For more than 27 years, few if any details emerged regarding the mysterious vanishing of Sabrina Long, who disappeared without a trace in August 1991.
But in a courtroom at the Bibb County jail on Thursday, surprising revelations came to light at a bond hearing for a woman arrested last fall and charged with murder in the decades-old cold case.
Melinda McSwain, a former Southwest High schoolmate of Long’s who was jailed in October in connection with Long’s kidnapping, has since been indicted on felony and malice murder charges.
The authorities on Thursday revealed that she has admitted to having a hand in Long’s death and disappearance.
Long was 19 when she went missing. She was last seen at a house on Ashland Drive below Rocky Creek Road in Macon where she lived with her stepfather. Her remains have never been found.
A break in the case became public in mid-October.
McSwain, 46, a motel housekeeper who for years has lived in Coffee County in south Georgia, was arrested after an agent for the Georgia Bureau Investigation, Madison Holland, unearthed new leads. Exactly what led the GBI to McSwain is not clear.
But at Thursday’s hearing McSwain was linked to one of Long’s neighbors back in 1991, a boy named Keith Loyd, who was also a Southwest High schoolmate of Long’s.
In the early ‘90s, Loyd lived with his parents a few doors away from Long and her stepfather.
On Sept. 25, 2017, Loyd was struck by a freight train in what authorities have declared a suicide along some railroad tracks in downtown Macon.
McSwain was denied bond on Thursday, but in speaking to the judge and arguing on her behalf, defense attorney Gregory L. Bushway mentioned an apparent suicide note that Loyd left.
“One of the other people involved in this case is deceased,” Bushway said, “and apparently he left some letter indicating his responsibility in [the Long case], maybe indicating that Miss McSwain may have participated in this.”
Prosecutor Dorothy Hull later revealed that McSwain’s own words have implicated her.
“The defendant,” Hull informed the judge, “has given multiple statements to law enforcement in which she admits being involved in the kidnapping of Sabrina, and she has admitted being involved in her murder.”
Long was last seen alive the night of Aug. 14, 1991, when her boyfriend dropped her off at her stepdad’s place. She called her mom sometime around midnight and mentioned that she was going to see Loyd, her neighbor and friend. Loyd, Sabrina had said, wanted her to help him with a birthday gift for his mother.
“Sabrina told her mother that something seemed strange about Keith’s request,” Hull said, “and Sabrina said she would call her mom back after she talked to Keith (Loyd.)”
Sabrina never called back.
Over the years, Bibb sheriff’s investigators cleared Loyd as a suspect, noting that his alibi checked out — he was with a girlfriend — and, the investigators have said, he passed multiple polygraph examinations.
Hull said that in recent years Loyd had been interviewed “on more than one occasion” by the GBI, which routinely examines cold cases.
Hull said Loyd was scheduled to be questioned again in September 2017, but on the day of that interview Loyd committed suicide.
As a teen, Loyd lived a few houses away from Long — just around the corner on Greenleaf Drive, at the bottom end of Ashland Drive in deep southwest Macon.
“When I found out she said she was coming to see me,” Loyd told The Telegraph in a 1992 interview, “it was like, ‘What?’”
When Loyd spoke to The Telegraph in early 1992 for an in-depth article about the vanishing, he wondered if maybe Long had been trying to, in a roundabout way, warn her mother about going somewhere else, somewhere that perhaps Long was not comfortable going.
After watching Thursday’s proceeding on a TV monitor at the jail, Sabrina’s mother, Sue Corley, described the revelation about Loyd as “surprising to say the least.”
“It makes me more curious,” she told The Telegraph, adding that Loyd had always been at least a peripheral suspect in her mind.
“I’m surprised but I’m not surprised at this point. ... This guy was in my house and was friends with my child,” Corley said, “and I never saw anything like that in him.”
Earlier, Hull, the prosecutor, said in court that McSwain, in interviews with the GBI, had admitted that Loyd “was involved with [McSwain] in the abduction and murder of Sabrina.”
Hull, in successfully arguing against a bond for McSwain, said that there are “concerns if she were to be released that she would have the ability to tamper with or hide evidence, the location of which only she is familiar.”
Hull also said the GBI had received word that McSwain “has suffered from some depression in the past — with at least talk of suicide.”
Added Hull: “We believe it would be in her best interest not to be released.”