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Atlanta Woman Killed By ‘Death Squad’ While Calling 911 To Report Home Invasion
Police search for the killers who pressed a gun to a woman’s face and then pulled the trigger.
The gated community of Amhurst in Atlanta has a reputation for being a safe haven. But on November 30, 2013, that serenity was shattered.
Around 8 p.m. that evening, 43-year-old Pamela Williams, frantically called 911 to report a home invasion. In the recorded call, she told the dispatcher that people were in her home and that was hiding in her closet.
“Help me,” she pleaded in a hushed voice. “Help me. Help.” The next sound was a gunshot.
Then there was silence — "and it was deafening,” former TV journalist Shaunya Chavis told Oxygen's “The Real Murders of Atlanta."
First responders found Williams, who had been shot in the forehead, alone in her home. She was rushed to the hospital, where she was eventually taken off life support and died.
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Investigators learned that Williams worked as a manager at Target. She was known by family, friends and coworkers for her selfless concern for others. In 2011, she donated a kidney to an ailing sister.
The crime scene was processed for fingerprints, which ultimately didn’t advance the case. Police considered that the murder was the result of a botched robbery.
As they worked the case and canvassed the Amhurst subdivision, the autopsy report revealed that when Williams was shot, the gun was pressed to her forehead. That press-contact wound indicated that she’d been intentionally shot, investigators said. But since the bullet fragmented on impact, the murder weapon couldn’t be identified.
Police questioned if Williams had made enemies in her personal or professional life but a man she had dated for a short time was cleared as a suspect and a check of her office turned up no leads. By all accounts, Williams was very well-liked.
Police were still struggling to get past square one in the investigation. And while witnesses in the neighborhood told police that the night of the murder they observed figures running through their backyard, no suspicious cars were seen speeding away.
“It was a safe assumption that the perpetrators lived inside the subdivision,” said Rasheed Hamilton, a former detective with the Fulton County Police Department.
Deeper digging by detectives revealed that the Amhurst community had been plagued by as many as six dozen petty burglaries over the past two years. These break-ins had not turned violent.
Police believe that Williams was killed because the perpetrators didn’t want to leave behind a witness. As detectives researched burglaries in the area, they found a case with striking similarities to Williams’.
On January 13, 2013, Melissa Burke, 57, a retired Army veteran, called 911 around 10 p.m. from her home in Chestnut Ridge, about five miles away from Amhurst. She reported a home invasion.
“I went into the closet in the master bedroom, and I heard footsteps all over the house,” she told producers. “But they found me. I just remember looking at him and seeing how young he was.”
The perpetrator shot Burke again and again. “Until,” Burke said, “I heard the hammer just click.” That sound meant there were no more bullets.
Other people ran into the room at that point, she recalled. “The only thing I heard was, ‘Let's just get out of here. She’s dead.’”
But she wasn’t. Burke miraculously survived. She was unable to assist with the investigation because of the severity of her injuries, which left her in the hospital for over three months.
Investigators on the Williams case learned that police who responded to Burke’s 911 chased a suspicious car leaving the scene. The vehicle, which had been stolen hours before, crashed and several occupants fled on foot.
But police also recovered a cell phone near the car that belonged to James Calhoun, who had a criminal history of burglaries.
When questioned by police, Calhoun said he lost the phone. There wasn’t enough evidence to make an arrest, and he was released. In December 2013, investigators searched to see if Calhoun could be linked to the Williams case.
They reached out to the media in hopes that the community would share leads with Crime Stoppers. The media blast paid off. The parents of Jonathan Banks reported that they suspected their son may have been involved in the Williams murder.
"Jonathan Banks used to live in the Amhurst subdivision and he was running with the wrong crowd," said Hamilton. “He had just come out of prison months earlier.”
Davis' parents became suspicious when he came to them asking for a large sum of money in order to leave town. He refused to say why he needed to flee but they’d heard about the murder on the news and felt compelled to report what they knew.
On December 10, 2013, a credible witness well-connected to one of the perpetrators called the Major Crimes Division, according to Hamilton. The caller said that James Calhoun, James Sims, and Jonathan Banks had admitted to her that they committed the crime.
At this point, police had enough evidence to arrest the men, who were 20 years old and younger at the time. By December 19 all three men were in custody. The three suspects were charged with burglary and the murder of Pamela Williams.
Prosecutors built their case with evidence from a pawn shop where the three suspects allegedly unloaded stolen goods. Clint Rucker, Executive A.D.A for the Fulton County Attorney’s Office, and his team tied the three men to over 100 burglaries in and around the Amhurst area.
“They weren’t just a bunch of mischievous kids … trying to scrape up a couple of bucks,” said Rucker. “They were cold-blooded murderers.”
In October of 2016, the trial began for “The Amhurst Death Squad,” the infamous nickname local media outlets gave Calhoun, Sims, and Banks.
Prosecutors had built a solid case, but it wasn’t airtight. The murder weapon had never been recovered.
Rucker played the desperate 911 call made by Williams, who repeatedly begged for help. Burke, who had identified Calhoun as her shooter, testified as a key witness.
The three defendants were found guilty on all charges. Sims and Calhoun were sentenced to life with the chance of parole. Calhoun, the trigger man who shot Williams, got life without parole.
Without a corroborating witness, Burke’s case is still open but it has stayed at a standstill.