Jimmy C. Edwards was dedicated to his chickens.

To offer tips

Anyone with information in the killing of Jimmy Edwards is asked to call the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office at 832-0300 or Crime Stoppers at 554-1111.

He would wake and feed them. He would collect their eggs. When they were fat enough, he would auction them off.

But after the 64-year-old retiree was found about 20 yards from the coop with three gunshot wounds in the back of his head, his family wondered whether his dedication got him killed.

Edwards arrived at his Ridge Road house late Friday after a farmyard auction. From inside, family members heard his Chevy pull up, then heard two pops — what they thought were firecrackers.

They figured he would first check on the 150 chickens and two turkeys that can fall prey to foxes and opossums. But Edwards never walked in.

His son-in-law instead went outside and found him lying face down. The only sound was the chickens’ clucking. Edwards was dead.

“He never hurt anybody,” Endsley Grooms, 67, said. “He just went fishing and was always checking on those chickens. It doesn’t make sense.”

Was someone lurking somewhere in the 4-acre backyard, waiting for him? Did someone ride home from the auction in his truck? Did the killer take something from Edwards? Grooms and other relatives don’t have the answers.

The Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the homicide just outside town limits, has not identified a suspect. Deputies searched the home and hauled away firearms and ammunition in hopes of eliminating relatives’ involvement, the family said.

In his pockets, family members said, deputies found a keychain clip and a convenience store receipt for a bottle of Gatorade. They don’t know whether his wallet, which is usually kept in a cubby hole of his truck, was missing. Deputies confiscated the pickup.

“We’ve got leads that we think are pretty good,” sheriff’s Chief Deputy Sam Richardson said. “But it’s too soon to say whether we have a suspect.”

Edwards was not involved in any criminal activity, his family said. He had never been arrested.

His wife died six years ago.

He served a combat tour as a Marine during the Vietnam War. The experience gave him flashbacks, and he refused to speak of it.

He worked for years as an electrician at D.M. Stone Electrical Construction in Summerville. As a symbol of faithful service, he was awarded a pair of limited-edition wire cutters mounted on a plaque.

“He was a people person,” said a daughter-in-law, Lisa Edwards. “You could ride from one end of Dorchester County to the other, and no one will say anything bad about him.”

In retirement he ventured onto canals and lakes and fished for catfish and bream. Late in his life he joined a nearby Church of God and found salvation.

And for the past year, he shadowed a friend in pursuit of his auctioneering license. He practiced his fast-talking skills at auctions almost every day of the week.

On Friday, he attended an auction in Orangeburg County’s Eutaw Springs.

At 10:24 p.m. he called his stepdaughter to say he would be home in a half-hour. He usually grabbed some dinner for her on the way home — a 6-inch cold-cut sandwich from Subway.

He didn’t indicate that anything was wrong.

“He said, ‘I’ll see you shortly. I love you,’” Mary Grooms, 54, said. “I thought he’d say if he had someone with him.”

She and her husband were watching television around 11 p.m. when they heard Edwards’ Chevrolet Silverado pull into the driveway at 374 Ridge Road.

Endsley Grooms soon heard what he thought were two firecrackers, but he thought nothing of it.

“There’s always some kind of shooting going on in this neck of the woods,” he said.

He walked out less than 10 minutes later. He shouted. No answer. He shined a flashlight. He saw nothing.

When his wife flipped on the porch light, they saw Edwards’ body resting on the brown grass near his truck. Following a 911 dispatcher’s instruction, Endsley Grooms grabbed Edwards by the straps of his overalls and turned him over.

But there was no chance to revive him.

He had taken his final breaths near the soil where he had planned to plant cabbage, butter beans and tomatoes. He had been executed, his family said, near the bird flocks that pecked at the feed in their pen.

“He had some eggs that were about ready to hatch,” Endsley Grooms said. “He’s going to miss it.”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.