The Horrible Death of Samantha Josephson
Anastasia Katz, American Renaissance, August 6, 2021
In March 2019, Samantha Josephson, a white 21-year-old from New Jersey, was finishing her senior year at the University of South Carolina. When she learned she had been accepted to Drexel Law School on a full scholarship, she decided to celebrate at the Bird Dog, a pub in the Five Points night-club area of Columbia. Her boyfriend Greg Corbishly was not with her that night, but she kept in touch by calling and texting.
She called to tell him she had sent for an Uber to take her home, and he tracked her ride, using the Find My Friend app. He knew the route from the Bird Dog to her home; he had taken it many times himself. He noticed that she was going in the wrong direction, and that the app stopped tracking her. He assumed she had left her phone in the Uber car. Josephson’s roommates called him the next morning, saying she had not come home, so he drove two hours to Columbia to look for her.
Josephson’s roommate testified in court that she began to worry about her friend when she learned Josephson had not showed up at work that day. She and the boyfriend went to the Bird Dog, where staff let them look at security camera footage that showed Josephson getting into a black Chevrolet Impala, which she appeared to think was her Uber ride. They called the police.
Miss Josephson’s body was discovered that day by hunters in the woods of New Zion. She had been dumped not far from the home of the parents of the 27-year-old black man — Nathaniel Rowland — who would be charged with her murder.
Mr. Rowland’s trial, which brought to light many details of the murder, began on July 19 and ended on July 27. It was largely ignored by national media; the New York Times never mentioned it, though the Washington Post and New York Post wrote about the trial’s conclusion.
The presiding judge, Clifton Newman, was black, and several of the jurors were black. In opening statements, a white public defender said testimony would show that Mr. Rowland’s car had been used without his permission, and that his father would testify that he was at a party that night, so could not have been the killer. In the end, the defense called no witnesses, and Mr. Rowland did not testify.
Surveillance video from a nearby Wendy’s showed Mr. Rowland in his black Impala that night. Several cameras caught the car in motion, as Mr. Rowland circled several times around the Bird Dog, making U-turns, “like a shark hunting for prey,” as an officer later put it. At one point, he went the wrong way down a one-way street. Cameras also caught a sheet tied to the driver’s side headrest.
In the videos, Josephson is standing by herself on the sidewalk in front of the busy restaurant, talking on her phone, as Mr. Rowland’s car drives past her and pulls into a parking space to turn around. His Impala jumps a curb to pull into an empty handicapped space next to Josephson. She opens the rear, driver’s-side door, says something, and gets in.
Cell phone towers tracked both Josephson’s and Mr. Rowland’s phones, which traveled together for 20 minutes before her phone turned off at 2:33 a.m. Rowland’s phone was traced to the Rosewood neighborhood of Columbia, where his sister lives.
Later that night, surveillance cameras from two ATMs caught a man of the same size and build as Mr. Rowland unsuccessfully trying to withdraw money using what the ATMs detected to be Josephson’s bank card. His face was not clear because he pulled his jacket up to cover his nose and mouth.
A phone tech from Cellular City testified that a man came to his shop that night, wanting to sell a rose gold iPhone 7 Plus for $300. There was no password lock on the phone, and he saw a photo of white woman. He was not willing to pay $300, so he gave it back. During the trial, the Cellular City employee identified Mr. Rowland as the man who tried to sell him the phone.
Mr. Rowland’s girlfriend and the mother of his child, Monica Howard, testified that Mr. Rowland came home the night before the killing, but when she woke up the next morning to go to work, he was gone. She no longer went partying with him, she said, because she was working double shifts at McDonald’s to support the daughter they had together. Miss Howard was annoyed that Mr. Rowland was gone that morning, because she had given him her work shirt to launder, and had left her McDonald’s visor in the back seat of his car. Her story was corroborated by phone records; at 5:31 a.m., she sent him a text, “Wya,” meaning, “Where you at?”
Mr. Rowland eventually showed up in his black Impala. Her work shirt was still wet from being washed, but she put it on. She asked where her visor was, and he replied, “In the country.”
She asked, “Why is it in the country?”
He told her that it had blood on it. When she asked why, he said, “Mind your business.”
As her boyfriend drove her to work, Miss Howard noticed dried blood on the dashboard and the back seat. She asked if he had hit a dog. Mr. Rowland again said, “Mind your business.” She also noticed a spotted sheet, covered with blood, tied to the driver’s side headrest.
After she came home from work, Miss Howard saw Mr. Rowland wearing blue surgical gloves and cleaning his car with wipes. She asked why he was washing the car with wipes. He said, “Mind your business.”
Their daughter was at Miss Howard’s mother’s house, and they went to pick her up. Miss Howard drove while Mr. Rowland sat in the passenger seat, cleaning a multi-tool that had two knife blades. Miss Howard noticed that the car smelled of chlorine, and she saw a bottle of bleach in the car. Mr. Rowland told her he did not want to put their daughter in the back seat because of the blood, but it was the only place the booster seat would go, so they strapped her in. The child’s shoes had blood on them when they got home, and Miss Howard texted her mother about that.
Miss Howard noticed that Mr. Rowland had a rose-gold iPhone, in perfect condition, which she assumed was a woman’s phone. She asked him where he got it, and he said he had found it. Mr. Rowland left home at about midnight.
When Miss Howard saw a news report about Samantha Josephson’s disappearance, and saw a video of her boyfriend’s car, she knew what had happened, but she was afraid to call the police. She was awakened later that night when the police came to her house to question her. She told them everything she had seen.
Mr. Rowland was sitting in his car alone when police found his vehicle at about 2:30 a.m. There was a strong smell of marijuana coming from the car. The officer asked him to get out and he complied, but kept his hands in his pockets. The officer said, “Get your hands out of your pockets. What are you, crazy?”
Mr. Rowland started running but was caught two blocks away. Samantha Josephson’s DNA was found on his bandana, shoes, and socks, and under his fingernails. Miss Josephson’s iPhone was in the car and child safety locks were turned on. Police concluded that Mr. Rowland had used this feature to trap his victim, because Josephson would not have been able to open the rear doors or windows. Josephson’s bare footprint was on the car’s rear window, a sign that she had tried to kick her way out.
Samantha Josephson’s blood and DNA were found all over the car: the rear seat, the rear center console, the driver’s side headrest, the gearshift, the seat backs, and the roof. Miss Howard’s McDonald’s visor was found in the trunk; it also had Josephson’s blood on it.
Police searched the backyard of Mr. Rowland’s and Miss Howard’s apartment and found the murder weapon inside a plastic shopping bag left in a trash can. The double-bladed multi-tool had both Mr. Rowland’s and Samantha Josephson’s DNA on it. There was also a spotted sheet in the bag with Josephson’s DNA on it. This appears to have been the one visible in the videos. The bag also contained blue surgical gloves, a shirt, and a pair of pants that had DNA from both people, and paper towels that tested positive for Josephson’s blood. Her blood was also found on Mr. Rowland’s daughter’s shoes.
There was an envelope in the trash, with Josephson’s blood on it, and these words, in Mr. Rowland’s handwriting: “Duck tape – tape whole body/gloves/All black/Flip phone/Gasoline/Matches.”
Despite this list, Josephson’s body was neither taped nor burned. She was found on her back, fully clothed, with her shirt pulled up toward her head. That probably happened when she was dragged by her feet to where she was dumped. Her shirt, which was orange, was so soaked with blood that it looked red. She had stab wounds from head to toe. The toe straps were broken off, but her sandals were still attached to her ankles. Markings on her face were consistent with being dragged. There was no sign of a struggle at that location where she was found. Forensic investigators determined that she was killed in the car.
Dr. Thomas Beaver, a forensic pathologist, did the autopsy and found that Josephson had 120 stab wounds, mostly on the right side of her body. He testified that the average human has over a gallon of blood in his body, but Josephson had only two tablespoons, making it hard to get a large enough sample even for toxicology tests.
Dr. Beaver found three wounds he considered lethal:
- A stab wound behind her ear, through her skull, and into her brain.
- A stab wound that damaged the hyoid bone in her neck.
- A stab wound that cut her carotid artery and made her bleed out.
The doctor also found:
- A collapsed right eye.
- Many stab wounds to her ear, lower back, side, arms, elbows, and leg, including a 7cm deep wound on her thigh, which was the deepest.
- A defensive wound to her palm that went completely through her hand.
The doctor testified that a pattern of close stab wounds showed she had been stabbed very rapidly. He also found wounds that were exactly parallel to each other, which came from Mr. Rowland’s multi-tool. She was stabbed with both the double and single blades.
Mr. Rowland faced three charges: Murder; kidnapping; and possession of a weapon during a violent crime. He was not charged with a hate crime, nor was he charged with rape. No one mentioned his motive during the trial.
Was Mr. Rowland pretending to be an Uber driver? He might have known that ride-share services are popular with students who get so drunk they can’t drive. An Uber customer gets a photo of his driver, but Josephson’s driver that night was a black man of the same build as the killer. In the dark, she probably couldn’t tell them apart. The real driver testified at trial that when he showed up, she wasn’t there. Her killer got to her first.
Closing and verdict
Mr. Rowland’s defense had weak closing arguments. Instead of the seemingly competent white woman who gave the opening statement, a black woman handled the close. It was almost as if the team had decided the case was hopeless, so the black woman might as well get some experience.
Her arguments made no sense. “I’m almost confused. After all these years, why it is that we even bother with DNA testing?” she asked. She continued:
Why do we take swabs and submit them to analysts if we’re going to stand here and try to convince y’all that it doesn’t matter what they say? Then why do we do it? I don’t have an answer to that. If we’re not supposed to pay attention to what the scientists tell us, then why are we sending stuff to science?
She tried to sow doubt by saying that Mr. Rowland had run from the police because the officer shouted, “Are you crazy?” and not because he was guilty. She said that riding in a car with blood in it does not make you a murderer, and that if it did, Mr. Rowland’s girlfriend should have been charged. She reminded the jury that when Mr. Rowland was arrested, he had no injuries, and a scraping from under Josephson’s fingernail did not show Mr. Rowlands’s DNA, which suggested she did not fight back. (There were scratches on his jacket that showed Josephson had been clawing at him as she tried to fight him off.) After less than two hours of deliberation, the jury found Nathaniel Rowland guilty of all three charges. The Josephson family hugged each other and cried.
The sentencing hearing was held immediately after the verdict. In her victim impact statement, Marci Josephson, the victim’s mother said, “Her dreams were my dreams, and her death was my death. I close my eyes and I feel what she endured at his hands, 120 times, over and over and over, fighting for her life, locked in his car . . . The final moments, her bare feet kicking and fighting for her life. I visualize the blood flowing from her body. . . . For what? The $35 a college student has in her bank account? . . . I was planning my trip to Columbia in 2019 to watch my daughter graduate from college. Instead, I went to Colombia to gather her belongings. . . . I try to move forward each day, but forever will be broken.”
Josephson’s father tearfully said that the loss of his daughter was so terrible he considered suicide several times.
Mr. Rowland said, “I know I’m innocent, but I guess what I know, what I think really doesn’t matter. I just wish the state would have done more in finding out who the actual person was, instead of being satisfied with detaining me and proving my guilt.”
Mr. Rowland’s mother tried to tell Judge Newman that her son was innocent, but he cut her off. “Ma’am, I’m not going to hear any claims of innocence,” he said. “He has been convicted by the jury.”
Judge Newman also said he was convinced of the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. “All roads led to you,” he told Mr. Rowland. “Every speck of evidence led to you.” The judge added that this was the “most severe” murder he had seen, and that leniency was not part of his DNA. He sentenced Nathaniel Rowland to life in prison. In South Carolina a life sentence means there can never be parole. Prosecutors, for reasons they did not disclose, did not seek the death penalty.
Why did Nathaniel Rowland kill Samantha Josephson? When a reporter asked prosecutor Byron Gipson, he said, “It was absolutely a random act of violence. That’s one of those questions Mr. Rowland would have to answer at some point in time.”
If the races had been reversed, this case would have been a huge media sensation and there would have been immediate accusations of “racism.” The media would have rooted mercilessly through the killer’s background, looking for evidence. In this case, there was none of this, not even a psychiatric evaluation of the killer. I have had to look for motives myself.
So far as I can tell, Mr. Rowland had only one former felony arrest, “for obtaining a signature or property under false pretenses.” A brutal killer might well have had a long record of violent crimes.
Why, to put it bluntly, didn’t he rape Josephson? He was heterosexual, she was attractive, and rape is almost obligatory in cases like this. A comment — since removed — that was posted to Mr. Rowland’s Facebook page after his arrest, says as much.
I suspect he was looking for a white woman and that he did plan to rape her. During the trial, his girlfriend said he described the area where he picked up Josephson as “lit,” meaning that it was active and exciting. It is popular with white University of South Carolina students, and the surveillance videos show many young whites there. If he liked “lit” places, he could have found one with young blacks.
Surprisingly, Mr. Rowland’s Facebook page is still online, and gives us clues about his motive. His language is often obscure.
Boojee,” for example, from “bourgeois,” means too white, rich, or upper class.
The page had sexual images and references to sex.
The images are of black women, but there are suggestions that Mr. Rowland was interested in white women. Note the emojis in this photo: a snowflake, a white bunny, and a target.
For many blacks, a white bunny or a snow bunny is a white woman who is interested in blacks. Decide for yourself what the target means.
Many posts include a white bunny, such as this selfie taken in his car.
This post, about the need for blacks to support black businesses shows that Mr. Rowland was race conscious. Note the black fist.
The crossed-arms image in this post is the “Wakanda Forever” salute.
My guess — and it’s only a guess — is that Mr. Rowland wanted to humiliate, rape, and kill a white woman. The sheet over the front seat was surely there to catch blood. Did she fight back and send him into an uncontrollable, murderous, “How-dare-this-white-bitch-fight-me?” frenzy?
We will probably never know. Probably, we are not supposed to know.