In case that shocked the entire community, Lauren Giddings was strangled and dismembered before her body parts were scattered in trash cans across Macon, Georgia, by her neighbor and classmate, Stephen McDaniel. The grisly case made headlines in 2011 and has since aired on Dateline NBC.
Lauren Giddings was a recent law school graduate with a promising future before she vanished on June 26, 2011. Just before the murder, Lauren revealed her suspicions that someone had been watching her, and she believed that the culprit had recently broken into her apartment.
Unfortunately, her suspicions were correct, and there was a heinous threat just steps from the place she called home.
A Bright Future of Lauren Giddings
Lauren Giddings was born in Takoma Park, Maryland, on April 18, 1984. In 2008, she moved to Macon, Georgia, to attend law school at Mercer University. She graduated from university in 2011 but chose to stay in Macon to study for the Georgia Bar Exam. Her family was incredibly proud of Lauren. She was the first in the family to attend college and was naturally driven and ambitious.
During thousands of miles away from her hometown, Lauren remained popular and never had trouble making friends. She stayed in close contact with her two best friends from elementary school, Katie and Lori, and had two younger sisters back home, Sarah and Kaitlyn. Lauren with athletic and played field hockey and softball in high school. She also loved animals, especially her Pekingese dog, Butterbean.
Around mid-June of 2011, Lauren was preparing for the Bar Exam and didn’t want any distractions to prevent her from doing well.
The Disappearance of a Girl
While Lauren had supposedly gone “off-grid” to focus on her studies, her friends and family believed it was odd not to have heard from her. Without even the reassurance of a phone call or text, Kaitlyn contacted Lauren’s friends to see if they had heard from her. When no one in her close circle of friends had seen or talked to Lauren, they decided to investigate.
Lauren’s friends arrived at her apartment and knocked on the door, but no one answered. Lauren’s vehicle was in the parking lot, so they decided to leave and come back later. When they returned, they found that Lauren’s vehicle hadn’t moved and she was still not answering the door. One friend, Ashley Morehouse, knew where Lauren kept her spare key and decided to unlock the door and go inside.
Once inside the apartment, Lauren’s friends discovered her purse, keys, and books. However, Lauren was nowhere to be found. There were no apparent signs of forced entry or a struggle, and the apartment appeared utterly normal. But with Lauren nowhere to be found, Ashley contacted the police.
When the police arrived, they sprayed luminol throughout the apartment. In the bathroom, the luminol caused the floor, walls, and bathtub to illuminate. This is when police discovered that they were no longer investigating a missing person case.
Lauren lived in an apartment building called Barristers Hall, located directly across the street from the entrance to Mercer Law School. The apartment building specifically catered to Mercer law students. Lauren believed it would be a quieter place for her to study than traditional university dorms’ party atmosphere.
The apartment building consists of eight apartments, one occupied by Lauren and directly next door by Stephen Mark McDaniel. Born on September 9, 1985, Stephen had also attended Mercer University. He grew up in Lilburn, a suburb of Atlanta, and was considered very intelligent. One of his favorite past-times was reading; he especially enjoyed Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.
Stephen was considered an elegant person, even earning him the nickname “Mr. Clean” by his family. This obsession with cleanliness would follow him into adulthood. Stephen also sang in the Atlanta Boys Choir until he was 13 years old and later joined a group that traveled around Georgia to restore places of worship.
Relationship Between Lauren Giddings and Stephen McDaniel
After graduating high school in 2004, Stephen earned a presidential scholarship to Mercer University, where he majored in business as an undergraduate. He then enrolled in Mercer Law School and had dreams of becoming a federal judge. While Stephen mostly kept to himself in college, his mother insisted that he was not a “hermit” but instead focused on his work.
In his first year of university, he joined Mercer’s chapter of the Federalist Society, an organization in which Lauren was also a member. In their final year, Lauren became president of the society, and Stephen was the vice president.
Stephen was approximately six feet tall with wild, unkempt brown curls. He could have put more effort into his appearance, always looking messy. However, while many thought Stephen was a bit of an oddball, Lauren was always friendly to him. The two were not exactly friends, but they were friendly, and she occasionally chatted with him.
After Lauren moved into the apartment complex in 2008, Stephen would go on to ask her out several times. However, each time Lauren would decline, letting him down easily. Lauren already had a boyfriend at the time, David Vandiver, an established attorney in Atlanta. The two had met when Lauren interned at the law firm where David worked. At the time, Lauren was 23 years old, and David was 20 years older than her.
Investigation into the disappearance of Lauren Giddings
On June 30 at 9 a.m., an official investigation into Lauren’s disappearance began. Dozens of police officers arrived at Barristers Hall and began interviewing all the complex’s residents, including Stephen McDaniel.
Stephen is seen in an interview video speaking about Lauren’s disappearance. He tells the reporter that he believes that maybe Lauren was snatched while running. Stephen claims that he hadn’t seen Lauren in weeks and that she was always very kind. He also reveals that he was one of the friends that went into Lauren’s apartment to help look for her after she had gone missing.
Stephen’s widely publicized media interview was key evidence in his ultimate arrest. Around the 1:29 mark, the reporter tells Stephen that a body has been discovered, causing his demeanor to change instantly. He tells the reporter that he needs to sit down. Stephen returns to his interview about 20 minutes later, providing the reporter with key information that would later cause him to become the prime suspect in Lauren’s murder.
Once police had reason to believe that their missing person case may actually be a homicide case, they taped off the murder scene and began to search the neighborhood. It wasn’t long until a foul smell from a trash can directly outside Lauren’s apartment caught the attention of the police.
After searching the trash can, officers discovered the body of Lauren Gidding wrapped in plastic.
Steven McDaniel is the prime suspect
As the prime suspect, Stephen was interviewed by police about his relationship with Lauren and the last time he had seen her. He later voluntarily allowed police into his apartment to search for evidence. During this search, detectives discovered that Stephen had a master key for every apartment in the complex.
When Stephen was questioned, he admitted that he had broken into other apartments in the complex and stolen condoms. This admission resulted in Stephen being further interrogated.
After a more extensive search of Stephen’s apartment, police discovered several flash drives with personal photos and videos of Lauren, a hacksaw that was later found to have Lauren’s blood on it, and a pair of underwear with Lauren’s DNA. Police found a bloody sheet in the laundry room of the complex that was later confirmed to be Lauren’s blood. Stephen was also in possession of child pornography.
Stephen’s search history revealed that he had frequently viewed Lauren’s social media and LinkedIn profiles. He also would look at her photos around the same time he would view violent pornography. Police even discovered a deleted video that Stephen had taken of Lauren’s apartment. Stephen had fastened a camera to the end of a wooden pole and used it to peek inside Lauren’s windows.
Confessions of a murder
With the evidence piling up, Stephen had no choice but to confess to the grisly crime. In this confession, Stephen says that he entered Lauren’s apartment using his master key in the early morning of June 26, 2011. After watching her sleep for several moments, he moved toward her bed. A floor creak woke Lauren up, and she calmly told Stephen to “Get the f— out!”
Stephen then says he jumped on top of Lauren, grabbing her throat. The two struggled, falling out of the bed and onto the floor. Although Lauren fought hard, Stephen continued to strangle her, and eventually, her body gave in. According to Stephen’s confession, he held her throat for as long as 15 minutes after she had stopped fighting back.
After he was sure Lauren was dead, he dragged her body to the bathroom and put her into the bathtub. He then returned home for the night.
The next night, Stephen returned to Lauren’s apartment with a hacksaw to dismember her body. Stephen placed her limbs in black trash bags and threw them in different trash cans throughout the campus. The trash from these cans was collected before police had the opportunity to recover Lauren’s head and limbs. Stephens crimes are all too similar to the murder and dismemberment of Adrianne Reynolds. although they are not connected.
The exception was the trash can that contained Lauren’s torso. Due to the number of police vehicles on the scene, the trash collection service could not collect that can, allowing police to recover a key piece of evidence.
Sentencing of Stephen McDaniel
Stephen pleaded guilty to murder on April 21, 2014, just one week before his trial began. He took a plea deal that required him to provide a statement about exactly what happened to Lauren the night she was murdered. In exchange, the prosecution agreed to drop the child sexual exploitation and burglary charges.
The deal was made partly because the prosecution agreed to take the death penalty off the table. Death penalty cases can take up to seven years to go to trial. At this point, Stephen’s case had already dragged on for three years, and withdrawing the death penalty and offering a plea deal allowed Lauren’s family to avoid a long wait and a painful trial.
Just 28 years old at the time, Stephen McDaniel was sentenced to life in prison. He will be eligible for parole in 2041 but is unlikely ever to be released. He is serving his sentence in Hancock State Prison in Sparta, Georgia.
A New Trial
Stephen filed a petition for a new trial in February 2018. He chose to represent himself, claiming that his constitutional rights were violated during the investigation and before the trial. Stephen also claimed that law enforcement did not allow him to be cleared health-wise by medical staff before asking him for his consent to search his apartment. He also went on to say that his attorneys failed to defend him appropriately. As expected, the judge rejected Stephen’s bid for a new trial.
Remembrance of Lauren Giddings
Lauren’s family held a funeral service for her at St. Mary of the Mills Church in Laurel, Maryland, on August 6, 2011. Hundreds attended the funeral to pay their respects to a beautiful woman who lost her life too soon. Lauren’s parents, Karen and Bill Giddings said of their daughter: “She never lost sight of what life is really about. She lived more in her 27 years than most people do in 100.”