Numerous items were missing from Eric's truck. What happened to them? As Eric's family continued to get tips, there were numerous meetings with informants who provided information.
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Welcome to Secrets True Crime, The Eric Cates & Gypsy Story. I am your host, Amber Sitton. What is done in darkness will eventually come to light. That is the purpose of this podcast...to shine light on the story of Eric Cates, his beloved dog, Gypsy and the town of Empire, AL. Listener discretion is advised. The subject matter may involve violence, sexual content, murder and adult themes. It’s not suitable for younger listeners. This is episode 8 of a serial podcast and they are designed to be listened to in order.
Another big question that Eric’s family had was what happened to Eric’s things that were missing from his truck? His keys were not found. Eric had at least one knife with him that day and no knives were found in his truck. We’ve mentioned Eric was last seen wearing a hat. His hat nor any remnants of it were found. There were also some necklaces in Eric’s truck. This part is a little confusing. One was a white gold necklace with a pendant that was circle of diamonds. Eric kept this necklace hanging from his rearview mirror. Eric had some additonal necklaces in his ashtray. One had a silver infinity sign and the chain on it had broken. There was also an unmarked silver cross. Eric had recently bought a steel ball chain used for military dog tags from a military surplus store to put this cross on. We don’t believe the fire inside the vehicle was hot enough to melt these items but even if it had been, the metal wouldn’t just evaporate. There would be telltale remnants of the necklaces, the keys and the knife. While we don’t yet know who took Eric’s hat and knife, we do know who likely had at least one of the necklaces.
At the time of Eric & Gypsy’s murder, Perry Selman was in a relationship with a woman we will refer to as Gracie. We don’t know if they were married or just in a relationship but they were living together in Perry’s home. Gracie’s name came up in some of the tips Eric’s family had received and Tobbie wanted to talk to her. She’d made several failed efforts to speak with Gracie and she was tired of waiting. Tobbie knew where Gracie was staying at the time and she and Tonya showed up there one afternoon. Perry was in jail and Gracie was living with the man we’ve been referring to as George and George’s girlfriend who we will call Zena. The letter we discussed in Episode 7 claimed that both George and Zena played part in Eric and Gypsy’s murders. Gracie and Zena came outside and got into the backseat of Tobbie’s vehicle. Tobbie just wanted to talk to her about what happened to Eric and Gypsy but Gracie had a surprise for Tobbie.
One of the encounters that we had was, um, with *^*%&% &*^%$. Um, when I was talking to her, she wanted to give me back a necklace that had belonged to Eric and she was in my car in the back seat, Tonya and I was in the front and her &%$%&, ^$^$^%b (&*&^&% um, who was at that time, I believed to be part of Eric's murder. I think he was one of the ones that was there when it happened to Eric and Gypsy. He was yelling for her to get out of my car, to keep her mouth shut. He was using profanity. I had locked the doors. He had walked up more than once to try to open the door to get her out. Finally he was making such as scene that she went to give me the necklace and I told her we would,
we had already made plans to meet the next week when he wasn't around.
Tobbie gave me a vivid description of George’s aggressive and threatening behavior. At the time Gracie was attempting to retrieve and hand her the necklace, George had picked up a board and was loudly threatening and cursing as he advanced towards her vehicle. Tobbie was never able to meet with Gracie again. Gracie went to jail herself for awhile and it wasn’t too long after she got out of jail that she moved out of state.
When we met with Tobbie for the first time, she told us not getting Eric’s necklace that night was one of her biggest regrets and a few days later she messaged Gracie to see if she still had Eric’s necklace. Gracie told her she did not have the necklace. She told Tobbie that a couple weeks after they’d had that meeting in Tobbie’s car, she’d given Eric’s necklace to Tonya.
So Tanya knew that I was going to be meeting her. That meeting never happened and I never got the necklace. And it wasn't until just a couple of months ago in 2019 that I found out that Tanya had that necklace along with another necklace that had supposedly belonged to Eric and she never told me about it. And what bothers me about this is she knew that I had regretted not taking the necklace that night and with all this time, she had never told me. And she knew about this before I cut it off with her. She knew about the necklace. She had the necklace and never told me
Tell me why you didn’t take the necklace that night.
Again, *&^#*& was causing such a scene outside. He was getting more agitated, cursing more, yelling. At one point he had been said that this wouldn't do any good for her. It was going to get her in trouble, in more trouble and she was having trouble, I guess getting the clasp unhooked. She was shaking. She adamantly said that she did not know what happened to Eric, that she liked Eric. Eric was good to her.
And because he was getting, because $^&%&^$ was getting a little more agitated, I told her we'd just waiting till the next week
We’ve had numerous audio recordings from the years since Eric’s murder that have come into our possession. One of those recordings is of a conversation between Tonya and Gracie as Tonya was buying a necklace from her. You can tell that the conversation is happening inside the Blue Store. You can hear the cash registers and the chatter of customers making purchases. In the recording, Gracie tells Tonya that the necklace was Eric’s. Tonya’s asked her how she had gotten it and Gracie claimed she’d had it for 5 years. She said Eric had traded the necklace to Perry for dope. Gracie wanted $150 for it and Tonya stated she didn’t think she could do that but she could do $100 and the cash. I’m assuming this meant $100 in store credit and $50 cash but I can’t be certain. They both commented several times about how pretty the necklace is. They noted that it was gold, had diamonds and then Tonya said “it’s an infinity.” Gracie notes she kept it in a safe because she was afraid one of the diamonds would fall out. Tonya says I sure hope Mrs. Tobbie will give me my money back on it. If not, it’ll go in my collection and never be worn.
I have been unable to reach Gracie to ask her myself but one of her friends did ask her about the necklace she sold to Tonya. Gracie found an image online of a necklace she said looked like the necklace she sold Tonya and she sent it to her friend. The friend provided me with a screenshot of the necklace photo. It isn’t an infinity as Tonya said in the audio. The necklace pictured appears identical to the necklace Tobbie described that Eric had hanging from his rearview mirror….white gold with a circle of diamonds pendant. Tobbie had seen it and the other necklaces in Eric’s truck on the Monday before Eric & Gypsy were found behind the Empire School and she knew the value of the circle pendant necklace all too well. She is the one who bought that necklace as a gift to a woman in Eric’s past. When she’d noticed those necklaces in his truck, she’d told Eric he didn’t need to have them just sitting around his truck because someone would steal them. Eric specifically pointed at the diamond circle necklace hanging from his rearview mirror and told his mom he liked it there. He liked the way it looked when the sun hit it.
On the day we asked Tonya about what we believe was Eric’s last trip to the store that Friday night, Michael also questioned her about this necklace she purchased. Again, this is the poor quality audio from the gas station parking lot so I’ll keep this audio to a minimum
What about the necklace thing?
Me and Tobbie was going to different places and we was going up York mountain road to %$^%$# sister's house and her husband where we went and ^$^%$# and $^%$^&% was sitting in the back of the car and me and Tobbie was sitting in the front and she tried handing Tobbie a necklace. I can't remember exactly what it looks like, but from what I can remember, it was like a forever diamond like thing when they first come out it was like an S shape.
It wasn't just a plain gold necklace? No?
You don't have that?
No, we didn't take it.
You never talked to $^%$* about it again and she didn't give it to you?
No, I was going to buy it from her and give it back to Tobbie, but as far as I know of, I never did that either. I'll go back and look in my stuff though.
Did you buy a necklace from Cassie?
Yes, I did.
It was supposed to be Eric's from years before?
Yes, but it wasn't that…
Does Tobbie know that?
Yes. I told her that and I showed it to her and she said it wasn't, it wasn't theirs. So, just like I have a old thing at the house that has an old $10 bill in it from where Perry owes me money and I'm holding on to it. He was never seen again It was like a 1936 or 34 $10 bill that his daddy gave him.
Tonya drifted onto another subject for awhile but Michael wanted to ask her again about the necklace.
Other than that one necklace, &%$#$ never gave you anything else?
(Crying) That was it. And I was, I, like I said, I gave it, I showed it to Tobbie and I said Tobbie is this it. She said, no, that wasn't it.
That’s the one that you do you still have?
(crying) Yes. If it’s still at my house. It does.
Cause I called Tobbie and asked Tobbie about it. I said to her do you want me to get this necklace? She said yes.
While we haven’t seen the necklace that Tonya bought, the descriptive language she and Gracie used in the recording sound much like one of the necklaces Tobbie has been searching for all these years. After we met with Tonya, we told Tobbie that Tonya said she’d tried to give her the necklace. Tobbie told me Tonya never showed her or tried to give her a necklace that fit the descriptions from Gracie and Tonya. She did say that Tonya showed her a piece of costume jewelry one time. It wasn’t gold, the metal was tarnished and it was not an infinity. It did have a round circle pendant but it was not diamonds. Tobbie is adamant that the piece of jewelry Tonya showed her was not Eric’s.
In the last few episodes, you’ve heard about some of the tips that Eric’s family received but these tips are just a small portion of what they’ve received. The majority of them centered around a story that became very familiar to Eric’s family. There was a fight, Eric was ambushed from behind, gravely injured usually by some type of knife and then he and Gypsy were moved to the school and set on fire in Eric’s truck. There is one other common theme in most of these tips. Eric’s beloved and loyal companion Gypsy bit someone while trying to protect him. Several people have reported seeing a dog bite and from the statements, Gypsy had a good hold on him and tore him up pretty badly...possibly enough that he had to get stitches, and it likely left some noticeable scarring on his lower leg. The location of the initial altercation varies from tip to tip but the most commonly stated location is Perry Selman’s house. Some of the names of those allegedly involved vary but there are a few names contained in these tips that are mentioned almost every time. One of those names is Randy Hicks. While Jessica adamantly denies it, the most widely told story is that Eric and Jessica were having an affair.
Tobbie: (45:23) I believe it was a few days after we had met with the chief deputy and he had threatened to arrest Wayne for asking questions. I would go back, every day I went to the blue store. This is a little place in empire. The last place Eric was seen. And at this time we already had heard that a Randy Hicks is the one that started a fight with Eric and that Eric had gotten stabbed, put in a vehicle and burned.
And I saw Randy at the blue store. I walked up to him and I said, Randy, I'm Tobbie, Eric's mother. He became very pale and he, in fact, leaned up, fell into his car. He was getting gas at the gas pumps. And, uh, I just told him, I said, rumor has it, you're one of the ones that killed my son. And he said, no, ma'am. Um, he stuttered, started to sweat, denied it, would not look at me in the face and I said, well, come inside and let's have a drink. And I'll buy you a sandwich and we can talk. And he said, no, no and he started looking around, he said, but my brother knows what happened. My brother can tell you. He said, but I can't talk to you. I've never been able to talk to him. He would never meet me. He would never talk to me about it.
Jessica insisted Randy never talked to her about it either but she did say that shortly after Eric and Gypsy’s murders, Randy became paranoid.
We were laying in bed one night, you know. To go around our house is right on the road. You know its a curve and I don't know what he heard or what he saw or what he thought, but we had a King size mattress and we have 2 windows in our room and he took the box springs and put them against each window and we slept on a mattress on the floor. And then that's right after that is when we moved in with his brother for a little while.
Why did yall move in with his brother.
He said he wasn't, didn't feel safe here. That's exactly what he said.
And you never asked him why?
Yeah but he didn't really say. We didn’t have a good communication, you know, going on. So he didn't really talk about things. So, it was two weeks later is when I went to jail and then we broke up so I'm saying from when it happened we were only together a few months from when it happened. So when I went to jail and we broke up.
We have been provided some other recordings. One recording details the movements of 4 people on that Friday night before Eric and Gypsy were found murdered. The 4 people are Sean, Lee and Reba that you heard about in the last episode and a woman we will call Alice.
The recording describes how Alice, Lee and Reba were all together that night from around midnight until Sean calls. Alice is then driven by Lee and Reba down Wingo Rd to a place very near Empire School where they met Sean. Alice gets into a white vehicle with Sean and they drove to Jessica & Randy’s house, which is on the way out of the area where Empire School is. She says Sean pops his truck and jumps out of the car. He informs her he needs to clean his car and asks her to help but Alice is irritated by now. She asks him can’t he do that later because she’s ready to get back to her friends. Alice never looked in the trunk. Alice and Sean get back in Sean’s white car and turn around, driving back down Wingo Rd to a home owned by family members of Sean near the school. After a few minutes, another female (who we will call Patty) gets in the car with Sean & Alice and they drive back away from the school and ultimately drop Alice off somewhere. Sean and Patty then drive back down Wingo Rd to the family members’ home again. It is estimated that all this activity was taking place around 4 am Saturday morning. Statements were given to the Walker County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement.
On another night, Tobbie was summoned to a meeting with a woman. As the meeting ended, the woman tried to hand Tobbie a knife. She stated that she’d been told that Lee gave this knife to Randy Hicks and it could be the knife that was used to murder Eric. Tobbie was surprised by this turn of events and she didn’t want to touch the knife. She insisted that the knife be placed in a bag or wrapped in a towel. Ultimately it was placed in a bag and as she was about to hand the weapon to Tobbie, she asked Tobbie what she was going to do with the knife. Tobbie indicated that she was going to immediately call the Walker County Sheriff’s Office. The woman responded and said, if I wanted them to have it, I could have given it to Chuck Tidwell myself. Tobbie described to us how the woman pulled back from handing her the knife. At that point, Tobbie agreed to take the knife to Cullman County instead. Tobbie did contact the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office before she ever even left the driveway of the meeting place and they made arrangements for an investigator to meet Tobbie immediately to pick up the knife. Despite Chief Deputy Dayron Bridges numerous statements to the Cates family that he needed help and wanted the help of the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office, the Walker County Sheriff’s Office did not welcome their assistance. In fact, they appeared to have become very territorial, confrontational and angry about it and this knife didn’t seem to help matters. Tobbie has told me that Investigator Chuck Tidwell told her at the time there was much discussion in the district attorney’s office about charging her with obstruction of justice for not turning the knife into the Walker County Sheriff’s Office. I was also recently given this same information but Tobbie was never charged.
As all the statements and tips began to surface about Randy, Sean and Lee, Tobbie told me Chuck Tidwell gave her the description of 2 cars they were looking for. One of these vehicles supposedly belonged to Randy & Jessica and the other belonged to Sean. Tonya got a tip that Randy and Jessica’s vehicle was in a garage up on York Mountain.
We went to various houses. I can't tell you at the nights that we was out trying to find out what was going on and when we found out that his body may have been in a car, we was up on the mountain sitting and trying to get, you know, conversating with Chuck and trying to tell him, you know, you got to get here.
They're trying to get this car started. I don't know if they still have it, but it was Randy and Jessica's car.
Randy Hicks and Jessica Veith.
They were broke down?
It was up on the mountain. They had gave the car away after Eric died. I'm saying, there's so much mishandling on this case.
Tonya first called Investigator Chuck Tidwell but he was a long way away from the location. Tobbie drove straight there from her job in Birmingham. It was dark by the time she picked up Tonya and Tobbie was worried about the interior lights coming on when they opened the doors to her SUV. They were in a hurry but Tobbie quickly put duct tape over the button in the door frame of the drivers side car door to prevent the interior lights from coming on and she and Tonya drove to the location. From where they were discretely parked, they couldn’t see inside the garage where the vehicle was supposed to be. Tobbie snuck into a pasture to try to get closer to the garage to see inside. Tonya had to stay in Tobbie’s SUV because they hadn’t duct taped Tonya’s door. Tobbie was a nurse and wore a bright white uniform. On this particular night, Tobbie told me that there was a full moon and it was quite bright. She had to lie down in the pasture to avoid being seen by 2 men outside the garage. Once the men went back inside the garage, she was able to see the vehicle. Tobbie returned to her car where Tonya was keeping watch and they saw the men drive another vehicle to the door of the garage. They were attempting to jump off the car. Tonya called Chuck to let him know that the vehicle was there and that they were trying to jump it off. Tobbie said that once Chuck had confirmation that the vehicle was at this location, he secured a search warrant and went ahead and called a wrecker. Chuck arrived and the wrecker was just seconds behind him. Tobbie and Tonya watched until the wrecker left with the vehicle. Tobbie told us she was told by Chuck that nothing was found in the vehicle.
Sean’s vehicle took a little longer to locate. Tobbie was out of town and received a call that someone had just spotted the vehicle on a roll back repo truck. Tonya went to try to catch the man driving the roll back and both Tonya and Tobbie placed calls to Chuck. Tonya reached him first and let him know that Sean’s vehicle had been seen. Tonya located the truck with the car on the back at nearby T&R Grocery. Tonya was able to speak to the driver of the rollback. Once the driver realized that the car he was repossessing was wanted in a murder investigation, he agreed to wait for the investigator to arrive. Tobbie told me Chuck arrived pretty quickly and impounded this vehicle for processing too. She said that Chuck told her that a piece of the carpeting was missing from the trunk. The missing carpet in the trunk does make the statements about Sean wanting to clean out his truck all the more interesting. Tobbie told us that white hairs were also found in Sean’s trunk. Unfortunately Chuck told her there was no follicle attached so they were unable to match the hair to Gypsy.
After Eric & Gypsy’s murder, there was one thing that Eric’s family felt pretty confident about. They believed that Randy Hicks saw what happened to Eric and in their encounters with Randy, they quickly realized that Randy seemed to be struggling with the secret. Tobbie believed that Randy was going to eventually tell her the truth about the murders. From everything we’ve learned, Tobbie was right but before Randy could reveal the truth, he disappeared for almost 3 weeks and was discovered dead in the woods in Sipsey. Join us next time as we discuss the suspicious circumstances surrounding Randy’s death.
If you have any information that could help in solving the murders of Eric and Gypsy, please call the Walker County Sheriff’s Office at 205-522-6112. You may also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our confidential tip line at 205-282-0740. If you are left still wanting even more content, please check us out on Patreon. We have it filled with great information about Susan and Evan and Eric and Gypsy. Our next zoom call for Patreon is scheduled for December 10th. This podcast is an independent podcast. That means that everything that goes into making this podcast is done and funded by me. All of the investigative tools and resources are provided by Echo 7 Foxtrot. The tragedies we highlight and investigate have had a tremendous impact on the victims' loved ones and friends. We don't burden them with additional expenses to cover their cases--we donate our time and talents because we want to help and hope to find the answers they need that are long overdue. For as little as $5 per month, you can receive exclusive access to members only photos, videos, early access to episodes and much, much more. By becoming a patron, you too are helping us help these families. Your support as a patron of Secrets True Crime Podcast helps us cover the expenses associated with producing a high quality podcast, traveling to conduct fieldwork and interviews, and obtaining the tools and equipment needed to conduct a thorough investigation. In short, your support as a patron allows us to do MORE for these families. Become a patron of Secrets True Crime Podcast today and let’s solve these cases TOGETHER. www.patreon.com/secretscrime. I’ll also post the link on our Facebook page. If you are enjoying this podcast, be sure to follow or subscribe in your podcast player of choice and by giving us a 5-star rating and review in Apple Podcasts. I’m active on social media and often share photos of Eric and Gypsy. Follow Secrets True Crime on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. @secretscrime. This audio production for this podcast is by Kane Power at precisionpodcasting.com.