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‘Absolutely Demonic’ Florida Gunman Executed Man In Front Of His Child
After Bud and Melinda Billings were murdered, investigators discovered multiple people were connected to the crime.
On July 9, 2009, a frantic 911 call went out in Beulah, Florida. The caller reported that a married couple had been shot in their home and that their children were still in the house.
"Death is a smell you’ll never forget,” Sr. Deputy Robert Guy, of Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, told “Floribama Murders,” airing Saturdays at 9/8c on Oxygen. “As soon as we walked in that door, we knew.”
The bodies of entrepreneur Byrd “Bud” Billings, 66, and his wife, Melinda, 43, were found in the master bedroom of the sprawling estate. They’d both been shot multiple times.
As deputies searched the house, the couple’s nine adopted special needs children were found cowering in terror and hiding in closets. They were “scared to death,” investigators said. Meanwhile, the couple’s oldest children, Ashley and Justin, who were from previous marriages, rushed to the home.
Investigators learned that Bud Billings was a successful businessman who ran a finance company. He was known to keep cash stashed away in a home safe located upstairs. Was the money the motive for the double homicide?
Another safe, a small one in the master bedroom for personal keepsakes and documents, was missing. The individuals behind the crime took the wrong one, according to investigators.
Detectives questioned the Billings children, and Justin provided a possible lead. He said that Cab Tice, who’d had business dealings with Bud, had “double-crossed” his father.
When detectives interviewed Tice, he claimed that he was far from the only person who had issues with Bud Billings.
“In business, Bud Billings wouldn’t give you a dime unless you gave him 29 cents back,” Tice told authorities in a recorded interview.
Tice was cleared when authorities reviewed surveillance footage from the Billings home.
The tapes showed a large red passenger van had pulled into the driveway at the time of the slayings.
“Five people jumped out,” Det. Buddy Nesmith of Escambia County’s Sheriff’s Office told producers.
They carried rifles and wore masks, dressed in black clothes and black boots.
Authorities said the crime was carried out with “military precision,” abcnews.go.com reported.
The video also showed Bud Billings being shot as one of his children watched.
Locating the red van was top priority, so law enforcement reached out to the public through the media, according to Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan.
On July 11, a caller reported that a van matching the description of the one sheriffs were after was behind a shed at a residence in West Pensacola. It was the home of Leonard Gonzalez, whose wife spoke with investigators. As they asked her some questions inside the house, they observed a shoe box for black combat boots. Mrs. Gonzalez allowed detectives to take the shoe box and to tow the van.
Investigators tracked down Leonard Gonzalez and brought him in for questioning. He initially said the van belonged to his son, Patrick, and hadn’t been running for a while. But eventually, he agreed to tell police everything he knew about the crime including who was in the van, provided prosecutors took a possible death penalty off the table, according to “Floribama Murders.”
Leonard Gonzalez told sheriffs that he was with six other men in the van, including Patrick. The plan, he claimed, was never about murder. It was about getting cash and jewels from the safe. But the Billings ended up being shot and killed.
Patrick Gonzalez was then questioned and denied everything. He claimed his father had “brain damage” and that the van barely moved in a recorded interview with authorities.
When police searched the van, they found nothing that tied it to the murders. Patrick Gonzalez was allowed to leave.
Detectives focused on the crime scene videos and observed the black boots worn by the home invaders. They reviewed surveillance tapes at a Walmart near Patrick’s home in Santa Rosa County, where they found footage of him purchasing the black boots and black clothing.
He was with three other men identified as Wayne Coldiron, Donnie Stallworth, and Gary Sumner, names that Leonard Gonzalez had revealed to authorities.
Investigators rounded up the suspected members of the deadly robbery crew, although Patrick Gonzalez turned himself in. He was concerned about being arrested in front of his children, according to investigators.
Authorities had five of the seven suspects in custody and as detectives prepared to question them, the remaining two suspects surfaced: Rakeem Florence and Frederick Thornton.
Florence told officials that Leonard Gonzalez had promised him “$2,000 or $3,000 … to carry this deed out,” investigators said. Thornton told detectives essentially the same story.
Detectives learned that when the van left the Billings estate they drove to Santa Rosa County, where they dropped it off at an antique mall. It was owned by Pamela Long Wiggins, who was in the real estate business.
Florida investigators tracked Wiggins down to Orange Beach, Alabama. She and her husband had brought their yacht there for repairs, but police suspected she may have been trying to flee to Mexico.
Wiggins faced tough financial straits and had a rental property she leased to Patrick Gonzalez. Patrick collected overdue bills for her.
Investigators theorized that the Billings case was “a money score” for Wiggins but turned into a "robbery that went horrifically bad,” said Morgan.
While Wiggins initially claimed she had nothing to do with the murders, she eventually admitted she provided the guns and hid the safe. In exchange for a plea deal, she revealed the whereabouts of the items.
Wiggins was charged with being accessory after the fact. The remaining suspects were charged with armed home invasion, robbery and murder.
All of them except Patrick Gonzalez agreed to plea deals, resulting in life sentences for Stallworth and Coldiron and lengthy prison terms for the others, according to “Floribama Murders.”
Accused triggerman Patrick Gonzalez, meanwhile, took his chances in court.
“I think what he did is absolutely demonic — to kill people in front of their kids,” said Guy.
Patrick Gonzalez was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder and armed home invasion robbery. He was sentenced to death and is currently on death row.