GREAT FALLS — Nobody could go inside the Little Convenience Store on Chester Avenue in Great Falls on Wednesday to ask about the beloved clerk whose face fills a billboard just 100 yards away across the street.
Nobody could get a smile from the lady or get credit until payday or until a government check comes in. A weaving bleached-blonde lady who tried to sell a bracelet for 23 cents had to wobble further down the street to seek money for whatever she might need, or to bum a cigarette.
The Little Convenience Store was closed Wednesday. The reason is plastered on the billboard: Murder.
“Notice,” a hand-written sign taped to the locked front door read. “Store will be closed Mon - thru - Thurs - Nov. 26-27-28-29 in memory of my loved ones Alfreda Hinson and my father, will open Friday morning.”
The note is signed by store owner Larry Hinson, husband of Alfreda Wertz Hinson – a man accused of filing a false police report just a week after his wife was slain.
In death, Alfreda Hinson’s profile, her name and face, are far larger than in life. Her face takes up almost half the billboard, which screams out: “Who Killed Alfreda Wertz Hinson?”
A year ago Wednesday, Hinson, 57, was gunned down in her home on Old Winnsboro Road not far from the store. Her husband was charged with filing a false police report and false insurance claim and a weapons charge after claiming to police a week after the murder that jewelry and other items had been stolen from the home.
But Larry Hinson has maintained his innocence on those charges and has yet to go to trial. Hinson was not at the store Wednesday, but has said in the past he plans to sell the store and move.
Nobody has been charged in the killing that stunned this town of about 2,000 people in rural southeastern Chester County. Sheriff Richard Smith said no one has been ruled in or out of the investigation.
“I hope they catch whoever did it,” said Barbara Lucas, who spoke from the Great Falls Feed & Seed just down the street. Lucas and her husband, Chester County Councilman Archie Lucas, had known Alfreda Hinson for decades.
To try to solve the murder, to shake loose some information, Chester County deputies conducted an undercover operation called “Operation Trick or Treat.” What shook out was 22 arrested for drug offenses. From pot to pills, crack to rock cocaine.
But so far, no killer.
On Wednesday, the guys at the auto parts store across the street, leaning on the counter with beefy forearms, said it is “terrible” what happened to Alfreda Hinson.
Up the street, in the Crossroads convenience store that was open Wednesday because, thankfully, there is no anniversary of any killing there, a few people recalled that it was a year since Alfreda Hinson died. All said the crime was awful.
But the talk in that store and any store Wednesday was more about the $500 million Powerball jackpot. People laughed and talked of riches – what could be done with so much money in life.
If there is a life.
The anniversary of the unsolved killing doesn’t mean the investigation is stopped cold, Sheriff Smith said.
“We haven’t stopped investigating and we won’t stop,” Smith said Wednesday. “We want the public to keep sending in information.”
If somebody stands at the right angle looking northeast, the store and the Crimestoppers billboard are in the same line of sight.
Still taped to the glass door of the store, a sign at least a year old states, “No open alcohol containers or drinking allowed on premises. Thanks, Alfreda.”
Anyone can read the sign at the same time as seeing her face on a huge billboard about her death from gunshots.
“1-888-CRIME-SC,” the billboard shouts.
The words “crime” and “killed” are the largest of all words in this proud, small town that lost its textile mills a generation ago but did not lose hope.
People are happy alleged dope dealers are off the streets in the neighborhood and town – but a killer remains out there, somewhere.
The billboard has been up for months.
It is unclear if it will fade and peel, the huge face receding from relentless time and rain and sun, until Alfreda Wertz Hinson’s life, and death, become a memory that can’t be seen clearly any more.
Anyone with information about Alfreda Wertz Hinson’s death should contact: Chester County Sheriff’s Office at 803-385-5433; or Crimestoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC, (1-888-274-6372,) OR via sccrimestoppers.com. All information from electronic or phone sources is anonymous.
Andrew Dys 803-329-4065 firstname.lastname@example.org