Elderly Inmate Helped Police Solve 50-Year-Old Murder of Family of Three

Police in North Carolina solved a 50-year-old triple homicide after another force in Georgia tipped them off that an 81-year-old inmate was possibly involved.

Watauga County Sheriff's Office in North Carolina released a statement Tuesday that they closed a cold case that occurred in Boone, North Carolina, in 1972 after receiving the information from a department in Augusta, Georgia.

According to the statement, Billy Wayne Davis, 81, who is serving a life sentence in a correctional facility in Augusta, Georgia, is "believed to be the only surviving perpetrator" of the triple homicide, also known as the Durham case. Three other suspects were named but all are deceased.

Disturbing data collected by the FBI found that since 1995, approximately 40 percent of murders in the United States go unsolved every year.

Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman said he received a phone call from the White County Sheriff's Office in May 2019. The officer explained to Hagaman that they had information that could be important to the 1972 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," Hagaman said. "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."

On February 3, 1972, 51-year-old Bryce Durham, his wife Virginia, 44, and son Bobby, 18, were found murdered inside their home during a snowstorm. The daughter, Ginny, was not home at the time and when she went to check on the family she and her husband found the family deceased.

The 2019 lead surfaced when one of the deceased suspect's sons was at the White County Sheriff's Office and recalled a time he visited his father in prison. He stated that during the visit, his father "admitted to killing three people in the North Carolina mountains during a heavy snowstorm" and that they almost got caught.

After hearing his story, officers immediately contacted WCSO. Investigators in North Carolina interviewed Davis, who had a known connection to the other suspect.

According to the Department of Justice's list of best practices for cold case investigations, multi-agency collaboration whether that entails several smaller agencies coming together to form one cold case unit or for another agency to communicate a potential lead to an outside agency.

During the interviews with WCSO, Davis implicated the three other suspects and explained that they hired a "hit" and were almost caught during the snowstorm. He said the three men entered the house but that he only acted as the getaway driver.

WCSO informed the Durham family about the investigation and conclusions in November 2021, police said. Ginny Durham shared her gratitude with all of the people involved in helping solve her family's murder.

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

Newsweek reached out to the Watauga County Sheriff's Office for comment but did not hear back in time for publication.

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An 81-year-old inmate in Georgia helped police in North Carolina to solve a 50-year-old triple homicide. The inmate admitted to acting as the getaway driver for the three people connected to the killings. Ian Waldie/Getty Images