WATAUGA COUNTY, NC (WJHL) – Fifty years after three family members in Watauga County were found “brutally murdered,” the men responsible have been identified.
According to a release from the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, three members of the Durham family were killed in their home during a snowstorm on Feb. 3, 1972. Bryce Durham, 51, his wife Virginia, 44, and their son Bobby, 18, they were all victims of the homicide. They were found by their son-in-law and daughter, Ginny, after they went to check on the family with a neighbor.
The Watauga County Sheriff’s Office was contacted by authorities in Georgia in May 2019, who informed the department that they had information about who could have possibly committed the murders. Through combined efforts, the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office determined that Billy Wayne Davis, 81, is the last living perpetrator in the Durham Case.
The release states that Davis is in a correctional facility in Augusta, Georgia serving out a life sentence for crimes in that state. Watauga County investigators traveled to Augusta to interview Davis, who confirmed that he and three others were responsible for the deaths of the Durhams in 1972. The other perpetrators were identified as:
- Billy Sunday Birth
- Bobby Gene Gaddis
- Charles David Reed
All three of the other men are deceased.
“In May 2019, we received a phone call from the White County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia about information that we recognized could be very important to the Durham case. We immediately began to investigate the new leads, and conducted in-person interviews with Billy Wayne Davis in September 2019, October 2020, and August 2021. It was these interviews that ultimately helped us determine who was responsible through the corroboration of evidence. We are confident that we now know who committed these crimes.”
Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman
Investigators say they spoke with two sources who were able to corroborate evidence from the triple-homicide. They also found that the circumstances surrounding the Durham case were “similar to a 1973 case in Georgia, known as the Fleming Case.” In the Fleming Case, the same four men were involved and part of a Georgia-based organization known as the “Dixie Mafia,” which authorities say is believed to have been responsible for several violent crimes throughout the Southeast in the 1960s and 1970s.
The White County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia first contacted North Carolina authorities after Birt’s son, identified as Shane Birt, was conducting research for a book about crimes in Georgia, which included the Fleming Case.
“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,” the release states. “After hearing Shane Birt’s account, the White County Sheriff’s Office immediately contacted WCSO.”
While speaking with investigators from Watauga County, Davis said he only acted as the getaway driver for the other three. He claimed he did not enter the house, but Birt, Gaddis and Reed killed the Durhams as part of a “hired hit.” Davis said they were almost caught up in the snowstorm.
According to the release, despite the new revelations in the case, it is still not clear who ordered the attack on the Durhams. Family members of the victims were informed of the new developments in November 2021.
“This is a much-needed turning point for the Durham Case,” Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman stated. “We cannot begin to express our thanks to all the professionals and community members who collaborated for so many years to help resolve this case. We sincerely thank you for your commitment.”
“I would like to thank all of the people who worked for decades on my family’s case,” said Ginny Durham in part, 50 years after finding her family dead. “I know that they sacrificed many days and weekends in order to work on solving this case since 1972.”
“I know I also speak for the entire Watauga County community when I say that we will never forget to keep the Durham family in our thoughts and prayers,” said Hagaman. “Please, let’s remember their continued wishes for privacy.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism