LANCASTER — Antwan James says he smelled the decomposing body of his missing brother for a month and didnt even know it.
Rickey Wesley James, 33, had not been seen or heard from since leaving the morning of Oct. 18, his brother said. Family and friends created fliers, posting them around town and on social media after several attempts to reach Rickey James by phone were unsuccessful. They went to police, who said on Monday his disappearance did not meet the criteria for a missing person because there was no indication of foul play.
But, on Saturday, a group of children playing in the woods about 20 feet from Antwan James house found the missing mans decomposed body, deputies say.
Antwan James said there had been a foul-smelling odor coming from the woods. He didnt think anything of it. On Monday, he said, I was smelling my own brother.
Deputies managed to lift a fingerprint from the body and cross-reference it with prints on file with either the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the State Law Enforcement Division, said Maj. Matt Shaw with the Lancaster County Sheriffs Office.
Rickey James criminal history in South Carolina includes convictions for shoplifting, resisting arrest, drinking alcohol in public, malicious injury to property and driving under the influence, according to SLED records.
But Antwan James said his brother was working to get his life back on track.
Deputies called Rickey James death suspicious, but would not disclose more information.
Shaw said deputies have not identified suspects and have not filed charges against anyone.
How Rickey James died is under investigation, said Lancaster County Coroner Mike Morris said, who added that the body had been exposed "to the elements" for at least four weeks. He said it will likely be several days before officials determine a cause of death. The body has been sent to a pathologist for a full autopsy.
Antwan James and his family say rumors have circulated that Antwan James might have been killed by a drinking buddy during an attempted robbery. The family realized Rickey James was missing when he did not return to his brothers house while spending the weekend in Lancaster.
Rickey James, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., and his brothers moved to South Carolina, where Rickey had been in transition after separating from his wife in Fayetteville, N.C. He moved in with Antwan James in Lancaster before moving to Bennettsville to live with their other brother, Rayshawn James. He often spent his weekends in Lancaster.
The last text message Rickey James sent to his girlfriend on Oct. 18 was that he was drinking Moscato wine with an acquaintance, Antwan James said. Efforts to reach him on that same phone hours later failed. When family members went to police, an officer told them she would file a report and follow-up with the family. They never heard back, they say, even after following up several times with officers.
Lancaster Police Capt. Scott Grant confirmed that Rickey James family did report him missing, but no action was taken because his disappearance did not meet the criteria for a missing persons case. Though Rickey James had not been seen for more than 24 hours when his family went to authorities, they did not provide any information that indicated possible foul play. The family had also told police that Rickey James in the past left for days without notifying family members, Grant said.
The last time his brother did that was about four months before he disappeared, Antwan James said. When he was found with a female friend, relatives told him not to do it again. Thats why they knew his most recent disappearance was serious, his brother said.
Rickey James ritual was the same each morning, his brother said: He went to the library, read the newspaper and drank a cup of coffee. He enjoyed watching westerns and was stylish, Antwan James said. He liked listening to and singing old school Gospel music and other songs from the 1960s and 70s. He leaves behind a daughter, 14.
Finding his brother in the woods is closure, Antwan James said. We feel that we dont have to worry anymore.
Antwan James doesnt want Rickey James to be mourned: Were celebrating his life, he said. He was a fun dude ... a happy dude.