At least one source told police that wealthy Florida couple Byrd and Melanie Billings were the targets of a contract killing before their brutal murder July 9, investigators told ABCNews.com today.
"Early on in this investigation we had an uncorroborated statement from this individual that it could have been a contract killing," said Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan. "We have pursued and continue to pursue [this possibility]."
Morgan declined to clarify the individual's relationship to the case, other than to say that the statement was made to police "during the course of the investigation" and would not say if corroborating evidence to support the statement had been found. The Billings were well known for having adopted and cared for 13 special needs children.
Morgan's comments came after CNN reported Friday that an unnamed source told CNN that at least one of the suspects, alleged ringleader Leonard Gonzalez Jr., knew the robbery was also an assassination.
In a press conference Friday night, Morgan told reporters that "this investigation will go where it goes."
While police continue to investigate the possibility of a contract killing, the sheriff's office is working with the state attorney to build a case against the eight individuals already charged in connection with the crime, seven of whom are charged with the Billings' murder.
"Everybody is concerned that nothing be done to jeopardize the existing case," Morgan said.
Police have repeatedly said that robbery was the prime motive for the deadly crime that was executed with "military precision." A single safe was taken from the home during the robbery and was later revealed to hold only some jewelry, children's medication and family documents.
"The one motive that we know, and is prosecutable... is that it was a home invasion, a robbery and a murder occurred. Those things are very definitive. When you get in the realm of 'was there an additional motive?' Therein lies the conundrum," Morgan said.
Nine of the Billings' children were in the home when their parents were killed.
Byrd Billings was a 66-year-old entrepreneur who dabbled in used cars and boats 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.
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," 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.