'The more everything pointed to James': Slain Sumterite’s father, boyfriend speak about ex convicted in case

BY KEN BELL
Special to The Sumter Item
Posted 4/16/19

He asked the judge for the maximum penalty as a sentence for his daughter's murder, and he got it.

John Bates said he and the family of Suzette "Suzy" Ginther were concerned that anything less than a life sentence for James Ginther III would …

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'The more everything pointed to James': Slain Sumterite’s father, boyfriend speak about ex convicted in case

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He asked the judge for the maximum penalty as a sentence for his daughter's murder, and he got it.

John Bates said he and the family of Suzette "Suzy" Ginther were concerned that anything less than a life sentence for James Ginther III would cause a safety concern when he got out.

Ginther III was found guilty last week of kidnapping and murder in the death of his ex-wife, a 27-year-old Sumterite who never showed up one November 2017 morning to her Columbia job at PetSmart. He was sentenced to spend the rest of his natural life in prison.

Bates said the family had discussed several scenarios before the sentence was handed down.

"Our main concern was for her safety," he said, referring to his former wife, Eileen Bates. "The children are with her. We are comfortable with the sentence. Everyone in the family believes divine intervention helped solve the case so quickly."

He said his daughter's disappearance and ultimate death still haunt him.

"I wake up in the middle of the night wondering what if we never found her," he said. "I know the horror we went through, and my heart goes out to the families whose loved ones are never found."

Bates said it didn't take long for, at least in his mind, James Ginther to become a prime suspect.

"I hadn't heard from him in about 11 months, and then he texts me at 8:42 a.m. on the day she goes missing? When he started texting me about it, it concerned me," Bates said.

Asked if the family ever suspected Billy Parker, the man his daughter had been dating for two years at the time of her disappearance, Bates quickly replied, "Never."

He said he was relieved his daughter had found a good man to help raise her children, who she had with Ginther, and to spend the rest of her life with.

"I've never seen Suzy as happy as she was with her children and (Parker)," Bates said. "I know he would have never harmed her or the kids."

Bates said James Ginther was like a son in the early years of their high-school-sweetheart relationship.

"He moved in with our family during his senior year of high school," Bates said. "The family had concerns about him, but Suzy was happy, and that's all that mattered. They met in ROTC and fell in love. He lived with us until he joined the Navy."

Since her death, Suzy Ginther's parents have had custody of her children, a now 9-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son.

"They used to come down every summer to what we call the farm: horses, chickens, dogs, cats and a donkey. Now, they have named all of the animals. They love it. They already have their own bedrooms from when they used to visit. So it was an early adjustment," Bates said.

Both John and Eileen Bates said they would allow the kids to see their father if they ever wanted to once they are older.

"That will be up to them," John Bates said. "And James' father did nothing wrong. Neither did the rest of his family. We're not going to keep them from seeing the kids if they want to."

John Bates praised the Sumter community and law enforcement in the case.

"From the beginning, everyone has been so helpful. My two heroes are Investigator Randy Stewart and David Gayle, who discovered Suzy's body," he said. "I saw personally the impact this case had on them."

Ginther's boyfriend, Billy Parker, said he panicked when her co-workers at PetSmart in Columbia called to tell him she had not shown up for work.

"I immediately jumped up and put on my clothes," he said. "I called my boss and told him I would not be in until I found Suzy."

Parker said he drove along the normal route she took to Columbia and back to their home, checking both sides of the roadway.

"I was afraid she had fallen asleep," he said.

Her brother arrived, and the duo canvassed the neighborhood where her van had been located, asking if anyone had seen or heard anything.

Parker said as soon as he heard police had located the van, he hopped into the driver's seat and immediately knew something was wrong.

"Suzy was short," he said. "When I climbed into the driver's seat, my legs didn't hit the dashboard. I knew someone else had been driving, and I was pretty sure I knew who. The more I learned about her disappearance, the more everything pointed to James."

Parker said he was especially disturbed when James Ginther phoned his then 7-year-old daughter and told her he would come get her and her brother.

"She had the phone on speaker, and she looked up at me and said, 'Daddy says thank you for keeping us but Mommy is gone. He said he can come get us to come live with him now if we tell him what time,'" Parker said. "She wondered where her mother was, and I heard him chuckle. 'Oh, I have a feeling she'll pop up somewhere after the holiday.'"

The infuriated Parker said he took the phone, and Ginther asked what time would be good for him to pick up the kids.

"I knew her family was on the way, so I stalled him. I knew that if I told him no he would come right then and there would be trouble. So I stalled him," he said.

Parker told the children's father that he would bring them to Columbia the following day, and Ginther agreed.

"I knew anytime James showed gratitude he has something up his sleeve," Parker said.

Parker said Suzy Ginther had told him that if she ever disappeared her ex would probably be who did it.

"We discussed what to do if something happened to either one of us. I told her that if anything ever happened to her, I'd go on a manhunt," he said. "She said, 'I hope you would stay and watch the kids.' And that's what she did the day she died. Once he had her in the vehicle, her main concern was getting him as far away from me and the kids as she could. Mr. (Third Judicial Circuit Solicitor Ernest 'Chip' A.) Finney (III) was right. She's not a victim. She's a martyr."