In 1991, 17-year-old Crystal Faye Todd was living life to it’s fullest. She was a senior at the Conway, South Carolina high school. Her mother, Bonnie Fay Todd, had given her a brand spanking-new 1991 Toyota Celica as an early graduation gift. She was popular, well-liked among her classmates, and her grades were better than average. The only real trouble she’d ever been in was once when she’d wrecked her car after having a few beers with friends; her license had been suspended for a few months as punishment.
Yes, life was good for Crystal. The future held so much promise. It seemed there was nothing that could dampen the spirits of the lively teenager.
Enter Johnnie Kenneth “Ken” Register II, Crystal’s best friend from childhood and “the thing” that would not only damper her spirit, but put it out all together.
HANGING AT THE MALL
Crystal loved her grandmother dearly, but hanging out with the crowd attending the old woman’s birthday party wasn’t really where Crystal wanted. At 7 p.m., Crystal was able to escape and her mother waved good-bye as the little car with the personalized license plate that read “C TODD” disappeared out of sight. Within minutes she had arrived and was hooking up with friends.
Around 9 p.m. that evening, Crystal and a friend decided to go to a party going on out in the Punchbowl community, where they stayed until 11 o’clock and then left. Crystal’s friend’s curfew was 11:15 p.m., after dropping off the friend, Crystal was in hurry because her curfew wasn’t until midnight. to be. She was itching to take off and meet her friends at Coastal Mall – Conway’s only mall.
Midnight would come and go, however, and there would be no sign of Crystal.
Bonnie Fay was a widow and have spent years parenting alone, she had fine-turned the instincts that come natural to loving mothers. So when Crystal failed to come home by midnight and hadn’t bothered to call and say she would be late, as she always did, Bonnie knew something was terribly wrong.
Bonnie began calling Crystal’s friends to find out if they knew where to find Crystal. The last reports of Crystal whereabouts came from some friends who had seen her back at the Coastal Mall around 11:30 p.m.
By 3 a.m., Bonnie had no where else to turn except police. She dialed 911 and spoke with a dispatcher who took down a description of Crystal and her car, along with information about where she’d last been seen and with whom. The dispatcher could tell the mother was horribly upset, and he tried to reassure her that late teens weren’t uncommon and Crystal was sure to show up soon. He asked that Bonnie give him a call back when the teen came home, and Bonnie agreed she would.
At 8 a.m., Bonnie Faye frantically called 911 again. Two of Crystal’s friends had reported her car was at Conway Middle School. An officer was dispatched to the location where he was met by the distraught mother, who indicated the car was locked but Crystal’s purse was inside.
There wasn’t much the officer could other than take a report and, like the dispatcher, try to reassure the worried woman that her daughter was probably just out with friends; having too much fun to call or come home.
But Bonnie felt it deep inside herself. Bonnie knew Crystal wasn’t just late in getting home; Crystal wasn’t coming home.
WORST FEARS CONFIRMED
On Sunday morning, November 17, 1991, two men were driving just outside of Conway, in the Maple Community, headed out to hunt, when one of them noticed something odd lying in the ditch along the road.
Getting out for a closer inspection, the men realized it was the body of a woman. They immediately called for police. A veteran officer would later say it was one of the worst things he’d ever seen.
Some of the first things investigators noticed was the trail of blood that running from the roadway to the ditch, footprints, obvious signs of a struggle, and the position of the body which indicated she had been thrown into the ditch.
Authors Dale Hudson and Billy Hills would describe the scene more graphically in their book An Hour to Kill:
“The victim had been found with her belt and blue jeans unfastened and pulled down around her hips. Her shirt was pulled open and torn, and along with her bra, was pulled up, exposing her breasts. The buttons from her shirt were missing. There was a large amount of blood on her face and a gaping three-to-four-inch opening across the throat area. The victim’s throat had been slashed, perhaps more than once. There appeared to be several stab and slash wounds in the breast and abdomen area. She had a cut on the stomach and a ball of inner body portions protruding from her body.”
The possibility of a satanic ritual killing was discussed but quickly dismissed; investigators did feel strongly, however, this was a sex-motivated crime.
Investigators went to notify Crystal’s mother, not wanting to hear about her daughter’s death on the news or through the gossip grapevine. When they told Bonnie Faye they were certain it was daughter, having pulled a senior ring from the girl’s body engraved with her name, the woman broke down into uncontrollable sobs.
While the officers did not give Bonnie specifics about her daughter’s death, they did tell her that police would work around the clock to find her daughter’s killer.
The widow wasn’t really listening. Her daughter was gone. She wasn’t sure she cared about anything; especially about living.
TENSIONS RUNNING HIGH
Following an autopsy proved the suspected brutality of Crystal’s death, it was also disclosed that she had been raped. Bonnie Faye, by this time starting to regain control and building on the anger from her grief, told The Horry Independent, the local newspaper, that she was certain Crystal’s killer was someone she knew.
The Chief of Police confirmed that his investigators also believed that Crystal knew her killer. After speaking with many of Crystal’s friends, they knew she was not the type to get into a car with someone she did not know.
Bonnie was growing impatient with police. She knew they were working hard, but she wanted her daughter’s killer found now! It had helped tremendously that she had so much support from Crystal’s friends, especially one in particular who had been Crystal’s best friend: Ken Register.
Ken and Crystal had grown up together and, even as adulthood loomed on the horizon, they had remained close. While Bonnie may not have liked all of Crystal’s friends, she was very fond of Ken. He was a good boy, from a good family; a member of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and a member of the high school football team. He had graduated at the end of the 1991 term and was now working a full-time construction job in nearby Garden City Beach, South Carolina.
Ken had been one of the first of Crystal’s friends interviewed and he willing provided police with samples for DNA testing. While Ken’s and others samples were sitting among the backlogged State Crime Lab, Ken stayed in close touch with Bonnie, frequently being a shoulder to cry and rant on.
Ken was such a good boy; a source of strength in this difficult time. Bonnie still desperately grieved her daughter, but she was so very thankful for Ken.
But for all their efforts, detectives did not have a suspect. They had worked sixteen hour days nonstop since the murder, gathered lots of evidence, and interviewed over 400 persons, but continued to come up empty-handed.
A KILLER REVEALED
On February 15, 1991, the Conway police department received a call from the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED); they had matched DNA and semen samples taken from Crystal’s body to a sample taken by detectives. The many police was looking for Ken Register.
After several hours of interrogations, Ken finally broke down and confessed to the crime. He told investigators that on the night Crystal died, they had had unprotected consensual sex. Ken said that when he had ejaculated without withdrawing, Crystal was furious and threatened to cry rape if she became pregnant. Ken said he became outraged at Crystal’s screaming and insults and, before he realized what he was doing, he was stabbing her. Ken told investigators that he when he came to his senses and realized what he’d done, he panicked. He pulled Crystal from his car, tossed her into the ditch, threw away the knife, and hurried home.
A subsequent search of the Register home, where Ken still lived with his parents, recovered, among other things, Crystal’s car keys and newspaper clippings about Crystal’s murder.
When detectives went to Bonnie Faye’s home to tell her of the arrest and confession, she was stunned. Although she recalled that Ken had been apprehensive about the DNA samples he had given to police, Bonnie said she told Ken several times, “Ken, you don’t have to worry about your blood samples. You didn’t do it.”
Bonnie came to realize what too many families had already learned: sometimes the killers are the last person we’d ever suspected.
A SEXUAL PREDATOR STOPPED?
After Register’s arrested, it was learned that he had been arrested in September 1991 for exposing himself to a couple of teenage girls after asking them for directions. The charges were still pending when he was arrested for Crystal’s murder.
Since most sex criminals (rapists and serial killers) typically begin with indecent exposure and later escalate to serial raping or killing, there’s a very good chance that a future habitual sexual offender was stopped before he could accumulate multiple victims.
It’s probably no consolation to Bonnie Faye, but Crystal’s death may have saved the lives of many other young women.
BYE, BYE KENNY-BOY!
In September 1992, Register was tried on the indecent exposure charges. It only took jurors two hours to return a verdict of guilty.
Following a trial that began on January 11, 1993, jurors returned a verdict of guilt on sexual misconduct, kidnapping, and torture, after only 75 minutes of deliberations.
Ken Register was sentenced to life in prison. He is presently incarcerated at the Broad River Prison in Columbia, South Carolina, and will be eligible for parole in February 2022. If Register should ever be released, he will be required to register with the Sex Offender Registry.