Paula Louise Merchant

Merchant, circa 1999; Reinaldo "Ray" Rivera, circa 2000

  • Missing Since 01/03/1999
  • Missing From Forest Acres, South Carolina
  • Classification Endangered Missing
  • Sex Female
  • Race White
  • Date of Birth 08/03/1973 (46)
  • Age 25 years old
  • Height and Weight 5'6, 120 pounds
  • Clothing/Jewelry Description A light green sweater, a maroon three-quarter length coat, gray pants, black shoes, a dark pink or black knit hat and a large-sized silver ring. Carrying a medium-sized dark brown purse.
  • Distinguishing Characteristics Caucasian female. Blonde hair, brown eyes. Merchant often wears her hair in ponytails or braids. She has dimples.

Details of Disappearance

Merchant departed from her residence in Forest Acres, South Carolina on January 3, 1999 at approximately 6:30 p.m. She was planning to attend a church meeting on LeGrand Road at the time. She never arrived at her destination and has not been seen again.

Merchant was driving her tan 1989 Nissan Sentra at the time of her disappearance. The vehicle was discovered abandoned and burned at approximately 12:00 a.m. on January 4, several hours after she left home. The car was located in the 2000 block of Commerce Drive in Columbia, South Carolina. There was no sign of her at the scene.

Authorities are uncertain if Reinaldo Javier "Ray" Rivera is connected to Merchant's case. Rivera was charged with the murders of four women in the Augusta, Georgia area in October 2000. He had attended the University of South Carolina in the early 1990s and was familiar with the site of Merchant's disappearance.

A photo of Rivera is posted below this case summary. There are differences between Merchant and Rivera's other victims, but there are enough similarities between the crimes to allow further investigation. Investigators are also investigating as to whether he was involved in the 1992 South Carolina disappearance of Dail Dinwiddie.

Rivera admitted to murdering four Georgia women, but is a suspect in many more deaths. He was charged in one killing in 2000; his victim in that case was a police officer. A native of Puerto Rico and a Navy pilot with an exemplary military record, Rivera was convicted of the police officer's murder in 2004 and sentenced to death, plus seven life terms for related crimes.

Merchant is a graduate of Georgia State University and majored in anthropology. She planned to enroll at the University of South Carolina for a master's degree in anthropology. Her case remains unsolved.

Investigating Agency

  • Forest Acres Police Department 803-782-9444

Updated 1 time since October 12, 2004. Last updated August 18, 2013; detail of disappearance updated.