Sunday, September 24

Interview with Georgia inmate leads authorities to solve 1972 triple homicide in Boone connected to ‘Dixie Mafia’

The tip first surfaced after the son of a member of the Dixie Mafia was researching Georgia Crimes for a book. He shared the details with Georgia authorities.

BOONE, N.C. — The investigation into a triple homicide that happened in Boone in 1972 has been closed, according to the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office. The case is known locally in Boone as the Durham Case.

The Durham Case

On Feb. 3, 1972, Bryce Durham, 51, his wife Virginia, 44, and their son Bobby, 18, were found murdered in their home during a snowstorm. Bryce and Virginia’s son-in-law Troy Hall found the family after he and his wife, Ginny, went with the help of a neighbor to check on the family. 

The case went unsolved for decades but was closed after a report from a Georgia sheriff’s office was brought to the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office. 

In May 2019, Watauga County Sheriff’s Office received a phone call from the White County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia with information that could be connected to the case. 

Based on that information, the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office determined there were multiple perpetrators involved in the murder, but only one is still alive: 81-year-old Billy Wayne Davis.

Billy Wayne Davis 

Davis is currently at a correctional facility in Augusta, Georgia, serving a life sentence for crimes he committed in Georgia.

“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,” Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman said in a statement. “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.” 

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The deceased perpetrators have been identified as Billy Sunday Birt, Bobby Gene Gaddis and Charles David Reed.

Investigators conducted interviews with two other sources, who corroborated evidence from the Durham Case crime scene. In this process, the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office determined the circumstances of the Durham Case were similar to a 1973 investigation in Georgia known as the Fleming Case. 

The Dixie Mafia

Birt, Gaddis, Reed and Davis were all involved in the Fleming Case as part of a loosely organized Georgia-based network known as the Dixie Mafia. The Watauga County Sheriff’s Office said the Dixie Mafia is thought to have engaged in dozens of violent crimes in the 1960s and 1970s across the Southeast. 

The tip first surfaced after Shane Birt, Billy Sunday Birt’s son, was conducting research for a book about Georgia crimes at the White County Sheriff’s Office. Shane Birt told officials he was close with his father and recalled a story his father had told him during a prison visit in which his father admitted to killing three people in the North Carolina mountains during a heavy snowstorm, adding they almost got caught. 

After the White County Sheriff’s Office heard Shane Birt’s account, they contacted the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, believing it may be connected to the Durham Case.

Watauga County investigators said Davis implicated Birt, Gaddis and Reed in engaging in a hired “hit” in the mountains and almost got caught in a bad snowstorm. Davis claimed to have only acted as the getaway driver, saying the other three men entered the house. 

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It’s not known who hired the group to commit the crime. 

Family, authorities express gratitude

The Watauga County Sheriff’s Office held a meeting with the Durham family members in November 2021 to update them on the investigation. 

“Had Sheriff Hagaman and his team not taken this tip seriously, this case may never have been solved,” Chris Laws, a special agent in charge for the Northwestern District of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, said in a statement. “Many agencies, law enforcement officials, investigators and agents worked diligently on this case for decades.”

Ginny Durham, Bryce and Virginia’s daughter, released a statement expressing her gratitude for the people who worked for decades on the case. 

“I would especially like to thank Len Hagaman, Sheriff of Watauga County, who has been involved from the beginning and was dedicated to a closure for myself and my family; Wade Colvard, SBI Special Agent; Carolynn Johnson, Captain of Investigations for Watauga County Sheriff’s Office; and Charles Whitman, SBI Special Agent, who continued to work on the case, even in retirement,” Ginny Durham said, in part. “I am so grateful for his help and friendship during the difficult years.”

Several agencies have worked on the case over the decades, including the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, Boone Police Department, White County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Appalachian State University Police Department and more.

“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,” Sheriff Hagaman said. “Please, let’s remember their continued wishes for privacy.”

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