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Crime News Final Moments

Investigation “Gets Crazier and Crazier” After Doting Parents Murdered in Pensacola Home

Bud and Melanie Billings were loved for opening their home to children with special needs, so why would a group of masked men break into their home and fatally shoot them?

By Jax Miller

Florida detectives had plenty of home security footage to help them piece together who killed a beloved Pensacola couple in front of their children.

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Byrd “Bud” Billings and Melanie Billings were a loving couple, well-known in their community for having big hearts. Bud, the owner and operator of multiple used car dealerships in the area, and Melanie, who once worked as a waitress at one of Bud’s clubs, married in 1993, and both wanted many children.

“Melanie was great,” publisher Rick Outzen for Pensacola Inweekly told Final Moments, airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen. “She kind of smoothed all the edges of Bud. He deeply loved her.”

Both Bud and Melanie each had two children from previous relationships, though they would go on to adopt more, primarily children with special needs. At one point, they had upwards of 13 children in the home, but after the biological children had grown and moved out, they were left with nine adopted children, whose ages ranged from 4 to 11.

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“I believe they’re the modern-life Brady Bunch, honestly,” said family friend Ashley McClung. “If they could, they would adopt every child in the world.”

Bud and Melanie Billings Found Murdered

Bud Billings featured in Final Moments episode 209

On July 9, 2009, shortly after 7:00 p.m., the loving parents already had most of the children tucked in for the evening when Melanie’s adult daughter, Ashley, called the home. One of the children answered, crying on the other end of the line, prompting Ashley to call friend and nurse April Spencer, who lived next door to the Billings’.

Spencer performed a welfare check, finding the couple dead.

Investigators, including Senior Deputy Robert Guy for the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, soon arrived on the scene, ensuring the kids were removed from the home and safe. Immediately, detectives found someone had kicked in the front door, leaving his boot print behind.

Law enforcement also found an extensive security system consisting of 16 cameras inside the home. Loved ones explained the system was installed to ensure the children’s safety.

One of the cameras would capture a red van pulling up to the home moments before the double homicide, when five armed men jumped out, all masked and dressed head-to-toe in black.  

Another surveillance camera showed the group entering the living room and catching Bud by surprise as he watched television.

“It was almost silence when we’re watching it [at the sheriff’s office],” Dep. Guy told Final Moments. “We couldn’t believe what we were watching.”

According to Guy, individuals kicked in the home’s front door and back door at the same time in what could only be considered an ambush. One of the assailants zip-tied Bud and shot him one time in each leg before dragging him and Melanie off for the bedroom, a room that didn’t have cameras.

Both husband and wife were shot to death on their bedroom floor.

Upon reexamination of the existing video footage, investigators found that one of the children — about 6 or 7 years old — was in the living room when a single gunman shot Bud in the legs and dragged the parents away.

“It’s so unnerving,” journalist Karen Curtis told Final Moments. “It’s just sad, but also, it’s something you can’t unsee.”

A small safe missing from the Billings’ home

Outdoor cameras captured one of the suspects with an item believed to be taken from the home, and detectives wondered if the 10-minute ordeal was a robbery gone wrong. Once speaking to the victim’s biological children — Melanie’s daughter, Ashley, and Bud’s son, Justin — investigators learned the missing item was a small safe taken from the Billings’ bedroom.

It was puzzling since, according to Ashley, the safe carried only personal documents, such as birth certificates and adoption records. But the suspects left another safe upstairs untouched, containing $100,000 to $200,000 in cash.

“They took the wrong one,” said Curtis.

Appealing for the public’s help, Escambia County officials released a photo of the red van carrying the suspects, but days would pass without any huge breaks. Meanwhile, detectives looked into the possibility that the double murder had something to do with Bud’s car dealership business.

Bud’s son, Justin, even gave authorities the name “Cab Tice,” another car dealer allegedly embroiled in a dispute with Bud.

“My dad was disappointed in him for stealing from him,” Justin told detectives. “He said, ‘If you needed money, you could have just asked.’”

Ultimately, however, law enforcement placed Tice about an hour and a half outside Pensacola at the time of the murders, ruling him out as a suspect.

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A Father and Son Come Onto Detectives’ Radar

Investigators caught a big break from their public appeal about the red Dodge van when the vehicle’s previous owner recognized it, explaining he’d sold it to Patrick Gonzalez Sr. Gonzalez Sr. claimed the van was out of order but that his son, Patrick Gonzalez Jr., was the rightful owner.

Soon, Gonzalez Sr. broke, admitting to detectives that he was the getaway driver for his son and the others when they carried out the murders.

“He said his son kind of brought him into this,” Florida Assistant State Attorney John Molchan told Final Moments. “A father-and-son kind of escapade. ‘Instead of going fishing, we’re gonna go commit a robbery.’”

Gonzalez Jr. — a man with a rap sheet that included violent offenses — reportedly knew Bud from working at one or more of his dealerships, according to the suspect’s father. Gonzalez Sr., who claimed not to know any of the other men’s names, was charged with accomplice-related charges.

Detectives wondered if Gonzalez Jr. wanted the Billings’ dead over a potential business opportunity, according to publisher Rick Outzen, who described the suspect as being “proficient” in the martial arts and someone who dabbled in M.M.A. fighting.

“Patrick had gone to Bud to get money to help with the studio that he had, a martial arts studio that he started,” said Outzen. “And Bud was not interested in investing in his business.”

Wal-Mart surveillance brings more suspects into the mix

A search warrant for Gonzalez Sr.’s home helped detectives find paint cans when the suspects allegedly tried to paint the red van, as well as suspicious burnt clothes. Investigators also came upon a Wal-Mart shoebox used to carry a pair of boots that exactly matched the boot print found on the kicked-in door of the Billings’ home.

The discovery prompted a look into Wal-Mart surveillance, which showed Gonzalez Jr. purchasing the boots with a group of men. After another public appeal, tipsters help identify the five men, all of whom knew one another through a mechanic shop.

The other men were Wayne Coldiron, Donnie Stallworth, Gary Sumner, Rakeem Florence, and Frederick Thornton, all of whom would point to Patrick Gonzalez Jr. as the mastermind. According to the men, they all agreed to commit robbery and became “pissed” when Gonzalez Jr. pulled the trigger, according to Dep. Guy.

“Gonzalez Junior told this tale of how we’re gonna rob these drug dealers — this bad guy, and there’s millions of millions of dollars,” said A.S.A. Molchan.

Multiple Arrests in Connection with the Billings’ Murder

The suspects named Pamela Wiggins as another piece of the puzzle, a successful real estate agent who’d used Gonzalez Jr. as something of a henchman. Gonzalez Jr. reportedly collected debts for Wiggins and helped evict tenants when she found it necessary.

Law enforcement learned Wiggins met with Gonzalez Jr. shortly after the murders and was later found on a luxury boat in Orange Beach, Alabama, about 30 miles southwest of Pensacola. She was brought in for questioning but refused to speak with detectives without an attorney.

Around this time, Wiggins’ husband, Hugh Wiggins, walked into the sheriff’s office and claimed Pamela divulged where she’d hidden the small safe and guns.

“Hugh Wiggins was not on our radar at all, so, we’re like, ‘This case just gets crazier and crazier,’” Dep. Guy told Final Moments. “He actually spills all the beans. He sells his wife under the bus.”

Pamela confessed to helping Gonzalez Jr. hide the evidence, and she was charged with accessory after the fact. Meanwhile, the other men were charged with the murders of Bud and Melanie Billings and armed home invasion.

Suspicious Van Linked to Patrick Gonzalez Jr.

A murder trial and the convictions

Those involved in the case pointed to Patrick Gonzalez Jr. as the triggerman, explaining that murder was never part of the plan. Gonzalez Jr., who was charged with capital murder, faced trial in October 2010.

“I think that Gonzalez Jr. believed that there was a treasure trove at that house,” according to A.S.A. Molchan.

Suspects Florence and Thornton cut a deal with the state, agreeing to testify against Gonzalez Jr., according to Molchan. Much of the courtroom drama had the witnesses view the security footage that captured some of the Billings’ final moments.

“We walked Florence and Thornton through the video, and they would say, ‘That’s me, that’s this, this is this person,’” Molchan told Final Moments. “It became alive through them. So, you brought almost a color commentary right there from the guys who were inside the house.”

Molchan added how the video was an “overwhelming piece of evidence that sealed the fate of all these folks.”

On Oct. 28, 2010, Patrick Gonzalez Jr. was found guilty and sentenced to death.

The others involved in the case were convicted of their crimes but sentenced to prison terms ranging from 20 years to life.

Patrick Gonzalez Sr. and Pamela Wiggins died while serving their sentences behind bars.

“I just hope that one day the kids grow up and they know that Melanie and Bud did love them,” said family friend Ashley McClung.

Today, Bud and Melanie Billings’ adopted children live with Melanie’s adult daughter, Ashley.

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