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Kinston, North Carolina is a small Southern town that has twice won the All-America City Award for civic engagement. It’s the kind of place where everyone knows each other — and each other’s business.
Billy C. White was a big deal around town. The 59-year-old’s personal charm made him a top insurance salesman, and he was a prominent member of society.
The quiet community, however, was shook up the morning of Jan. 21, 1992, when Billy’s wife, Sylvia White, reported him missing to the Kinston Police Department.
“She’s crying, very hysterical and telling me that Billy went to meet a man somewhere out in the county to sell a large insurance policy and that he had not come home,” former Kinston Police assistant chief Wilburn “Speedy” Ingram told “Snapped,” airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.
Sylvia met Billy after he divorced his first wife, Anita Jones, with whom he had four children. Jones suffered from postpartum depression following the birth of their youngest son, Billy C. White II, in 1969, and she was later institutionalized, according to North Carolina’s Sun Journal newspaper.
As a single father with four children, Billy was having trouble adjusting to his new family life. Fortunately, energetic neighbor Sylvia Ipock lived a few doors down, and she began helping around the house, cooking meals and doing the family’s laundry.
Growing up in the South, Sylvia had a rough life. Her mother died when she was 5, and her father passed away just a few years later. Sylvia spent part of her childhood in an orphanage before her older sister assumed custody of her.
While still in her teens, Sylvia became pregnant by a man named Woody Taylor, whom she later married. They separated after 16 months. “I’ve always felt she had a problem,” Taylor would later tell the Chicago Tribune. “She’s never learned to love.''
In 1959, Sylvia married Leslie Ipock, with whom she had two boys. The family did well for themselves, but Leslie suffered from chronic health problems. He sank into depression, and in 1967, he died by suicide from a single gunshot to the side of his head.
Sylvia became Mrs. White in December 1971. They moved into a bigger house to accommodate their combined family. Despite their joyous new beginnings, tragedy struck on the afternoon of June 21, 1973, when Sylvia arrived at the hospital claiming 4-year-old Billy Jr. had swallowed a piece of plastic.
Little Billy’s skin was white, and he was pronounced dead on arrival. Doctors extracted a large wadded-up piece of plastic from a laundry bag from his throat. The nurses who tended to him later testified there were no torn edges, teeth imprints, or chew marks on the plastic, according to court documents.
Following the tragedy, Billy Sr. threw himself into his work. It paid off in the long run — by the early 1990s, he was one of the top salesmen at North Carolina-based insurance company Jefferson-Pilot, according to Greensboro’s News & Record. He and Sylvia were mainstays of their church and Kinston society.
The couple spent 20 years together until Billy’s disappearance.
Kinston Police launched a massive effort to locate the missing salesman, including an aerial search. That afternoon, Billy’s car was spotted on a remote woodland road.
“We could see Billy White laying on the ground, on his back with a white shirt with a big red spot,” Ingram told “Snapped.” “You could tell even from the air that something bad had gone wrong.”
Billy was dead from two shotgun blasts — one to his chest, another to his side — but no shell casings were found at the scene. White’s pockets were turned out, and his wedding ring was missing.
It appeared Billy could have been the victim of a robbery gone wrong, but the multiple gunshot wounds indicated a darker motive.
“These people wanted to murder Billy White,” Ingram said.
Sylvia told investigators Billy had gone out the night before to meet a man named Timmy Connors, who wanted to buy a $500,000 life insurance policy. Kinston Police and agents with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation combed the county and the surrounding areas looking for their mystery man to no avail.
During their inquiry, investigators discovered Sylvia had been having an affair for more than a year with a man named James. They had checked into a Raleigh hotel together on the day of her husband’s murder and stayed there from noon to 2 p.m.
“When [James] was confronted, he immediately started to sing like The Temptations. He just started to spill everything about Sylvia White,” former assistant SBI special agent in charge Eric Smith told “Snapped.”
Sylvia was brought in for questioning, and she claimed she was at a cosmetics seminar during that time. The night of Billy’s death, she said she had dinner with a friend, which investigators were able to confirm. Sylvia did not admit to having an affair with James, and police had no evidence connecting her to her husband’s murder.
Authorities hit a standstill and created a tip line for anyone who had information about the murder, and Billy’s friends in the local business community chipped in reward money.
On Feb. 6, investigators got their first big break when an anonymous tipster called in.
“He said, ‘I remember going to a party, and this long-haired guy asked me if I knew anyone that might kill somebody for him,’” Smith told “Snapped.” “He said, ‘I was shocked.’”
The informant said it had been about two months since the party, but he recently ran into the long-haired man again. When they were chatting, the man admitted to killing Billy. The informant didn’t know the man’s name, but he said he was a local construction worker.
Authorities eventually tracked down a man fitting the description — his name was James Lynwood Taylor, and he was no stranger to authorities.
“He had been operating as an informant in drug buys for the Lenoir County law enforcement agencies,” former assistant prosecutor Gregory Butler told “Snapped.”
After hearing that police wanted to talk to him, Taylor came in on his own volition. Although he initially claimed to have no involvement in Billy’s murder, he ultimately confessed following an eight-hour interrogation.
Taylor told investigators Sylvia offered him $20,000 and a van to murder her husband because she was having an affair and wanted to cash in his life insurance policy, worth as much as $200,000, according to the Chicago Tribune. Taylor recruited his uncle, Ernest West Basden, as the triggerman for the paltry sum of $300.
On the night of the murder, Taylor posed as Timmy Connors and set up the insurance buy at a remote location. After Billy arrived, Basden emerged from the shadows and fatally shot White.
Like his nephew, Basden turned himself in and made a full confession.
“He had a real poker face. He never broke down when I spoke with him. He was like, ‘Yeah I did it. I did it for the money,’” Smith told “Snapped.”
Sylvia was taken into custody on Feb. 13, 1992, and charged with murder, according to the News & Record. Despite being confronted with Taylor’s allegations, she maintained her innocence.
Taylor’s confession, however, also implicated Sylvia in a second murder — that of her stepson Billy Jr. almost 20 years earlier.
Taylor told police that while she was trying to recruit him to murder her husband, she said, “It's not that hard to do. I had a stepchild. I put a bag over it until it stopped breathing,” according to the News & Record.
Investigators spoke to Billy’s children, who said that their baby brother feared their stepmother and that they had wondered if she was involved in his death.
“It wasn’t something we could come right out and say, but there was always a suspicion in our heads,” older brother Steve White told the Chicago Tribune.
North Carolina State’s Chief Medical Examiner John Butts reviewed Billy Jr.’s death and found it would have been physically impossible for him to swallow the piece of plastic found inside his throat.
“The plastic was described as approximately three inches wide by 10 to 12 inches in length,” Butts told “Snapped.”
Billy Jr.’s body was exhumed and showed other evidence of physical abuse: “We found a four-inch crack in the skull. This indicated that at some point prior to his death, he had received a blow to that area,” Butts said.
Investigators spoke with the doctor and nurse who had attended to Billy Jr. when he was brought into the hospital.
“He looked at us and he said, ‘I knew you’d be coming here.’ Those were his first words,” Smith told “Snapped.”
The attending emergency room nurse told investigators she knew something was not right about Billy Jr.’s death, but she just “followed orders from her supervisor,” according to “Snapped.”
Billy Jr.’s death was ruled a homicide, and Sylvia was charged with first-degree murder. Prosecutors chose to try her for her stepson’s murder first.
“By convicting her of that murder, because it happened before the other murder, we would have been able to use that as an aggravating factor for the death penalty,” Butler told “Snapped.”
Sylvia was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, according to the Sun Journal. Rather than risk getting the death penalty, she pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of her husband. She was given an additional life sentence.
By cooperating with authorities and pleading guilty to first-degree murder, Taylor avoided the death penalty and was sentenced to life in prison. Now 68, he is currently incarcerated at the minimum-security Wake Correctional Center in Raleigh.
Basden was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. He was executed by lethal injection in 2002, according to the Associated Press.
Now 83, Sylvia is currently housed at Raleigh’s North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women. Despite her guilty plea, she continues to maintain her innocence, according to “Snapped.”
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