17 Days of Thunder
By Brian Ray
AP photo/The Donovan family
A family handout photo from New Hampshire of Alice Donovan taken in the mid- 1990s. Donovan is believed to have been abducted from a South Carolina Wal-Mart parking lot by Chadrick Fulks and Branden Basham. They have admitted that Donovan is dead, but her remains have never been found.
Convicted felon and former fugitive Chadrick Fulks, 26, could be on his way to Death Row in a matter of weeks. He faces federal charges in Columbia for the murder of Alice Donovan of Galivants Ferry.
But her murder may be just one of several atrocities Fulks committed on a 17-day, five-state crime spree after he and his jail buddy, Branden Basham, escaped from a Kentucky jail in November 2002 by climbing down a rope made from bed sheets. Basham, 22, will stand trial separately this fall.
In the meantime, Fulks has the spotlight all to himself as jury selection wraps up this week at the Matthew J. Perry courthouse. After several postponements, the trial is finally slated to begin next Wednesday. This will be South Carolina’s first federal death penalty trial.
It shapes up as a whodunit: Fulks —who admits kidnapping and raping Donovan — or Basham?
A Look Back
On Nov. 14, 2002, a Wal-Mart security camera in Conway, S.C., videotaped Donovan strolling toward her dark blue BMW after finishing some early Christmas shopping. That’s when the two men say they grabbed the 44-year-old grandmother of three and forced her into her car. Then they drove her to Shallotte, N.C., where her life came to a gruesome end.
Two hours after her kidnapping, Donovan reportedly used her cell phone to call her daughter and say, “I love you,” but did not alert her she’d been kidnapped.
That was the last the Donovans ever heard from her.
That’s also where the narrative splits into several variations.
After the two men were caught, Basham told investigators that Fulks was the killer. On Thanksgiving Day, Basham led authorities to a cemetery in Brunswick County, N.C., where Donovan’s purse strap — which Fulks had purportedly used to strangle her — should have lay among the tombstones. But there was nothing. Not even Donovan’s body, though Basham said that’s where he’d left her.
So Basham elaborated, saying Fulks raped Donovan in the back seat of her car, then strangled her with her purse strap. Fulks dumped her in the trunk, and then the two of them drove off.
Basham says Fulks got nervous about whether he’d done a good enough job. He was worried Donovan might be unconscious but still alive, that she might wake up and start tampering with the brake lights to get help. So they pulled over, Basham said, and Fulks got out, stabbed Donovan and slit her throat.
Basham says he assisted in covering up the murder by helping Fulks drag Donovan’s corpse 50 feet into the wilderness and concealing it with leaves and debris. Basham says they removed her clothes, and Fulks disposed of the knife there as well. But there was no blood found anywhere in Donovan’s car, and neither her clothes nor the knife ever turned up.
Fulks has a different version. According to The Associated Press, he told the FBI that he and Basham stopped at an Amoco Station in Shallotte, N.C., for gas and drinks before driving 15 miles north on U.S. 17 to a secluded spot where they would abandon her. Fulks said he stood by as Basham walked into the woods with Donovan.
The plan was to strap her to a tree with duct tape, Fulks said. He says he waited 20 minutes, then saw Basham emerge from the woods alone, carrying Donovan’s shoes and her panties. Fulks says Basham aimed a gun at him and told him to drive. They were going to Kentucky.
While these versions are only a sample of the reportedly countless stories the two men have told, there’s no disputing how they were brought to justice.
They apparently broke up afer Donovan’s murder. And the following Sunday, Nov. 17, Kentucky police caught Basham trying to carjack two women at Ashland Town Center Mall. That attempt had led to a shootout with the local officers.
Still driving Donovan’s blue BMW, Fulks was spotted by a highway patrol officer in the middle of Ohio the next night. He was alone and unguarded, asleep inside the car.
When the officer woke up Fulks and told him to step out of the car, he high-tailed it. A high-speed chase ensued in which patrolmen laid spiked strips across the freeway in an attempt to puncture his tires.
But Fulks crossed into the median to avoid the spikes, but in doing so he ripped open the car’s belly, which bled fluids as he sped down the highway.
Two days later, police finally chased down Fulks on foot after he tried to rob a bank in Middlebury, Ind., about 25 miles east of South Bend. Investigators say he was most likely trying to hide out with his family there. With him at the arrest were his brother, Ronnie Fulks, 28, and his girlfriend, Andrea Adams.
Both were taken in for questioning.
Police found Donovan’s car that afternoon near Goshen, Ind., about 10 miles south of Middlebury, where Fulks may have tried to rob the Farm Bureau Credit Union.
FBI agents later found two women stranded at a motel in Myrtle Beach, just a few miles away from Conway, where Donovan had disappeared. They are believed to have traveled with Fulks and Basham from Indiana to South Carolina.
One of them was Fulks’s old girlfriend, Tina Severance, and the other was Severance’s roommate.
Severance told The Sun News of Myrtle Beach how she’d met Fulks while working as a guard at the Westville, Ind., Correctional Facility, where Fulks was spending a year.
They got back together after he broke out of the Hopkins County Detention Center, but said she didn’t know he was a fugitive. Even on the run from cops and feds, Fulks could apparently play it cool. “Chad laid next to me like there was no care in the world,” Severance told reporters. That was a matter of hours before he “borrowed” her minivan and kidnapped Donovan.
“He said he loved me,” Severance said. “I thought he was going to get his act back together.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away in North Carolina, local authorities and U.S. Marines were scouring 850 square miles along U.S. Hwy. 17 for Donovan.
The search never turned up a trace. Authorities in West Virginia were also looking for Samantha Burns, a 19-year-old attending Marshall College who disappeared on Nov. 11, three days before Donovan was kidnapped.
She vanished outside of a mall while preparing to drive home. Her car was found still smoldering after Fulks and Basham allegedly set fire to it.
Donovan’s stolen BMW bore Burns’s West Virginia license plate at the time Fulks was arrested. That’s how investigators linked the two kidnappings. Both men have admitted that despite lack of evidence the women are indeed dead.
They just don’t agree on who did the killing.
Lives of Crime and Anguish
Looking at their track records, you can find a lot of dirt on Fulks.
He’s been arrested for 12 counts of using a stolen credit card. Police in Madisonville, Ky., say he’s been involved in several burglaries in four states, including South Carolina.
Federal officials have charged him with using stolen credentials to impersonate an FBI officer and rob people on the road.
He reportedly cried during the pre-trial hearings, though it’s unclear if he was crying out of remorse or simply reacting to U.S. District Judge Joe Anderson when told he was facing the death penalty or inevitable death in prison.
Investigators have found his semen, not Basham’s, on the back seat of Donovan’s car.
Before the 17-day spree, Basham was serving five years for forging a check.
Officials at the Hopkins County jail told reporters that Basham couldn’t have been the leader. Without his medication for attention deficit disorder, he could barely function. They said he constantly grated on the nerves of his cellmates, and had been moved 30 times.
Everything hinges on one fine point. Fulks says he helped kidnap Donovan and did rape her. But he says Basham killed her.
Now it will be up to a jury to decide if Fulks is telling the truth and, if he’s not, whether he should be executed.
Although Alice Donovan had no choice in how she was put to death, Fulks could pick lethal injection or the electric chair.
Convicted Killer Enters Not Guilty Plea
April 2005: HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) - The first of two men accused in the November 2002 kidnapping and death of 19-year-old Marshall student Samantha Burns has entered a not guilty plea.
All was quiet in the federal courtroom in Huntington on Tuesday as Chadrick Fulks was brought in for his arraignment -- wearing an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs.
The West Hamlin, Virginia, native entered his plea in a calm, low voice and did not waive his right to attend pretrial hearings.
His trial is to begin June 21st. In the meantime, Fulks is being held at Western Regional Jail in Barboursville.
The arraignment date for his co-defendant, Branden Basham, hasn't been set.
Investigators say the two went on a multi-state crime spree after escaping from a Kentucky jail. During their time on the lam, they allegedly killed and kidnapped Burns and South Carolina resident Alice Donovan.
Fulks and Basham have both been convicted and sentenced to death in South Carolina for Donovan's murder.
Federal prosecutors also plan to seek the death penalty in the West Virginia case.