For 27 years, Eddy Evans has carried pain and hate around with him.
He carried it on every wrecker call at his auto shop, with every mount and balance of a new set of tires, took it home and carried it into his dreams. He carried it when “America’s Most Wanted” broadcast the story of the death of his father into millions of homes in 1991, after the killer had seemingly disappeared.
“I didn’t hate anybody in this world except one man,” Evans said. “Roy Lee Buff, the man who killed my father.”
Gene Eddy Evans Jr. – called Eddy all his life, but never Gene, because that was his daddy’s name – hated Roy Lee Buff for killing Gene Evans Sr. Over pennies.
Never miss a local story.
Buff then stole Evans’ identity and hid in plain sight for two years in Florida.
But this year, and on Fathers Day, Evans has dropped the hate. He has unloaded the pain. The burden of 27 years, of worrying if Roy Lee Buff would ever get out of prison for shooting Gene Evans Sr., is gone.
After six months of prayer and dawn prayer meetings at a Cracker Barrel restaurant where he unloaded his grief, Evans has let go.
“I forgive him,” he said of Buff. “I had to. I can’t carry it no more. It’s like a ton of bricks, concrete blocks, lifted off my shoulders. Off my heart.”
The decision has not been easy.
Some in Evans’ family don’t agreed with him, while others are supportive of his change of heart. George “Peanut” Neely, the bar owner who survived being shot in 1989, remains opposed to parole, as does Evans’ mother.
But Evans said that for so long he tried to please himself and others by carrying around the pain of murder and directing it at Buff. He said prayer led him to make a decision that he must no longer be haunted by the killer.
“I was carrying the pain and one day it hit me – put it in God’s hands and let the parole board decide,” Evans said. “Me, I forgive the man who killed my father, with the grace of God helping me.”
Buff sure deserved Evans’ hate – the killing was awful.
Gene Evans Sr. was a respected longtime Fort Mill businessman who ran a Texaco station. Buff had left a high-stakes penny pitch game in December 1989 at a long-gone York County dive called Peanut’s Place on S.C. 160 between Fort Mill and Tega Cay.
The area has since been redeveloped, with Walmart and thousands of residents and so much more. But back in 1989, S.C. 160 just south of the North Carolina line was a country road, with Peanut’s Place the oasis for the thirsty and those with an itch to gamble.
Penny pitch is an old pub game, a bar game, in which men throw pennies, trying to get them closest to the wall without touching it. Or in the case of Dec. 16, 1989, into an ashtray. And this was high-stakes, $500 a throw, so you better have the cash to back it.
Buff lost at penny pitch. He lost one throw and grimaced and doubled down. He lost until he had dropped $5,000 and was broke.
Roy Lee Buff let out one loud howl.
Buff was a sore loser – so sore that he decided to kill.
He went into the men’s room in a huff, and came out with a gun. He shot George “Peanut” Neely right through the hands he had thrown up in self-defense. He shot Gene Evans, who ran a wrecker business down the road.
Buff didn’t just take the money back he lost at penny pitch, he took every dime in the place the others had, too. That was $4,500. He rushed out of Peanut’s Place with at least $9,500 in cash. Some have speculated he left with tens of thousands of dollars.
Then Buff, a Charlotte truck dealer, stole a black Chevy Blazer from the parking lot and took off before the cops arrived.
He was gone.
For two long years, York County sheriff’s deputies searched for him. Cops from other jurisdictions looked, state agents and federal agents joined the search, but Buff was gone.
This was 1989, before computers and cellphones and debit cards and social media meant almost nobody could hide for long. Buff just disappeared.
By 1991, deputies unable to find Buff agreed to allow the popular “America’s Most Wanted” TV show to air a segment on Buff in September 1991. Before the night was over, the FBI was getting calls – including some from Delray Beach, Fla.
Callers told the FBI that a guy calling himself Ron Leon Evans, with a truck matching the Blazer and its license tag, was living at a mobile home park and working as an exterminator and doing odd jobs for cash.
Buff was skinnier and had grown a long gray beard, but the callers recognized Buff from the TV as this Evans guy they knew.
That made it even worse, stealing the name of the man he had killed.
Buff called himself a Vietnam veteran, but he was still just a grifter and a loner, right there along the beach, skulking around the edges of town.
When the FBI team rolled into town on Sept. 10, 1991, they found Buff hiding under a bed.
“They told us they found him, and I wanted that (SOB) to die in jail or get the death penalty,” Eddy Evans said.
Buff then sat in the York County lockup and counted the days until his trial. The days turned into two years. He had been caught and likely would die in the electric chair; that much seemed clear. The evidence was overwhelming.
The new prosecutor, just elected in 1992, was a dashing young lawyer and former cop named Tommy Pope. His father had once been the York County sheriff.
Pope announced about five seconds after he took office that he would seek the death penalty against Roy Lee Buff.
Buff did not like the idea of the electric chair as much as he liked to play penny pitch. He was a gambler, but he was not willing to gamble on his life.
His trial started on Oct. 20, 1993. After looking into the eyes of the jurors, he knew it would only be a matter of time before hearing their verdict and sentence: guilty, death.
Buff pleaded guilty to murder, burglary, assault and robbery and was sentenced to life in prison.
But in South Carolina in 1993, “life” did not really mean “life in prison.” “Life” meant 20 years, followed possibly by parole. So Buff became eligible for parole after two decades in prison. He already has been told twice at parole hearings that he was not getting anywhere near the exit door.
Eddy Evans opposed parole both times.
“There was everybody saying he should rot in jail, die in prison,” Evans said. “And for so long, I wanted that, too.”
Roy Lee Buff, now 68, will be back before the parole board again on Wednesday. His chances of getting out may be worse than his luck at penny pitch. It remains a long shot, at best – even though Buff has never been written up in prison for so much as dropping a napkin on the floor. He has been a model inmate for 23 years.
The decision now rests with the parole board.
And with God, Evans said.
“Whatever takes place, I put it in the Lord’s hands,” Evans said. “I am at peace, since my decision to get rid of the pain and the hate, that suffering that man’s murder of my father caused everyone.”
This time, though, Evans will not be with other members of his family and others who will ask the parole board to keep Buff in jail until he dies. Evans is going to sit this one out.
“Buff has a son and a daughter, he has siblings,” he said. “Maybe he can get to know his kids before he dies. He’s a killer, but he’s a father, too. He’s done his time.
“Turn him loose.”