Two sources close to the investigation of the murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings, the parents of 17 killed in their house on Florida’s Panhandle during a chilling break-in straight out of In Cold Blood, tell The Daily Beast that authorities are focusing on whether a new suspect may have paid for the double homicide.
Sources say authorities are focusing on whether Henry Cabell “Cab” Tice financed the murders. Patrick Gonzalez, Jr., the man identified by police as the leader of home invasion/murder, once worked for a used car dealership owned by Tice. Eight people have already been arrested in connection with the murders, including Gonzalez.
On Tuesday, The Daily Beast reported exclusively that one of the suspects in custody has informed authorities that Gonzalez was paid to kill the Billings'. The suspect said that the contract price was between $20,000 and $50,000, according to the sources—who requested anonymity, fearing possible reprisals—along with whatever Gonzalez and his alleged accomplices could remove from the Billings residence.
This focus indicates a shift in the suspected motive for the crime. Police originally suspected robbery, given that two teams of intruders, some dressed in ninja outfits, broke into the house from two different doors, while nine of the children slept, and removed a safe. But the potential Tice tie-in indicates the real explanation could be rooted in a deal gone bad.
According to Crystal Spencer, the attorney for the Billings children, there was a business relationship between the Billingses and Tices. “I spoke with Ashley,” says Spencer, “and this is what we know: Markham Auto Sales financed the floor plans of Henry Cabell Tice’s auto dealership. Worldco Financial Services financed the purchases of Tice’s customers.” Both Markham and Worldco were affiliated with Byrd “Bud” and Melanie Billings.
According to state records, there are also two business transactions between the Melanie Billings and her daughter, Ashley, and Deborah Tice, the former wife of Cab Tice: One involves a sale for a business called Honduras Woods Inc.; another one involves a firm called Bueno-Bonito-Barato Auto Sales. The Daily Beast checked with a couple of local car dealers, and Cab Tice is a well-known used-car dealer and wholesaler.
The Billings’ wealth—which provided for the large, secluded home in rural Beulah, Florida, where they could afford to house their children, including the dozen, many with special needs, that they adopted—stemmed from colorful sources. The Daily Beast has confirmed that Bud Billings owned a strip club during the 1990s, The Backseat Lounge, which is located on the seedy side of west Pensacola. “Everything I know about running a strip club, I learned from Bud,” says Arety Kapetanis, a former employee who now runs her own strip club.
Moreover, there is some indication that the Billings had still broader business interests and did more that simple auto loans. The Daily Beast also found in the county clerk records an admiralty lien by Bud Billings for $10 million in silver coins. Admiralty liens take precedence over all liens on property. The document gave Billings claim to all personal property, bank accounts, and future earnings of the debtor.
A spokesman for the county sheriff’s office, which has been spearheading the investigation, would nether confirm nor deny whether Cab Tice was a person of interest in the Billings murders.
Rick Outzen is publisher and editor of Independent News, the alternative newsweekly for Northwest Florida.