By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
When the trial of Eddie Jack Washington begins today at the Marion County Courthouse, a mystery that’s been plaguing Fairmont for almost 40 years could finally be solved.
Who committed the 1974 Windmill Park murders?
Washington, now 60, was arrested Feb. 8 in Tampa, Fla., for his alleged role in the triple homicide.
On Aug. 2, 1974, the slain bodies of Wanda June, 19, and Guy Lester Phillips, 20, and Billy Ray Cobb, 27, were found lying face up, lined in a row one by one by one, in the early morning dew on the grounds of Windmill Park. Each had been shot multiple times in the head at close range.
Although law enforcement had suspects and theories in mind, the case remained open, but never forgotten or closed, for almost 39 years. Police would reopen the case periodically. Persons of interest would be re-interviewed, notes gone over again, names and theories rehashed. As the years passed, the witness list dwindled and memories faded. Some key locations in the case were gone. Still, law enforcement never gave up.
Washington’s arrest almost 10 months ago was the result of coordinated work among several law enforcement agencies.
Washington, then 59, was arrested without incident at a Tampa, Fla., grocery store by the U.S. Marshals Service, Florida Regional Fugitive Task Force, Tampa Office.
“We’ve been looking at the case for the past four months,” Fairmont police chief Kelley Moran told the Times West Virginian that day from Florida.
Fairmont police had issued an arrest warrant for Washington the day before, working with West Virginia State Police, U.S. Marshals from West Virginia, and law enforcement from Chapel Hill and Carrboro, N.C.
“Although there is still more investigative work to be done, the successful outcome of this decades-long investigation was only possible through the hard work and dedication of many investigators, Marion County Prosecutor’s Office and law enforcement agencies,” Moran said in a press release. “We never forget about unsolved murder cases and continuously seek out new technology and new leads to help us solve them.”
Since that early August morning more than 39 years ago, Washington was and always has been the “main suspect” of former police chief Ed DeVito.
One of the first on scene that morning, DeVito photographed the three bodies.
“I found three people lying in an old soccer field at Windmill Park. At first they appeared to be sleeping. There was no evidence of a fight. No torn clothes. They were just lying there,” he explained. “But no. They had been shot repeatedly, all three of them. There (were) a total of nine shots in the bodies.
“Things came out of our investigation that pointed at Washington. He was our main suspect.”
For the past three years, Washington had lived at 2409 E. 17th Ave., Apt. B, Tampa, according to a friend who rented him a room. Washington had worked for a variety of local waste management companies over the years and lately as a night janitor at a Tampa day care center. Working after hours, he was never around the children. He was described as a “devoted church member and a regular at Bible study.” People called him “Mr. Ed.”
While friends there never knew Washington to get in trouble with the law, he was convicted of a cocaine possession charge in 2004, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records, and served prison time.
Meanwhile, Marion County law enforcement said information had developed identifying Washington as the alleged shooter in the 1974 crime and a warrant was issued for his arrest by the Fairmont Police Department.
Around 11:30 a.m. Feb. 8, Washington was followed via mobile surveillance from his residence to the Friendly Meat & Grocery at 1910 N. 34th St., Tampa. He was taken into custody without incident and transported to the Tampa Police Department for further questioning by homicide detectives.
The Alabama native waived his right to extradition in an initial appearance before a magistrate in Hillsborough County (Fla.) Circuit Court that morning.
“The case has been reviewed periodically over the years as new pieces of information were provided,” Marion County Prosecuting Attorney Patrick N. Wilson said after the arrest. “The bottom line is three people were killed. They deserve justice.”
Part of the “Marion County’s Most Notorious Crimes” series, an article detailing the infamous crime was published in the Times West Virginian on Sept. 3, 2012.
“Not long after that was published, Chief Moran approached us for assistance,” said Alex Neville, supervisory deputy U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of West Virginia.
A second suspect was named in three criminal complaints filed by police Feb. 6 at the Marion County Magistrate Court. Only Washington was named as a defendant, however. The second person, Phillip Reese Bush, had not yet been charged.
The complaints, signed by Circuit Judge Michael Aloi on Feb. 6, read:
“Eddie Jack Washington, along with Phillip Reese Bush, shot and killed William Ray Cobb at or near 609 Bellview Blvd., Fairmont, Marion County, WV. This is based on witness statements as well as Washington’s post-Miranda admissions.”
Similar documents were filed for the other two victims.
On Feb. 22, Washington and Bush were indicted by a special Marion County grand jury each on three counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit a felony.
Washington was arraigned March 4 before Aloi and Bush on March 6 before retired Marion County Circuit Judge Fred L. Fox. Both pleaded not guilty to all four charges.
Capital murder carries a penalty of life in prison. Conspiracy has a penalty of one to five years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000 or both.
Washington has remained at the North Central Regional Jail since returning to West Virginia on Feb. 15. Bush is serving life sentences at Mount Olive Correctional Complex for convictions of the 1982 homicides of two Morgantown individuals.
Represented by Neal Jay Hamilton and Holly Turkett, Washington has been scheduled for trial several times. Bush, represented by David Grunau, was set for May 15.
As often happens with criminal court cases, trial dates have been continued several times over the summer. The accused shared a June 25 pretrial hearing that addressed several issues.
One was for a change of venue. Hamilton was quoted as saying this move was “pretty normal” for a high-profile case. For example, he said, Bush’s 1983 double homicide trial had been moved to Wheeling.
Another motion requested separate trials for the defendants.
Aloi granted defense motions for separate trials. The request for a change of venue because of “hostile local sentiment” was not ruled upon at this hearing.
In a host of hearings over the summer, it was ruled that the two would be tried separately but at the same time in November. (Bush’s trial later would be continued.) Motions to dismiss the indictments were denied to both defense teams.
In August, Washington was deemed by a local psychologist to be borderline mentally disabled with a limited education, while officers who had interviewed him in 1978 said he was “street smart.”
In September, Aloi denied defense’s motion to dismiss the indictment against Washington because of “unnecessary prosecutorial delay.” After more than 39 years, many witnesses have died or cannot be found, memories faded and evidence lost.
In October, Hamilton requested all prison records for John Ford, described as a “key material witness” for the prosecution. Ford has claimed to have been with Washington and Bush when the homicides took place on Aug. 2, 1974.
Aloi granted the motion with the restriction that the documents be provided in camera, or in private.
According to circuit court records, Washington is scheduled to testify on his own behalf, with Bush testifying for the prosecution via conference satellite.
Jury selection begins at 9 a.m. today, followed by a jury view of locations key to the trial. Opening statements are expected to begin in the afternoon.
Email Debra Minor Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.