Last Updated on February 11, 2022 5:54 pm
Friday, February 11, 2022 UPDATE – Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman held a press conference on Friday to answer questions from media about the Durham Case. The video can be viewed at this link.
February 8, 2022, BOONE, N.C. – A tip from a Georgia sheriff’s office has helped the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office bring closure to a 50 year-old triple homicide case that occurred in Boone on Feb. 3, 1972, known locally as the Durham Case.
Bryce Durham, 51, his wife Virginia, 44, and son Bobby, 18, were found brutally murdered in their home during a snowstorm. Troy Hall, the Durham’s son-in law, found the family deceased after he and his wife — the Durhams’ daughter, Ginny — went to check on the family with the help of a neighbor.
Billy Wayne Davis, 81, currently a resident of a correctional facility in Augusta, Georgia, is believed to be the only surviving perpetrator in the Durham Case. Other perpetrators have been identified as Billy Sunday Birt, Bobby Gene Gaddis and Charles David Reed, all 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,” said Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman. “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.”
Interviews with two sources corroborated evidence from the Durham Case crime scene, and the circumstances of the crime were similar to a 1973 case in Georgia, known as the Fleming Case, in which Birt, Gaddis, Reed and Davis were all involved. Led by Birt, Davis, Reed and Gaddis were part of a loosely organized network known as the Georgia-based “Dixie Mafia,” which is thought to have engaged in dozens of violent crimes in Georgia and elsewhere across the Southeast in the 1960s and ‘70s.
The 2019 lead first surfaced when Birt’s son, Shane Birt, was at the White County Sheriff’s Office to participate in research for a book about crimes that had taken place in Georgia, including 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. After hearing Shane Birt’s account, the White County Sheriff’s Office immediately contacted WCSO.
Davis was interviewed by WCSO investigators at the Georgia facility where he is serving a life sentence for crimes he committed in Georgia. During those interviews, Davis implicated Birt, Gaddis and Reed as engaging in a hired “hit” in the North Carolina mountains, one where they almost got caught during a bad snowstorm. Davis claimed to have acted only as their getaway driver, and that it was the other three men that entered the house that night.
It remains unclear who solicited the crime against the Durham family.
In November 2021, the WCSO held a meeting with Durham family members to inform them of their investigation and conclusions.
“Had Sheriff Hagaman and his team not taken this tip seriously, this case may never have been solved,” said Chris Laws, special agent in charge for the Northwestern District, North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. “Many agencies, law enforcement officials, investigators and agents worked diligently on this case for decades.”
“This is a much-needed turning point for the Durham Case,” Hagaman said. “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.”
Ginny Durham also shared her gratitude, saying, “I would like to thank all of the people who worked for decades on my family’s case. I know that they sacrificed many days and weekends in order to work on solving this case since 1972.
“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. I am so grateful for his help and friendship during the difficult years.”
Hagaman thanked 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 many other professionals, community members and their families for their years of hard work on the case.
“I’d also like to thank WCSO Captain of Investigations Carolynn Johnson, SBI Special Agent in Charge for the Northwestern District, Chris Laws, and White County Sheriff’s Office Chief
Deputy Bob Ingram for their recent investigative work on this case since 2019,” he said.
“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.”
The Watauga County Sheriff’s Office would like to express its appreciation for the many professionals that worked to help resolve the Durham Case since 1972. This case touched the High Country community and beyond, and we are grateful for each of these individuals who played a role in helping to find answers for the Durham family and bring this case to a close.
● Watauga County Sheriff, Len Hagaman
● Watauga County Sheriff’s Office Captain of Criminal Investigations, Carolynn Johnson
● Watauga County Sheriff’s Office Former Chief Deputy, Paula May
● Watauga County Former Sheriff, Red Lyons
● Watauga County Former Sheriff, Ward Carroll, now deceased
● Watauga County Sheriff’s Office Former Detective, Lieutenant Delmus “Del” Williams
● Watauga County Sheriff’s Office Former Chief Deputy, Johnny Carroll
● Watauga County Sheriff’s Office Former Detective, Jerry Vaughn
● Boone Police Department, Former Chief, Clyde Tester, now deceased
● Boone Police Department, Former Chief Zane Tester
● Boone Police Department Former Captain Arlie Isaacs, now deceased
● Boone Police Department Former Dispatcher, Johnny Tester
● Boone Police Department Former Dispatcher, Gray Isaacs, now deceased
● Boone Police Department Former Detective, Sergeant William Watson
● Boone Police Department Former Sergeant, Frank Guy
● North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge for the Northwestern District, Chris Laws
● North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation Special Agent, Wade Colvard
● North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation Former Special Agent, Wallace Hardwick, now deceased
● North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation Former Special Agent, Steve Cabe, now deceased
● North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation Former Special Agent, Charlie Whitman, now deceased
● North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation Former Special Agent, Larry Wagner
● White County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy, Robert Ingram
● Former North Carolina Attorney General, and Former Secretary of State of North Carolina, Rufus Edmisten
● Appalachian State University Police Department Captain of Operations, Johnny Brown
● Appalachian State University Critical-Crisis Communications Specialist, Emily Bausch
We thank each of these women and men who contributed to years of investigative work and commend them for their commitment and willingness to help.