Billings case: Saturday, July 11 part 2

Saturday, July 11


Around 3 p.m. Leonard and Patrick Gonzalez arrived at the ECSO. Sgt. Hoard meets them in the rear parking lot. The CNN van is still parked in the side parking lot. Hoard escorts the pair to the Criminal Investigation Division.

Patrick says that he was with his wife and family on the night of July 9. His mother bought him the red Dodge van so he could haul equipment associated with his self-defense business. The van has mechanical problems and, to his knowledge, it hasn’t been driven lately. He adds that his father has been working on it.

When confronted that the van had possibly been used in a crime recently, Patrick says that anyone would have access to the van. Hoard notes in his report that the van was inside a fenced area and a large dog was in the yard.

When the investigators inquire about his possible involvement in the double homicide, Patrick says that he didn’t want to answer any more question without a lawyer present.

Investigator Barber observes the interview. She writes in her report that Gonzalez says that a similar crime occurred in a bar in Lillian or Foley at the same time or just after the Billings’ homicides. Barber checks with the Foley Police Department they had no knowledge of such incidents.


John Markham, the older brother of Blue Markham, releases for the Billings family a statement to ABC News:

“We are deeply saddened by the tragic events that have occurred. Our first obligation is the children. They are surrounded by many family and friends. The children have not been separated nor will they be. Bud and Melanie’s world revolved around the children. Our second obligation is finding the people responsible for this.”


At 5 p.m. Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan tells the reporters that the agency has found the red van and is interviewing two “persons of interest” in the murders of Bud and Melanie Billings.

There are a few more reporters at this press conference. The Mobile, Alabama television stations have sent over their camera crews. CNN’s David Mattingly is there.

“About 10 a.m. this morning, we started receiving phone calls from citizens. “ Morgan opens. “At this point I would to thank members of the media. Because of your cooperation in this case and the placement of the vehicle description, we were inundated with calls.

“One of those calls led to the discovery of the van, its registered owner and where it is today. We are currently working the warrants to take the van into custody and we are also processing the van with our crime scene personnel.”

Morgan says the ECSO has identified the registered owner of van and its location at Palm Court.

“Interviews with neighbors, friends and family have led us to two persons of interest–as you know, we are looking for a total of three. We are currently interviewing two persons of interest that are tied to the van in question.

“I want to emphasize that they are persons of interest and we have, at this time, not effected any arrests.”

Sheriff Morgan says the two persons being questioned matched images seen on surveillance video from the home. Investigators are still looking for a third person seen on the tapes.

As the reporters press for more information of the persons of interest, the sheriff says the registered owner of the van is not one of the persons of interest, but a relative is. Morgan doesn’t say who owns the van.

Morgan tells the media that he believes the crime was committed by seasoned criminals due to the speed in which the incident occurred.

“It was a very short time span. In and out,” Morgan said. “It suggests experience to me.”

He says that there is no clear motive for the killings.

“We are still working off the premise of a home invasion.” The sheriff would not confirm if anything had been stolen from the home during the murders.

There is some frustration among the reporters over the number of questions left unanswered, such as what, if anything, was stolen from the houses and the kinds of weapons used.

“We’re talking with the State Attorney’s Office to see if there is any additional information that we can release,” Morgan says. “We will provide as much information as possible, but please bear with us for the questions we cannot answer.”

Morgan did talk about the long hours his investigators have worked, which have been almost nonstop since the shooting.

“Our investigators slog through the first 36 to 40 hours and hit a numerous number of walls, and then here, within the last 10 hours, the dam has broke. And so, we’ve got some very, very good leads that we’re currently pursuing.”


At 7 p.m. Sheriff Morgan’s press conference is the lead story on CNN Newsroom. David Mattingly describes the discovery of the Dodge van as “just very, by the book police work.”

Mattingly did ask Morgan how he would describe the two persons being questioned by his investigators.

“At this time, the sheriff’s office and our investigators are comfortable with the leads that we have developed to identify two people that are persons of interest that we can tie to enough significant events and instances in this case that would lead a reasonable person to believe that they have an association with these murders.”

Soon after Mattingly signs off, Leonard and Patrick are seen leaving the ECSO. A wreaker delivers to the red van to the garage at the ECSO.

At 7:50 p.m. Barber returns to Palm Court to interview Regina McCartney, Leonard’s sister. She says that when she left her brother Frank Gonzalez’s house on Friday, July 10 that she had seen a red van parked in the middle of the yard at 318 Palm Court.

Later she goes with Investigator Ward to the Dollar General Store that was on the sales receipt found by Sgt. Nesmith on Leonard Gonzalez’s residence. Barger and Ward review the store’s surveillance video which shows Leonard Gonzalez buying two cans of spray paint.

CST Wayne Wayne is called in to process the Red Van that has been brought to vehicle processing bay at the ECSO garage. There is no tag on the van. The cargo door on the driver’s side is broken and won’t open. The cargo area contains the base of a vehicle jack, two spare tires with obvious damage, a red shirt, a damaged plastic light cover and one two-inch piece of duct tape. In a cubby hole near the rear passenger side corner, a piece of brown cardboard and a small section of pipe insulation. The ceiling vent over the cargo area was in the open position. Pieces of red carpet were also attached to the frame near the cargo door.

The van had two front bucket seats, a second row bench seat and a third row bench seat. Sections of blue carpet were attached underneath the driver’s seat. A box of Brawny trash bags were between the two front seats. Duct tape was wrapped around the gear shift. A container of disinfectant wipes and a box of soap pads were found near the base of the front passenger door. A Diet Pepsi bottle containing water was located between the driver side call and the second row bench seat.

Copyright © 2009 Rick Outzen