He Recalled a Story His Dad Told Him, Helped Solved Case

Sheriff's office says the 1972 Durham case is now closed
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 9, 2022 9:55 AM CST
Case of NC Family Found Dead in Bathtub in 1972 Solved
Stock photo of a bathtub.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – A crack in the decades-old case came in 2019. Shane Birt agreed to be interviewed for a book on notorious Georgia crimes, including a case his father had participated in, reports the Watauga Democrat. He recounted a story his father, Billy Sunday Birt, had told him during a prison visit: "He admitted to killing three people in the North Carolina mountains during a heavy snowstorm, remembering that they almost got caught." The White County Sheriff’s Office, which was on the receiving end of that story, reached out to the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office in Boone, North Carolina, where such a crime had occurred in 1972.

As NBC News reports, the "Durham case," as it came be be known, involved the deaths of Bryce Durham, 51; wife Virginia, 44; and son Bobby, 18. The three were found dead in a bathtub during a snowstorm on Feb. 3, 1972. The men had been drowned; Virginia had been strangled to death. On Tuesday, the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office announced that it had solved the case: The three were killed by Billy Sunday Birt and three accomplices, who were part of the "Dixie Mafia" that operated in the Southeast during the '60s and '70s. Birt is dead as are Bobby Gene Gaddis and Charles David Reed.

Billy Wayne Davis, the fourth person named by the sheriff's office, is now 81 and imprisoned in Augusta, Georgia. In a series of interviews between September 2019 and August 2021, the sheriff's office says Davis admitted the group killed the Durham family in what was a hired hit; he claimed he was the getaway driver and never entered the home. Who ordered the hit is not clear. Interviews with two sources corroborated evidence from the crime scene. The couple's surviving daughter, who found the family after she went to check on them with her husband and a neighbor, expressed her gratitude to "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." (Read more cold cases stories.)

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