Covid May Have Killed Opportunity To Solve Officer Walter Stathers’ Murder In Florida
It’s been 55 years since two officers found Walter Stathers, a burly 43-year-old police officer in Coral Gables, Florida, face down in the grass next to his patrol car shortly after four in the morning, and just six days before Christmas.
When officers turned Stathers over, they found a bullet hole in the right side of his neck and a wound in his upper left forehead, according to the December 19, 1967 incident report issued by James Harley, one of the policemen at the scene.
Harley wrote: “His eyes went back to his head. “And there wasn’t any sign of life.”
Stathers’ service gun, a 38-caliber Colt Trooper pistol, was missing when colleagues found his body.
More than half a century later, the scarcity of solid leads as to who might have killed Stathers, possibly with his own gun, has drained the faith of the fallen officer’s son, Wayne, that the killing His father will be dealt with before he dies.
Every morning while doing his daily paperwork, the 73-year-old diving master stares at a picture of his father on his desk in Key Largo, where Wayne runs his scuba diving business. “It was always on my mind,” Wayne told The Daily Beast in a recent phone interview. “Over the years, I’ve given up and lost hope of finding out anything about who did it.”
As the decades passed, calls from cold case detectives with the Miami-Dade County Sheriff’s Homicide office, which had handled Stathers’ investigation since his murder, became more frequent. less often and almost non-existent, Wayne said.
“They’ll always tell me they haven’t forgotten,” Wayne said. “But it continues to be passed on to others whenever a lead detective retires. I haven’t heard from the cold case department for several years now. ”
The Daily Beast’s request to interview homicide investigators currently working on the Stathers case was denied. “This is a very active and open investigation,” said Miami-Dade Police spokesman Det. Alvaro Zabaleta, said in an email. “Based on that fact and our efforts to maintain the integrity of the case, homicide office personnel are unable to comment or provide any details about the investigation.”
However, Wayne had reason to feel dismayed. Deciphering the mystery of who shot Stathers was ruined by a murder weapon that was never recovered, lost evidence including potential DNA samples and the recent death of a person of interest, according to the report. Independent sources pursued the advice for years.
A former top Coral Gables cop and a private investigator have long suspected Robert Jackson, a 72-year-old who died on August 13, 2021, of involvement in the Statthers murders, but they Allegations that Miami-Dade homicide detectives have not brought him in for questioning since the murder investigation began. According to the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner, Jackson died of COVID, just 12 days before his birthday.
In 1968, a year after Stathers was killed, James Butler joined the Coral Gables Police Department, where he spent his entire career in law enforcement. He promoted, serving 10 years as assistant chief until his last promotion in 1993. Butler retired 4 years later, but the unsolved murder of Stathers still gnaws at him. because he believes Jackson is responsible.
“When dealing with a career criminal in poor health, you need to interview him before he crosses this earth,” Butler said. “It’s still an open case, but there’s a 99% chance that the person who just died did it.”
Visionary and Coral Gables native David Bolton, who has researched the Stathers case himself for more than 20 years, shares Butler’s conclusion. Bolton told The Daily Beast that Miami-Dade homicide investigators confirmed to him that Jackson was the prime suspect during a meeting three years ago.
“They told me it was all about Robert Jackson,” Bolton said. “So I gave them my profile on Jackson. It took me six months of calling and phoning them to get my records back. They told me they were working on it, but nothing happened.”
Ed Hudak, the current sheriff of Coral Gables, isn’t as confident as Butler and Bolton about their suspects. Jackson’s name has appeared several times over the years, he said, but that Miami-Dade homicide investigators have tested DNA recovered from Stathers’ body remains inconclusive. “That didn’t materialize,” Hudak said. “If something happens to Jackson, I’m sure they’ll tell me.”
Hudak said he’s eager to wrap up the murder of Stathers, but there’s been little new evidence in decades for county detectives to work with. “I am very disappointed that we still have an unsolved murder of an officer that happened long before I got here,” Hudak said. “It’s a case that I would love to see closed.”
Jackson lived a difficult life as a teenager, according to Miami-Dade court filings, a background check by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. and police reports. Between 1966, when he was 18, and in 2014, when he was 66, Jackson was arrested more than two dozen times for a variety of crimes. He had served time in prison for petty theft, merchandise theft, grand theft, battery and assault of a police officer. In the early 80s, he was accused of two murders. He was convicted of several felony counts, including robbery and multiple counts of cocaine possession.
On January 1, 1982, Jackson allegedly got into a fight with a man named Justin Moore, according to a Miami Police report. Jackson pulled out a gun and chased Moore, shooting the victim three times in the face and killing him. Jackson fled the scene, but a witness identified him as the shooter in a photograph, the report read. Jackson surrendered to homicide detectives a month later and was arrested for first-degree murder. State prosecutors declined to pursue the charges, the Miami-Dade court office showed. The case file was destroyed.
Records of the 1983 murder for which Jackson was accused were also destroyed. The court found that state prosecutors again did not proceed with the case against Jackson. Seven years later, he was arrested for attempted murder and using a gun to commit the crime. A man named Joseph Daly alleges Jackson shot him multiple times in the head and back, paralyzing him. The court found that prosecutors also refused to pursue these charges against Jackson.
Jackson was last arrested on September 9, 2014 for shoplifting and charged with petty theft, according to the Miami-Dade court. He was convicted and received six months of probation. Attempts to reach Jackson’s surviving relatives were unsuccessful. His wife, Linda Bellinger, and daughter Shadon Jackson both died in 2020.
The morning Stathers was killed, a woman named Bertha Dorquett, a domestic helper who called the police station about a man lying in his yard and who heard gunshots, told officers that she saw a black man standing in front of Stathers, 55 years old. -Fault reporting statuses. It appeared the black man was rummaging through Stathers’ pocket and then getting on a bicycle and heading south, Dorquett said.
Later that same day, officers recovered a girl’s bike without fenders as evidence and sent it to the sheriff’s crime lab for processing, according to a Coral Gables Police report. December 21, 1967. The following month, a teenager questioned by Coral Gables Police said Jackson, then 19 years old, occasionally used a bicycle without fenders and that he and other teenagers believed Jackson. killed Stathers, according to Coral Gables January 7, 1968 Police report.
Bolton claims that the bike was found outside Jackson’s apartment building and it was later lost after it was sent to a crime lab. “Nobody knows what the hell happened to the bike,” Bolton said. “No one knows where it is.”
Butler added that Statthers’ fingernail clippings that could today be used to collect DNA samples were placed in a refrigerator in the decommissioned and decommissioned property room. “All that DNA evidence was destroyed and lost.”
According to a July 18, 2001 video statement by former Miami Police detective John Haywood, one of his informants, gas station owner Frank “Bubba” Riley, called him. me the night after Stathers was murdered to tell him that Jackson came for his job. and showed him a .38-caliber revolver. “I didn’t give Bubba the serial number and he read out the numbers he saw,” Haywood said. “I got out of bed, went to my desk and worried and saw it was the same damn numbers.”
Haywood said Riley also took a lie detector test to prove he was telling the truth.
In 1982, while still a detective with the Coral Gables Police, Butler said he met Jackson and convinced him to take the polygraph test at police headquarters. Butler said: “But it is inconclusive. “The coroner was unable to get a straight answer from Jackson about what he knew about the Stathers murder.”
Two decades later, on July 26, 2002, Jackson agreed to take another lie detector test. This time, it was Bolton who asked Jackson to answer the questions. The examination was conducted by Miami-based forensic examiner George Slattery. In the interview, Jackson denied shooting Stathers, denied knowing anyone involved in the murder and denied knowing anything about the police death.
Jackson demonstrated “significant and consistent psychophysiological responses consistent with deception to relevant questions and answers,” the Slattery report reads. According to reports, when Jackson was counseled about apparent deception, he had no explanation for those reactions.
“As a result, we were unable to clarify this matter with Mr. Jackson and provide this information for your information,” Slattery wrote.
Butler told The Daily Beast that he and Bolton have collaborated in recent months to match their earlier work with actual case files at the Miami-Dade murder office. “The purpose was to find out if the county had ever interviewed Jackson,” Butler said. “I told one of the detectives that we have a number of independent leads that you may or may not have. I never received a response from him.”
Wayne, son of Stathers, told The Daily Beast that he knew investigators had been keeping an eye on a suspect for years, but did not know the name of the alleged perpetrator. “I just heard the name Jackson recently, probably from Jim Butler,” Wayne said. “I like to think if they have anything serious about [Jackson]they will bring him in. “
While he wants the door closed, he doesn’t expect a definitive answer as to who killed his father, Wayne said. “I’m sure all the officers who reviewed it also wanted to put it to rest,” he said. “It’s been so long since I really had no hope that something was going to happen.”
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