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'Girl in the Bunker' kidnapper who got 421 years in South Carolina prison dies behind bars

John Monk, The State on

Published in News & Features

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Vinson Filyaw, who was serving a 421-year prison sentence for kidnapping, torturing and raping a 14-year-old Kershaw County girl he kept in an explosive-laden underground bunker, died Monday in state prison, according to official sources with knowledge of his death.

Filyaw, 51, was found unresponsive in his cell at McCormick Correctional Institution, an all-male facility in McCormick County, the sources said.

There were no immediate signs of foul play, and an autopsy will be performed, the sources said.

Faye Puckett, McCormick County coroner, confirmed Monday that an inmate had died but declined to name him. State corrections officials said their practice is to have the county coroner identify inmates who die in prison.

A Lifetime television movie about the case, “The Girl in the Bunker,” aired in 2018.

“He was a bad guy — as bad as you can get without killing anybody,” former 5th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Barney Giese, who prosecuted Filyaw’s case, said in an interview Monday.

“He got 421 years and deserved every day of it,” Giese said.

Filyaw’s projected release date was in the year 2353, according to prison records.

He was caught in 2006 and pleaded guilty the next year. The judge sentenced him to 421 years in prison by combining consecutive sentences for kidnapping, rape, impersonating a law enforcement officer and a host of other offenses.

“Unforgivable,” intoned Judge G. Thomas Cooper as he sentenced Filyaw to one of the longest sentences given any state defendant in modern times. “You have preyed upon helpless victims with violence and in a savage manner.”

In September 2006, a 14-year-old girl went missing after getting off a school bus in the Elgin community in Kershaw County.

According to an in-depth story in The State newspaper in 2007, evidence in the case showed Filyaw had hidden in a bush and waited for the girl to leave the bus stop, then jumped out in front of her wearing a shirt with a police emblem on it. He falsely told her she was under arrest because her family was growing marijuana and handcuffed her.

After leading her into the woods, he raped her, then placed a necklace on her he told her was full of explosives. If she tried to escape, he said, he would blow her up and then kill her little brother. Filyaw then led the girl deep into a forest, where he had prepared an underground lair, 6 feet deep, with a camouflaged door. It was booby-trapped with explosives.

 

The bunker was one of four Filyaw had built around Kershaw County, according to authorities. It had a well, a bed, a stove, a television and an escape hatch. As the days went by, Filyaw allowed his victim to play video games on his cellphone.

One night, while Filyaw slept, she wrote a text message to her mother on the cellphone, lifted the camouflage door, stuck her hand out with the cellphone and sent the message. That eventually led authorities to the hideout, where they found her.

Evidence included chains Filyaw had placed around the girl’s neck to keep her captive, a handmade badge he used to pose as a police officer and a knife, pellet gun and night-vision goggles he was carrying when he was arrested.

Filyaw told authorities the motive for the kidnapping was to seek revenge on the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office, which had purportedly wrongfully accused him of a sex crime.

At the guilty plea hearing, the girl’s mother told Cooper, ”For 10 days we endured a hell we would not wish on any other family. Our innocent child was subjected to torment and abuse and placed in a world she did not deserve.”

Also at the 2007 hearing, defense lawyer Jack Duncan introduced evidence that Filyaw had endured a turbulent childhood, had dropped out of high school and was an alcoholic, unemployed loner suffering from paranoia and delusions.

Duncan said Monday that Filyaw redeemed himself to some extent when he decided to plead guilty instead of having a trial — which spared the victim the ordeal of testifying.

A veteran attorney who has had thousands of clients over a 40-year career, Duncan said he had never had a client who got a 425-year sentence.

“It’s the longest specific sentence, I think, in South Carolina history,” Duncan said.

Giese, the prosecutor, said he has a very clear memory of the kidnapped girl whose actions led authorities to the bunker.

“She was very strong, very brave,” he said.

After the case was closed, authorities blew up Filyaw’s bunker, Giese said.

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