WARNING: this post contains actual crime scene photographs. They are very graphic. The photographs are not included to sensationalize the case. They are included because they tell a story. If you scroll down and continue to read, you will view them at your own risk.
Zeigler’s first trial attorney Ralph “Terry” Hadley III had suggested that the motive for these murders was not robbery or insurance money as the prosecution stated. According to Hadley, the motive was retribution. Zeigler had been compiling information on organized loan sharking in West Orange County’s migrant labor camps and he had made enemies.
Zeigler, a conservative Republican, was also active in black voter registration. In 1974, he had led a successful drive to unseat longtime town mayor and his next door neighbor, George Barley. Barley lost by just 5 votes, which many attributed to Zeigler’s activism.
In this part in the Zeigler Series, I will try to explain why the prosecution’s version of what happened that night is wrong. And, if the prosecution had read the crime scene correctly, they would have understood immediately that Zeigler told the truth and that Hadley was right.
Allow me to explain: if we believe the prosecution, then we have one man who murdered four innocent people, and to avoid getting caught he shot himself in the abdomen avoiding all major organs.
One big problem is that the four dead bodies had been treated differently. Three people were shot by a killer who did not care whether they left traces behind, whereas around one dead body someone cleaned up. If one person was responsible for all four killings, why would that person bother to clean up around one dead body but not around the others? This theory does not make sense. But there is an alternative explanation. Keep reading.
The second problem is the “dead body position” theory that the prosecution used to suggest Zeigler’s guilt. The prosecution’s theory was that Eunice’s body remained undisturbed after she was shot. Furthermore, the position of her left hand in her left coat pocket was the sole basis for the prosecution’s theory that she had been killed instantly by a single surprise shot while she stood in the kitchen doorway.
I disagree. Eunice was moved immediately after being shot dead by the person who dripped their blood on her coat.
As you can see, the kitchen is accessible by two doors. One opens to the showroom and the other door to the customer service area near the office.
The sketch is misleading in the sense that it portrays Eunice with her legs bent. It also does not show her with her arms in the right position. Why is this important?
Eunice was found completely stretched out on the floor, in an unnaturally straight position with her coat buttoned up, and her left hand in the left coat pocket. Winter Garden patrolman, Jimmy Yawn, thought she was a mannequin when he first saw her. Had she been shot and died instantly, she would have fallen where she was standing. Her knees would have given way and she would have collapsed. Her body would have been found in a curved or bent position.
Here’s what Vidocq thinks that happened.
Eunice came into the store with her parents. Her parents were ambushed on entry. Her mother was shot and her father fought with one of the killers in the store. Eunice ran to the office area, where the nearest phone was, to call for help. The killers had just shot her mother, Virginia Edwards, and had beaten and shot to dead her father, Perry Edwards. One of the killers now came after her. He was covered in blood since Perry Edwards had put up a fierce fight.
Eunice realized that she could not make it to the phone and have time to make the call. Therefore, she ran straight for the corner of the store in the back where the narrow hall would lead to the parking lot.
Her killer could not let her go. She had seen who killed her parents. As he ran after her, he realized he was chasing the wife of the intended victim. Where was Zeigler? He had just killed and assisted in the killing of Eunice’s parents…these people were not even supposed to be here! The only one who was supposed to be in the store was Zeigler! Where was Zeigler?
He closed in on her, aimed, and shot her once in the head. That single shot behind her left ear killed her instantly and that was the only mercy he could afford.
As soon as the killer shot Eunice, he grabbed her by the front of her coat with his bloodied hand and eased her down on the floor. By grabbing her with his bloodied hand he broke her fall, but he left his blood on the front lapel. He then slowly walked backwards while lowering her down, getting her blood on his shoes and making footprints backwards. As you can see on the crime scene photograph, the emphasis is on the toes not the heels. The walking backwards and lowering her explains why her legs are stretched.
It is clear that the killer was distraught by this murder. The crime scene shows it. Eunice’s head rests against the leg of an undisturbed chair. Had she fallen there on her own, her falling body would have moved the chair. Eunice’s left shoulder rests on the chair’s leg and that arm extends into a coat pocket. Anyone who sees the photograph realizes immediately that this is unnatural.
The body of Eunice Edwards Zeigler was found in the kitchen area. She was fully dressed, not beaten, and was not covered in great amounts of blood. There was no gunshot residue on her head wound, meaning that she was not shot point blank but from a distance.
Apart from the big blood puddle underneath her head, there were some light blood stains along the underside of the front lapel of her coat and very small blood drops on the inside lining of her coat.
Neither the light stains nor the small drops are Eunice’s own blood. Someone’s blood dripped on her while that person stood bent over her, but that person was not Zeigler. The man who positioned Eunice was shocked at the third unplanned murder of a person he knew well. Note how her positioning by her killer looks like an action on impulse made by someone still in shock. This killer was shocked that Eunice showed up and needed to be killed. It almost looks like the killings became too much for this person.
The way Eunice was eased down was her killer’s gesture of mercy, but clearly he had not thought it through. And his accomplices never bothered to make her fall look more natural.
In his own clumsy way of trying to give her some dignity, he straightened her coat and, for whatever reason, placed her hand in her pocket and left.
Then, this killer got upset with his accomplices. They had killed three people who were not even supposed to be there! That is when the others decided to get rid of him as well.
Charlie Mays has been portrayed by the prosecution as an innocent client, who happened to be in the store at the wrong time. The prosecution portrayed him as a loyal customer and friend, who merely came to pick up a television set for his family, and who was butchered to death. The latter is true but the former is not. Mays was not an innocent client. In fact, Mays was a murderer.
The accomplices were expecting Zeigler in the store that evening. They did not anticipate that his wife or her parents would be there as well, and worse that they would arrive before Zeigler. Zeigler, the sole intended victim, finally entered the store from the back. He tried to turn on the lights. He took a few more steps in the hallway, and then he was attacked. He fought for his life with Charlie Mays, beating him, shooting at him. Mays shot back and hit Zeigler in the abdomen. Zeigler collapsed. The accomplices thought they had finally silenced Zeigler.
After the struggle with Zeigler was over and he was left for dead, another killing took place. That is when Charlie Mays met his end. He was butchered to death by his accomplices, who did have the frame of mind to wipe away their blood smears, foot prints, etc. Just look at this crime scene picture:
“One blow to his left eye had fractured the orbit and pushed the bone into the
cavity beneath it. The wound measured about two by three inches. The left side of his face was shattered from the upper jaw to the eye. Fractured bone lay beneath four distinct lacerations of his face, forehead, and scalp.
[During the autopsy] Dr. Ruiz removed Mays’s brain and found that the fractures extended to the anterior fossae, the front of the brain pan in the cranium. The base of the skull was traumatized and broken. There were abrasions and swelling on his right hand, possibly from a blunt object. He had one empty socket in his jaw, the left top canine tooth.
Ruiz used metal probes to trace the paths of two through-and-through wounds in Mays’s abdomen. Mays had been shot once in the back and once in the front abdomen. One wound was superficial. The other bullet had passed through his liver. But Ruiz found only about 200 cc of blood in the peritoneum. This meant that neither wound had been fatal. Charlie Mays had been beaten to death by someone swinging a blunt object, probably the linoleum crank that was found beside him.”
On the crime scene photographs you can see that Mays’ sneakers are caked in blood. His pants are also covered in blood. The crank is next to him. Mays himself was shot and beaten and bleeding profusely, but somehow there is no blood around his legs and feet.
Take a closer look here:
There is blood everywhere around his head and upper torso but nothing around his legs and feet. Whoever beat Mays was sitting on him, and steadying himself while struggling with Mays he placed his hand on the floor a few times. Those prints had to be wiped away. That is the only explanation that makes sense; Mays was murdered by people who knew what to do on a crime scene.
All accomplices were convinced that when they left Zeigler was either dead or dying. They did not expect him to live. And when he did, they decided to frame him for all four dead bodies.
But crime scenes tell stories. They did not think about Eunice’s body. Mays must have told his accomplices that he had taken care of Eunice. His accomplices must have heard that shot. The remaining accomplices knew that any traces left near Eunice would be Mays’ and he was dead now too. In their confidence, they did not bother to check her body or the area where she was killed. If they had, they would have made her look more natural.
The fact that Mays’ body was the only one where the floor had been partially wiped clean of blood and traces should have come up during trial. Eunice’s awkward body position was another red flag that was missed.
Decades later, the crime scene still speaks to us and begs to be interpreted correctly. It begs you to see what should have been seen decades ago:
a crime scene where one of the killers was killed himself when he lost his cool, and where the only intended victim became the accused merely because he survived.Actual Innocence, Autopsy, Ballistics, Capital Punishment, Crime Scene, Cruelty, Death Row, DNA, DNA Database, Evidence, Expert Testimony, Florida, Forensics, Gun Fire, Identification, Investigations Division, Miscarriage of Justice, Police, Prisons, Prosecutorial Misconduct, Victim, William Thomas Zeigler, Wrongful Convictions