Slain father of 17 served probation for adoption fraud

By Ben Montgomery/St Petersburg Times
July 17, 2009

PENSACOLA — Byrd and Melanie Billings were "loving, caring, giving people," his adult daughter said this week.

The slain parents of 17 children, 13 of them adopted, "wanted to be the voice for children without a voice," said Ashley Billings Markham. "They wanted to give these children a chance, and they wanted to give them a childhood."

That deep desire may have been the motivation for a 1989 crime for which Byrd Billings, his former wife Cindy Reeve and another woman were sentenced to two years probation on charges of violation of adoption, fraud to obtain birth certificate and forgery of birth certificate.

Court records show that 20 years ago a debt-ridden and pregnant Pensacola woman named Vickie Taylor checked into Sacred Heart Hospital under the name Cindy Reeve. She delivered a baby boy June 4 and listed the father's name as Byrd Billings. Taylor told deputies she had agreed to the fraud in exchange for a $2,100 loan, so the Billingses could claim the baby as their own.

Sheriff's deputies learned of the plot when someone with knowledge of it called authorities, the documents say. A deputy found the baby, named Justin, when he went to interview Reeve and Billings.

All three pleaded nolo contendere, which means they did not admit guilt but agreed to a punishment.

According to the Pensacola News-Journal, the Billingses adopted a boy named Justin in 1989. He is now 20 and lives in Pensacola.

Prosecutors have not suggested the fraud had any bearing on the killing of Byrd Billings and his current wife, Melanie, a well-off couple with business ties to pawn shops and auto dealerships. The two were found dead in their spacious home July 9. Authorities have arrested seven people they believe invaded the house wearing commando clothes and shot the victims.

State Attorney Bill Eddins said yesterday that investigators have recovered a safe stolen from the house as well as several guns, including at least one they believe was used to kill the Billingses.

"This was a home invasion robbery where the people stole a safe, and we recovered the safe," Eddins said. "We think it is as simple as that in terms of the motive."

Eddins said investigators continue to follow leads, but believe they have arrested those responsible.

Six men and a 16-year-old boy each face two counts of murder. Another woman, 47-year-old Pamela Long Wiggins, was arrested Wednesday and charged with being an accessory to the crime. Wiggins was freed on a $10,000 bond, the teen is being held in detention, and the six men are jailed without bail.

"This concludes the major part of our investigation," Eddins said. "There are still some loose ends to tie up."

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan has said the case is complex, and the assailants may have connections outside the state and outside the country, which has led to speculation about the motive.

Morgan said the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and the Drug Enforcement Administration are involved in the investigation.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8650.

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