North Carolina · unsolved

Unsolved: family of three killed in home, their heads submerged in their bathtub

February 3, 1972
Boone, North Carolina
Three members of the Durham family are killed and left draped over the edge of their bathtub

On the night of February 3, Troy Hall received a phone call from a voice he didn’t recognize. The caller spoke in hushed tones and identified herself as his mother-in-law, Virginia Durham. She told Troy her husband and 19-year-old son, Bryce and Bobby Joe respectively, were being held by three black people in another room. Then the line went dead.

Troy was confused by the call and asked his wife, Ginny, if her mother would be the type of person to pull a prank. The couple agreed it was not in her character and decided to visit the house to check on the family.

The Halls’ car would not start and so Troy asked his neighbor to drive the couple to the Durhams’ house. The snowy and icy hill proved too difficult to drive up, and the neighbor and Troy trekked to the front door while Ginny waited behind in the car. The group arrived within 30 minutes of the call.

The home was found in a state of disarray. Drawers had been pulled out and emptied. Pictures and stools were stacked on the couch. And blood splatter was on the walls. Further investigation revealed the three bodies of the Durham family, their hands bound behind their backs and their heads submerged in an overflowing bathtub. It was later revealed during the autopsy that all three had been strangled, though Bryce and Bobby Joe died by drowning. Additionally, Virginia’s face has been beaten and Bryce had sustained blunt force trauma to his head.

Police investigations noted the Durham’s phone line had been ripped from the wall, and their vehicle was missing. Bryce, who worked at a Pontiac – Buick dealership, had borrowed a vehicle with four-wheel drive to better traverse the snowy roads. The vehicle was later found 3 miles away in a ditch. A pillowcase of silver was found in the abandoned vehicle.

Robbery seemed the obvious motive, with the ransacked home. The picture frames and stools found on the sofa seemed to indicate the attackers were looking for a hidden wall or floor safe. However, a deposit bag in a clearly visible location was left behind, leading some to question robbery as the true motive. Other theories include revenge or a contracted killing — though the Durhams had no known enemies. Evidence to support the contracted killing revolved around the “military-style precision” of restraining the victims and strangling them with seemingly little resistance.

Eventually, four white men were arrested in suspicion of the murders. Two were released almost immediately due to insufficient evidence while the final two, Jerry Cassada and Dean Chandler, were indicted. By January 1974, however, both Cassada and Chandler were released as well, also for a lack of evidence.

Though the case remains unsolved to this day, it is still active and ongoing. Unidentified fingerprints were found in both the Durham’s home and the abandoned vehicle, and these prints are reentered into databases each year with hopes of finding a match.

Sources:
Campbell, Jesse. “Investigation of Durham family’s slaying continues.” Watauga Democrat. January 31, 2015. Accessed: February 3, 2020. https://www.wataugademocrat.com/news/investigation-of-durham-family-s-slaying-continues/article_e16a2616-a983-11e4-9e07-bbfdbdd91c44.html
Suchetka, Diane. “New Twists Could Help Clinch Mysterious Boone-Area Murders.” The Charlotte Observer. July 3, 1989 (image source, via newspapers.com)
“Fourth Defendant In Boone Slayings Released By State.” The Asheville Citizen. January 25, 1974
Aldridge, Ron. “2 of 4 Suspects Face Trial In Boone Killings.” The Charlotte Observer. June 16, 1972
“$8000 reward offered in Boone triple slaying.” Johnson City Press-Chronicle. February 12, 1972
“Murder of 3 Shakes ‘Quiet Neighborhood’.” Lebanon Daily News. February 5, 1972

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