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An inmate in Georgia has confessed to his role in a brutal triple slaying in North Carolina, according to authorities.
Billy Wayne Davis, 81, is the only surviving perpetrator in a family’s brutal murder, according to a statement emailed to Oxygen.com from the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office. Davis’s interviews helped authorities identify him as one of four people who allegedly carried out a “hired hit” against the Durham family in the Blue Ridge Mountains 50 years ago.
Three other suspects, identified as Billy Sunday Birt, Bobby Gene Gaddis and Charles David Reed, died during the course of the investigation.
On Feb. 3, 1972, Bryce Durham, 51, his wife Virginia, 44, and their son, Bobby, 18, were executed in their Boone, North Carolina home during a particularly harsh snowstorm, according to the sheriff’s office. Their daughter, Ginny, and Ginny’s husband, Troy Hall, were at their residence about four miles away when Ginny’s mother called them at around 10:30 that evening, according to The Charlotte Observer. Virginia told Ginny that some men had Bryce and Bobby before the line went dead.
When Ginny and Troy’s car wouldn’t start, a male neighbor drove the couple through the storm towards the Durham residence. Due to the condition of the roads, they couldn’t make it the entire way, according to the Observer. Ginny waited in the car as the men went ahead and made the grisly discovery.
“The house had been ransacked,” reported the Observer. “The telephone cord was ripped from the wall. Blood spattered the den. The television was on. But its sound was muffled by the steady swoosh of running water. The two men followed the noise to a bathroom where they found three bodies, their heads dangling in an overflowing bathtub.”
A postmortem examination revealed that Virginia died by strangulation, while Bryce and Bobby died from drowning, according to the Observer. All three victims had rope burns on their necks.
It appeared the killers took nothing from the home, not even a bag stuffed with hundreds of dollars, leading investigators to rule out robbery as a motive. Wild theories circulated over the years, including Bryce’s involvement in exposing a local car dealership that allegedly turned back the milage on used cars, and professional hits carried out by killers with military training, according to the Watauga Democrat.
The case became locally known as “The Durham Case.”
The break authorities needed came in 2019 when a man named Shane Birt, the son of Billy Sunday Birt, visited the White County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia, according to the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office. Birt was conducting research for a book about various crimes around Georgia, including a 1973 crime referred to as “The Fleming Case.”
Watauga authorities said the Fleming Case “was similar” to the Durham case, in which all four suspects were involved.
“Shane Birt shared that he was very close with his father and recalled a story Birt had told him during a prison visit when he admitted to killing three people in the North Carolina mountains during a heavy snowstorm, remembering that they almost got caught,” stated Watauga officials. “After hearing Shane Birt’s account, the White County Sheriff’s Office immediately contacted WCSO.”
Authorities stated the four suspects were tied to an organized crime outfit known as “The Dixie Mafia.”
“Led by Birt, Davis, Reed, and Gaddis were part of a loosely organized network known as the Georgia-based ‘Dixie Mafia,’ which is thought to have engaged in dozens of violent crimes in Georgia and elsewhere across the southeast in the 1960s and 70s,” the statement read.
Acting on this new information, Watauga authorities conducted several interviews with the single surviving suspect, Billy Wayne Davis, in September 2019, October 2020, and August 2021. According to the Georgia Department of Corrections, Davis is serving a life sentence for a different 1971 murder.
Davis claimed Birt, Gaddis, and Reed were “engaging in a hired hit,” though who solicited the murders remains unclear, according to the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office. Davis claimed he was just the getaway driver and that the four of them almost got caught in the snowstorm.
“It was these interviews that ultimately helped us determine who was responsible through the corroboration of evidence,” said Watauga Sheriff Len Hagaman. “We are confident that we now know who committed these crimes.”
Ginny Durham expressed her gratitude to authorities for finally solving the murders of her loved ones.
“I would like to thank all of the people who worked for decades on my family’s case,” said Ginny, according to the statement. “I know that they sacrificed many days and weekends in order to work on solving this case since 1972."
Sheriff Hagaman added that the community would never forget the Durhams and asked for privacy on the family’s behalf.
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