Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Jr. is considered the “organizer” in the murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings in Beulah, Florida on July 9th. Seven persons have been arrested in those murders, including Gonzalez, Jr. who is being held without bond. A person of interest, Pamela Laverne Long was named by the Sheriff’s Department today. See 8-10-09 below.
Gonzalez, Jr’s father, Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Sr. is also under arrest. Apparently, Gonzalez, Sr. “confessed” and told of his son’s part in the murders. Gonzalez, Jr. says he did not commit the crimes and that his father’s confession should not be considered because the father is not mentally healthy:
With the exception of the statements that have been made, coerced, bullied or manipulated out of a mentally ill person, there is no hard evidence that links me to the scene of the crimes that occurred July 9,” said Gonzalez Jr., whom investigators have called the slayings’ “organizer.”
Gonzalez, Jr. is being held without bail on two open counts of murder. He asked to be released on his own recognizance and he wants to clear his good name, according to this pnj.com report.
With a criminal history that includes seven arrests and a stint in state prison, Escambia County Judge Thomas Johnson revoked Gonzalez Jr’s. $1 million bond and ordered him held in jail without bond.
Reports about Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Jr., 35, are mixed. Some residents in the area say they are shocked. He and his wife, Tabatha, taught self-defense to children and women in the area.
Others, said to be former landlords and a neighbor, describe him as a “pistol-waving nutcase” who was always “late with the rent.”
Neighbor Damon O’Donnell said Gonzalez pointed a gun at him in anger shortly after moving in following Hurricane Ivan. The incident happened when Gonzalez came home one afternoon and found hurricane debris at the curb, he said.
He just went off. He went and grabbed a pistol and came over and started threatening me, saying that I’d better get my … stuff out of his yard,” said O’Donnell, a former Marine sharpshooter. “He ranted and raved and stormed up and down the street. He didn’t fire. I just figured he was a nutcase.”
One day he’d be your best friend, and the next day he’d be wanting to shoot at you,” said O’Donnell, who has lived on the street for 15 years. “One time, he was out here with all of his kids in the woods (behind the house). I asked him what was going on. He said, ‘We just watched “Red Dawn,” and we’re staging commando raids, in case we ever have to do commando raids.’ ”
Gonzalez, Jr. and his family no longer live in the house next door to Mr. O’Donnell. Landlords Larry and Jo Ann Gers rented to Gonzalez, Jr. and the Gers now live in that house. After Hurricane Ivan, the Gers said:
We heard a church on the radio that was advertising families that desperately needed to rent,” Jo Ann Gers said. “They said this family had five children and needed a place, so we rented it to them. They lied from the beginning.
The Gerses now believe Gonzalez lied about having had a home destroyed by Ivan, about where he worked and about what he did for a living. He also failed to tell them about having a criminal record.
Jo Ann Gers said Gonzalez, Jr. sublet a storage shed on the back of the property without permission. She said the family was “all using the bathroom in the woods.” When the rental agreement expired, the Gers had to get the assistance of the County Sheriff’s office to move the family off of the property. There was about $3,000.00 in damage left behind.
While Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Jr. is considered the “instigator” and “organizer” of the Billings murders, The Pensacola News Journal says that “Gonzales enjoyed a positive public reputation.”
His nonprofit Project FIGHTBACK taught thousands of children martial arts self-defense, garnering him praise and accolades from many corners of the community.
Update 7-15-09 4:20 p.m. CDT:
Gonzalez, Jr. says he is “socially prominent” and won the Seville Sertoma Club’s Service to Mankind Award.
Update 7-16-09 10:20 a.m. CDT:
Eight persons are now under arrest in connection with the murders. The latest is Pamela Laverne Long Wiggins.
Update 7-16-09 11:19 a.m. CDT:
From press conference:
The safe has been found and is being processed.
Sheriff Morgan says that there are other “people of interest” being investigated that be of substance…or not, to the Billings murders. Mr. and Mrs. Billings, to the “best of” Sheriff Morgan’s “knowledge” are not being investigated by the DEA (evidently rumors are swirling about this), although the DEA is involved with someone or some thing connected to the murders.
Authorities say that they still believe some one other than those now in custody is being sought in connection with the Billings’ security system.
State Attorney Eddins says guns have been found and they believe they have the murder weapon(s).
The Sheriff believes that additional motives will be found, other than just robbery.
Byrd Billings Human Trafficking?
A suspect in the Byrd and Melanie Billings murders has reportedly told police that Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Jr. was the sole shooter in the killings. It appears from that report that it may have been 19-year-old Frederick Thornton who gave the police the information, but it is not entirely clear that the report came from Thornton. Thornton told police that after the murders all the suspects met up at the Magnolia Antique Mall, owned by “Pam” (Pamela Wiggins). Thornton said the safe taken from the Billings home was driven in the get-away van to Wiggins’ red minivan.
Wayne Coldiron, also under arrest for the murders named “Pam” as the driver of a maroon minivan.
Frederick Thornton and Gary Sumner, also under arrest, then got into Sumner’s blue SUV and drove to Wiggins’ antique mall for the meeting.
Another arrest has been with possible links to the Billings’ murders. Henry Cab Tice owned Byrd Billings $10,000 and Billings had filed a complaint against Tice in May 2008 for grand theft.
See Henry Cab Tice is Byrd Billings Arrested Debtor: Tice Billings Mexican Mafia?
Reports today say that authorities suspect that Gonzalez, Jr. planned a contract hit on the Billings but the other also charged with the murders may have believed it to be only a home invasion robbery.
Unnamed sources outside of authorities are reporting that a second safe was found in the house, which the murders were unable to access, containing $100,000.00.
Related and Background: