The Tragic Friendship of Crystal Faye Todd and Ken Register
In 1991, 17-year-old Crystal Faye Todd was living life to its fullest. She was a senior at the Conway, South Carolina, high school. Her mother, Bonnie Fay Todd, had given her a brand-new 1991 Toyota Celica as an early graduation gift. She was popular, well-liked among her classmates, and above average academically. The only real trouble she’d ever been in was once when she’d wrecked her car after having a few beers with friends and lost her license for a few months as punishment.
Yes, life was good for Crystal. Her future held such promise. It seemed nothing could dampen the spirits of the lively teenager.
Enter Johnnie Kenneth “Ken” Register II, Crystal’s best friend from childhood and “the thing” that would not only dampen her spirit, but put it out all together.
Leaving Grandmother's Party
It was Crystal's grandmother's birthday, and while she loved the older woman dearly, hanging out with the older folks attending the birthday party wasn’t really where Crystal wanted be. After making a short appearance at the festivities, Crystal excused herself around 7:00 p.m. and kissed her mother goodbye. Bonnie Fay watched as the little car with the personalized license plate reading “C TODD” disappeared out of sight. Crystal was headed to the mall to meet her friends.
Within minutes of her arrival at the mall, Crystal had found her friends. She excitedly discussed what they should do for the evening.
Around 9:00 p.m., Crystal and a friend decided to go to a party in the Punchbowl community, where they stayed until 11:00 p.m. After dropping her friend off at home, Crystal rushed back to the mall to say goodbye to friends before meeting her midnight curfew.
Midnight, however, would come and go, and there would be no sign of Crystal Faye.
Crystal Misses Curfew; Bonnie Is Fearful and Alerts Authorites
Bonnie was a widow and had spent years parenting alone; she had fine-tuned the instincts that come naturally to most loving mothers. So when Crystal failed to come home by midnight—and hadn’t bothered to call and say she would be late, as she always did—Bonnie knew something was terribly wrong.
Bonnie began calling Crystal’s friends to find out if they knew where Crystal could be. The last reports of Crystal were at the Coastal Mall around 11:30 p.m.
By 3:00 a.m., Bonnie had no where else to turn except police. She dialed 911 and spoke with a dispatcher who took down a description of the missing teenager and her car, along with details such as where Crystal had last been seen and with whom. The dispatcher could tell the mother was horribly upset, and he tried to reassure her that late teens weren’t uncommon, and Crystal was sure to show up soon. He asked that Bonnie give him a call back when the teen came home, and Bonnie agreed she would.
At 8:00 a.m., Bonnie Fay frantically called 911 again. Two of Crystal’s friends had reported her car was at Conway Middle School. An officer was dispatched to the location where he was met by the distraught mother, who indicated the car was locked but Crystal’s purse was inside.
There wasn’t much the officer could do other than take a report and, like the dispatcher, try to reassure the worried woman that her daughter was probably just out with friends having too much fun to call or come home.
But Bonnie felt it deep inside. She knew Crystal wasn’t just late in getting home.
She couldn't explain how, but Bonnie knew Crystal wasn’t coming home.
Crystal's Body Found
On Sunday morning, November 17, 1991, two men were driving just outside of Conway in the Maple Community, ready for a day of hunting, when one of them noticed something odd lying in the ditch along the road.
Getting out for a closer inspection, the men realized it was a female body. They immediately called the police. A veteran officer would later say it was one of the worst things he’d ever seen.
Some of the first things investigators noticed was the trail of blood running from the roadway to the ditch, footprints, obvious signs of a struggle, and the position of the body, which indicated she had been thrown into the ditch.
Authors (the late) Dale Hudson and Billy Hills would describe the scene more graphically in their 2006 book about the case, An Hour to Kill: A True Story of Love, Murder, and Justice in a Small Southern Town.
“The victim had been found with her belt and blue jeans unfastened and pulled down around her hips. Her shirt was pulled open and torn...her bra, was pulled up, exposing her breasts... There was a large amount of blood on her face and a gaping three-to-four-inch opening across the throat area. The victim’s throat had been slashed... There appeared to be several stab and slash wounds in the breast and abdomen area... a ball of inner body portions protruding from her body.
The possibility of a satanic ritual killing was discussed but quickly dismissed. Investigators did feel strongly, however, this was a sex-motivated crime.
Investigators went to notify Crystal’s mother, hoping they would reach her before the media or anyone else. When they told Bonnie Fay that they were certain it was her daughter, having pulled a senior ring from the girl’s body engraved with her name, the woman broke down into uncontrollable sobs.
While the officers did not give Bonnie specifics about her daughter’s death, they promised her that police would work around the clock to find her daughter’s killer.
The widow wasn’t really listening. Her daughter was gone. She wasn’t sure she cared about anything—especially about living.
An autopsy proved the suspected brutality of Crystal’s death and also confirmed that she had been raped. By this time, Bonnie—having regained control of her emotions and building on the anger from her grief—told the Horry Independent she was certain Crystal’s killer was someone she knew.
The chief of police would later confirm that his investigators also believed that Crystal knew her killer. After speaking with many of Crystal’s friends, they knew she was not the type to get into a car with someone she did not know.
Bonnie was growing impatient with police. She knew they were working hard, but she wanted her daughter’s killer found now. It helped tremendously that she had so much support from Crystal’s friends, especially one friend in particular who had been Crystal’s best friend: Ken Register.
Ken and Crystal had grown up together, and even as adulthood loomed on the horizon, they had remained close. While Bonnie may not have liked all of Crystal’s friends, she was very fond of Ken. He was a good boy, from a good family, a member of the Future Farmers of America (FFA), and a member of the high school football team. He had graduated in 1991 and was working a full-time construction job in nearby Garden City Beach, South Carolina.
Ken had been one of the first of Crystal’s friends interviewed, and he willingly provided police with samples for DNA testing. While Ken’s and other's samples were sitting among the backlogged State Crime Lab, Ken stayed in close touch with Bonnie, frequently being a shoulder to cry and rant on. Bonnie was thankful for Ken. He had been such a wonderful source of support during this difficult time.
For all their efforts, however, detectives did not have a suspect. They had worked sixteen-hour days nonstop since the murder, gathered numerous pieces of evidence, and interviewed over 400 people, but continued to come up empty-handed.
Revealing the Killer
On February 15, 1991, the Conway police department received a call from the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED); they had matched DNA and semen samples taken from Crystal’s body to a sample taken by detectives. The police began a manhunt for Ken Register.
After several hours of interrogations, Ken finally broke down and confessed to the crime. He told investigators on the night Crystal died, they had unprotected consensual sex. Ken said when he had ejaculated inside her, Crystal was furious and threatened to cry rape if she became pregnant. Ken said he became outraged at Crystal’s screaming and insults, and before he realized what he was doing, he was stabbing her. Ken told investigators when he came to his senses and realized what he’d done, he panicked. He pulled Crystal from his car, tossed her into the ditch, threw away the knife, and hurried home.
A subsequent search of the Register home, where Ken still lived with his parents, recovered Crystal’s car keys and newspaper clippings about Crystal’s murder, among other things.
When detectives went to Bonnie Fay’s home to tell her of the arrest and confession, she was stunned. Although she recalled Ken had been apprehensive about the DNA samples he had given to police, Bonnie said she told Ken several times, “Ken, you don’t have to worry about your blood samples. You didn’t do it.”
Bonnie came to realize what too many families had already learned: sometimes the killer is the one closest to us.
A Sexual Predator Stopped?
After Register’s arrest, it was discovered he had been arrested in September 1991 for exposing himself to a couple of teenage girls after asking them for directions. The charges were still pending when he was arrested for Crystal’s murder.
Since most sex criminals (such as rapists and some serial killers) typically begin with indecent exposure and later escalate to serial raping or killing, there’s a very good chance a future habitual sexual offender was stopped before he could victimize multiple people.
In September 1992, Register was tried on the indecent exposure charges. It only took jurors two hours to return a verdict of guilty.
Following in January 1993, jurors in the trial for Crystal's death returned a verdict of guilt on sexual misconduct, kidnapping, and torture after only 75 minutes of deliberations.
Ken Register was sentenced to life in prison. He is presently incarcerated at the Broad River Prison in Columbia, South Carolina, and will be eligible for parole in February 2022. If Register should ever be released, he will be required to register with the Sex Offender Registry.
Where Are They Now?
- Bonnie Fay Todd passed away at the age of 79 on September 3, 2014. She is buried next to her daughter in the High Point Baptist Church cemetery in Conway.
© 2016 Kim Bryan