The Crimes of Florida Death Row Inmate Tiffany Cole

Mugshot of Tiffany Cole
Mugshot

Tiffany Cole, along with three co-defendants, was convicted of the kidnapping and first-degree murder of a Florida couple, Carol and Reggie Sumner. 

A Trusted Friend

Tiffany Cole knew the Sumners. They were a frail couple who had been her neighbors in South Carolina. She had also bought a car from them and had visited them in their home in Florida. It was during one of those visits that she learned that they had sold their South Carolina home and made a $99,000 profit from it.

From that point on, Cole, Michael Jackson, Bruce Nixon Jr., and Alan Wade began plotting a way to rob the couple. The group knew that gaining access to their home would be easy since the Sumners knew and trusted Cole.

The Robbery

On July 8, 2005, Cole, Jackson, Nixon, and Wade went to the Sumners' home with the intention of robbing and killing the couple.

Once inside the home, the Sumners were bound with duct tape while Nixon, Wade, and Jackson searched for valuables. The group then forced the couple to their garage and into the trunk of their Lincoln Town Car.

Buried Alive

Nixon and Wade drove the Lincoln Town Car, followed by Cole and Jackson who were in a Mazda that Cole had rented for the trip. They were headed to a spot located right across the Florida line in Georgia; they had already chosen the spot and prepared it by digging a large hole two days earlier. 

When they arrived, Jackson and Wade led the couple into the hole and buried them alive.

At some point, Jackson had forced the couple to tell him their personal identification number for their ATM card. The group then abandoned the Lincoln and found a hotel room to stay in for the night.

The next day they returned to the Sumners' home, wiped it down with Clorox, and stole jewelry and a computer which Cole later pawned. Over the next few days, the group celebrated their crime by spending several thousand dollars that they stole from the Sumners' bank account.

The Investigation

On July 10, 2005, Mrs. Sumner's daughter, Rhonda Alford, called authorities and reported that her parents were missing. 

Investigators went to the Sumners' home and discovered a bank statement that showed a large sum of money in it. The bank was contacted and it was learned that an excessive amount of money had been withdrawn from the account over the past few days.

On July 12, Jackson and Cole, posing as the Sumners, made a call to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. They told the detective that responded to the call that they had left town quickly due to a family emergency and were having problems accessing their account. They claimed they were hoping that he could help.

Suspecting that they were not really the Sumners, the detective contacted the bank and asked them not to block any withdrawals from the account so that he could continue his investigation.

He was then able to track the cellular telephone that the callers used. It belonged to Michael Jackson, and records showed the phone had been used near the Sumners' home at the time that they disappeared.

There were also several calls made to a car rental company that was able to provide the detective with a description of the Mazda that Cole had rented and was now overdue. By using the global tracking system in the car, it was determined that the Mazda had been within blocks of the Sumners' home on the night that they went missing.

Busted

On July 14, the entire group, with the exception of Cole, was caught at a Best Western Hotel in Charlestown, South Carolina. Police searched the two hotel rooms that were rented under Cole's name and found personal property belonging to the Sumners. They also found the Sumners' ATM card in Jackson's back pocket.

Cole was caught at her home near Charlestown after police got her address through the car rental agency from which she rented the Mazda.

Confession

Bruce Nixon was the first co-defendant that confessed to murdering the Sumners. He provided police with the details of the crimes that were committed, how the robbery and abduction were planned, and the location of where the couple was buried.

Dr. Anthony J. Clark, Medical Examiner for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, performed autopsies on the Sumners and testified that they both died after being buried alive and their airway passages became blocked with dirt. 

Cole Pleads Her Case

Cole took the stand during her trial. She testified that she thought that the crime would be a simple theft and that she did not knowingly participate in the robberies, kidnappings, or murders.

She also said that she was at first unaware that the Sumners were in the trunk of their Lincoln and that they were being taken to the pre-dug gravesite. She then said the holes were dug in order to scare the Sumners into giving up their ATM PIN numbers.

Conviction and Sentencing

On October 19, 2007, the jury deliberated for 90 minutes before finding Cole guilty of two counts of first-degree murder on both premeditation and felony-murder theories, two counts of kidnapping, and two counts of robbery. Cole was sentenced to death for each murder, life imprisonment for each kidnapping, and 15 years for each robbery. She is currently on death row at the Lowell Correctional Institution Annex.

The Co-Defendants

Wade and Jackson were also convicted and sentenced to two death sentences. Nixon pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 45 years in prison.