A murder case has many layers: the victim, the crime, and the investigation. To truly understand it, you need to dissect each piece of a tragic puzzle. Join Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi and Scott Weinberger every Wednesday for an insider’s perspective, as they reveal to you the Anatomy of Murder.
Wed, 28 Oct 2020 07:00
Two women: one dead and the other endured the unthinkable. This is a case that we lost sleep over.
If you're looking for a new show unlike anything you've ever heard before, check out audio Chuck's latest series killed. Each episode of killed covers a story that you may have never read because it was killed before it got published. I'm Justine Harman, who some of you may know from my show OC swingers, and I'm here to bring these dead stories back to life binge killed right now to get the full story. Hi everyone, Ashley Flowers here and I have exciting news to share. My debut novel, all good people here is officially out now. Our fans are blowing up our social talking about it. You do not want to be left out and the worst thing that could happen is for someone else to spoil it for you because there are some wild twists in this book. If you love true crime content, mysteries, and a grown up Nancy Drew style detective work then I have a good feeling you won't be able to put this book down. So what are you waiting for? Grab your copy of all good people here now, wherever books are sold. You know at that point as an investigator that you just it's like a punch in the gut. You know, you know. Probably what you're gonna find. That you hope and you pray for the family, that you can come back with some good news. Oh. You know, you go work everyday and say Lord. If we find this person helped this family have justice, let them have some closure somewhere. I'm Scott Weinberger's, investigative journalist and former deputy sheriff. Glassie former New York City homicide prosecutor and host of Investigation Discovery's true conviction, and this is anatomy of murder. Really excited to talk to you guys about this case today, but the best way to set the story up is to help you picture where the case began, really, in Villanelle, Georgia, which is a a rural city with only 2000 residents. It's a city so small that it doesn't even have a school or a post office. Imagine that. And that's small. You're talking about how small it is, Scott. But yet it is one of the most terrifying cases that I myself have read about and I've seen as we know. A lot. And this is one that I will tell all of you. Not much makes me not sleep or keep thinking about something when I'm able to turn my brain off. I actually couldn't sleep the night that I first read about this. So on the morning of August 17th, 1989, Joe Gilbreth kissed his wife Nikia goodbye and headed for work around 6:00 o'clock in the morning. The Kia was a 23 year old petite blonde. She was five months pregnant with the couple's second child. It wasn't until 5:00 o'clock that day that Joe got home that anyone realized something was wrong. His wife, Nikia, was nowhere to be found. One of the first officers on scene was a major Pat Bedford. He led the investigation from day one. He was one of the original searching investigators who worked through the crime scene and I had an opportunity to talk to him about the details of this investigation. The wife was getting ready to go on a trip to Panama City, FL with her mom and brother, and Joe, the husband, got home. Notice the car gone? When he goes inside, he doesn't know anything unusual until he realizes that the baby is at the house and he doesn't find his wife. His reaction was not that she'd mentioned that she's going to the store and left the baby behind, but she says it's unusual. He gets the baby and he gets in his truck and they go driving around. He's looking for figures she's going to the store, so he doesn't even call right away. Investigators quickly found a neighbor that said that she had passed by the house around 7:30, which is about an hour and a half after Joe left. And that neighbor said that the kids car was already gone. So that baby had to have been alone from 7:30 in the morning until Joe returned back from work at 5:00 o'clock in the afternoon. That's a long time. It's a very long time. I mean, for any child to be left alone, let alone a 22 month old. I mean, that's one that is presumably walking. And we all know that they knock into things. They can get into trouble. And bad things happen. So my first thought is how lucky we are that the 22 month old was alone but still OK. Uniformed officers were going through the house looking for any sign of anything she may have left behind a note. Anything disturbed forced entry into the home. They really didn't notice anything except for one important clue, which seemed odd to them, and so I step into the house and begin to look around. And I realize there's a phone cord hanging out of the wall that's been ripped out of the wall. Of course you can see governances of it. It's snapped off and the wires are irregularly broken. The telephone to that particular one it was, is missing from the house. You know, when I first heard that detail, I assumed that the Court had just been ripped from the wall. I mean, as we know, intruders often do that so that someone can't call the police while they're still in there doing whatever it is that this intruder wants to do. But that wasn't the case at all. I mean, this phone cord was actually gone, and that's what made investigators quickly turned their heads to something's wrong here. He showed me the bedroom where where she was when he left and immediately started looking through the bedroom and find an entire drawer missing. There was just completely empty. The drawer was there, but Joe immediately knew that that was her underwear drawer. They said everything. That's all of her underwear and stuff like that. It's all gone when they realize that everything was missing. The first thing that investigators thought was, oh, she's about to leave on a trip, so she must have packed all her stuff to go. We checked behind her her luggage, which is supposed to be going to Panama City with her. Open that up and realize it's not in there so she has not packed it because obviously a phone call missing this child would have never been left behind and now all of her underwear and under clothing is missing from the house. But this point I'm going. We got a problem. What do you think, both from law enforcement and also your investigative journalist hat? What type of picture does this paint to you about the suspect, assuming there is going to be one in this case, the first thing that comes to my mind is there's enough evidence to know that she probably didn't leave under her own will and the fact that those undergarments are missing sexual predator abduction. Beyond the few things that we've talked about, the big one, her car is gone and these few things inside the home, there's no clue about what happened to her at all. Nothing. And for investigators, they really need to figure out a way to canvas the entire town, because you're talking about such a small town. Somebody had to have known something, and so was the next day, where a full search really went underway, teams not only from law enforcement, but the entire community. There are cars and people everywhere. People are actually on horses. These are people from the community. Her friends, her family, they had a TV, they had horses. These people were ready to search. I was absolutely blown away and impressed by all these people and this was very rural. Very wooded, a lot of terrain, lot of mountains, creeks. This is not going to be an easy area to search at all. And they did, but interestingly. The person who found the biggest clue. Was Nikki's mom Linda? The mother Blender bless her heart. She also was out. Searching? Looking. It's saying a old logging Rd. She was gonna walk up, but. That's where she located the car. And they call investigators over. She knows enough not to really go inside or to try to do much herself, and just picture the adrenaline that must have been pumping through the investigators and everyone's bodies as they walk up to that car and walk towards the trunk. We walked up. I was the first one up there, another detective with me as we're approaching up, or we're noticing more than one set of tire tracks. And we get up to the vehicle and course expecting to find her in it. Jordan in the passenger part of the vehicle. Trunk was shut and locked. The vehicle had been pulled into the wood. Backed the mother away. At that mine, I guess you're fully anticipating you're going to find your own the trunk. Even as many cases as you're working, many things you see is you're apprehensive, you're holding your breath. One since you're praying she's not in there. The other side of you saying she's probably in there, what are we gonna find? And just imagine in your mind the moments before they open that trunk. They're fearing the worst, hoping for the best. But then it opens. Nothing. Two other important things that are found where the car was. Number one, the front seat was all the way back. This was a petite. Woman who would require the seat to be really sort of closer to the wheel. But this seat was all the way back, giving investigators the clue that this car was driven by somebody else. And the second major clue was a second set of tire tracks that were found right next to the vehicle. Obviously been in this area. Had to have known the path between that logging road and the back of that house. Had to walk through the Woods, Cross a Creek during the darkness, and be waiting behind that house till Joe left the house that he's taking her out that back door. Driving back up to that logging Rd in her vehicle, which was parked right beside the back door, swapped her over into whatever vehicle he was driving, then left with her. And you know, those two days while they were looking, they have to hope for the best because you can't bet wrong here. While it doesn't look good for Nokia, we've all heard the stories that fortunately the person survived. They were found even in the worst of circumstances. Two days later. That wasn't to be the case. On Sunday, August 20th, 1989, a man who was pulled over is picking up cans in an area known for trash dumping. It was an illegal trash dump site. It was about 8 miles north of the town that she lived in. And as he's in there picking up his cans, he comes upon the lifeless body of a young woman. She's wearing a white T-shirt underwear. And maternity pants. It becomes absolutely clear that this is nikia couldn't. Basically idea from her looks due to the decomposition, but it was obviously a pregnant female or in the exact clothes in the jewelry. That was described by the family, so at that point you have no doubt who it is. You know, when they saw her body, it didn't look like this person, whoever it was, or people that tried to dump her, that they had tried to conceal her body at all. It didn't look like she'd been actually killed there, looked like she probably brought in, but she was actually dumped. I mean, this person left her like a piece of trash. The body to simply been tossed out of the vehicle. Falls down the embankment from the position of the hands and the feet and the body. There was a lot of trash because this is the is where people used to drive by and just clear out trash down the embankment. From the scene itself, there was no signs of a disturbance or struggle there. And it appeared she had simply been dumped there. During the examination of the body, they easily determined that she had been bound. But there was more. Yeah, me would find. Some disturbing evidence of how she died. Are found to be asphyxiation. There was paper toweling down her mouth into her throat, which ultimately led to her death and the death of the unborn child. So there is no question her last minutes were fight. That is one of those details that I find just so over the top in this case. And I picture just hearing that what her last moments must have been like. I mean, someone is literally shoving paper towels down her throat to the point that she can't breathe. And I will never, ever be able to wrap my head around this type of evil as one of the type of evils that certain people are capable of. I I just. It's beyond my comprehension. And just remember, she wasn't only fighting for herself, she was fighting for her unborn child. That's horrific. As soon as they found her and they realized what happened, they went through the database of sexual predators. I mean, that seemed to be obvious at this point that that was a likely source of whoever did this, but they focused in on one person, the person who they knew had a sexual predator history, if you will, and that was a man by the name of Gary Wayne Alexander. Alexander was a construction worker who was on the job on the day that Nikia was missing. Turns out that that job was really a short distance from the Gilbreth home is known to fit a profile at that time of what you might expect to see. You know, sexual predators usually have their thing. You know, maybe they hate women and so they rape them. They have a sick thing for children, so they focus on them, but they don't really crossover, certainly in my experience, but also in speaking to people who have dealt with it much more than I have over the years. It's building a stature. Didn't seem to fit his demeanor. Didn't seem to fade. He was very cooperative. Very willing to talk. Very willing to allow a search of his residents of his vehicles. Bedford's team did go and search Gary Wayne Alexander's truck. And they noticed. Blood. Now they have this blood, this blood and Gary Wayne Alexander's truck. So they want to know, I mean, is that nikiya's blood? And they asked him about it. We do the entire routine with him, with the interviews. They explained it, though, that it was from a snake that he had killed earlier that day and was actually there was a show as a snake. And of course, we took the samples and sent it off to the crime lab and confirmed it. So they really kind of moved on from there. I mean, he was still out there in the hemisphere of, you know, maybe, but the pieces just weren't fitting, so now they really had to figure out. Who was it that did this? Because that person was still out there? You probably would never discount him until someone's caught. That's just the way. That's your DNA. From what I know of you, you can't. And while there's nothing seeming to fit, crazier things have happened that while it didn't seem to be him. Great. Well, maybe it was snake blood, but maybe it was still him. They found Nikia, but now it's a race against time for the rest of the community because whoever this was, you don't want them to strike again. It's a very small area. Not a lot of people live there, but they all know each other, a lot of family and relatives. But the case, you know, and we say this all the time when a little cold. As an officer and then as a detective in the lead detective. You can't let this one get by. You have got to find. Who did this for the family? They need to at least feel like. The bad guy was taken down thing. At least I've got satisfaction since they can't have their family member back. And there's the investigator. I mean, you you don't want to let them down. No leads, no other information until something strange, and I mean strange happens. Four months later. And came back to my office and had a note to one of the other detectives that had left on my desk. I called the detective right away. He just happened to be at the GBI headquarters. That's where they do polygraphs on a totally unrelated issue. And he overheard the agents talking about Jamie Ray Ward and this rape that happened and but the person was abducted and taken to a vacant house up in Gordon County and he began talking to him. And then. And he said they would be pretty much coincidence or something we need to check into further. Now, we're not going to give you her name. She's a sexual assault survivor, and to protect her identity, we're going to use a different name. We'll use the name Sheila, just so at least you know who we're talking about. At what point? Now, we're about to play audio portions of a tape we acquired while researching this case. It's Sheila's interview with investigators. And remember, we're calling her Sheila because we're protecting her identity. We're also altering the voices on the tape. With the Walker County Sheriff's Department. I'm Jonah bass. I'm investigator for the DA's office in Lafayette. First of all, there's a few things that I want to ask you done about. Start from the time you went to bed until this thing got over with before midnight. Guess about maybe 10103011 in that time range. OK and you were sound asleep. When he woke me up, yes. I was listening to this one night and I actually had to turn it off and not turn it back on till the next morning. Because it sent such a chill down my spine. Again, I have seen a lot over the years. You know, my friends talk about that. You know, over lunch they'll have to tell me to put crime scene pictures away, that I I don't even see them. I'm so used to this work, but it is every woman, every person's worst nightmare to be taken out of their home and subjected to what this woman went through. Schiller is sleeping in her home in the middle of the night. Her nine year old daughter is in another room. The attacker comes in, sneaks into her bedroom. And abducts her at knife point. And told her that they're leaving. Hand over mouth, knock on my throat. A big figure, like black figure with bad breath saying don't move. I mean, yeah, I mean just totally just scared because it was a sudden awakening and I thought I'd walk. And then he picked me up over his back over shoulder. I remember it was uncomfortable because I was real sore right here from being over. His shoulder was uncomfortable and then I had rooms in the back of my legs, was holding my legs. She's thinking about her daughter, her nine year old who is still in the home, and this person said to her, you know, I'm not alone. I'm taking you out of here, but I'm leaving someone here who is going to be staying here and watching your daughter. And if you don't do what I say, it's not going to be just you, it's going to be her as they're walking out of the house, as he's forcing her at knife point out of her own home. The attacker notices a very small Christmas tree. In the living room, and even says to her, according to the victim, that's a really small tree. You need to get a bigger one. What a weird, weird thing to say to somebody that you just broke into their home, abducted them at knifepoint, and were forced in the amount of the home. So she went along with every demeaning, demoralizing, horrific act that's meant asked her to model lingerie and she played along and she played him like a fiddle. And that, to me, is really incredible. Treat him like a friend or something, or just talk to him like a regular person. As I watched quote UN quote, Sheila talked to investigators about the nightmare that she endured at the hands of this man. I mean, she was really matter of fact about it and she just talked and she gave him the facts, you know, no matter how graphic they were. And that to me said a lot because that is the person who was able to wrap her head around what was happening. And while it is literally everyone's worst nightmare, say, OK, what is my plan? I am going to do exactly what this man says because I can't get away from him. He's huge, he has a knife, he says. There's someone watching my daughter and I'm going to try to beat him at his own game, if you will. And that is a very special type of person. Because while we all might think that we would want to do the same or could do the same, I don't know that many of us really could, that we could really pull it off the way that she did. But still doing the whole time, but it's still not feel like I would come out of it alive. I mean after repeated attacks, this courageous victim convinced her attacker. To drive her home. And that's exactly what happened here. What a survivor. It's just incredible. She was so good at playing along that when he talked about the life they were going to have together and they would move to a little house and her daughter could play Nintendo and all these things that he thought were going to be the draw. And she just said, Yep, that sounds great. That sounds great. That sounds great. He's so bought in to what she was saying that he brought her home and said he couldn't wait to see her again. I mean, that is something, again, they write movies about it because it's not really real, but it was real here. And days later, after the victim was dropped back at her house, this happened. This very large male had dropped off a Christmas tree outside of that residence. Her father actually seen this happening. The Rome and Gordon County Sheriff's Office was able to hone in on a suspect and identify Jamie Ray Ward. So investigators are really trying to determine if these two cases are actually connected. We know that Sheila had told investigators that she was forced to model lingerie, and we also know that lingerie was missing from Nokia's home. So while that on the surface sounds like a pretty good connection, it doesn't necessarily mean definitively that there is. When investigators brought Jamie Ray Ward in for questioning, he agreed to take a polygraph. And as it turns out. He passed. I think you and I are probably thinking the same thing as that polygraphs. They are not admissible in court, but yet they're a tool. So when you hear that, knowing everything else that you know, does it sway you as to whether it's him or not? Absolutely not. It really depends on how good the polygraph test is and the line of questioning that's used in the polygraph because most of these tests are really based on the fear of taking them the subject. Being nervous or feeling that they really can't lie because it's so well detected that unless you ask them the right questions in the right order. Some people can pass them, and that may be the case with Jamie reward. And also, you know, the polygrapher here really did a cardinal. No, no. That actually mix 2. Topics into the same interview and not limited the scope they interview to the just the crime they committed. They actually used two different crimes, two different victims in the same set of polygraph questions. Which we're supposed to know polygraphs of. That is inappropriate and it's something you don't do. Polygraphs, for people that buy into them at all, it's really specific. You ask only a few questions about one transaction, one crime at a time, and here they asked about two, and right there they know that when you ask about too much, it gives more wiggle room. It could very well account for the fact that he passed that polygraph. So although we passed the polygraph, you know, everything said that this was their guy and so now Bedford wanted a chance to speak with them. However, he was already in there for a crime that they had him connected to, which was sheilas, and so people had already been speaking to him. Went down to the jail to talk to Jamie. Reward. When they brought him in, he towered over me. Very large guy. But I found out they had questioned him, but I no longer have any element of surprise. I absolutely have no cards I can hold. Investigators that had never worked Nokia's case, that just had heard about it, cause it's obviously a big deal down there. They had tried to talk to him and get information before the actual case investigator had even arrived. Big opportunity missed and it's unfortunate and it happens. And I think investigators sometimes get ahead of themselves, especially when it's two different departments working. If you go in and someone has a preconceived answer knowing that you're going to be talking about this other murder, knowing the seriousness of that crime, knowing the difference between a rape charge and a murder charge, I think it gave the defendant the upper hand in that portion of the investigation. He already knows why I'm there. And I didn't even told him when he said I already told him I didn't have anything to do with that Walker County girl. For those of you out there, like, what does it matter who it is that's talking to him if he's willing to talk about these different cases? And it absolutely does matter. And here's why. You know, the law enforcement investigators have been working on a particular case. They are the ones that know, hopefully every intimate detail. They know what they're looking for, what's happened in this case. And so they have the idea of how to approach it, and they're going to know things right off the bat. If they're kind of shading the truth, if they're giving it to them, you know which way they're going to go. And because they have all those facts of the case that they're disposal, they might be able to work that investigation. That questioning session, much better, where if you just have someone who doesn't know the case go and kind of cold, they just know there's a murder and asking questions. The person on the other side of the table, you know the suspect, they sense that. And that's exactly what happened here. Let me take it one step further and Sega, because I think this is really your wheelhouse. You're also creating an incredible amount of space for a defense attorney if it comes to that later on down the road because you're being questioned by multiple investigators and for the defendant. They could be confused. They could be talking about one investigation while being asked about another investigation. And so do you see that as a serious issue later down the road when someone's being questioned, not the defendant being questioned, but investigators being questioned about what information they were able to obtain from a suspect. You have someone going in and just kind of. Going at everything, these multiple cases and when they're taking their notes and trying to document what this person said about what, there's a lot of pitfalls in this method, if you will. Super frustrating for Bedford and his team and I would imagine the family of Nikia really wanted to know was there a resolution? After speaking with the detective that Gordon County after meeting briefly with Jamie Ray Ward, we drove over to the residence and I wanted to take a look at Jamie Ray Ward. Residents wanted to take a look at the layout because there was just way too much coincidence between what she described in her attack. And what we felt happened when the Kia Gilbreath. They asked if they could come in. They said who they were. And his wife said fine, and she let them in. And what they walked into in that house, I mean, it was filthy. There was no running water. There wasn't electricity, except in the parents bedroom. You know, there was kids in this home and they said there was literally used condoms strewn on the floor, various pieces of lingerie. I mean, the house was completely filthy. There were. Numerous box fulls of women's lingerie and underwear. There were notes on hundreds of women, almost like a catalog. Where there were tag numbers and descriptions of women's notes about the women, how they looked. There were numerous drivers licenses that have been recovered of females from different areas and. This guy is a real predator. He is stalking women to the point where there's hundreds of notes. I just one or two, but hundreds. And I say there's no on a receipt pad. Laying on top of what would be a dresser. And I just get chills. At this point, I realize that this is our guy. Maybe more evil than what we're thinking. I'm looking at this node and I'm not believing. What I'm saying after all these times I. And saying the exact directions to the Gilbert house. And written on this receipt. Actually have a copy of that note, and it was a very small sort of receipt pad. It also gave specific descriptions. Sandy brown Hair, 20s with a question mark. Baby one year old, she don't work. And the last thing it said on that pad was fine looking. I mean, we're talking four months later and it is sitting out in the open. So at that point, they knew exactly what to do. They backed out of that house. They made sure no one could go through there. They went out and they got an actual search warrant to go back into that house to make sure that they could use anything else that they found. And also found a quilt that matched the quilt that was described as missing from Miss Gilbert's house. This guy was a trophy keeper, you know, you hear about that. You see it when you watch some of the horror films about serial killers. I mean, this guy was the real deal. I mean, he kept the quilt. That he, I don't know. Maybe he wrapped her in it after he tied her up and took her out of the house, but he kept it in his home with his wife and his kids. It's a. You mean sick doesn't describe, but it tells you exactly the mentality of this guy. You know, amongst that stuff. He kept these prized possessions around him, you know, so that he could see them and Mull over them, reliving the horrible acts he committed on these women over the years. A number of things we found during that first war. We started finding newspaper clippings over the Nikia Gilbreath case located telephone cord identical to the color. And the length that was missing from the Gilbert House. We found a part of a bathing suit. The other part of that bathing suit? Was at Linda Packer, which is the kids mom. It was at her residence. She had bought that for her. I knew what we had immediately this is our guy. But, you know, there's one of these facts in this that's just, I found it really hard to hear is that amongst the different items, you know, at some point they're bringing all these in, you know, after he's charged and the baby who had been only 22 months old is still there, and she's being held by someone in her family and they walked by with a box of the evidence. On the heartbreaking. That that occurred lighter, we got these bags of evidence that we're carrying into the crime lab and we're going to have the family try to identify some of the items, see if any of them look familiar. And Amber was there. They're here in Amber and have the little baby. She saw a little baby blanket. And I just absolutely went, Simon. She reached out toward that blanket. My blanket. So now in the prosecution of this case, because we've got like some super solid evidence here, right, connecting to our first case here, which is nikia. They went for murder one. But you know, one of the things I'm like, great, this is a circumstantial case and I love circumstantial cases. They happen to be my favorite type of cases because once the piece is fed, I don't think there is any way to get away from them, hopefully. But the big question that I had when I started to look at was like, OK, but how did Jamie Ray Ward, how did he know Nikia? And that's an investigators wanted to know too. They went back and looked at his history and basically where he worked, and it turns out that at one time he had installed a well. At the Gilbreth home, in fact, months later after the installation, Linda Nikiya's mom would tell investigators that she was told by Nikia that a man showed up, knocked on the door, and tried to gain entry to the house to check on the well, which clearly wasn't located inside the house. She wouldn't let him in, and it was investigators belief that that person was Jamie Ray Ward. And this is one of those little facts. Here in like the nerd in me just loves because I look at the date of that. You know, that water well was drilled on the Gilbert property in July of 1988. She wasn't killed until a little more than a year later. It was August of 1989, which means that for a year, this guy had her on his radar. Jury didn't have a very difficult time wrestling with this decision. Within just a few short hours, he was convicted of first degree murder. In a trial in 1991, he was sentenced to death. Now, later on 2010, that sentence of death was reversed. In April 2018, there was a new trial as to the sentencing, and that sentence of death was changed to life without the possibility of parole. Pat Bedford talks about. This case. And talks about. The other victim, also, the one that we're calling Sheila, the incredible bravery that she had displayed, survival skill that I had never seen described first hand like that. And the fact that because you made it through that we weren't able to save a life. Get the suspect who did this, and my belief they probably the lives of many more females. So as we end this, I want to really focus on 2 main points. The first main point of these were both victims were mothers. The woman we call Sheila waiting and trying to get home to her nine year old daughter Nikkia, having to leave her 22 month old baby behind. And also remember she was pregnant when she was murdered. The baby was murdered too. There's a connection between these two mothers. That are meaningful in my thoughts of this case. So while the results are horrible, they both did it for the most genuine purpose in the world. To try and save their children. Unfortunately one did it. And one lost her life in the process. TuneIn next Wednesday, when we'll dissect another new case on anatomy of murder. Anatomy of Murder is an audio Chuck original, A Weinberger media and forseti media production summit. David is executive producer.