South Carolina love triangle: A woman's affair with a married man leads to her disappearance

ABC News' "20/20" special exploring the case of Heather Elvis is now streaming on Hulu

ByAmanda Karrh, Tim Gorin, Jeca Taudte and Anthony Rivas ABCNews logo
Monday, March 8, 2021
Woman disappears soon after her affair with a married man
Heather Elvis was a hostess at a restaurant in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. She was last seen on Dec. 17, 2013, and her car had gone unattended for hours before it was reported to the police.

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- Those who worked with still-missing Heather Elvis at the Tilted Kilt in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, say her affair with Sidney Moorer, a married man and father of three kids, was anything but secret.

"We all knew about it because people did make fun of [Heather] knowing that he was a married man," said Brianna Kulzer, her former roommate and coworker. "Heather was made fun of a lot, and she was called multiple names by girls we worked with. ... One day, two of the girls decided to call the Tilted Kilt and pretend to be Tammy, Sidney's wife."

Elvis was a hostess at the restaurant where Moorer -- a then 37-year-old maintenance worker -- would stop while doing his rounds at area restaurants. Before his affair with Elvis in 2013, he had another one that made his wife especially suspicious of him, according to Chris Helms, who later prosecuted the Moorers.

"Tammy Moorer was definitely the more domineering part of that couple," he said. "She told Sidney where to work, when to work, what to do. If I could classify Sidney as anything in that relationship, it would be 'utterly submissive.'"

Elvis and Moorer had been dating for three months when, soon after that prank call in October 2013, their relationship ended when Tammy Moorer, 40, confronted Elvis on the phone. Kulzer said that during that call, Tammy Moorer "belittled" Elvis and made it seem like Sidney Moorer had "just used her as a booty call."

The attacks would not stop, according to Helms, who described Tammy Moorer as "livid." He said she would call and text Elvis and post "disparaging comments" on social media.

"Tammy was relentless," Kulzer said. "She would call [Heather] nonstop for hours and hours and hours. She would call off of Sidney's phone. She was sending pictures of her and Sidney performing sexual acts, videos of the two of them together. I guess, kind of, to taunt Heather."

Elvis' manager at the Tilted Kilt, Jessica Cooke, said Elvis was "genuinely scared" of Tammy Moorer. She was also heartbroken after the breakup, according to journalist Alex Lang.

By the beginning of December, Kulzer said communications between the Moorers and Elvis had finally faded away. Deborah Woods, another friend, said Elvis was looking forward to her future again after leaving Sidney Moorer in the past.

The Moorers, who said they were hoping to reconcile their marriage, went on a road trip to California in a new black Ford F-150 that they'd just purchased, Helms said.

Then on Dec. 19, Horry County police responded to a report of a suspicious vehicle that had gone hours parked and unattended at Peachtree Boat Landing, a ramp leading into a waterway at the far end of a tree-lined road in Socastee, about 8 miles from Myrtle Beach.

That vehicle, a green Dodge Intrepid, belonged to Elvis.

Elvis' father, Terry Elvis, said he was sitting in his living room when police knocked on his door to ask about the abandoned car, which was still under his name. He went with the police to Peachtree Landing to have a look at it.

"I thought the car might have been stolen... Because of the way it was parked, maybe somebody took it and left it there," he said. "It really didn't hit me, 'Where's Heather?' until [the officer] started looking through things."

The car seemed to be in good working order, according to Helms, who said that there was still air in the tires, the windows were intact and the doors were locked. But Heather Elvis was nowhere to be found, and her wallet, phone and pocketbook were not in the car, said Livesay.

Back at home, Terry Elvis and his wife, Debbi Elvis, frantically tried to get in touch with their daughter. "This is totally out of the ordinary," Terry Elvis said. "Heather's never done anything like this before. Something's wrong."

Police began to piece together the last known movements of Heather Elvis, tracing her activities the previous night to Steve Schiraldi, with whom Lang said she'd gone on a date. But Schiraldi said he'd dropped her off at home at the end of the night, Terry Elvis said.

Police also visited Heather Elvis' workplace, where Livesay said a manager told them she wasn't scheduled to work until the next day. The manager said to call Moorer, Livesay said, adding that police then spoke to him on Dec. 20.

"He was trying to give the police this idea of, 'Look, I'm over her. ... 'I haven't reached out to her. I don't know where she is. I had zero contact with her,'" Livesay said.

During questioning, Moorer denied being in the area of Peachtree Landing. Meanwhile, the Elvises were appearing on local news, pleading for their daughters' safe return.

"Originally, this case was just assigned out as a missing person," Livesay said. "We did not know or have any reason to believe a crime had been committed in the beginning. The car showed no sign of a struggle. There was no blood, no broken glass."

But while searching through her phone records, police found an unusual number of calls first from and then back to a payphone starting around 1:35 a.m. on the morning of Dec. 18, hours before police were alerted about Heather Elvis' car, Livesay said.

"Heather dials that payphone back nine times... The only reason she could possibly be calling that phone nine times -- that [phone] she's never heard of before -- is to get the other person that just talked back on the line," Helms said.

Livesay said that grainy footage of the payphone showed a man walking up to the payphone and that, although investigators couldn't tell who the person was, they called Sidney Moorer back to the police station for questioning.

He told police that he and Tammy Moorer were running errands that night, including stopping at a Walmart to buy a pregnancy test for her.

Lang said they also asked Sidney Moorer about the payphone call. Although he denied making a call at first, even questioning if payphones were still around, he admitted to calling Heather Elvis after police told him they had surveillance footage. He then told police that he called her and "'asked her to please leave me alone.'"

Kulzer, Heather Elvis' former roommate, said she received a call from her that same morning.

"She was hysterically crying ... and she said, 'Sidney called me.' My heart dropped because I was like, 'I thought we were past this.' ... I said, 'Why'd you answer?' And she said, 'Because it wasn't his number.' ... She told me that he said he left his wife and that he was sorry, and that he wanted to see her and be with her. ... And I told her, 'Don't do it. Why don't you go to sleep? Sleep on this and we'll talk about it first thing in the morning.'"

Kulzer had told police that by the end of the call, she believed Heather Elvis was not going to see Sidney that night. With her story to police contradicting what Sidney Moorer had told them, police began to retrace the Moorers' movements that night.

They reviewed surveillance footage and receipts from Walmart and found that Sidney Moorer was telling the truth when he said he'd bought a pregnancy test. After that, Helms said the Moorers drove to the payphone where Sidney Moorer made the call to Heather Elvis.

They also dug deeper into Heather Elvis' movements, finding that after the payphone calls, which lasted until around 2:09 a.m., she called Sidney Moorer's phone several times from 3:17 a.m. to 3:21 a.m. They talked for four minutes and then Heather Elvis began driving to Peachtree Landing.

Livesay said that once Heather Elvis was there, she continued to call Sidney Moorer between 3:37 a.m. and 3:41 a.m. As these calls were happening, she says video surveillance from two cameras further up the road recorded a black Ford F-150 headed toward the landing.

"At 3:41 a.m. is when Heather's cell phone goes dead," Lang said.

During their search for a matching truck, Horry County Police found that Sidney Moorer was the only person "that lived that close to the landing owning that truck," Livesay said.

Those same video cameras that caught the black truck headed to Peachtree Landing also captured video of the same truck headed back in the opposite direction at 3:45 a.m., five minutes after Heather Elvis' final call to Sidney Moorer's cell phone.

Police obtained a search warrant for the Moorers' home and found that the Moorers had installed a new security system since the police had first visited the home on Dec. 20, Livesay said. Along with the footage caught by that security system, authorities also investigated the Moorers' new truck.

"It was a brand new F-1 50, fully loaded, had all the bells and whistles," Helms said. "In this truck was a GPS navigation system. We learned through the course of our investigation that it was possible to disengage this system and that's exactly what they did."

Livesay said that investigators determined that the system had only been disengaged once: the night Heather Elvis went missing.

The Moorers were arrested in February 2014 and charged with murder and kidnapping.

"Kidnapping in South Carolina means to decoy, inveigle or take another individual," Livesay said. "So, even the phone call from the payphone that Sidney made to decoy her out was kidnapping."

The murder charges against the Moorers were later dropped.

"I assume, given the lack of physical evidence in this case -- no body, no blood, no murder weapon -- that it would have been hard to prove [murder] for the state," Lang said.

As prosecutors built their case ahead of the Moorers' separate kidnapping trials, they began to look into the Moorers' possible motive.

Cooke and other people Heather Elvis worked with at the Tilted Kilt, like Jodi Davenport, said they noticed Heather Elvis had gone up in size prior to her disappearance.

"Heather had taken a pregnancy test while at work. I want to say it was the beginning of November," Kulzer said. "And she, at the time, wasn't sleeping with anyone else other than Sidney."

Cooke said the test results showed an "error" and Kulzer said they ultimately didn't find out if she was pregnant or not. "I think it was kind of up in the air," she said.

Livesay said she believed Heather Elvis was indeed pregnant with Sidney Moorer's child. During Sidney Moorer's June 2016 trial, she posited that the pregnancy test Sidney Moorer purchased at Walmart on the night Heather Elvis disappeared was not for his wife but for Heather Elvis.

"I think that if she was pregnant, I think that would be another reason why Tammy would want Heather out of the picture," Kulzer said.

However, Kirk Truslow, Sidney Moorer's defense attorney, told ABC News, "there was no hard evidence of guilt to me. There was a bunch of bad character evidence and there was a tremendous amount of circumstantial evidence."

After about eight hours of deliberation between two days, the jury in Sidney Moorer's trial was unable to reach a verdict. The judge declared a mistrial and Sidney Moorer was eventually scheduled for a retrial at a later date.

In August 2017, prosecutors charged Sidney Moorer with obstruction of justice. Lang said the charge was "for lying to police. It's over the payphone call where he's on video denying it and then we all know he made that phone call." A jury found Sidney Moorer guilty after only 50 minutes of deliberation and Sidney Moorer was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Tammy Moorer was tried in October 2018 on two charges: kidnapping and conspiracy to kidnap. Prosecutors had secured the second charge for both Tammy and Sidney Moorer after reevaluating the evidence in the lead-up to what they expected to be a more challenging trial for Tammy Moorer.

"We didn't have her on video at Walmart," Livesay said. "We didn't have her making a pay phone call."

But during the two years since her husband's kidnapping trial, prosecutors continued to pore over the data in the Moorers' phone records. They found that there was "more of a pattern" between the time Heather Elvis broke up with Sidney Moorer and when she went missing.

"After Tammy found out about this affair, they literally stalked Heather Elvis," Helms said.

"They were trying to figure out the route she took on a daily basis," Livesay said. "Basically, watching her to find out when she might be most vulnerable."

"It's as if the state came up with a theory and just tried to make ... I wouldn't even call it evidence, I mean, there is no evidence. There's just a theory with some props," said Greg McCollum, Tammy Moorer's defense attorney.

Livesay claimed Tammy Moorer was an "extremely dominant, controlling person," and prosecutors leaned into this characterization during her trial. During his opening statements, Helms said that she took her husband's phone away, told him he couldn't work at the Tilted Kilt anymore and even handcuffed him to the bed at night.

They also alleged that Tammy Moorer had forced her husband to get a tattoo of her name on his lower abdomen and brought in the Moorers' son's friend, Jacob Melton. Referring to the tattoo, Melton testified that Tammy Moorer told her husband, "'If you wouldn't have messed with that girl, this wouldn't be happening.'"

While the defense didn't deny Sidney Moorer had this tattoo, they argued he'd gotten it long before he met Heather, presenting photos of the tattoo in process during trial.

The prosecutors brought in a forensic video analyst who testified that the truck captured on video going toward Peachtree Landing and back was the same Ford F-150 the couple had bought.

Another analyst testified that the Moorers' phones began to ping cell towers near Heather Elvis after Nov. 2, 2013, shortly after her breakup with Sidney Moorer. The cell phone records also showed both of the Moorers' phones connecting to a cell tower close to the payphone Sidney Moorer used to call Heather Elvis.

After the state rested its case, Tammy Moorer, in a surprise move, told the judge that she wanted to testify. Lang said the announcement caused "a gasp in the room."

The night before she was scheduled to take the stand, Tammy Moorer spoke to ABC News in violation of a court-imposed gag order issued toward her. During the interview, she denied any involvement in Heather Elvis' disappearance and refuted the timeline presented by prosecutors, saying she wanted "to make sure that everything that I did was accounted for, that it's looking normal, like any other day in my life."

"What we got accused of, neither one of us would ever do -- the kidnapping, and at first it was murder as well," she said, referring to the initial murder charges that had then been dropped. "We're not those kind of people. I've never even had a speeding ticket. ... I didn't even have sex till I was 18 years old."

She said it was her husband's choice to get the tattoo of her name and that she "never" chained him to the bed. She said that she was angry when she discovered her husband cheating, but that she was mad at him for lying, not Heather Elvis.

When asked about rumors that she was the dominant one in the relationship, she said, "The man that makes the money is the one that's running the house pays the bills."

Tammy Moorer said she was "terrified" of taking the stand the next day.

"I feel like this town is gonna crucify me because of all the lies ... that's happened," she said.

During her testimony, Tammy Moorer said she didn't know who her husband was having an affair with "until the girl called me back and told me who she was. I had no idea. So, the [text] messages were never directed toward Heather Elvis."

She admitted on the stand that to find out whom the affair involved, she "didn't go about it the right way."

"I'm sorry for that. It looks bad but I just wanted to know who it was, that's all," she said in court.

"When Tammy first took the stand, she came across very credible," Livesay said. "But I think we, through the evidence, already knew that there was a different side of Tammy Moorer."

Lang said that it became contentious once Livesay cross-examined Tammy Moorer. Livesay said it took "very little to push her buttons" and that she believed it had become personal after Tammy Moorer said Livesay had "ruined her life."

Livesay also asked her about the timeframe in which Heather Elvis went missing. While Tammy Moorer's text messages and social media posts accounted for her whereabouts on the night Heather Elvis went missing, there was a gap in activity that lined up with Heather Elvis' disappearance.

The jury returned a verdict after about four hours of deliberation. Tammy Moorer was found guilty of conspiracy to kidnap and kidnapping and she was sentenced to two terms of 30 years in prison to run concurrently.

"I felt so relieved but ... I just felt like it wasn't enough," Kulzer said. "Because the way that Tammy has this smile and this look on her face made me realize that I don't think she will ever say what she did to Heather that night."

Sidney Moorer's retrial was held in September 2019. In addition to his kidnapping charge, he was also facing the same conspiracy to kidnap charge his wife faced during her trial a year earlier.

During his opening statements, Helms said he believed there were many pieces of evidence pointing to the Moorers, he said "the defining moment" in the case went to the testimony of Tammy Moorer's cousin, Donald DeMarino.

DeMarino, a convicted criminal who'd done time for burglary and drug charges, testified that Sidney Moorer had shown him a picture of Heather Elvis on his phone in 2014.

"[Demarino] told us ... she was clearly not alive and there were scratches on her face," Livesay said.

When he was asked if, after seeing the picture, he expected the Elvis family to ever see their daughter again, DeMarino said, "No."

The judge would not allow DeMarino or the prosecutors to speculate on whether Heather Elvis was alive or dead because it was a trial for kidnapping, not murder.

DeMarino's testimony was not the only new evidence the prosecutors put forward. During the trial, they also showed the jury video from the Moorers' home security system, which had been installed shortly after police visited the Moorers' on Dec. 20, 2013.

"Once the police finally got their surveillance footage, they saw Sidney was washing the car and vacuuming the car out," Livesay said.

Livesay said that the judge in Sidney Moorer's first trial had denied them the ability to use the footage.

"The judge felt like, 'Look, a lot of people wash their truck. It's a new truck. That's not gonna be enough to get you there. I think that's mere suspicion,'" Livesay said.

She said while looking deeper into the video, it showed Sidney Moorer not just cleaning the truck, but also burning the rags used afterward.

"We would have never dreamed they would have done that knowing that that video surveillance camera was there," Livesay said. "That was kind of, I felt like, the biggest mistake they had made."

The defense alleged that there was nothing out of the ordinary about the burnings, noting that the Moorers and their neighbors regularly used burn piles.

Prosecutors pointed to other video footage from that surveillance system that they said showed Tammy Moorer and her sister Ashley Caison searching the yard with mirrors. Prosecutors showed the video while Caison, who was a witness for the defense, testified.

When asked about the video, Caison told Livesay that her sister was always "pulling weeds out of her garden" and that she couldn't discern a mirror from the video.

Despite Caison's testimony, prosecutors argued that Tammy's actions on tape were yet another damning piece of evidence against the Moorers.

"The things she said, you couldn't reconcile it with the evidence," Helms said.

In spite of the Moorers' actions being captured on the video, Jarrett Bouchette, Sidney Moorer's defense attorney in 2019 said, "We simply could not trust the circumstances enough to say that we're convinced beyond a reasonable doubt."

After six years, multiple trials and three convictions in their daughter's case, the Elvis family once again braced themselves for a verdict. After two hours of deliberations, the jury found Sidney Moorer guilty of kidnapping and conspiracy to kidnap. Like his wife, he was also sentenced to two 30-year-terms in prison, which would run concurrently.

Bouchette said he believes the jury was wrong. "I'm not implying any type of malfeasance or bad acts or anything of that nature, but I feel they did get it wrong," he said.

But with Heather Elvis still missing, a friend of the Elvis family, Hope Larson, said that despite the verdict, "the emotions that everyone felt were empty. ... There was no reprieve from the heaviness that's there because we don't know where Heather is."

The Moorers continue to deny that they had anything to do with Heather's disappearance and claim that they did not kill her. They are also appealing their convictions.

Livesay said she believes that during their time in prison, one of the Moorers will come forward with the truth about what happened to Heather Elvis. "I think once they find out that their appeals are denied, I think then they will be looking to tell the truth."

For the past six years, the family of Heather Elvis has been memorializing her at Peachtree Landing on Dec. 18, the day she disappeared. The event has attracted other families who have lost loved ones or they've gone missing.

Morgan Elvis, Heather Elvis' sister, said she hopes that Sidney Moorer, who at some point "loved her, or at least cared deeply for her," will one day come forward.

"I hold out hope that I'll turn around one day at the front door and she'll walk in," Terry Elvis said. "Do I really think that'll happen? Deep down, no, I don't. ... But I'll never give up."