Paula Louise Merchant
Merchant, approximately 1999; Reinaldo "Ray" Rivera, approximately 2000
Date reported missing : 01/03/1999
Missing location (approx) :
Forest Acres, South Carolina
Missing classification : Endangered Missing
Gender : Female
DOB : 08/03/1973 (48)
Age at the time of disappearance: 25 years old
Height / Weight : 5'6, 120 pounds
Description, clothing, jewerly and more : A light green sweater, a navy blue three-quarter length coat, gray pants, black shoes, a dark pink or black knit hat and a large silver ring. Carrying a medium-sized dark brown purse.
Distinguishing characteristics, birthmarks, tattoos
: Caucasian female. Blonde hair, brown eyes. Merchant often wears her hair in ponytails or braids. She has dimples.
Information on the case from local sources, may or may not be correct : 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.
Other information and links : ncy
Forest Acres Police Department
September 2021 updates and sources
A missing person is a person who has disappeared and whose status as alive or dead cannot be confirmed as their location and condition are not known. A person may go missing through a voluntary disappearance, or else due to an accident, crime, death in a location where they cannot be found (such as at sea), or many other reasons. In most parts of the world, a missing person will usually be found quickly. While criminal abductions are some of the most widely reported missing person cases, these account for only 2–5% of missing children in Europe.
By contrast, some missing person cases remain unresolved for many years. Laws related to these cases are often complex since, in many jurisdictions, relatives and third parties may not deal with a person's assets until their death is considered proven by law and a formal death certificate issued. The situation, uncertainties, and lack of closure or a funeral resulting when a person goes missing may be extremely painful with long-lasting effects on family and friends.
Several organizations seek to connect, share best practices, and disseminate information and imAge at the time of disappearance: s of missing children to improve the effectiveness of missing children investigations, including the International Commission on Missing Persons, the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC), as well as national organizations, including the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in the US, Missing People in the UK, Child Focus in Belgium, and The Smile of the Child in Greece.
The Augusta Chronicle
America's Most Wanted
The Kristen Modafferi Foundation
Interactive Missing Person Search Map