By Curt Brown
DARTMOUTH, Mass. — The human remains found Thursday in the backyard of a North Dartmouth home have been identified as Donald Eugene Webb, a suspect in the 1980 slaying of Saxonburg, Pa., Police Chief Gregory Adams.
The positive identification brings to a close the FBI’s search for one of the longest-tenured fugitives ever to appear on its “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives,” the country’s top law enforcement agency said.
The announcement was made jointly Friday afternoon by the FBI, Pennsylvania State Police, Saxonburg Borough Police Department, Massachusetts State Police, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and the Bristol County DA’s office.
Webb was added to the list on May 4, 1981, and removed on March 31, 2007. He was being sought in connection with Adams’ murder. He was also the only fugitive in the U.S. wanted for the murder of a police chief.
His remains were found buried in the back of the property located at 28 Maplecrest Drive. Investigators have learned that Webb died about 17 years ago in 1999, the FBI said. Webb once lived there.
Gregg Miliote, a spokesman for Bristol County DA Thomas M. Quinn III, said “it is believed” that Webb was buried shortly after his death.
The state medical examiner’s office performed an autopsy on the remains, and the U.S. Justice Department released a statement Friday, identifying them as Webb’s.
“The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Massachusetts positively identified the remains that were recovered by the Massachusetts State Police Crime Scene Services Section, with the assistance of the FBI and Pennsylvania State Police on July 13, 2017,” the Justice Department reported.
The medical examiner’s office is continuing to investigate to determine the cause of Webb’s death, Miliote said. “It doesn’t appear his death was the result of any violent act,” he said.
The remains were buried near a shed in the back left corner of the property belonging to Lillian Webb, the former wife of the fugitive Webb, Quinn said Thursday night.
Police were led to Webb’s body by Lillian Webb, who showed them where he was buried in her backyard. Prosecutors in both Massachusetts and Pennsylvania confirmed to The Associated Press on Friday that authorities have agreed not to prosecute Lillian Webb in the investigation.
On Dec. 31, 1980, a federal arrest warrant was issued for Webb after he was charged with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, and charged in Pennsylvania with first-degree murder for the Adams’ slaying, the FBI said.
He was suspected of killing Adams on Dec. 4, 1980, after Webb ran a stop sign in Saxonburg, Pa. The chief was shot twice at close range after being brutally beaten about the head and face with a blunt instrument.
Webb, then 49, was a jewelry thief from Massachusetts with connections to the New England mob. Police believe he was in Saxonburg, outside Pittsburgh, to case a jewelry store he planned to rob when Adams stopped his car, according to news reports.
Webb disappeared after the killing, but his car was found two weeks later in a parking lot in Warwick, R.I., The Associated Press said.
The FBI notified Adams’ family of the discovery.
“For almost 37 years, the family of Chief Adams, and the citizens of Saxonburg have been awaiting news of Donald Eugene Webb’s whereabouts. The FBI is grateful to have been able to play a role in helping to resolve this case. Although it’s unfortunate Mr. Webb will never be brought to justice to pay for his crimes, we’re hopeful the family can find some closure in knowing that this alleged murderer has been located,” said Harold H. Shaw, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division.
“The Pennsylvania State Police would like to thank the multiple federal, local, and state agencies that assisted in tracking down the final whereabouts of Donald Eugene Webb. Investigators never gave up hope that Webb would be located so that justice could be served for the family of Chief Adams almost 37 years later. Numerous investigators — including those retired for many years — have worked tirelessly and collaboratively over that span of time to make sure that Chief Adams’ family and the people of Saxonburg would see the day that Webb was located,” said Captain Steven J. Ignatz, Commanding Officer of Troop D, Butler.
State Police detectives assigned to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s Office obtained a search warrant — as part of a separate investigation — that led to the discovery of Webb’s body on the property.
“We are pleased to have assisted our law enforcement partners in bringing some much-needed closure to this case by uncovering information that led to the whereabouts of this fugitive,” Healey said. “Our office is committed to working with our state police officers, the FBI, Bristol County DA’s Office and Pennsylvania State Police as this investigation continues — and we thank those involved for their hard work to resolve this matter.”
Jillian Fennimore, a spokeswoman for Healey’s office, said the separate investigation into an illegal gambling operation provided information that led State Police assigned to the AG’s office to obtain the search warrant for Thursday’s discovery on the property.
Saxonburg Police Chief Joseph Beachem added, “We’re beyond proud of the efforts by the FBI, Pennsylvania State Police, and Massachusetts State Police in doggedly working to resolve this case. The biggest question in the history of Saxonburg has been answered. Our thoughts are with the family and we hope this eases their minds, if even only slightly. While the hurt will continue, at least doubt about what happened that day has been eliminated.”
The FBI was offering a reward up to $100,000, payable to any individual who could provide information about his whereabouts, dead or alive. However, that reward will not be paid out, given that Webb’s location was determined through investigative efforts.
©2017 The Standard-Times, New Bedford, Mass.