BOONE, N.C. — A 50-year-old triple-murder case involving the deaths of a Watauga County family has been solved, according to the sheriff’s office.
In February 1972, Bryce Durham, 51, his wife Virginia, 44, and son Bobby, 18, were found murdered in their home during a snowstorm. A family member found them when they went to check on the family with a neighbor.
After decades of investigating and unanswered questions in the “Durham Case,” Sheriff Len Hagaman said in May 2019, he got a call from the White County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia about information in the 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 know who committed these crimes,” Hagaman said.
With the new leads, investigators learned the suspects in the case were Billy Wayne Davis, 81, Billy Sunday Birt, Bobby Gene Gaddis and Charles David Reed. Davis is currently at a correctional facility in Augusta, Georgia, and authorities said the three other suspects have since died.
The suspects were first connected to the “Durham Case” when two sources found evidence that was similar to a case in 1973 in Georgia, known as the “Fleming Case,” in which Davis, Birt, Gaddis and Reed were all involved. Investigators said the suspects were part of a group in Georgia known as the “Dixie Mafia,” and were involved in dozens of violent crimes across the Southeast in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Authorities heard about the 2019 lead when Birt’s son, Shane Birt, was doing research for a book about crimes in Georgia, including the “Fleming Case.” Shane Birt told investigators he was close with his father and during a prison visit, he remembered his father admitted to killing three people in the North Carolina mountains during a heavy snowstorm.
The White County Sheriff’s Office immediately contacted deputies in Watauga County about the new details.
Watauga County detectives then interviewed Davis, who is serving a life sentence for crimes he committed in Georgia, and he said Billy Sunday Birt, Gaddis and Reed were hired for a “hit” in the North Carolina mountains. He said they almost got caught due to the snowstorm.
Davis told investigators he was only the getaway driver, and that it was the other three men who entered the house that night.
Authorities said it’s still unclear who specifically killed the Durham family.
“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.”
In November 2021, the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office told Durham family members about the new information.
“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,” Ginny Durham said.
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