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Billings case: Thursday, July 16


MEDIA MINEFIELD
Thursday, July 16

It has been a week since Bud and Melanie Billings were killed. The seven men who the authorities believe are responsible and one female accomplice have been arrested. The media wants to know why, what was the safe taken from the home and why are the FBI and DEA possibly involved.

CNN is reporting early Thursday morning that the DEA is on the case, despite denials by Sheriff Morgan the prior night on Anderson Cooper 360. They say that David Melenkevitz, a DEA spokesman in Miami, has said that the Escambia County Sheriff’s Department did call for the DEA’s assistance.

ADOPTION FRAUD
Reporters have begun digging into the past of Bud Billings. The St. Petersburg Times publishes an article on a 1989 arrest of Byrd Billing for adoption fraud.

Billings, his former wife Cindy Reeve and another woman, Vickie Taylor were sentenced to two years probation on charges of violation of adoption, fraud to obtain birth certificate and forgery of birth certificate.

Court records show that a debt-ridden and pregnant Taylor checked into Sacred Heart Hospital under the name Cindy Reeve. She delivered a baby boy June 4 and listed the father’s name as Byrd Billings. Taylor told deputies she had agreed to the fraud in exchange for a $2,100 loan, so the Billingses could claim the baby as their own.

Sheriff’s deputies learned of the plot when someone with knowledge of it called authorities, the documents say. A deputy found the baby, named Justin, when he went to interview Reeve and Billings. All three pleaded nolo contendere, which means they did not admit guilt but agreed to a punishment.

The Justin is the same Justin that Bud and Melanie later adopted.

MORNING NEWS SHOWS
CBS Early Show reports DEA has been investigating the case from the beginning for possible drugs and money laundering, but says the officials won’t name who they are investigating.

Like the St. Petersburg Times, CBS reporters have been combing court documents. They report that the Billingses sued their own adult son, Michael, for child support in 2008 after they took in his daughter (their granddaughter), Kristyn, in 2006. They also had asked for a $50,000 life insurance policy for Kristyn, with themselves as the beneficiaries.

The reporters make it clear, however, that Sheriff Morgan has denied having knowledge of any federal investigation and that his people have not investigated the Billings’ finances.

CNN America has an interview with Morgan. Once again he has to answer questions about what was in the safe.

His response is well-rehearsed by now, “We’ve been asked by the state attorney’s office to wait on a specific release, but we have obtained, again, physical evidence that Ms. Wiggins had and her cooperation in this case and we’ll be announcing that at 10:00 a.m. this morning in conjunction with our state attorney.”

He sidesteps questions about DEA involvement and the next steps in the ECSO investigation.

“I’m going to emphasize to everyone who’s following this case. We moved now to the prosecutorial phase of this case. If we make any misstep in the gathering of evidence or releasing information that shouldn’t be released at a specific time, we can jeopardize the successful prosecution of these horrible, horrible murders.

We most certainly want to step through this like waltzing through a mine field. So I’m reluctant at this time to release any specific information without having the state attorney standing next to me. Because that’s truly Mr. Eddins’ call and not mine.

Morgan does tell CNN that that there are there are at least two additional persons of interest that the ECSO will be interviewing very shortly. The anchor Carol Costello talks about the rumors surrounding the Billings case.

“There are all kinds of rumors flying out there. One of them, that the victims in this case were tax defiers and they may have a large amount of money inside their home. Can you comment at all on that?”

Morgan says that his focus as been on the double homicide, not any of the Billings family’s business holdings or ties.

“I want to keep the community focused on the fact that we’re dealing with these horrendous murders. That’s been the focus of my office’s investigation, that and that only.

“And to put this in a little better perspective, I think, for the community at large and for the nation that’s been following this. We’re talking about a case that’s so complex that the only one that I can recall in my studies from the time in law enforcement would be back in the late 1969, 1970 with the Tate-Lo Bianca murders that occurred in California in the number of participants they had in those murders. We’re up to eight now and we could possibly go up to nine or 10.”

GRANNY DREW WANTS A CHECK
The Pensacola News Journal reports that a 78-year-old grandmother, Kathryn Colbert, is upset that Crime Stoppers is giving her a check for tipping the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office on the red Dodge van being at the residence of Leonard Gonzalez.

Crime Stoppers is a non-profit organization that funds a hot line that pays informants for tips that lead to arrests. Callers are able to keep their identities anonymous.

Colbert, who the daily paper says is called “Granny Drew” by friends and neighbors, says that on Saturday morning she saw three men get into a red or maroon Ford Expedition sport utility vehicle and quickly leave the Gonzalez home–the same three men that Barbee and Tyree saw when they drove to Palm Court that morning.

Granny Drew claims she called Crime Stoppers on Saturday morning after she recognized the van from a photo in the Pensacola News Journal. She couldn’t get through, so instead she called the Sheriff’s Office.

Crime Stoppers director Jeff Van Camp tells the report that because Colbert isn’t eligible for the $3,000 reward because her tip came through the Sheriff’s Office.

PROCESSING STALLWORTH’S EXPLORER
The Forensics/Crime Scene unit processes Wiggins’ Buick and Stallworth’s tan-colored Ford Explorer.

CST Wright processes the Explore. He finds SpongeBob and other toys and child’s car seat in the back seat on the driver’s side. A black duffle bag, tan colored back pack and two binders containing numerous compact disks were in the cargo area. The duffle bag had workout equipment. The tan backpack contained paperwork bearing the mane of Staff Sergeant Donnie Stallworth, three XXX magazines, four live 12-gauge shotgun shells, one pair of black gloves, two black cloth stocking caps, mouthwash, condoms and an electrical cable.

The map pocket on the driver’s door had Donnie Stallworth’s military identification cards. In the center console, Wright found a flash drive, cloth cap, tube of Desonide cream, a package of cookies and 88 CD’s.

CST Purcell processes the Buick convertible. She finds the back window broken, but notes nothing else unusual in her report.

THE OTHER MRS. WIGGINS
Investigator Tama Barber calls Connie Weiss who had contacted the ECSO earlier that morning. Weiss says that she is the real wife of Hugh Wiggins. They were married on April 25, 1989 in Brattleboro, Vermont and had been separated for about 10 to 12 years.

She says that Hugh has always been fascinated by guns. A few weeks ago, he had asked her son, age 24, to purchase a van for him. Her son also said that about a month ago he had met Patrick Gonzalez at Hugh Wiggin’s house overheard a conversation between the two about using zip ties to tie people up.

Weiss told Barber that Wiggins has made statements in the past such as, “If you have to kill them, kill them.” He was always been interested in being a gangster. She also that Wiggins had called her earlier that day and asked her to not talk to the police.

SEARCHING CLASSY LADY
Investigators Lee Tyree, Ward and Barber drive with State Attorney Investigator Bruno to Orange Beach and search the Classy Lady with OBPD Investigator Brock Palmer. They don’t find anything.

PRESS CONFERENCE
LEAVE THE FAMILY ALONE

The press conference begins with Sheriff David Morgan and State Attorney Bill Eddins at the podium. Spencer stands off to the side – out of camera range– while Sheriff Morgan reads a statement that the public and media should have humanity and compassion for the Billings family. He makes it clear that the Billings are not part of any ECSO investigation. He says that to the best of his knowledge that they aren’t part of any DEA investigation either.

“I have been asked to make a public statement, which I feel is in fairness. And although I’ve made this statement on numerous occasions I want to restate it because of the nature of this investigation and the individuals involved and I ask for some humanity and some compassion for the billings family

“A lot of wild rumors float around, especially with any ongoing investigation as complex as this one, involving all the players that it involves. We just always have to remember that we are talking about people’s lives and about the impact on their lives, not just for today but for years to come.

“So we would like to announce that the DEA is providing investigative assistance at the request of Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. No additional information is being provided at this time. That is a statement from the DEA. To put that in context, the DEA was called in to help with the suspects in this crime.

“Additionally I will restate, which I believe that I have stated numerous times last night, the Billings family, to the best of my knowledge, is not the focus of any investigation by the DEA. I am not sure where that may have started, but please today let us put that to rest.

“And again win your discussions with people around town and in your interviews understand that we are dealing with a grieving family so ask again a little consideration for the Billings family in this time of grief.”

With so many reporters in Pensacola–Newsweek, People, CNN, Fox, NBC, ABC, CBS as well as the Associated Press and local stations and papers from Mobile to Panama City, there has been a great deal of speculation about why the Billings were killed during the home invasion.

Eddins does his best also to end the rumors. He really stresses that he believes that the investigation is concluded and that he is ready to prepare to bring the cases before the grand jury. Eddins makes it clear that he sees the motive for the crime being robbery.

Pamela Long Wiggins, 47, faces a grand jury indictment for accessory after the fact to felony murder. She faces up to 30 years in state prison.

“We believe this concludes the matter, in our opinion,” Eddins said. “This was a home invasion robbery, where the people stole a safe and we recovered it. I personally believe that it is as simple as that in terms of motive and what occurred.”

State Attorney Bill Eddins says “valuable evidence” has been recovered including the missing safe from Billings home. “The safe is being processed at this time.”

“We have located several guns in various locations, one which we believe is the murder weapon.” Eddins doesn’t offer any other additional information on the evidence located.

Morgan refuses to say the investigation is over.

“We believe, that as the case progresses, that additional motives will be found,” Morgan says. “We have some people of interest we’re continuing to look at.”

Morgan tries to better explain DEA involvement. He says they were called in to provide assistance. Morgan says the DEA was called as a courtesy.

“Then my part was done. I will not answer any questions about any investigation that the DEA may or may not initiate.”

He repeats, “The Billings family, to the best of my knowledge, is not the focus of any investigation of the DEA. I will not answer any questions about any investigation that the DEA may or may not have.”

The press conference concludes at 11:28 a.m.

JUNE 25 MEETING
As the press conference is ending, Investigator Barber is meeting with Deanna Murrow, the owner of a cleaning company. On June 25, she was contacted by a woman in Atlanta to clean a house at 1206 Soundview Trail, Gulf Breeze that she had owned but hadn’t moved into yet. Murrow was met there by a woman who identified herself as Pam. There were two males in the maroon mini-van with her. One was dressed in a suit, the other was wearing black and had a long ponytail.

Murrow thought they were realtors. The man in the suit told Murrow that he was the owner of the house and Pam’s brother-in-law. He bragged about winning an award that he had won for helping children.

Two black man arrived in a rust-colored 1965 Impala with an antique tag and shiny rims. All of the men went downstairs to meet while Pam stayed upstairs. Murrow suspected that they were involved in a drug deal so she went downstairs and asked them to move their cars so she could leave.

Murrow remembers seeing a man outside pressure washing the house. Barber showed her several photo lineups with Pam Wiggins, Patrick Gonzalez and Cab Tice. She recognized the first two, but not Tice.

She described the white male dressed in black as 30-40 years old with a long brown ponytail, about 6’1,” tattoos on his arms and wearing a lot of jewelry. Pam stayed in the kitchen upstairs while the men met.

Later Barber contacted Glenn Burnett and found that he had been pressure washing the Soundview house on June 24 and June 25. A Navy pilot was at the house on June 24 and some people were there to clean the house on June 25. He didn’t see Pam Wiggins there.

Burnett also said that Hugh Wiggins had called him last night. And he remembered that about four days before the homicides, Hugh Wiggins, Patrick and another person went to Alabama to pick up a motorcycle from Pam’s real husband, James, but didn’t get because the husband called the cops on them.

WATCHING A SAFE
Roosevelt Banks turns in a statement at Hurlburt Air Force Base. Banks, age 21, is Greenville, Mississippi native. Banks remembers a conversation with Marketa Scruggs from three weeks ago. Scruggs said that someone was going to take care of her and had asked her to put a safe in her house. All she had to do was watch it. He didn’t think much of it until he heard that Stallworth had been arrested and his roommate told him that Stallworth and Scruggs were together and used to talk.
“Marketa has a history of writing bad checks so I’m guessing that this was her way out of debt and into a better life for her and her son.”

POFF GETS GAS
Investigator Buddy Nesmith brought a photo lineup to Pam Wiggins at her house. It included all the black males involved. Nesmith writes, “She barely looked at the lineups and stated none looked familiar.”

Nesmith goes to Magnolia Antiques and finds nothing of value in the storage container. On the way home, he stops at the Raceway convenience store across from the Gulf Breeze WalMart. The clerk Jason Lee, age 30, sees Nesmith’s badge and asks if he is working on the murder case.

Lee remembers seeing Pat Poff (as he knows him) at the store around the time of the murders and had gone through his receipts and discovered it was on July 9 at 2:57 p.m. Poff bought $20 of gas. He was with a red van and a blue Escalade and several black males.

“Then a silver BMW convertible pulled up and backed into the parking lot, which I thought was strange, backing into a parking space. All the makes came in. Some of them used the restroom. They milled around, bought a thing or two. At 2:57 is when Pat came to the cash register. He bought a water that he gave to the younger white male and he bought himself a Bud Ice and pack of Lights in the box.”

The men went out to the parking lot and talked more.

“I said to myself what, is Pat having a convention in the parking lot? Then the gentleman that was driving the silver BMW appeared to be agitated. He threw his arms up in the air and the tall, younger black male started approaching the car and that’s when Pat kind of put his arms out in front of him in a “calm down” kind of action and then they all exited to their vehicles and departed.”

Lee identified the two white males in the van as Leonard Gonzalez, Sr. and Coldiron, based on the photos that he had seen in the newspaper. He said that Pat and Coldiron had been in the store together several times.

He remembers one of the black males had a military I.D. in his wallet. He also had seen the silver convertible BMW before with Pat and the black male driver. About three weeks ago they had a lengthy conversation in the parking lot. He remembered him because he backed into the parking space then, too.

Nesmith asked if there was any video of the parking lot. Lee says no and that Pat had asked the same question several months ago. Nesmith seizes the cash register tape for the time period and turns it in to Evidence.

OPEN THE SAFE
The safe found in Wiggins’ backyard is opened at the ECSO Evidence Warehouse. Ashley and James Markham, Crystal Spencer, Lt. Briggs, Capt. Woods, Sgt. Wehmeier, Inv. Bobby Guy, Evidence Technician Chase McCain and CST Purcell were present. None of the combinations given to Purcell by Ashley worked to open the safe. Lt. Briggs called the safe company and got the master combination.

The majority of the safe contained passports for the whole family, identification papers for each child, jewelry, DVD’s, prescription medication and $68 dollars. As they were leaving the ECSO gave Ashley her mother and father’s wedding bands and a necklace with a diamond pendant.

PROCESSING WIGGINS MINIVAN
Forensics/Crime Scene Unit processes Pam Wiggins’ 2004 Chevrolet Venture minivan. Inside they find several duffle bags full of men’s and women’s clothing and personal items. In the rear, they find a box of beddings a bag containing a laptop, magazines for Hugh Wiggins, Bills to Pamela Lonag at 4390 Gulf Breeze Parkway, digital camera, binder full of navigation stuff, “U.S. Coast Guard Pilot 2008” book for the Gulf of Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and two gallon containers of Zephyrhills water. In the cup holder is a Cracker Barrel cup. Also in the van is a purse belonging to Pam that contains $1,500 cell phone and pill bottle with 39 pills, several maps under the driver’s seat, a new Samsung A660 cell, still in its package.

They also find a pair of Dickies blue jeans with suspected blood stains.

Copyright © 2009 Rick Outzen