July 17, 2009 — -- Byrd and Melanie Billings were brutally murdered in their Florida home on July 9 apparently for their 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 sized 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."
Meanwhile, details emerged about the lives of the Billings, who were buried Friday. He was a 66-year-old entrepreneur who dabbled in used cars, boats and the adult industry before finally hitting it big. She 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 Syndromeand other developmental disabilities and lived in a sprawling homewest 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 crossedpaths with "shady characters," according to an ex-wife, butpolice have offered no evidence linking his past to the murders ofBillings 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, andincorporated a boat company in 1976. The corporation was dissolvedin 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 thirdwife.
At the time of their death, they were living in a $700,000 home- opulent by Pensacola standards - and associates say they employedseveral people to care for the children. But how they got therefrom such a humble beginning to their marriage is unclear, the AP reported.
Byrd's background also includes a strange criminal case. In1990, 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 anewborn for $2,100. They both received two years probation whichwas later amended to a year.
When reached by The Associated Press, Reeve said she wanted tobe 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, Billingsworked as a consultant for Back Seat Inc., a holding company for atopless bar, which opened in 1990 and no longer exists. AretyKapatanis, owner of the Pensacola strip club Arety's Angels, saidBillings turned her life around after hiring her there as awaitress.
"Bud Billings was a man of integrity. He was generous,"Kapatanis said. "He ran his business in the most professionalmanner. It could have been a shoe store or a bakery. I mean, thistype of business tends to get a really bad rap. People expect shadydealings and they expect all kind of things like that. There wasnever any of that with Bud."
Billings later opened a used car lot, which according to statebusiness records was registered to Melanie and her daughter, AshleyMarkham. The business runs on a worn-out slab, surrounded by pawnshops 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 ABCNews.com. 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.