Triple murder solved 50 years after North Carolina family found slain in bathtub

The grisly triple murder of a mother, father and son found slain in a bathtub in 1972 has been solved 50 years later, thanks to information from a Georgia inmate, the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office in Boone, North Carolina, announced

Bryce Durham, 51, his wife Virginia, 44, and son Bobby, 18, were found dead in their home during a snowstorm on Feb. 3, 1972, in a chilling attack that became locally known as the “Durham Case.” 

They were discovered by the couple’s son-in-law after he and his wife went to check on them with the help of a neighbor.

Their bodies were in the bathtub and their home in a state of disarray, the Charlotte Observer reported. Virginia had died by strangulation and Bryce and Bobby had been drowned, according to the newspaper.  

For years, the people behind the crime remained a mystery.

But now, five decades later, the perpetrators have been identified as Billy Sunday Birt, Bobby Gene Gaddis, Charles David Reed and Billy Wayne Davis, the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office revealed.

Birt, Gaddis and Reed are all dead.

Billy Wayne Davis.Georgia Department of Corrections

Davis, 81, is believed to be the only surviving perpetrator in the Durham case and is currently in a correctional facility in Augusta, Georgia. 

The foursome were part of the Georgia-based “Dixie Mafia,” a “loosely organized network” believed to have “engaged in dozens of violent crimes in Georgia” and across the Southeast in the 60s and 70s, officials said.

A lead in the case first emerged in 2019 when Shane Birt, the son of Billy Sunday Birt, visited the White County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia to participate in research for a book about notorious crimes in the state.

He said 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 that, the White County Sheriff’s Office contacted the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office in May 2019 about the information potentially related to the Durham case.

Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman said the department investigated new leads and conducted in-person interviews with Davis in September 2019, October 2020 and August 2021. 

In those interviews, Davis, who is serving a life sentence for crimes in Georgia, implicated Birt, Gaddis and Reed, saying they were part of a hired “hit” in the North Carolina mountains. 

However, it remains a mystery who ordered that hit against the Durham family.

Davis said they almost got caught in the bad snowstorm. He claimed to have acted as the getaway driver that fateful night and said the other three men entered the house.

Investigators also held interviews with two sources to corroborate evidence from the crime scene. They also noted the circumstances of the crime were similar to a 1973 investigation in Georgia known as the Fleming case, which Birt, Gaddis, Reed and Davis were involved in.

The Watauga County Sheriff’s Office alerted the Durham family of the findings in November 2021.

Ginny Durham, the slain couple’s daughter, thanked investigators for their work on the case.

“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,” she said, noting some officers continued to work on her family’s case even in retirement. 

“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.”

“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,” he added.

Multiple agencies, including the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, Boone Police Department, Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Appalachian State University Police Department, were also involved in the case.

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