NC NC - Bryce, 51, Virginia, 46, & Bobby Durham, 19, Boone, 2 Feb 1972

Discussion in 'Cold Cases' started by Onaliv, Sep 15, 2014.

  1. Onaliv

    Onaliv Member

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    In 1972 three members of the Durham family were brutally murdered on a snowy Thursday night. The scene appears to have been staged as a robbery, although nothing was known to have actually been stolen. This case probably suffered from a small town under staffed/under resourced LEO agency, and although there have been some efforts to revisit, appears to be as cold as the night over 40 years ago when the crimes took place.

    This link below gives a good overview of the basics -- an intriguing case:

    http://www.journalnow.com/news/loca...50f-a3a2-5aed-9dfb-c0118871ac34.html?mode=jqm
     
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  3. Backwoods

    Backwoods New Member

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    Onaliv, at your link I get a message that I have to subscribe to a service to read the article -- sure sounds like an interesting case though. I hunted down this 2012 link about the murders to give some background for those who can't access the article at your link:

    more at: http://www.therecordofwilkes.com/newsa.asp?edition_number=640&pg=F
     
  4. bessie

    bessie Administrator Staff Member Administrator Moderator

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    Thanks to both of you for the links. I had no problem opening the first one.

    This case reminds me a little bit of the recent Dermond murders. JMO -- and I might be way off base -- but I suspect a business related grudge was a motivating factor in both.
     
  5. Backwoods

    Backwoods New Member

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    bbm: Oh gosh, bessie -- here we go again, lol, I was just thinking that same thing.

    Weird about the first link not working for me -- likely I need to "fiddle" with some stuff and try it again.
     
  6. Onaliv

    Onaliv Member

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    What is fascinating about this case (to me), is that there appeared to be one, and possibly two, very good suspects based on what has been published throughout the years. It is possible that the motive was closer to home than just being a business grudge, as families sometimes resort to unorthodox methods to resolve their issues. Hopefully someone will eventually come forward and provide the tip needed to turn this case from unsolved to solved.
     
  7. Onaliv

    Onaliv Member

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    image.jpg
    Youngest victim, Bobby Joe Durham
     
  8. Onaliv

    Onaliv Member

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    image.jpg
    Baxter Bryce Durham, victim
     
  9. Onaliv

    Onaliv Member

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    image.jpg
    Ginny Durham Hall, daughter of victims Bryce, Virginia and Bobby Joe Durham--she and her husband Justin Troy Hall went to the house (with Cecil Small) and made the discovery
     
  10. tacybear

    tacybear New Member

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    Pretty much all this post is going to be MOO (however I was born and raised in Boone, NC, so I do know several people who were privy to the case, including the SBI agent that is quoted in the article (Mr. Whittman) - he goes to my parents church, and unfortunately has seriously declining health. I have had several chances to bounce some questions off him over the years, since his retirement.) I was not born when these murders took place, however my dad is a lifer from Watauga County (that end of it) and my mom was a recent graduate of APP State, who was originally from Surry County - Note that Ginny and her current husband still own a home in Elkin, located in Surry County (think Mayberry - Andy Griffith Show..). This is located near the Virginia line, and near where the Durham's moved from.

    This case tends to come up 'around the dinner table' on holidays pretty frequently, because in a small town (even with a Major Collage, this is a small town) any 'gossip' of such heinous nature NEVER seems to die. The following is all MOO (guided by my family and friends, that in NO way is verified) -

    I, like Bessie believe that this was a business grudge gone very bad. But not a business grudge over cars. There is some speculation, within the community, that they may have been involved in some illegal horse/farm dealings. This may be a reason they moved to Boone, to get away from that life. My theory follows this path. Also in the community are some known gentlemen - to be exact 3 (who could of and probably done business with them on that front. They were all in and out of jail frequently. I believe, although I will have to verify this, that one of them was eventually tried and sentenced for murder or failed murder for hire - not in this case though.) At least one of them lived within walking distance of their home. They would have had no trouble parking their cars at some local businesses, that would have been maybe 1/2 a mile walk, at most, to the Durham's residence. (As locals, we are fairly equipped to deal with our somewhat harsh winters, with little trouble.) The issue of tracks around the house could have EASILY been covered up by wind, and snow in a very short amount of time. I'm talking less than 30 minutes. So if the Daughter, Son in Law, and his neighbor ran into the home (well the son in law and the neighbor) then it wouldn't be a stretch to think that any footprints may have been covered by the time the police arrived at the scene.

    Next point, the fact that there was no snow (or wet spots) found on the carpets/floors of the home. To me this is easily explained by the fact that they let the perps into their home, because they knew them. It is common around here to take your shoes off if they would mess up one's living areas. After all this (was at the time) a farming community and no one wants horse poo on their living room carpets. Rugs abound at most entry ways (still). That to me is an EASY explanation (and not at all unheard of here).

    At this point I believe all 3 men were in the home and they request, something, something to do with the illegal activity. Maybe Mrs. Durham tells them to get out (because this area isn't one that women tend to keep their mouths shut, remember she was WORKING in the 1970's in a car dealership, alone at night...not a woman that seems scared...) A gun may have been brandished by the perps. I believe at this point that she may have been hit, because her nose was bloody and possibly knocked unconscious. Mr Durham (Dad) and Bobby possibly proceed to struggle with the assailants. Maybe Mr. Durham concedes to give them what they want, if they'll just go. Two of the men stay with Bobby and Mrs. Durham, the third goes with Mr. Durham to get said item(s) but they were not produced, and he was taken into the bathroom as a method of torture, because if he is shot he may die. He does not produce the information that is requested so his son is brought into the bathroom as a bargaining chip. IE. Your son will live if you just tell us where ________ is. At this point I believe that Mr. Durham gives the room that said stuff is in and he and Bobby are killed (because let’s face it, they have just been tortured in their home, by people I believe that they knew.) While they are being drowned I think guy 3 (with the now faking for her life - passed out Mrs. Durham) is instructed to get said item. Maybe there was yelling from the bathroom to the ransacked areas because guy 3 wasn't in the bathroom. Think, look in the dresser, not there...then try the chest of drawers...at this point I believe that Mrs Durham gets up and calls her son in law. I do not know (I have been trying to research - but so far no luck - I will keep looking) when our 911 system was put into place, but I strongly feel that at this time you would have had to dial an operator or call the police station directly to get someone to your home. Maybe she couldn't remember the number, maybe she had a concussion, whatever the reason I think she called the number that was most accessible to her memory, her daughter's number. Maybe one of the bathroom guys heard her get up, maybe they just walked in on her. Whatever it was the phone was jerked out of the wall, and she was strangled, because again, she was never going to be left alive. That’s a HUGE loose end. I think that she was taken to the bathroom with the others to make sure if she wasn't dead (again), that she drowned. At this point there was a mass search for the item (or maybe it was found by now...) but the house was ransacked looking for this item(s) that were found. Maybe the item (we have no clue what it may be) was in the silverware drawer (like a divider) and the silverware was dumped into a pillowcase to be sorted through.

    At this point they get in the stolen car and get driven back to their cars. Maybe 2 of them rode together but didn't want to leave together with said evidence, so one was driving (like a bat out of hell, all hopped up on adrenaline) home or to just ditch (literally) the car almost running someone off the road.

    I also believe that the son in law was part of this conspiracy on BOTH sides. I think he was involved in the illegal stuff of his in laws and wanted whatever was trying to be recovered from their home. I however do not believe that he thought she was going to call, and that's why he said "Virginia, is that you?" because he expected her to be dead. I know that they were poor college students, and I believe the payment was whatever was taken from the home. Remember, I do believe that one of these men that I am referencing was eventually jailed for murder for hire or murder...) Win, win. Money to farmers in this area isn't nearly as important as reputation among their trade circles. I believe that the son in law got the 'family business' and made enough money to put himself through law school, etc. I think that he made the 'black men' comments to throw off investigators. I truly believe that Bobby and Ginny were just pawns in a sad, twisted story.

    Please (again) bear in mind that this is ONLY MOO, with a lot of quack, neigh, and hearsay.

    It has been passed on to authorities who may or may not have examined it...I honestly have no clue. But when a case is cold, it's worth pulling all possibilities, for the justice of the family and the communities
     
  11. Onaliv

    Onaliv Member

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    Great insight tacybear, have never read much detail around the possible business dispute angle of this case, would love to know more of the details for the theory. Still very surprising that this case is still cold, given that it took place in a small town where somebody surely would have talked...

     
  12. Donamena

    Donamena Former Member

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    Is that a school pic of Ginny? She looks so sad, IMO only.
     
  13. pomegranate

    pomegranate Member

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    If the son in law was in on the plot, the phone call could have been one of the murderers cueing him to come discover the bodies. MOO, of course.
     
  14. Onaliv

    Onaliv Member

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    Yes, it was from an ASU yearbook...agree about her appearance
     
  15. Onaliv

    Onaliv Member

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    Agree, and of course there is always the possibility that there never was a phone call...this was back in the day before call ID/call history etc., and the story of the phone call could have been fabricated to give a reason of why the daughter and son in law decided to go over there...so many unanswered questions in this case
     
  16. Onaliv

    Onaliv Member

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    Visited the Boone NC area this week to see the geographic areas involved in this case. I am now of the belief that the killer(s) could have easily made their way up to the Durham's home by foot (while parking their vehicle down on the 105 bypass road); they were probably inside the home waiting on the family to arrive and took them by surprise; cannot rule out involvement by other family members in my opinion and just as tacybear has opined, prior business dealings could be a plausible motive (pure speculation on my part) that would justify the savage nature of the killings (more than a family dispute alone); it is unbelievable that this case has not had more widespread media attention, and if it ever does, I believe it would be solved.
     
  17. asheonce

    asheonce New Member

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    TacyBear,

    Thanks for the great post. A lot of your info was new to me, and that might be the best online post I've seen related to this case.

    There is a good thread about this case over on the unexplained-mysteries forum. You should share your thoughts/opinion on there. Here is a link:

    http://www.unexplained-mysteries.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=262185&st=180

    Would like to know your opinion about the 4 men from Asheville that were arrested early in the case. Do you think that was just a desperate action made by law enforcement that was under pressure? Or were at least some of those 4 guys possibly involved in this crime?
     
  18. Onaliv

    Onaliv Member

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    Watauga Democrat Jan 31, 2015:
    Murders aren’t suppose to happen in small towns such as Boone, but 42 years ago this Tuesday, the community was shaken by a triple homicide that left people wondering for years if a killer was lurking among them.

    During the early stages of a fierce snowstorm on the evening of Feb. 3, 1972, a mother, father and their teenage son were brutally and systematically murdered in their home on Clyde Townsend Road on the west side of town, just off the N.C. 105 Bypass.

    Bryce Durham, 51, his wife, Virginia Durham, 46, and their son, Bobby Joe Durham, 19, were found with their heads draped into a bathtub full of water in their home.

    Medical examinations later determined the presence of rope burns around each victim’s neck.

    An autopsy revealed Virginia had died of strangulation and that her husband and son were strangled before being drowned in the running water of the tub.

    Investigators were immediately perplexed by the motive of the killings.

    Earlier published media reports stated the possibility of robbery as a motive, but a bank deposit of money was found lying on the floor.

    If it were a robbery gone badly, why did the killers ransack the house, but leave the bag full of money that would’ve been an easy score to cash in on.

    The case remains unsolved, but the murder case has never been forgotten by Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman.

    In 2006, several investigators from various agencies convened to review old crime scene photographs, and case files were reviewed with notations and an open discussion followed, Hagaman said.

    New ideas and strategies were then formulated.

    “There have, from day one, been persons of interest, but as in any homicide, developing persons of interest into suspects is often easier said than done,” Hagaman said. “I can say that we continue to have leads and are actively looking at and following up on these leads. I can also say that many of these leads have occurred within the past two years.”

    Former Sheriff Ward Carroll held jurisdiction of the case, along with lead SBI agent Charlie Whitman, but the green light was given for both the sheriff’s office and the Boone Police Department to work the case, Hagaman said.

    Whitman was unavailable for comment for this story.

    Personally, Hagaman said he’s been working the case since 1975 with the BPD.

    New and emerging technologies were used, too, on the aging case with few results.

    “We discussed with the SBI lab the potential of DNA with a specific piece of physical evidence,” Hagaman said. “It was determined that the piece of evidence had been exposed to elements that made DNA analysis very difficult. It should be noted that every year since the homicide that all fingerprints have been resubmitted for comparison. To date, there are latent prints that have yet to be identified.”

    The investigation is still active and ongoing, Hagaman said.

    A new home

    Natives of Wilkes County, the Durham family came to Boone from Mt. Airy in November 1969 after purchasing the local Buick dealership.

    “He kind of showed up here,” said former trial judge, Phil Ginn, of Bryce Durham. “No one knew much about him.”

    Ginn was a close friend of the couple’s son, Bobby Joe Durham, who he was suppose to meet at an Appalachian State University basketball game the night of the slayings.

    Although friendly, the family mostly kept to themselves.

    “It wasn’t like he gray-shaded himself to the community,” Ginn said of Bryce Durham. “I don’t mean it in a negative way, but when someone buys a business, they really get involved in the community. … They (the family) were a bit more reserved.”

    “In my personal opinion, first, the Durhams had not been in Watauga County for a long period of time to establish a larger network of folks who really knew them as neighbors and business contacts,” Hagaman said.

    It is unclear if the family had any prior business dealings in the High Country, but it was confirmed that Bryce Durham graduated with a degree in physical education from ASU in 1941.

    Friends of the family and state investigators don’t believe he was involved in any shady or drug related activity and their values were reflected in their son.

    “Bobby was a pretty quiet guy,” Ginn said. “He didn’t talk as much as some people do. He was a good-hearted fellow, and a straight-up kind of guy.”

    A call of distress

    While investigators, amateur sleuths and other residents might disagree on the motive of the crimes, little has changed on the essential facts of the case.

    On the night of the killings, Troy Hall, the son-in-law of the family, said he received a muffled phone call from Virginia claiming a number of African-American males were holding her husband and son in another room of their split-level home, according to earlier editions of the Watauga Democrat.

    At the time, Hall was married to Ginny, the daughter of Virginia and Bryce Durham.

    They lived in a trailer park near the current location of Walmart.

    Hall’s conversation with his mother-in-law quickly ended after that, Hall said.

    The wall phone was later found disconnected with the receiver lying on the floor.

    Initially, Hall thought it was a prank call, but he and Ginny decided to check on the family, despite the frigid conditions.

    Hall’s car was slow to start, so he enlisted the help of a neighbor, Cecil Small, who happened to be a private detective, to drive them to the Durham home.

    By the time the trio arrived at the home, the driveway and road had become iced over so Hall and Small decided to walk up the hill to the residence, while Ginny waited in the car.

    After the discovery of the bodies, Hall and Small went to a neighbor’s apartment to contact the BPD.

    John Tester, dispatcher on duty, said the call came in around 10:50 p.m. and that the caller seemed to be “mighty shook up.” Tester said he almost couldn’t decipher Hall’s frantic plea for help, according to published accounts.

    Shortly after 11 p.m., officers from multiple agencies dropped what they were doing and converged on the small residence on the blistering cold night.

    State investigators later remarked that the number of officers present could have altered the crime scene.

    A family caught off-guard

    A TV was still on when investigators arrived on the scene and three glasses of soft drink, along with some food, were discovered nearby.

    On the kitchen table was a partially eaten baked chicken.

    The family was likely enjoying a snack and a primetime movie or television show when they were surprised, authorities said.

    Officers were told that a green-and-white four-wheeled GMC Jimmy was seen leaving the residence shortly after 10:30 p.m.

    Two hours later, a N.C. Highway Patrol officer found the vehicle matching the description abandoned, but still running with the windshield wipers still in use a short distance away on Poplar Grove Road.

    Authorities say the vehicle came from Bryce Durham’s car dealership. He had reportedly decided to take the family home from the car lot in the rugged vehicle due to the severity of the approaching storm.

    While more valuable items were left behind in the house, silverware was found inside the still running vehicle.

    A top priority

    Rufus Edmisten, a Boone native, was working on Sen. Sam Ervin’s staff in Washington, D.C., during the Watergate scandal when he first heard about the murder that had shocked his hometown.

    “I never knew at that time that later on, I would have a significant part in that investigation,” Edmisten said.

    In 1974, Edmisten was appointed attorney general for North Carolina and he made the Durham case a top priority for the newly formed unsolved murder case division.

    “I was almost immediately contacted by the mother and father of Bryce Durham,” recalled Edmisten of his early days on the job. “That was the first of 40 to 50 contacts I had with them over the years.”

    Edmisten said he was immediately moved by the case, and from all the cases he assigned agents to, he wanted this one case solved the most.

    Maybe it was because the murder had hit so close to home. Maybe he just wanted to bring this family much needed closure.

    “Mr. and Mrs. Durham (Bryce’s parents) never got peace before they died,” Edmisten said. “They were extremely frustrated. I can still see the anguish in Mrs. Durham’s eyes. ‘Please … please … before I die, solve this murder.’”

    The brutal nature of the killings still haunts Edmisten.

    “To this day, I cannot understand who could have systematically done this, unless they had the help of like three or four other people,” said Edmisten, who said he was further mystified by how the perpetrators overpowered a strapping young testosterone laden male like Bobby Joe.

    Four white males were charged with the murder the following spring, but they were soon released after preliminary hearings, according to newspaper archives and investigators.

    Today, investigators have little to say about the men’s alleged involvement.

    Wild rumors

    Since the murders, theories about motives have come and fallen by the wayside as investigators searched out all possible angles.

    A popular theory of the time was the Durhams had met their demise because Bryce had revealed the ringleaders of a car dealership scam in Surry County that involved rolling back the miles on vehicles before selling them to unknowing customers.

    Edmisten said the theory didn’t check out because of a lack of evidence and the case was dropped.

    The military-style precision of the killings also caught Edmisten’s attention.

    Edmisten’s assigned agents even vetted a story about the Green Berets’ involvement in the murder. The soldiers were reportedly in the area performing a skiing demonstration at Appalachian Ski Mountain. Bryce Durham was allegedly seen at that same demonstration during a Rotary Club meeting.

    That, too, turned out to be a deadend.

    This type of military precision didn’t go unnoticed in Hagaman’s investigation either.

    “This, too, has been reviewed,” he said. “Understand that the Durhams were tied with their hands placed behind their back and were subsequently placed side by side, bent over at the waist in a tub with their heads submerged in water with cord around their necks. There were no gunshot wounds, nor cutting wounds.”

    Bryce Durham was seen as a very straight-laced type of individual, so his involvement in any criminal-like activity that might bring him unwanted attention seemed unlikely.

    “Mr. Durham was a car dealer, and as such, had many, many business transactions, both positive and negative,” said Hagaman. “However, there are no illegal transactions to date.”

    The possibility the murders were a professional hit was also thoroughly explored.

    “It has been discussed, however, any solid leads along that line of thought have not been established, or proven to date,” Hagaman said.

    Other factors make the investigation rather peculiar.

    “The fact that three individuals were killed at once together is rather unique,” Hagaman said. “This, coupled with a very limited information trail as to a possible motive, plus a horrible night, weatherwise, and the unusual length of time to commit the crime versus a quick ‘in and out,’ homicide. Finally, what was the motive for such a crime?”

    Shocked community

    When Bobby Joe failed to show up for dinner with friends before the aforementioned basketball game, Ginn didn’t think too much about it.

    He knew Bobby Joe still lived at home and concluded his friend likely chose against heading out in the middle of a snowstorm.

    He heard about the murders the following morning after his shift at the Boone Post Office.

    “It was a gut punch,” Ginn said, about when he heard the news of his friend’s demise. “No. 1, it was horrific, because Bobby was first and foremost my friend. Secondary to that, no one should die that young. And from a community standpoint, things like that aren’t supposed to happen in Boone. The community was in a state of shock for a while.”
     
  19. mrseeker

    mrseeker Former Member

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    Should we revive this thread not that FLEK has been solved? One of my cases I would like solved.
     
  20. Onaliv

    Onaliv Member

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    What is FLEK?
     
  21. Elementarywatsonsir

    Elementarywatsonsir New Member

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    If Bryce's TOD was 10:00pm, or even 15 min after that, can someone explain to me how the water would still be running on the tub when the SIL showed up and not be overflowing? It wasn't a huge tub. Also, why would Bryce have had ink on his fingertips?


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
     

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