Decades-old murder cold case solved in Wichita Falls

Crime

WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — Thirty-nine years ago this month, a man from Hamlin was found dead in Wichita Falls. Now his murder has finally been solved.

Monday afternoon, detective John Laughlin with the Wichita Falls Police Department announced a break in the case of Richard “Mike” Willoughby. A suspect has been identified as Daniel Adolf Edwards.

On November 7, 1980, Laughlin said Willoughby and his brother Patrick came to Wichita Falls from Hamlin to see their mother, who was sick at Bethania Regional Medical Center, which is now United Regional. Earlier that day, police learned Willoughby went to a bank in Munday and took out a small loan. After leaving the hospital, the brothers checked into the old Tradewind Hotel between Holliday and Broad Streets.

“That night, Mike told his brother that he didn’t want to go [to the hospital] as early as Pat so he would go later on,” Laughlin said. “So Pat got up, went to see his mom on his own. Later that afternoon, he tried calling for Mike and couldn’t find him. By that evening, he still hadn’t heard back from Mike so he got a little concerned and made a missing persons report.”

The report was filed on November 8, 1980.

Authorities later discovered that after checking into the hotel and speaking to his brother, Willoughby went to The Wind Jammer, which was a bar inside of the Tradewinds, had a few drinks. That was the last time anyone reported seeing him alive.

On November 9, the body of a white male, along with a pair of eyeglasses, were found in high weeds on the dam at Lake Wichita near the North Texas State Hospital off Kemp Boulevard.

Former Wichita Falls Police Officer Glenn Barham was on the scene collecting photographs when he noticed the clothing on the body matched the missing person report for Willoughby. When his body was recovered, officers said his wallet and jewelry were missing.

When the body was taken to the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office, it was positively identified through fingerprints as Willoughby. The autopsy showed multiple lacerations, abrasions and an underlying skull fracture. It was ruled a homicide with the manner of death listed as blunt force trauma.

During the autopsy, the medical examiner noticed a stamp-like image of an Indian holding a spear on Willoughby’s left hand. Through Willoughby’s friend, Sally Sanchez, detective Jim Bernethy discovered the stamp came from a former downtown bar called The Harlow’s.

She also told Bernethy that Willoughby always wore a tiger-eye ring that she brought for him out of a catalog. Bernethy was given that catalog photo as evidence. The ring was not found on Willoughby’s body.

In the 80s, Bernethy had several leads, but eventually, the case went cold.

A next turn in the homicide investigation came in 1993 when detective Ken Coughlin received a call from the Larned Correctional Facility in Kansas about an inmate, Daniel Adolf Edwards, who admitted to a prison employee to killing a man in Wichita Falls in 1980.

“He told them enough information that they knew to contact our agency,” Laughlin said. “A sketch of where this crime occurred was then faxed to our offices. He said he killed a person next to a lake that was near a state hospital.”

A records check revealed Edwards did live in Wichita Falls at the time of the murder. He was even arrested in September and December of 1980, but Edwards asked an attorney and refused to give any other statements or comments, causing the case to go cold again.

Years later, detective Tony Fox was able to speak to the prison employee, who Edwards reportedly confessed to in 1993. According to Laughlin, that employee corroborated the original story, adding that Edwards said he hit the victim with a big stick. However, there was still a lack of physical evidence in the case.

That was until Laughlin said he found a missing report from the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office.

“An archive search to the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office revealed that the item of interest was a human hair found in the victim’s hand at the time of autopsy that had been analyzed and was discovered to not be consistent with the victim’s.”

With new technology, Laughlin knew the hair could be tested for DNA.

With the assistance of the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, Laughlin executed an evidentiary search warrant on Edwards, who lived in northern Georgia. Laughlin said when he met with Edwards, he admitted to the killing during a non-custody interview.

“He confessed that he met the victim in the bar in downtown Wichita Falls, that he had taken him to a lake, which would be Lake Wichita, beat the victim over the back of the head with a club that he had brought with him.”

Laughlin described the club as a wooden stick filled with lead. After he beat the victim unconscious, Edwards said he took his ring and wallet. Laughlin said he described the ring and it matched the description of the ring by Willoughby’s friend decades prior. When he showed Edwards a photo of the ring, Laughlin said he confirmed that it was the jewelry he took from the victim.

“He told me in his confession that he felt before he died that he wanted to see his grandma in the end in heaven that he had to bare his soul and admit what he had done,” Laughlin said.

The department is still awaiting results from the hair sample. In the meantime, a warrant for his arrest has been issued and Edwards is awaiting extradition back to Texas. Loughlin said Edwards did give a motive, but police are not releasing that at this time.

At the time of the murder, Edwards was 30-year-old. He is now 68.

When he is extradited back to Texas, Edwards will be charged with murder.

The arrest comes months after the Wichita Falls Police Department designated its first dedicated cold-case division. The historic reorganization allowed a detective to focus on investigating cold cases, missing people or homicides, full-time for the first time. Laughlin was assigned to that position in August.

“Everything that I’m telling you today wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the hard work and dedication of the officers who came before me,” Laughlin said. “I’m just kind of bringing up the tail end and putting the rest of the pieces together.”

He went on to thank former detectives Bernethy, Coughlin, and Fox for their work on the case.

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