, a friend of Ray's since childhood, said the debilitating brain disorder left him unable to drive or to hold down a job. She said he handled his tics — flailing arms and vocal outbursts — with grace and humor and treasured friends who accepted him in spite of it.
"Charlie never had a frown on his face," Edgerly said. "He was dealt a bad hand, but he always maintained a real positive attitude throughout all of it."
Moretz lived about 20 miles from where Ray lived with his parents. Moretz had moved there from southwest Florida, where violence devastated his own family a year and a half ago.
His father is scheduled to stand trial in April for the slaying of Moretz's mother in Naples, Fla. Police said Jeffrey Moretz, 55, followed his estranged wife, Christine Moretz, to a hospital and fatally shot her while she was visiting a friend on July 5, 2011. He then shot himself, but survived. Court records show Jeffrey Moretz filed for divorce in Collier County, Fla., two weeks before his wife's slaying.
One of Chad Moretz's neighbors, Ross Maruca, said Moretz didn't work and let his grass grow knee-high before Maruca decided to cut it himself. He said Moretz once showed up at his door and asked his wife for food and money. She gave him $20, he said, and Moretz later paid it back.
"You could look at him and tell something was wrong, just the look he had," Maruca said. "He looked like he was dazed all the time."
Deputies jailed Moretz on July 23, 2011 — not quite three weeks after his mother was killed — when his brother-in-law told police he'd received a frantic phone call from his sister saying Moretz was chasing her with a machete. Moretz's wife denied the story. Deputies charged Chad Moretz with trespassing when they found him hiding by a shed in a neighbor's yard.
Last May, neighbors called the sheriff's office when they said Moretz stabbed a dog that had gotten loose after he was bitten several times. In November, a friend told police Moretz asked for a ride, and when he refused, he pointed the gun at him and threatened to kill him and his family.
Deputies arrested Moretz on charges of making terroristic threats on Dec. 22. Jail records show he was released on $3,500 bond the same day.
Almost two weeks later, Maruca called police after seeing a TV news report that Charlie Ray was missing. Maruca knew Ray because he had lived at Moretz's house for two or three months the previous summer. The neighbor said he saw Ray at the house Jan. 2.
Police initially talked to Moretz's wife, who said Ray wasn't there. Days later, they decided to return to the suburban neighborhood of modest brick homes talk to Moretz himself. His brother-in-law, Kevin Lambert, met detectives at the door and whispered a warning.
"He said, 'Chad's in here, he's got a rifle, he's going to kill y'all,'" Ehsanipoor said.
Detectives dragged Lambert out of the house and retreated. Moretz, armed with an assault rifle, refused to come out or to let his wife leave. A hostage negotiator and a SWAT team were brought in.
After more than four hours, Moretz's wife ran outside through the front door and collapsed in the yard. Then Moretz emerged with an AR-15 rifle. Ehsanipoor said he was raising the gun when a sniper shot him.
Though investigators say they believe Moretz alone killed Ray, his wife and brother-in-law have been charged with helping conceal the death. Kimberly Moretz did not immediately return a message left at a phone number listed for her on a police report. Lambert did not have a listed phone number.
Investigators said it was one of the siblings who told authorities during the standoff that Ray's remains were hidden in a storage locker in nearby Jasper, S.C.
"Everybody's still in a state of shock," said Edgerly, Ray's longtime friend. "This isn't supposed to happen."