Paula Louise Merchant

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Above Images: Merchant, circa 1999


Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance

  • Missing Since: January 3, 1999 from Forest Acres, South Carolina
  • Classification: Endangered Missing
  • Date Of Birth: August 3, 1973
  • Age: 25 years old
  • Height and Weight: 5'6, 120 pounds
  • Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian female. Blonde hair, brown eyes. Merchant often wears her hair in ponytails or braids. She has dimples.
  • 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.
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    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. Merchant carried a medium-sized dark brown shoulder purse at the time of her disappearance. 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 Merchant left her 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 Rivera is connected to Merchant's case. Rivera was charged with the murders of four women in the Augusta, Georgia area in October 2000. A native of Puerto Rico, he had attended the University of South Carolina in the early 1990s and was familiar with the site of Merchant's disappearance. Photos of Rivera are posted below this case summary. There are differences between her 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. Photos of him are posted below this case summary. 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.

    Rivera 1 Rivera 2
    Above Images: Rivera, circa 2000


    Investigating Agency
    If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
    Forest Acres Police Department


    Source Information
    The Augusta Chronicle
    America's Most Wanted
    The Kristen Modafferi Foundation


    Updated 1 time since October 12, 2004.

    Last updated August 18, 2013; detail of disappearance updated.

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