Police say a South Carolina man died of a heart attack while he was burying the body of a woman they believe he killed.

Edgefield County Sheriff's Office via Google Maps
Edgefield County Sheriff's Office via Google Maps

Joseph McKinnon and Patricia Dent

Local sheriff's deputies and paramedics were initially called out to a home in Trenton, South Carolina after receiving a report of an unresponsive man lying in his yard. After arriving on scene, they found the collapsed, deceased body of Joseph McKinnon, 60.

They determined that he had apparently had a heart attack while digging a hole in his yard. McKinnon had told neighbors that he was digging the hole for a water feature to enhance his garden.

As they began looking for next of kin to notify, they had trouble finding his girlfriend.

Authorities were looking for McKinnon's live-in girlfriend, Patricia Ruth Dent, 65, trying to reach her at her place of employment. However, co-workers had been texting her since around 7:30 that morning. According to co-workers, this was extremely unlike her.

This brought the deputies back to their residence. The house, they said, was freshly cleaned, but they were able to identify blood that tested as Dent's.


Google Maps
Google Maps


Woman's Body Found in Hole that Boyfriend was Digging When He Died

Focus turned back to the hole that McKinnon was digging. As authorities began to dig around in the hole, they saw black trash bags. When the bags were opened, a bound body was found, and forensics was called in.

Deputies were able to contact eye witnesses, in a town of less than 200 people, to complete a timeline of the couple's last hours. After the coroner's report was released for both McKinnon and Dent, it helped to fill in the gaps, but ultimately confirmed what they already knew.

Dent had been hit in the face, but that wasn't a death blow. The coroner's report confirmed that she died by strangulation, and he by a cardiovascular event (heart attack).

The sheriff theorized that after killing Dent, McKinnon bound her body, covered it with two trash bags, and drug her through the house to his truck, driving to the hole in the garden that he had previously dug. The truck was still in the garden when deputies arrived.


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Edgefield County Sheriff Jody Rowland told PEOPLE"apparently he had been covering the hole, which didn't make sense to a witness. He was feverishly covering the pit, and so we just kind of put things together. He attacked her, killed her, put her in the pit, and he died covering her up."

Rowland also mentioned that this was out of the ordinary for the couple, as they had no history of domestic abuse between the couple. There were no previous incidence logged at that address.

"Basically," he says, "this case is over."

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