At “The Tower,” the national media onslaught was in full swing. Media vans and satellite dishes filled the parking lot. The training room was fully turned over to the media. Cables ran from the room, down the hall and out a side door to the vans in the parking lot. The public information office left the room available to the media twenty four hours a day and provided them with internet access, coffee and snacks.
Morgan’s day began with what he called “walking the circuit” as he moved from interview to interview. Each network had claimed a piece of real estate on the sidewalk outside, marking their ground with duct tape. He had interviews on Good Morning America, CBS Early Show and Today Show.
At 5 a.m. that morning, Morgan had created a stir when he told GMA that the robbery “was carried out with military precision.”
He said, “It’s multiple suspects, more than we initially thought. The motive is still unclear. This has been very convoluted, complex case.”
Ashley Markham appeared on Today Show. Fighting back tears, she told Ann Curry, “We’re still in shock. We just want everyone to know that they were great people, and this is not something that should have happened to people who were so giving.”
She and her husband Blue would be taking care of the children. She allayed any fears about her siblings’ safety and well- being: “The children are doing well. They’re with family, lots of friends. We have lots of support right now. They’re doing as well as can be expected.”
She told curry that she didn’t know why anyone would kill her parents.
“They were wonderful people, they are wonderful people,” Markham said. “They had so much love in their hearts. Their children were special to them. They had more love than anybody could ever imagine giving one person, much less 17.”
That morning Markham held a press conference in the lobby of her attorney Crystal Spencer’s law firm, Lozier, Thames, Frazier & Spencer.
Spencer had been brought in by Markham because of her experience in dealing with the national media. The attorney had gained national recognition for Russenberger v, Russenberger, a case involving relocation of Custodial parent with minor children that was tried before the Florida Supreme Court.
Reading from a three-page statement that Spencer had prepared, Markham told the reporters, “We plan to carry on their legacy. We children have experienced a loss that is unimaginable, but as a family, we will pull together. We’ll take each day one at a time. Our most important concern right now is upholding the wishes of my parents. We are fully prepared to do that. The family is capable of following through with those wishes.”
She reiterated that she knew of no relationships that her parents might have had with Leonard and Patrick Gonzalez or Wayne Coldiron. “The people who have been arrested, we have no knowledge of them. That’s all I know.”
Baggett and Hardy interviewed Wayne Coldiron on Monday morning. Colidron said that he was with Leonard Gonzalez at the Palm Court trailer when Patrick drove up in a red mini-van with four black males who were in a tan or gold Explorer. They came inside. Coldiron was already dressed in black. Patrick had a duffle bag, a gun and clothes. The black males were dressed in black.
Leonard and Coldiron followed in the red Dodge van, Patrick drove the red mini-van. They went to the Billings house and parked the red Dodge van on the side of the road in what he believed was an abandoned weigh station. The two got into the mini-van with Patrick and were followed by the black males in the Explorer.
Coldiron remembered crossing the Alabama/Florida border and the mini-van pulling over on the side of the road. They all got back into the Explorer driven by Sumner, who the suspect identified from a photo line-up .
According to Coldiron, he and Patrick were dropped behind the little brick church next to the Billings residence. Leonard then drove the red Dodge van to the front of the house with the other three black males. Sumner stayed in the tan Explorer driving up and down the road waiting for them.
Patrick and Coldiron went through the backyard to the house. Patrick had a 9mm that Coldiron believed had come from a “Pam L’s” house. He and Patrick went through the side door. Meanwhile, the black males took to the front of the house. Once inside the doorway, Coldiron saw Patrick with the 9mm. He exited, running to the front of the residence where the Dodge van was parked with Leonard in the driver’s seat. Coldiron told Leonard to get over. Then everyone jumped into the Dodge van and met up with Sumner. They got into the his Explorer
Coldiron and Leonard drove the Dodge van to Palm Court. Hardy showed Coldiron photos of the Explorer at Wal-Mart and the Dodge van. He identified the Explorer as Stallworth’s truck and the red Dodge van that was brought for Junior as the van that was used.
Arrest warrants were issued for Donnie Stallworth, Jr. and Gary Sumner on the charges of homicide. Sumner was in custody in Okaloosa County. He was picked up and transported to Escambia County Jail.
That morning investigators visited Auto Works in Gulf Breeze. Owner Dan Blocker knew Patrick Gonzalez as “Little Poff” and “Patrick Poff.” He recognized the red mini-van (Chevy Venture) that Patrick was driving because Blocker had worked on it before and the owner was a white female by the name of “Pam.”
Though he couldn’t remember her last name, he knew Pam owned Magnolia Antique Mall on Highway 98. He had seen Patrick and Pam together as recently as a month ago and knew that Patrick and his family were living in one of her houses for free.
On July 10, Patrick had come to the shop and asked Blocker to put new tires on the red van. He drove the van with two other suspects that he recognized from the photos in the PNJ as being Leonard Gonzalez and Coldiron.
The new tires weren’t the right size for the mini-van. Patrick didn’t care and wanted to take the old tires with him, which Blocker thought was unusual. According to Blocker, Patrick was very fidgety and in a hurry and told him not to tell anybody that he had visited the shop.
Monday afternoon just after lunch, Leonard’s brother and sister, Frank and Regina McCarthy, and their partners came a calling to the sheriff’s office. Tyree met them in the lobby and took them upstairs to see what’s on their minds.
Sue Ann Matthews, Frank’s live-in girlfriend, remembered Patrick pulling up to Leonard’s residence with some unusual friends.
“I was taking my puppy out to use the restroom and I happened to look across the street to Leonard Gonzalez, Sr.’s house and I saw him pull up in his car,” Matthew said. “I saw Patrick Gonzalez, Jr. pull up behind Leonard, and at the end of the fence was a tannish looking like an SUV or a Ford Expedition. It was a big, a big vehicle pull behind Patrick.”
It was the driver of the SUV that caught her attention.
“I noticed the driver was, uh, uh, a large black man that looked like a football player. He was over six-foot tall and looked to be about, you know, 250-300 pounds. He was clean-cut and, and I noticed the other doors opened and three, uh, other smaller black men stepped out of the vehicle and they all followed Patrick into Leonard Gonzalez, Sr’s yard.
The three that was following him carried a plastic bag. “It looked like you get from a grocery store and they were carrying it and they went inside the yard. I can’t really see into the yard, but I was sitting over there just watching,” said Matthews. “And they were there for approximately over two hours and, and then the four black men got back in the vehicle and they drove off. And Patrick stayed there.”
Matthews thought it was unusual for black guys to be at Leonard’s.
“I have been with Frank for over eight years, on and off, and I’ve known Leonard. Leonard is always making comments, racial comments against blacks and he would normally never let a black person into his yard. I thought it was strange that not only did they, he let them in, he opened the gate for them.” She was stunned that they stayed so long.
McCarthy told Tyree that Patrick had a brother in Atlanta, Georgia, Richard. She believed that they were so close that she felt if Patrick was involved then it was likely Richard was as well.
At around 2 p.m. Okaloosa Investigator Jeremy Peaden surveyed Gary Sumner’s business, 5th Dimension, at the 8 and 9 Duval Street in Fort Walton Beach. The area consisted of a warehouse with two units inside. He described it as a “local vehicle customization business.”
Charles Jacopetti, the onsite landlord, told Peaden Sumner had leased the space for two and a half years for his 5th Dimension business. Sumner was frequently behind on his monthly rent and had been given a “Three-day” letter for non-payment of the June 2009 rent. Jacopetti padlocked the warehouse yesterday.
At first the detailing business seemed to flourish and constantly had traffic in-and-out along with loud music. The traffic had become less and less since the first of 2009.
Jacopetti told Peaden about meeting a white male in his 30’s and a heavier white female in her 30’s who had approached him in late June 2009. They asked about joining the 5th Dimension lease agreement. They expressed interest in customizing motorcycles and were having a lawyer draft a business agreement with Sumner.
According to Jacopetti, Sumner told Gonzalez that he was behind on his rent. Gonzalez said that he was going to pay the back rent once Gonzalez set up the paperwork with his attorney. A week later Sumner came in with a check from Providence Properties, LLC for the previous month’s rent.
Jacopetti showed the investigator a pink Post-it note – “Patrick Gonzalez 850-255-7003.” That was the male who left him this handwritten note. He had called Gonzalez last week to see he was still interested in the lease because Sumner was late with his payment. Gonzalez said he was no longer interested.
Jacopetti identified both Patrick Gonzalez and Pam Long from photo line-ups. He later gave the investigator a copy of the rent check. It was dated 6-29-2009 for $862.26 and signed by Pamela Long. Written on the “For” line, “fifth dimensions June rent.”
The 3 p.m. press conference was packed. The News Journal had five people there, including a photographer and videographer. The Mobile television stations were there. The other faces were unknown to me.
Sheriff Morgan opened with: “Today will be a combination of chilling news and shocking news.”
The screen wasn’t working in the room so the video had to be displayed from a laptop. The video is from a second outdoor surveillance camera from the Billings residence and showed a metallic Expedition pull up to the edge of the property. Two individuals dressed in what Morgan describes as “Ninja garb” exited the SUV, ran one at time across the yard and entered the Billings residence through the unlocked laundry room door. The ECSO suspected that a third person remained in the vehicle.
Morgan said, “The total number that we are looking for… that are involved in the deaths of the Billings family is six to eight.”
Sheriff Morgan said robbery was a motive for the murders, but left open the possibility of other motives. This new evidence meant five people entered the Billings home and possibly two others remained in the getaway vehicles. The Sheriff believed that they had the mastermind of the crime in custody, but didn’t identify him. He would confirm if the intruders entered in the home with the intent of killing the Billings.
The Sheriff then showed a photo of two black males with Gonzalez taken from the Gulf Breeze Wal-Mart. He said the trio was buying items used in the crime. Maddison, Aiken and Roy hand out copies of the Wal-Mart photos. He said his investigators were questioning “persons of interest” and hoped to have one or two more arrests later today.
The video on two men dressed in “Ninja garb” crossing the Billings yard towards the house was as chilling as Morgan claimed.
The questions from the media gradually intensified and got more pointed. Morgan didn’t release any details of the murder themselves, other than the victims were shot multiple times and that the intruders were only on the property for about ten minutes. He described the crime as a “well-planned, methodical operation.”
Morgan didn’t say if they have any of the weapons or garb used in the crime, but he confirmed all nine children were in the home during the murders and that three children saw the intruders. All the children were safe with family.
Later, just before the press conference ended, I get in one more question. “Sheriff, you think (the murders) are linked to Mr. Billings’ business dealings?”
Morgan replied, “We are not currently focusing on that aspect of this crime at this time. If it leads to that we will, of course, look into that and refer it to the appropriate agency if it is not my agency. But we have no specific or direct evidence that would lead us at this time to believe that.”
When asked about the contrast between the generosity of the Billings family and the brutality of the crime, Morgan was reminded of the 1959 murders of another family Kansas.
“Because of my age and my Midwest roots, I am recall the Clutter family murders in Kansas, which became world famous by Truman Capote’s book ‘In Cold Blood.’ The community wrangled for years as to why the Clutter family was selected to be victims of those two men. It will be a very long time, I believe, before we piece together the truth as to why this family was selected.”
An arrest warrant was prepared for Donnie Stallworth, Jr. At 8 p.m. Investigator Watts was contacted by the Escambia County Alabama District Attorney’s Office. Stallworth is making arrangements to turn himself into to their jail.
At 8:30 p.m. Sheriff Morgan held another press conference to announce says Gary Lamont Sumner had been arrested on a murder charge in Okaloosa County after he was pulled over in a traffic stop. Morgan said Sumner was one of the people seen in a WalMart surveillance video with Patrick and that investigators have placed Sumner at the scene of the killings of Byrd and Melanie Billings.
Three persons of interest, two black males and one white male, were still being sought by authorities. He said his investigators knew the identity of one of the persons and an arrest was expected in the near future.
The reporters, several of whom had read my blog posts, pressed Morgan for more information on why Bud Billings was targeted.
“Mr. Billings was well-to-do. He was an entrepreneur and he opened his home to the community. You are asking me to speculate on a motive. That could have been one reason.”
He again compared the killings to the 1959 slayings of a Kansas farm family made famous by Truman Capote in the book “In Cold Blood.” In that case, the killers mistakenly believed the prosperous family kept a safe full of cash at home. Morgan won’t verify if Billings kept much money at his home.
“I think you’ll find this particularly chilling and here’s why––We have a team that enters at the rear of the home and another that enters at the front of the home. It leads me to believe this was a very well-planned and methodical operation.”
At 10:45 p.m. Watts and Baggett met Donnie Lee Stallworth, Jr. and his parents at the county jail in Brewton, Alabama. When advised of his constitutional rights, the son requested an attorney. Watts interviewed the mother and father.
“My son called me,” said Brenda Stallworth. “He just called me and he was crying.”
Stallworth wouldn’t tell his mother why he was upset. They went to see him.
“He just said something that was on television.”
His parents picked him at the Hurlburt Air Force Base, which was between Fort Walton Beach and Navarre. He is Air Force Staff Sergeant assigned to the 1st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Hurlburt Field. Stallworth wanted his parents to take him to the Sheriff’s office in Brewton. Mrs. Stallworth insisted that he hadn’t told her anything about the Billings incident.
Meanwhile Sgt. Hoard got a call from an Okaloosa deputy who said that he was meeting with a person who has knowledge of the incident. Hoard, Nesmith, Lee Tyree and Capt. Bruce Wood rushed to Shalimar, arriving just before midnight. They interviewed Rakeem Florence and Fredrick Thornton and then arrested and booked them into Okaloosa County Jail.
All seven men who were caught on the surveillance were in police custody. Morgan’s team had accomplished it less than five days after the murders.