Murdered Fla. Couple's Daughter Will Care for 13 Siblings

The adult daughter of Byrd and Melanie Billings said she will move to the home where her parents were brutally murdered July 9 to take care of her 13 younger siblings, according to reports in the Pensacola News Journal.

Ashley Markham, 26, said that it was her mother's wish for her to care of the children. Markham also defended her parents whose lives and histories had come under national media attention following the murders.

"My dad is a very smart businessman. My dad worked from 6 in the morning to 8 at night Monday through Saturday," Markham said.

Byrd and Melanie Billings were killed in their Florida home on July 9, apparently for their safe, which contained only children's medication, family documents and some jewelry.

Byrd Billings was a 66-year-old entrepreneur who dabbled in used cars, boats and the adult industry before finally hitting it big. Melanie Billings was a 43-year-old country music lover who fed the homeless and was devoted to her MySpace page.

Together, they adopted 13 children with autism, Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities, and lived in a sprawling home west of Pensacola.

On Saturday, the Billings children returned to the family home for the first time since the murders.

Markham said "there were 20 family friends" at the house cleaning, which now has a security gate, new locks, new doors and new carpeting.

Police believe the murders were part of an elaborate robbery scheme to obtain the Billings' family safe, which contained only children's medication, family documents and some jewelry.

In a news conference late Friday, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan confirmed the contents of the safe and said that police found the microwave oven-size vault buried in the backyard of a home owned by wealthy Florida real estate Pamela Wiggins. The burial location of the safe was concealed by some bricks. Morgan declined to put a value in the safe's contents.

Police have repeatedly said that robbery was the prime motive for the deadly crime that was executed with "military precision."

In recent weeks, details have emerged about the lives of the Billings, who were buried Friday.

Interviews and court records obtained by The Associated Press also portray Byrd Billings as a former strip club owner-turned-used car dealer who was once sentenced to probation for an adoption scam. He frequently crossed paths with "shady characters," according to an ex-wife, but police have offered no evidence linking his past to the murders of Billings and his wife.

Known around Pensacola as "Bud," Byrd Billings spent his early years in Mississippi and Tennessee.

He owned a car dealership in Mississippi in the 1980s, and incorporated a boat company in 1976. The corporation was dissolved in the 1980s. In divorce records from the dissolution of his second marriage, in 1993, Billings reported having a net worth of just $1,400, including total cash assets of $100 and a net monthly income of $1,190. Four months after the divorce, Melanie became his third wife.

At the time of their death, they were living in a $700,000 home -- opulent by Pensacola standards -- and associates say they employed several people to care for the children. But how they got there from such a humble beginning to their marriage is unclear, the AP reported.

Byrd's background also includes a strange criminal case. In 1990, he and his second wife, Cindy Reeve, pleaded nolo contendere -- which means they did not admit guilt but agreed to a punishment -- to charges they doctored birth records and tried to obtain a newborn for $2,100. They both received two years probation, which was later amended to a year.

When reached by The Associated Press, Reeve said she wanted to be left alone and the adoption "got blowed out of proportion." However, she said Byrd "always dealt with shady characters."

At the time of their divorce, the documents show, Billings worked as a consultant for Back Seat Inc., a holding company for a topless bar, which opened in 1990 and no longer exists. Arety Kapatanis, owner of the Pensacola strip club Arety's Angels, said Billings turned her life around after hiring her there as a waitress.

"Bud Billings was a man of integrity. He was generous," Kapatanis said. "He ran his business in the most professional manner. It could have been a shoe store or a bakery. I mean, this type of business tends to get a really bad rap. People expect shady dealings and they expect all kind of things like that. There was never any of that with Bud."

Billings later opened a used car lot, which according to state business records was registered to Melanie and her daughter, Ashley Markham. The business runs on a worn-out slab, surrounded by pawn shops and bail bond companies.

During the funeral service, Ed Brock, Melanie Billings' brother, praised the couple's self-lessness and kindness exemplified by their adoption of 13 children with mental and physical disabilities.

"Their lives centered around children, their family and each other," said Brock. "They loved deeply and unconditionally. They embraced the complexity of raising children with special needs and they were their advocates. They gave these children a joyous childhood and a much needed voice."

Though seven men and one woman have been arrested and charged in connection to the murders, investigators are searching for "one more individual" who they believe was supposed to disable the Billings' sophisticated security system, Morgan told They have narrowed the list of persons of interest that "could have done what we're looking for" to three people, he said.

Pamela Wiggins' husband, Hugh Wiggins, first said that the stolen safe was hidden in the back yard of one of her homes, according to police reports.

Wiggins also owns the red van that was used to transport both the safe and the weapons used during the deadly crime, the report said. She was riding in the van while the guns were being transported following the robbery and "had knowledge" they had been used in the murders, one cooperating suspect said in the police report.

Discovering the Plot in the Billings' Murder

Thursday Morgan would not confirm or deny if Wiggins knew the suspects planned to use her van or home before the operation or had any involvement in hiding the safe.

Wiggins was a person of interest in the case after police found she was "associated" with one of the suspects up to the day of the murders. After police questioned her, Wiggins was charged with accessory after the fact of a felony murder and was released after she posted $10,000 bail. If convicted, she faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, state attorney Bill Eddins said.

Morgan, referring to Wiggins' release on $10,000 bail, said she is "absolutely" not a threat to society.

Wiggins, 47, was the eighth person arrested in the crime that shocked the nation because the couple had become well known for adopting children with special needs. She was found on her yacht, the Classy Lady, in Alabama on Wednesday. She also owns a dozen properties in three states and a Rolls Royce.

Several weapons were recovered Thursday, Eddins said, including the probable "murder weapon or weapons." It was not immediately clear from where investigators recovered the weapons. Police have enlisted the help of the federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to test the weapons for prints, DNA, blood splatters and ballistics, Morgan said.

Morgan speculated that murder may not have been the alleged robbers' original intention, likening the double murder to a drug deal gone bad.

"There was never any mayhem or murder in the intent there" until something went wrong, he said. "It's hard to say unless you're in the psyche of the criminal."

Morgan confirmed reports that the Drug Enforcement Agency was helping in the investigation, but he refused to spell out their role other than to say the DEA was investigating the suspects.

"Look at it from a broad perspective," DEA spokesman David Melenkevitz told For the sheriff's office to call in the DEA, "There has to be some drug connection somewhere."

Melenkevitz would not elaborate on the DEA's investigation.

Nine of the Billings' children were in the home when their parents were killed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.