Ova Budd Roe
On the afternoon of December 29, 1947, two young men, Glen Williams, and Alex Williams, (Newspaper accounts did not say if they were related), were traveling westbound toward Pensacola on the Gulf Coast Highway. They were traveling from Ft. Walton Beach to Pensacola. When they were about ten miles east of the Pensacola Bay bridge, they saw a body lying off the side of the road in, or near a borrow pit. One article stated that they left to find a phone, and another said they flagged down a passing motorist. Either way they summoned help.
The first lawman on the scene was Highway Patrolman M.K. Hackle, and soon after, Sheriff Marshall Hayes, Deputy Harvell Enfinger, and County Judge William Bonifay arrived. They called on Dr. Rufus Thames, and he determined the victim had been dead 3 to 4 hours. A teenager named Harold Lowery lived about 300 yards away and he told the investigators that he heard gunshots about one pm, but assumed someone was shooting game. They victim was identified by a bracelet he was wearing, and a tattoo. His name was Ova Budd Roe.
Some witnesses found later thought the victim was someone who was seen getting into a car with two other men the night before at a roadhouse back toward Pensacola.
Ova Roe, was a 22-year-old Army veteran who was from Middletown, Ohio. At the time of his death, he was hitchhiking from Denver, Colorado where he had been visiting his brother, to Miami, Florida where he wanted to celebrate the new year. His mother told authorities that he would ship a trunk to his destination, and carry a small case with him. Some reports claimed he was a deserter from the Army, but one claimed he had been a prisoner of war. His mother stated that he kept his discharge papers with him, or shipped them with his trunk.
Roe had been shot three times, twice in the head, and once in the abdomen. He also had a gash on his head. In a surprising newspaper article, it was published that through ballistic matching, the .32 caliber bullets that killed Roe were fired from the same gun used in two recent unsolved murders in Mississippi.
(I inquired if there were any records left in Santa Rosa County pertaining to the murder investigation, and were assured there were not. I then did a Freedom of Information request with the State, and was informed no records existed.)
The investigation continued for a while with no solid leads. A toxicologist from Alabama, Dr. Nelson E. Grubbs was brought in to assist, and later he published a newspaper article about four unsolved murders along the Gulf Coast and how they could be solved if only the public would cooperate with authorities. Dr. Grubbs investigated 40,000 cases in this long career with the state of Alabama, and there was even a May 1961 article in Reader’s Digest about him in a “Most Unforgettable Character” story.
The Mississippi Killings
At 4:45 in the morning of December 18, 1947, (eleven days before the Roe killing), the Billups Service Station on Highway 90 in Ocean Springs, Mississippi was robbed of $93. During the robbery, Mark Neal, Jr. was shot four times in the side and died at the scene. E.F. Smith, the station manager, lived in an apartment connected to the station with his wife. He said they heard 3, or 4 shots and a car speed off toward Pascagoula. The station had also been robbed on August 1, of $100. The Billups Petroleum Co. offered a $100 reward for capture and conviction of the robber.
Mark Neal, Jr. was only in his third week of working at the station. Before that he was a Merchant Seaman working for the War Shipping Administration. He registered for the draft in New Orleans on his 18th birthday in 1946, and it was from New Orleans that he arrived to work in Ocean Springs. His murder is still officially unsolved.
Robert Lee Ward, a wealthy rancher who lived in Agricola, Miss., near Lucedale, was found murdered in an abandoned pick-up truck three miles north of Pascagoula, on Bayou Cassotte rd. It is believed that he was killed in a home invasion and his body transported to where he was found. He was known to carry around $2000 at all times, and there was no money found on his body. There were suspects arrested who were eventually released, and the case was cold until 1966.
Roe, Neal, and Ward were the three murders supposedly connected by the same .32 caliber weapon, but I can’t find anything else other than a newspaper article, so it may not be true.
The 1966 developments in the case of R. L. Ward
In July 1966, J.L. Williams was arrested in Marion County, Mississippi for Public Drunkenness. When in jail, he asked to speak to Judge Sebe Dale. The Judge arrived and Williams confessed to the murder of robbery of Mr. Ward back in 1947. He told Judge Dale, “I just can’t get away from that fellow. That bugger has been running me ever since. He gets into bed with me, gets in the truck with me, gets on my shoulder. That’s why I stay drunk.” In his confession, Williams stated that he and two other men had gone to Ward’s home to rob him, and while he waited outside, the other two were fighting with Ward. Williams said he took a gun, went inside the house, and shot Mr. Ward twice. He was arrested for robbery, and murder. However, on August 25, Williams pleaded innocent to the charges and was sent to the state hospital in Whitfield for psychiatric evaluation to see if he could stand trial. During his confession to Judge Dale, Williams implicated a woman named Alice Ferrill of Biloxi. On July 12 the District Attorney announced he would be filing charges against Ferrill in connection to the Ward murder too.
The D.A. stated in the press that Williams, Ferrill, and another man who was since deceased, had been suspects back in 1948, and Ferrill had been questioned for 28 days. Eventually, all were released due to lack of evidence. No money from the robbery was ever recovered. On September 3, Ferrill pleaded innocent and was released on $5000 bond.
Williams eventually stood trial and he stated that he did not remember talking to Judge Dale, and that he did not willingly, or intentionally waive his right to a lawyer or his right to remain silent. Judge Darwin Maples agreed with him, and ruled his confession inadmissible. The District Attorney, Donald Cumbest appealed Judge Maples decision to the Mississippi Supreme Court, and Williams was released on bond in February, pending the court’s decision.
In April, Williams was again arrested for threatening the life of D.A. Cumbest. The arresting officer, Howard Ellzey said that on the ride to the Jackson Co., jail, Williams repeatedly threatened his life too. Judge Maples ruled that Williams was to be held without bond pending the outcome of the appeal on the murder case. On Sunday night, August 13, Williams escaped from the jail in Lucedale. He was captured the next day near the city limits and returned to jail. Williams sat in jail until March of 1968 when the Supreme Court upheld his acquittal in the Ward case. Alice Ferrill was to be tried after Williams, but since his confession implicating her was inadmissible, she was never brought to trial.
There was a third person arrested back in 1948 for Ward’s murder. Bruce Thompson, which may have been an alias, was reported to have died before Williams’ 1966 arrest. His role in the crime is not clear. In Williams statement, he claimed he was with two men who went into the house while he waited outside. In any case, Thompson was never prosecuted either.
Well, that’s about it. All these killings with no official conclusion. I would like to know what ballistic evidence, if any, actually connected three of the murders. I feel that Williams was involved in killing Mr. Ward. But, while he was drunkenly confessing, I think he would have spilled the beans about any other murder he was involved in. The gun “could” have been used in more than one crime, but there is little if any chance to determine that at this stage.