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Charles Montaldo

7 Arrested in Florida Home Invasion Murders

By July 15, 2009

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Authorities have now arrested seven people in connection with a home invasion raid that took the lives of a wealthy Florida couple known for adopting children with special needs. The suspects conducted a well planned commando type raid on the home of Byrd and Melanie Billings last week west of Pensacola.

"It was a very well-planned and well-executed operation," said Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan.

The suspects entered the Billings home from the front door and an unlocked utility door in the rear of the sprawling home, removed a safe and other items from the home, killed Byrd and Melanie Billings in their bedroom, and were out of the house in less than 10 minutes.

Suspects Trained for a Month

Portions of the "chilling" raid was captured on the Billings' elaborate video surveillance system they used to keep track on their 17 children, nine of whom were at home during the deadly robbery.

Sheriff Morgan said the group practiced the raid for weeks and carried it out with a high level of precision. They dressed in Ninja type clothing and some were in and out of the house in less than four minutes.

"The individuals that are in custody stated that they had trained some up to 30 days, some for only a week, and again I will say that's because of the size of the group" Sheriff Morgan said.

Video Tape Identifies Suspect Van

The video from the Billings' home caught images of a red van with a damaged right rear bumper. A description of that van provided authorities with a tip that lead to the arrest of the gang. The van belonged to a pressure washing business where several of the suspects worked or had worked in the past. Others of the group worked at a car detailing business.

Arrested first was Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Jr. (pictured), 35, the son of the owner of the pressure washing business. Authorities said he was the organizer of the home invasion and brought the two groups together.


Arrested: Top row (L-R) Gonzalez Sr., Coldiron, Gonzalez Jr. Bottom (L-R) Sumner, Thornton, Stallworth and Florence.

Also arrested Sunday was Leonard Gonzalez, Sr., 56, the owner of the pressure washing business who had apparently done some work for the Billings. Initially, Gonzalez Sr. was charged with tampering with evidence by trying to cover up the damage to the red van caught on the video tape. Investigators now believe he was driving the van at the time of the robbery.

Also arrested over the weekend in the case was a day laborer, 41-year-old Wayne Coldiron, who worked for the pressure washing business and who may have worked previously on the Billings property. Coldiron has served time in Tennessee and Florida.

Arrested Monday and Tuesday were Gary Sumner, 31; Donnie Ray Stallworth, 28; Frederick Lee Thorton, 19, and Rakeem Florence, 16.

Other Suspects, Other Crimes?

State Attorney Bill Eddins said all of the suspects will be charged with murder, some for first-degree premeditated murder.

Authorities said there may be one other arrest in the case, but they believe they have captured the killers. The investigation into the group's activities will be expanded beyond the panhandle Florida area.

"It involves other businesses, other states, other countries," Sheriff Morgan said. "The individuals involved with these crimes are involved in other areas." The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are involved in the investigation.

See Also:
7 Charged With Killing Fla. Couple, Stealing Safe
Authorities: Suspects Practiced Crime
Double Murder Suspects: "We Have Found Them"

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Comments

October 28, 2009 at 3:09 pm
(1) Jennifer says:

What an informative article. Last August my home was broken into in the middle of the night! I am a single woman and obviously was scared to death! Thank God I have a great home alarm system that not only woke me up to the situation but also scared off the intruder while my system called 911 and my parents down the street.
I found this inexpensive alarm at the below website:
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If you enter this promotional code under “comments” they will even throw in a free gift: 31758

December 1, 2009 at 7:56 pm
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