The case of

James Reginald "Reggie" Sumner & Carol Margaret Sumner

Victim

James Reginald "Reggie" Sumner & Carol Margaret Sumner

Victim Race

Caucasian

Victim Date of Birth

September 18, 1943 & February 16, 1944

Victim Age

61

Date Reported

2005-07-12

Date of Death

2005-07-08

Case Status

Closed

Incident Location

Florida and Georgia, USA

Body Location

Remote location in Georgia, USA

Date of Conviction

2008-03-06

Body Discovered Date

2005-07-12

Murderer

Tiffany Ann Cole, Michael Jackson, Alan Wade, Bruce Nixon

Tiffany Cole – Who Were Reggie and Carol Sumner?

James Reginald Sumner was born September 18, 1943 and Carol Margaret Sumner was born February 16, 1944 in North Charleston. The couple knew each other in high school and they both knew that the other was interested in them but life took them in different directions.

James joined the U.S Navy and married someone else. When he left the Navy, he began working with the CSX railroad. Carol also married twice and had two children but her second marriage was abusive and her husband almost killed her. In 1987, he had shot Carol several times before turning the gun on himself. Carol’s daughter Rhonda, who was 10 at the time, nursed her mom back to health for almost a year. Once Carol felt like she was able to work again, she worked as a civil servant at The Citadel and Charleston Air Base. She was a hard worker and did whatever she could to make ends meet.

In 2000, Carol was working at a cable television station and a chance phone call puts the couple back in contact with each other. 40 years have passed since their high school days but Reggie and Carol fell in love and became inseparable. A year later, in 2001, the couple married at Carol’s home in West Ashley.

After their wedding, they moved to Jacksonville because Reggie had a house there from his railroad days. Reggie was in poor health, he had chronic diabetes and he had become quite frail and he said to his wife that he would be more comfortable in Florida. Carol agreed and they moved.

After they moved to Florida, Carol was diagnosed with liver cancer and she was undergoing chemotherapy for that. The Sumner’s became good friends with their neighbour, David Duncan, and they helped his daughter, Tiffany Cole, care for him when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

The Sumner’s sold Tiffany Cole a car, a green Chevrolet, and Tiffany agreed to make monthly payments towards that car. It’s not clear whether her father passed or Tiffany moved out again but it is known that Tiffany would often make the journey to Jacksonville to make the payments to the Sumner’s. She would often make that journey with her boyfriend, Michael Jackson, and it was during one of these trips, in June 2005, that he began to hatch a despicable plan to rob the couple and empty their bank accounts.

Victim Was Found Dead/Start of The Crime

Rhonda, Carol’s daughter, contacted the police when she became worried that she hadn’t heard from her mom in several days. After an investigation, police found three of the four involved in a hotel room and arrested them.

Bruce Nixon agreed to cooperate, and he led the police to the grave of Reggie and Carol Sumner.

The Crime Description

In July 2005, Tiffany Cole, her partner, 23-year-old Michael Jackson, and two other men, 18-year-old Alan Wade and 18-year-old Bruce Nixon, traveled to the Sumner’s home in Jacksonville. Wade and Nixon knocked on their door and asked to use the phone. While inside, the Sumners were attacked, bound, and gagged with duct tape. They were placed into the trunk of their car and driven across the border into Georgia. Cole and Jackson traveled in a rented Mazda, planning to deliberately speed and get pulled over if a police car got too close to the car the Sumners were in.

Once they had reached a remote part of Georgia, the Sumners were forced to give up their security information for their bank accounts. Once they’d given this information, the couple were pushed into a pre-dug grave and buried alive.

When they were buried alive, they were both bound and blindfolded. However, when their bodies were discovered, it was found that they’d managed to free themselves from their binds and hugged each other as they died.

The foursome then drove back to the Sumner’s house and emptied it of cash or jewelery they could pawn.

Suspect or Convicted Killer Details

Tiffany Cole was born on December 3, 1981, in Charleston, South Carolina to her parents, David and Shirley Duncan. At the time of her birth, David was in prison so it was just Tiffany Cole and her mom living with her grandmother. When David was released from prison, this created some upheaval for the family and they moved around a lot. At the age of five, her mom gave birth to a baby boy and Tiffany was very pivotal in his upbringing, even from a young age.

Unfortunately, Tiffany Cole’s parents divorced, and she spent her childhood split between the two houses. Shirley entered into a relationship with a man called Rick and he became Tiffany’s stepfather and when she was 12, Shirley gave birth to another baby boy and Tiffany gained another brother.

Tiffany Cole was a good student at school. Her teachers and fellow classmates have said that she didn’t stand out for any reason and Tiffany was getting good grades. Despite this, she dropped out of school in the tenth grade. She started taking drugs, anything from Xanax to cocaine, and she also drank a substantial amount of alcohol. At 16, Tiffany ran away from her mom’s home and moved in with her boyfriend.

In 2005, Tiffany Cole learned that her dad had terminal cancer, and Tiffany moved back in with him to care for him. Her father was living next to Reggie and Carol Sumner, and this is how Tiffany first met the 61-year-olds.

Investigation Details

When police received the missing person’s report from Rhonda, they began looking into the couple. On July 12, 2005, they discovered that large amounts of cash was being withdrawn from Sumner’s bank accounts and this was enough to raise suspicion. The police also received a call from someone claiming to be James Sumner (this was later revealed to be Michael Jackson) who claimed that he was having difficulty accessing his bank account. Investigators asked to speak to Mrs. Sumner and Tiffany Cole posed as her to speak to the detectives.

Police weren’t convinced that they’d spoken to the real Sumner’s so they used cell phone data to triangulate the calls. The history on the phone revealed the Mazda rental and using GPS, they tracked down Tiffany Cole, Michael Jackson and Alan Wade at a hotel. In the room they were staying in, police found the victim’s identification, credit cards, checkbooks as well as other material which further proved the guilt of the suspects.

The three were arrested and they all denied any involvement. At some point, Bruce Nixon’s name was brought up so police arrested him as well. He was the only one who admitted being involved and he led the police to the grave of the Sumner’s.

Trial

Bruce Nixon pled guilty so he didn’t have a trial.

Alan Wade and Michael Jackson pled not guilty so they did go to trial. Evidence supporting their guilt included photos of the foursome in a limo, drinking champagne and handling large amounts of cash.

Tiffany Cole also pled not guilty, claiming that she didn’t know the Sumner’s were going to be murdered. However, as Cole was the only one who knew the Sumner’s before the crime took place, the jury found this hard to believe. The same evidence used at Wade and Jackson’s trial was also used at Cole’s.

Verdict

Bruce Nixon was sentenced to 45 years in prison.

Alan Wade and Michael Jackson were sentenced to the death penalty for the double murder of the elderly couple.

Tiffany Cole’s trial ended in a 9-3 jury who were in favor of a death sentence for the double murder. She also received a life sentence for the kidnappings. As of February 2015, she was the third youngest woman on death row in the United States.

However, in July 2022, Wade was resentenced to life in prison. Cole will get a resentencing hearing in February 2023 and she’s awaiting that hearing at Lowell Correctional Institution.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Bruce Nixon?

Bruce Nixon was involved in the kidnap and murder of Reggie and Carol Sumner. As he was the one who led the police to the bodies, he only received 45 years in prison.

What happened to Reggie and Carol Sumner?

Reggie and Carol Sumner were kidnapped from their home, forced to give up their personal information needed to access their bank accounts and buried alive.

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