It was June of 2011 and twenty-seven-year-old Lauren Giddings had just graduated from Mercer University in Georgia, U.S. Lauren wanted nothing more than to practice criminal law and she was determined to make her dream come true, only one thing stood in her way, the Georgia Bar Exam.
When Lauren’s parents, who lived in another state, didn’t hear from Lauren for a few days they thought nothing of it. She had told them she would be busy studying.
However, Lauren’s friend Ashley grew weary after not having seen or heard from her for four days. She phoned Lauren’s sister Kaitlin who pleaded with her to use a hidden key to Lauren’s apartment and check in on her.
On June 30, 2011, Ashley and a few of Lauren’s other friends entered Lauren’s apartment across from Mercer University.
When Lauren’s friends entered her apartment they immediately felt uneasy. Lauren’s law textbooks, purse and keys were inside her apartment and her car was parked right outside.
Yet, Lauren was nowhere to be found.
Fortunately, Ashley followed her gut instinct and phoned the police to file a missing persons’ report.
When the police arrived at Lauren’s apartment they noted there was no sign of forced entry. Nothing had been stolen and everything appeared to be in order. Nonetheless, investigators knew it would be unusual for someone to leave the city for four days without their phone, vehicle, or money.
It was not until investigators used luminol in Lauren’s bathroom that they knew they were investigating a potential homicide.
Lauren’s bathroom was drenched in blood.
Lauren’s friends, Ashley, her next-door neighbour Stephen McDaniel and a few other friends immediately began a search party for Lauren.
It didn’t take long before the investigators smelled an all-too-familiar scent. Lauren’s decomposing torso laid in a dumpster right outside of her apartment, wrapped in plastic.
It was just happenstance the garbage pick up was late that day.
When investigators went into the laundry room of Lauren’s apartment building, they found a hacksaw covered in Lauren’s blood.
Local media outlets quickly arrived at the scene and began interviewing Lauren’s friends and neighbours, including twenty-five-year-old Stephen. Lauren and Stephen had attended Mercer University together, both graduating in the same class.
They were friendly acquaintances; Stephen had even met Lauren’s parents.
Stephen told the reporter Lauren was a friendly people-person. He stated he had no clue what could have happened to her. He theorized that perhaps Lauren had gone for a run and had been snatched.
Stephen remained distraught throughout the entire interview.
As the updates of the investigation were unfolding live, the news reporter mentioned a body had been found.
Upon hearing this news, Stephen froze.
He looked utterly shocked and quite literally became speechless. Stephen told the news reporter he needed to sit down, he walked away from the camera and sat on the curb with the camera zooming in on him.
The interview continued with Stephen crying on camera, stating he wished he had heard something so he could have helped Lauren, that he didn’t understand how anyone could have committed such a horrid act.
Little did the news reporter know, she had just interviewed Lauren’s murderer.
Investigators felt Stephen’s interview and demeanour were irregular and began zeroing in on him. It didn’t help Stephen’s case that on the same day police began searching for Lauren, Stephen had been arrested for breaking into two homes and stealing condoms.
Investigators entered Stephen’s apartment and found a master key to all of the apartments in the complex he had stolen from the landlord, a flash drive belonging to Lauren which contained numerous personal photos, Lauren’s panties and the packaging of the bloody hacksaw found in the laundry room covered in Lauren’s blood.
Stephen’s internet search history showed he obsessively visited Lauren’s LinkedIn and Facebook pages and oftentimes, Stephen would search violent pornography while at the same time, leering at photos of Lauren.
A flash drive containing pornographic images of children was also found.
A deleted video of Lauren’s entire apartment was recovered from Stephen’s phone. He had been casing her home the day before he brutally murdered her. A 6-foot long stick with a camera duct-taped to one end was found inside Stephen’s apartment, pointing towards Lauren’s bedroom window.
Lauren’s sister Kaitlin stated that a year before her gruesome demise, Lauren had told her she felt someone had been entering her apartment, she felt items had been moved around. Right before Lauren died, she sent an email to her boyfriend Vincent and told him she felt she was being watched and she was scared.
What Lauren didn’t know, was her next-door neighbour Stephen had formed a sick and twisted obsession with her and he was watching her every move.
It was clear Stephen had been stalking Lauren for at least six months.
A week before the case was to go to trial, Stephen accepted a plea deal in which prosecutors dropped charges of burglary and thirty counts of sexual exploitation of children in exchange for a guilty plea.
In court, Stephen admitted to senselessly murdering Lauren and recounted the horrific details.
Stephen had asked Lauren out on a date but she declined since she was already dating Vincent. This sent Stephen into a rage and what happened next, was appalling.
On June 26, 2011, at 4:30 in the morning, Stephen, dressed in all black and a mask, entered Lauren’s apartment. As he walked into Lauren’s bedroom the floor creaked, waking her up. Lauren screamed at the masked man to get out of her apartment, he attacked her instead, strangling her.
During the struggle, Lauren was able to pull her attacker’s mask off and said, “Stephen? Please stop!”
He did not stop.
Stephen strangled Lauren until she was lifeless and dragged her body into her bathtub. He returned later that night with a hacksaw and decapitated and dismembered Lauren’s body, flushing her fingers down the toilet.
He put the rest of Lauren’s remains in various dumpsters. Unfortunately, other than Lauren’s torso, none of her other remains were ever located.
In 2018, in one final disgusting act, Stephen’s father created a GoFundMe titled, “Justice for Stephen McDaniel” hoping to raise $5,000. Fortunately, the page was removed by GoFundMe before it could even generate one cent.
In 2014, Stephen was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He avoided the death penalty simply because Lauren was not in favour of capital punishment.
Even after her death, Lauren remained a generous and forgiving person, saving her own killer’s life.
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