At Sunday noon, Sgt. Hoard interviewed Leonard Gonzalez again. The evidence was stacking up against him. The investigators knew that he had bought two cans of red spray paint the day after the homicides. They found paint chips on the ground where the van’s appearance had been altered. Witnesses have told them that the van did run and was seen in the front yard of the Palm Court residence in the days before the homicides.
When confronted with the facts, Leonard tries to minimize his involvement, but later confesses when interviewed by State Attorney Bill Eddins.
At 2 p.m. Tama Barber returned to the Big Country’s Food Store in Elberta to obtain a recorded sworn statement from Brad Thornton. The owner remembered more about Leonard’s visit on Sunday, July 5. The man said that he would come back Monday or Tuesday for the van. Moments later he returned saying he forgot to get something for either his wife or girlfriend. He bought something and made a comment about taking the tag off so that no one could steal the tag.
On Monday or Tuesday, Leonard returned for the van and bought a beer. Later a younger, stocky man comes in and offers to pay Thornton for letting them keep the van there. Thornton refuses and they drive off in the van. Thornton could identify Leonard from a photo line-up, but not Patrick as the younger visitor.
When Carol Brant came around 2:30 p.m. to the ECSO to check on Leonard, Sgt. Buddy Nesmith, the head of homicide, got her to confirm that she had given him permission to search the trailer, shed and the property.
Brant said that Patrick, who she referred to as “Junior,” had brought the red van over about a month ago for Leonard to work on it. She thought the van was for him to use in his pressure washing business.
Leonard, whom she had divorced but with whom she lived, had been working on it “a little here, a little there.” Her boyfriend couldn’t work on any one thing long “cause of his short-term memory loss.”
According to Brant, the van had been in the backyard, but had moved to front either on Tuesday or Wednesday. On Friday, July 9, it was behind the building. She insisted Leonard couldn’t drive the van at all and didn’t park it behind the shed. Either Patrick or a friend of his, Wayne Coldiron, did it.
The last time that she had seen Coldiron was Tuesday or Wednesday. He was helping Leonard on the van. She didsn’t remember anyone else coming on the property.
Nesmith brought up the blue boot box. She told him, “Pat brought it over and said that Tabitha had bought him new boots, but I never saw the boots.”
She didn’t know how Leonard got the paint from the Dollar Store since she didn’t drive him and wouldn’t give him her car keys. She had spent Saturday night at the Howard Johnson’s on Hwy 29.
Investigators Terry Hardy and Chris Baggett located where Patrick Gonzalez had bought the Markham-brand boots from the box. They discovered the WalMart is near Patrick’s residence had sold the brand of boots had been sold on Thursday, July 9. The store surveillance video showed Patrick Gonzalez and four black men at the store. The parking lot video showed him driving up in a red mini-van and park. Also a red Ford Expedition parked and a white female, believed to be his wife Tabitha, got out and walked into the store
As the Expedition parked, a light-colored or tan Ford Explorer pulled in the parking lot and parked further down the row from the Expedition. Four black males got out and walked toward the store entrance. Two got back into the front seats of the SUV.
Patrick and the two black males entered the WalMart. Later there was an exchange between the three at one of the registers. Approximately 45 seconds later, Tabitha came up with a shopping cart and the boots were purchased. Patrick, Tabitha and the two black males got in the mini-van and drove off, followed by the tan Ford Explorer.
Hardy and Baggett went to Patrick’s residence after viewing the video. Patrick wasn’t there, but Tabitha drove up in the red mini-van seen in the WalMart video. They later learn was owned by Pamela Long Wiggins.
Tabitha was unaware of the murder investigation and had no knowledge of a red Dodge van owned by Patrick Gonzalez. She said she had gone to WalMart to buy boots for her 16-year-old son and that she had met her husband there between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, July 9. After they met at the store, she followed him as he returned the mini-van, which he had been driving all day, to a friend’s home. They returned home between 5:30 and 6:00 p.m. Patrick left their home before or just after 7 p.m. and returned about 9 p.m.
At 5 p.m. Sheriff David Morgan held a press conference. The room was packed. Dateline NBC had a producer there. All national news networks were represented. The press conference was broadcast live on the local stations.
“I am very pleased to announce that we have made our first arrest,” said Morgan to the media and live television audience. “Hopefully many more will follow.”
He told them that Leonard Gonzalez had been taken into custody and charged with tampering with evidence—a third degree felony. He was being held on $250,000 bond.
State Attorney Bill Eddins addressed the audience, “As the sheriff has indicated, progress is being made. We, too, are pleased this arrest has been made and anticipate additional arrests will be made. We are satisfied with the progress of the investigation. It is a very tedious and intensive investigation, but we are satisfied with the progress.”
Morgan said the elder Gonzalez was one of the two men brought in for questioning Saturday and he had changed the appearance of the van believed to be used in the murders. Eddins left room for Leonard Gonzalez to be charged with other charges in the future as more evidence was uncovered.
He doesn’t release any information involving the motives for the murders, but said the investigation was getting more complex and, in his words, “reads like a movie script.”
The sheriff’s office was looking at multiple persons of interest–more than the original three persons mentioned at earlier press conferences–and more arrests were expected
“I will tell you this,” said Morgan. “We are very anxious to share this story with the citizens of Escambia County and with the nation, if you will It’s going to be a humdinger, I’ll tell you that.”
Both Morgan and Eddins say the public will be surprised by the details of the investigation when they are ready to release them.
The reporters again got testy with Morgan after he refused to answer their specific questions. His standard reply was “We are not prepared to release that information at this time.”
Eddins stepped in to defend the sheriff. “Let add that the sheriff has given the same answer several times. He and I have discussed this matter and I support his position. We understand your frustration. However, you understand that if we are not extremely careful we could affect the investigation. And because of that, we have to take one step at a time.”
Sheriff Morgan closed the press conference with “This investigation will expand much larger than any of us may have anticipated.”
LIVE CNN INTERVIEW
The word “humdinger” stuck. When CNN reporter David Mattingly interviewed the sheriff live for CNN Newsroom, he didn’t let it drop.
“Sheriff, what can you tell me when you call this a humdinger?” asked Mattingly. “Was this murder and this break-in … part of something bigger going on that you hadn’t anticipated?”
Morgan replied, “Well, again, we can’t release specifics, but the answer to that question is yes. We have discovered is this case is multifaceted… we have multiple motives at this point. And so we cannot come up with one motive for this or two motives for this. And when we run that one motive, we find that it branches off to several others and so the complexity of this is growing exponentially.”
The reporter pressed the sheriff. “Since we have the camera on you and have you on the hot seat right now, can you tell us when we can expect more arrests in this case? I know, all day yesterday and today you were saying we’re probably going to have something for you soon?”
Morgan didn’t take the bait. He simply said,“Yes.”
“Has that changed?” asked Mattingly. “Have you got anything more specific for us?”
“As Mr. Eddins said, we are now picking up speed in this investigation, said Morgan. “I can’t promise you an arrest every day, but I will tell you that in the ensuing days we will have many more arrests that will be forthcoming.”
When Carol Brant returned around 6:30 pm to the ECSO to pick up Leonard’s wallet after his arrest, Nesmith interviewed her. Brant had seen the newscast and knew that she would have to answer more questions.
Nesmith was firmer with Brant. She admitted that she knew Leonard had driven the van to the Billings residence, but he hadn’t told her what happened.
“How do you know he was involved?” asked the sergeant.
“I just knew.”
“How do you know?”
Brant breaks down, “He…I can’t tell or I’ll die.”
Patrick had told her that they were going to the Billings residence because that man was molesting little children that he had in his care. And when they walked in, there was little six-year-old Chinese girl wearing a negligee with him in the bedroom. A few days earlier Leonard had told her that they were “gonna do a job on a pervert, off of Mobile Highway somewhere.”
She was also told Billings was laundering money for the mob. And they went over there with the intent of robbing him. She knew that they were going there.
“And he supposedly had a bunch of drugs in the house, too,” Brant told Nesmith.
She insisted she didn’t know how Leonard and Pat were going to do this, because “I was excused from the room every time they talked about it. I stayed out of it.”
Those conversations had been going on for a couple months.
Nesmith asked why was Billings the robbery target. “He didn’t pick him. He was asked to do it.”
She didn’t know who asked him to do it. Patrick’s payment was the cash in the house. The money was in a “big safe.” According to Brant, he said, “I’ve got a job. I’ve got to do, he’s molesting these children and he’s supposed to have been laundering money.”
On Thursday, July 9, she left the trailer that evening about 6:00 or 6:30 p.m. Only Leonard and Pat were there. When she got back, Brant knew other people had been there because of the mess left, “drinks, candy wrappers and stuff.” Patrick was wearing jeans when she left the trailer. He had on shorts when he returned later around 9 p.m. She said that Patrick didn’t come in. She saw a silver SUV outside.
Brant clearly was frightened and didn’t want to talk with Nesmith. Both Leonard and Patrick had told her over the phone not to talk to the investigators. “Because if I did, I would be killed and so would my family.”
She knew that Leonard was involved by how he acted Friday morning. She was looking at the news. Leonard said, “I think they got shot.” She didn’t pursue it.
“I didn’t want to know.” Brant was crying.
Nesmith chastised her about not being more forthcoming that morning. She cried more. “I’m afraid I’m gonna die and I don’t want to die…I didn’t do anything.”
Leonard had told her that they were to steal the Mexican Mafia money and it was easy pickings. “He figured if they were stupid enough to get money that way, he might as well get some of it, too.”
According to her, “He said that they were gonna rob that man because he was a pervert and he was supposedly cleaning money for the Mexican Mafia and there was a bunch of drug in there ‘cause he hadn’t cleaned any money in a while.”
As Nesmith ended the interview, Brant asked, “Do I go to jail now, too?”
Shortly after 7 p.m., a warrant for Wayne Coldiron was issued, charging him with murder. Investigators and patrol units, go to Yokum Court to pick up Coldiron. Yokum Court is a few blocks north of Leonard’s neighborhood. Coldiron lived in one of three rundown trailers behind an even more dilapidated house.
The ECSO units secured the perimeter. After announcing their presence, Coldiron exited the trailer barefoot and shirtless. He had completely shaved his head. He asked why he was being arrested. Investigators got written consent to search the residence from the girlfriend, who was the primary renter. They looked for a gun and zip ties, but found neither.
At the ESCO, Lee Tyree and Bobby Guy interviewed Coldiron. State Attorney Eddins sat in and informed Coldiron of the seriousness of the charges and the need for him to be truthful in the interview. The suspect denied that he was the shooter or having knowledge of who the shooter was. He mentioned a Pam, but didn’t know her last name.
In Gulf Breeze, Investigator Chris Baggett was knocking on the front door of Patrick Gonzalez, who answered the door, shirtless, wrapped in a blanket. He had been on the couch, maybe sleeping. He let Baggett in without a problem and told him that he had taken quite a bit of Xanex.
Patrick was in a talkative mood, blabbering freely. He gave Baggett a tour of the house. Fake guns hung on the wall. Baggett thought to himself these types, gun-loving psychos, often had fake guns around… it was just as though the gun is comforting to them or something.
During the tour, Baggett pretends to show honest interest in Gonzales. He asked, “Hey! What’s in that drawer?” And Patrick pulled back, “Oh, no, no. Can’t go in there.”
Patrick kept talking and talking. He brought up Cab Tice and said that Tice was behind the whole thing. He said enough that Baggett realized they had to arrest him and do it now, before Patrick caught on and fled. There was a problem. Baggett had no jurisdiction in Santa Rosa County and couldn’t arrest him.
Baggett pretended that he just was dying for a cigarette and went out front on the porch to smoke. The Gonzalez house was quite open and had a clear view of the street. Baggett called the Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Office and told them to come quickly.
He was quite adamant, “And don’t you think about coming blazing in here with sirens and lights! He will see that from a distance.”
Baggett went back in the house. It was taking forever. Patrick was starting to get suspicious. He told Patrick that he had to have another cigarette and went out again, hoping to see the patrol cars pull up.
By then, Patrick had pretty much figured this out. He came out on the porch. Bagget just couldn’t risk losing him. The investigator pulled out his gun and put it to Patrick’s temple “Don’t think about moving!”
He kept him in that hold until the Santa Rosa deputies arrived. On the thirty-minute drive to the Santa Rosa County Jail in Milton, Patrick asked for Chief Deputy Bill Chavers to be present during the interview.
In a post Miranda statement, Gonzalez told Chief Deputy Chavers what he believed happened. Chavers knew Gonzalez as Pat Poff and had taken karate classes with him in the 1980’s. Earlier he had been asked by the investigators and the State Attorney’s Office to call Patrick and see if he would meet with him. He had chosen Flounder’s Ale House on Pensacola Beach because that was place that they had met numerous times and it was close to the Gonzalez home.
When he was about to call Gonzalez, Baggett called to say that Gonzalez had been arrested and was being transported to Milton. Chavers met them at the jail.
Unlike Coldiron, Patrick immediately asked why he was picked up. Chavers told him it was over the Billings incident. If it is about the red van, Gonzalez said, “You can ask me anything you want, I can prove I was not in that van and haven’t driven it lately. I’m not guilty of anything.”
In choppy statements, Patrick talked about his whereabouts, the van and what and who he thinks might be involved. He was excited and nervous and could explain everything.
His mom had purchased the red Dodge van for him after she had filed bankruptcy and needed to take back the vehicle that she had originally given him. He took the van to his father for him to work on it. It had ended up at the Elberta convenience store because he and his dad drove it around the Pensacola area, mostly on back roads since it didn’t have a tag, and the clutch had heated up. They got it back to Pensacola, parked it in his dad’s front yard and he hadn’t driven it since. The best he could remember was that was Wednesday, July 8.
On Thursday, July 9, Patrick said he gone to his dad’s trailer and didn’t remember seeing the van in the front yard. He couldn’t get his dad to come to the door so he assumed that he moved the van to work on it. Patrick later returned around 6:30 p.m. His dad was extremely drunk so he went back home.
Friday morning at 6 a.m., his dad called, “We’ve got to move the vehicle, we’ve got to move the vehicle.”
When he got to his dad’s, the van was behind the trailer and his dad was cleaning out its inside. He said that he saw some “things,” but he wouldn’t say what he saw. “I’d rather not go into that right now.”
When he saw the video of the red van leaving the scene on the news, he was concerned because it looked like the van. He called his dad, but he didn’t answer the phone. Patrick said several people knew about the van and where the keys were kept. Maybe someone had taken it and parked it behind the trailer. His dad was a “very heavy drinker” and would generally drink himself to sleep every day which explained why his dad might not notice the van being taken.
Patrick said people might try to implicate him in the murders. He talked about having personal disagreements with Justin Billings, with whom he had worked at a car lot and even “done jobs together” for other dealers when they had problems. Chavers noted in his report that Patrick’s demeanor and tone indicated that he and Justin were used as heavies to get payments from those who were behind.
In the course of the interview, Gonzalez stated “the car dealers just did not like Billings over business dealings and money issues.” He went on to say, “that Cab Tice came to him and indicated that the group wanted Billings ‘whacked’, but he (Patrick) refused the job.”
When Chavers asked him to name the car dealers again, Patrick responded that he wasn’t at the meeting, but had heard from Cab Tice that they were “a Mr. Mantis, Jerry Wood, Phillips and a few others.” Patrick stated most of these men had nicknames and he wasn’t sure about their real names.
Patrick indicated that there were some MS13 ties to the murders. He never confessed but he did mention a possible contract hit, the involvement of Cab Tice and the Mexican organized crime.
“I can prove I haven’t been driving the van recently and I can prove I’m not guilty of anything.” Then he leaned into Chief Chavers, “If this is about the killings, I didn’t do it; I can prove I didn’t do it, but I may know some people who may have done this. But it wasn’t me, Mr. Chavers.”
He went on. “This is real deep. I’ll take the heat, I’ll go to prison. I’ll even die, if have to because if this gets out, my family is in danger. They are in danger now because they know I’m in jail. I don’t want anything to happen to my family!”
Patrick give a chronological account of his Thursday, July 9. He met a couple of black male friends at 3 p.m. at WalMart, but he refused to identify them. He drove to Midway to pay his water bill. He and a couple friends then drove to the home of another friend, Pam Long, to look at her Bentley at about 4:30 p.m.
According to Chavers’ report, Patrick then changed the subject again.
Patrick repeated that what he was involved in was “very deep” and that not only was he in danger, but his family was in danger and he needed to get out so he could take care of them. When Chavers asked for more details, Patrick said, “Maybe I need to talk to the Feds about this.”
After looking down at the floor for a few minutes, Patrick told Chavers that he had been used in the past by several car dealers in Pensacola to handle jobs for them to “whack” folk. When Chavers frowned at the word “whack”, Patrick indicated it was over business deals with the car dealers.
Chavers noticed that when it came to discussing the Billings incident, Patrick often talked in the second person by beginning with his comments with “if I had done this, I would have…”
When Baggett joined the interrogation and asks Patrick about a particular hand sign from some information he had, Patrick became even more excited and started talking about the MS13 organization. He mentioned the car dealer Sanchez was also involved. The investigators needed to be looking for MS13 involvement in the Billings case, because they are also very upset with Bud Billings and the way he had treated them as well.
Shortly after making the MS13 comments, Patrick stopped talking and asked for his attorney. His last request was that he not be left in Santa Rosa County Jail for fear that he would be attacked.
At 10 p.m. Sheriff David Morgan held another press conference to announce the arrest of Wayne Coldiron. During the middle of the press conference, detectives pulled him aside and informed him that Patrick Gonzalez was in custody also. Both were facing murder charges.
“The investigation is ongoing; other counts may be added,” Sheriff David Morgan said of the open counts of murder. He described Coldiron as a day laborer, known to work with car dealers. However, there is no known connection between Coldiron and the Billings. “We have no information that would lead us to believe that Mr. Coldiron had any previous contact with the Billings family,” he said.
Coldiron and Gonzalez, Jr. are being held on $1,000,000 bond each in the Escambia County Jail. Morgan said the investigation had become “a window into something bigger,” with multiple motives and multiple suspects.
Again he released few details, but he and Eddins don’t want the media to assume the family had anything to do with the crimes.
“No family members are currently suspects,” Morgan said, “nor has the investigation revealed anything that would suggest the compromised integrity of the family.”
“The people that were murdered they were good people performing very positive roles in the community. This is a very horrible tragedy,” Eddins added
“This is certainly one of the most complex (cases),” he said. “I’ve seen others that rival this in other parts of the circuit, but as far as Escambia County is concerned, I believe this is this most complex I’ve seen in my four and half years in office.”
Investigators Guy and Barber visit Pamela Long Wiggins at her Gulf Breeze residence. She identifies herself as Pamela Long and seems stunned. The forty-eight year old couldn’t remember her home phone number when asked by the detectives.
Wiggins was heavy set with dyed blonde hair. She owned an antique dealership not far from the Gonzalez residence, which she owned and letting them live in rent free in exchange for the couple helping her manage, clean and maintain her rental properties
Guy told her that Patrick had been arrested. Wiggins said she had known him for six or seven months. That he was a friend of her husband, Hugh Wiggins, who was working offshore at the time. Patrick helped her with her rental properties, “moving furniture and doing stuff.” His family wound up moving into one of her houses in Victoria Village. His wife Tabitha did property management for her. She let Patrick use her red mini-van routinely.
“They’ll come over and barbeque and go swimming and stuff,” said Wiggins. “And he’s helped me move and fix property and paint and do all kind of stuff that I needed two hands for.”
She said that she has had some health issues the last couple of months. “I’m on Prozac and Wellbutrin and he changed my medication about three weeks ago and I’ve just …that’s one reason why I haven’t been at work much cause I have trouble remembering things.”
She met Leonard Gonzalez after Memorial Day weekend when he helped cut up some fallen limbs. She didn’t know Cab Tice and hadn’t met Wayne Coldiron or any black friends of Patrick. She remembered Patrick borrowing the car on Thursday, July 9.
Her husband Hugh had a lot of weapons. She said that he didn’t loan them to Patrick. At first she said that she had control of all the weapons, but later backtracked and said Patrick had a key to the house and knew where the hide-a-key was.
Guy and Barber have a search warrant for the house. They found several guns in a downstairs safe. In the upstairs master bedroom, they found two pistols under the mattress, a black cap in the closet and a pair of black gloves on the floor. There was also black clothing, a Grand casino shirt and Nike shorts found in a garbage can on the driveway.
Did she have any questions about the search warrant?
“I hate ya’ll for scaring me to death.”
As the 10 p.m. press conference ended, Okaloosa County deputies stopped a 2004 Cadillac Escalade bearing distinct Fifth Dimension emblems on both the rear windows at the intersection of McGriff Street and Eglin Parkway in Fort Walton Beach, about thirty miles east of Pensacola.
According to the Investigative Report by State Attorney’s Office, the stop was predicated because the driver, Gary Lamont Sumner, Jr., was a person of interest in the Billings case. The deputies determined at the stop that his license was restricted to business purposes only. Sumner was on felony probation for previous traffic offenses involving his restricted driver’s license.
He is arrested, based on probable cause, for violation of his probation and the restrictions on his license. He was taken to the Shalimar Courthouse Annex where State Attorney Investigator Corey Aittama and Chief Barry Brooke interviewed him
Sumner said he lived in Navarre, a community on the border of Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties. When he was told that he was a suspect of a homicide that recently occurred, Sumner nervously disavowed any knowledge of the crime. The only homicide that he says he has heard about is “the guy with the kids that was playing on TV.”
Aittama told him that other suspects had identified him as a participant. The Walmart video showed him meeting Patrick Gonzalez there on Thursday, July 9.
Sumner said he had known Patrick for about three weeks. Patrick owned an older Bentley and wanted him to paint it. He described Patrick as a short white male and a family man who he believed to be a martial arts instructor. After first meeting Patrick at his shop, 5th Dimension, Sumner said they were in contact nearly daily. He had Patrick’s cell number stored on his cell phone as “Pat Bentley.”
Sumner tried to explain the WalMart visit. He drove with Donnie Stallworth to the Wal-mart in Gulf Breeze to meet Patrick and physically view the Bentley. After walking around the store, the three got into the Patrick’s van and were driven to what Sumber thought was Patrick’s residence where they saw the Bentley which was parked in a garage.
The house’s location was described as the second driveway on the right-hand side of an unknown road just through the “S” curves that intersected with Highway 98 in Gulf Breeze, somewhere between the movie theater and a BP gas station. It was Pamela Long Wiggins’ residence.
After examining the car, Patrick drove them back to the Walmart. Stallworth and Sumner returned to 5th Dimension in Fort Walton Beach, where they remained until later in the evening. Sumner denied knowing where Beulah was, said he had never been there and hadn’t driven his Cadillac Escalade there. He did say that Patrick had called him earlier that day to warn him that law enforcement may be approaching him about what was on the news and to be ready.
At approximately 11:30 p.m. Aittama interviews Lauren Hillary Williams, Sumber’s girlfriend and roommate, outside the Shalimar Courthouse Annex.
She worked at the Super Cuts in Navarre until 7 p.m. When she completed her Thursday shift, she bought dinner at the adjacent Publix and drove home; arriving between 7:15 and 7:30 p.m. Sumner wasn’t there.
He returned home between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. Sumner kissed her and then went to the bathroom and stay there for an undetermined amount of time. Afterwards, he went into the spare bedroom and was on the computer in there for approximately five minutes. She thought he was checking his email. Then they want to bed. He watched television. She read a book. They went to sleep with little interaction.