FAIRMONT, W.Va. —
A 59-year-old Tampa, Fla., janitor and trash collector has been arrested in an infamous, long unsolved West Virginia triple-murder case, local and federal authorities reported Friday.
Eddie Jack Washington, 59, was charged with the execution-style killing of three Fairmont, W. Va., residents on Aug. 2, 1974. Their bodies were found those more than 38 years ago face-up in Windmill Park by a groundskeeper. Each victim had been shot once in the head.
It was speculated then that it was a drug deal gone bad, but no one was ever arrested for the murders, even though Washington, who lived near the victims, and another man were questioned at the time.
The other man, Phillip Reese Bush, was later convicted of a double murder in 1982 in another case, and for years authorities insisted the Windmill Park killer was in prison but refused to confess. Bush was sentenced to life.
Washington was arrested without incident at 11:30 a.m. Thursday outside a Tampa grocery store by U.S. Marshals, assisted by Fairmont and Tampa police. He was taken to the county jail, awaiting extradition to Fairmont. He had been under surveillance for several hours.
Authorities said the cold case heated up last fall, after the Times West Virginian of Fairmont published a reprise of the murders on Sept. 3, 2012, titled: “Gruesome discovery: Triple slaying at Windmill Park remains unprosecuted,” as part of a series on the county’s most notorious crimes.
The story recalled the grisly details of the murders of Guy Lester Phillips, 20, his wife, Wanda Jane Phillips, 19, and Billy Ray Cobb, 27, all of Fairmont.
“Not long after that was published, Police Chief Kelley Moran approached us for assistance,” said Alex Neville, Deputy U.S. Marshal for West Virginia’s Northern District. “He advised me there were persons of interest he wished to have located.”
Among them was Washington, who moved to Florida several years ago, and had served prison time there for a 2004 cocaine possession conviction.
The U.S. Marshal’s Office said Fairmont police had recently developed information identifying Washington as the killer, but it did not provide any new details. Nor did the Fairmont police, except to say they had been in contact during the investigation with police in Chapel Hill and Carboro, N.C., as well as Tampa. Washington was believed to have ties to North Carolina.
“We’ve been looking at the case for the past four months,” said Chief Moran, adding that the investigation continues and any comment about specifics “would not be appropriate at this time.”
Tampa police said Washington had lived in a rented room in Tampa for the past three years, working nights as a janitor. They said he had also worked as a trash collector for several waste management companies over the years.
His landlady, Carolyn Louisma, told the Tampa Bay Times that she was surprised by his arrest for murder, saying Washington “never did no harm to nobody.” She told the paper she called him “dad” because he looked like her late father, and that she even trusted him enough to co-sign a car loan.
Peggy Edwards, the Times West Virginian reporter who covered the Windmill Park murders, recalled the crime jolted the small community along the Monongahela River in northern West Virginia.
“It was really weird for Fairmont,” said Edwards, 74, who retired in the early 1990s. “Every year after that, we’d ask the chief of police at least once a year if there was anything new about the murders. But there was never anything new.”
Details for this story were provided by the Times West Virginian of Fairmont, W. Va.