So many tips came in the day Eric & Gypsy were found murdered. In this episode you'll hear directly from a man who was the subject of one of these tips. The murder of Eric & Gypsy and the events that followed set off a chain reaction that has forever changed the lives of his entire family.
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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 4 of a serial podcast and they are designed to be listened to in order.
Many tips and theories of who murdered Eric & Gypsy came to light on the afternoon that their bodies were found behind the Empire school. Another one of those theories involved a man named Julius Goodmon or Ro, as many call him. Ro lives in Empire in an area called The Camp just 1 mile from the old Empire school and he told me this is where the black community lives in Empire.
Wayne got a phone call and I honestly don't remember who it was from, telling him that
Ro, was behind Eric's murder and it in fact, Wayne was still on the phone at the time that Tanya Mauldin's phone rang. She answered it and she walks over to me and says, Tobbie, this is Ro and he wants to talk to you. And so I go out on the porch.
I can hear Wayne talking and I know that he has, um, he asked the person that he was talking to, how do you know Ro did this? And so I think that whoever he's talking to is telling him that Ro was behind it. So I take the phone call and I go outside because there's a lot of people, you know, inside the house and uh, Tonya follows me out and Chris comes out not long after I start the conversation. Ro is very upset. He is telling me, he's getting people to tell him that they're blaming him for Eric's murder and that he assures me that he had nothing to do with Eric's murder and he would help me anyway he could. What little I knew of Ro at the time, I knew that pretty much anything that happens in Empire, Ro would know about it. Eric I knew liked Ro. He had bought a mobile home from him. I didn't know of any reason at that point why Ro would kill Eric and Gypsy. He kept on saying he had nothing to do with it. He was crying. I could tell by the way he was talking that he was crying. And, uh, my conversation with him, went , well, you know, Ro, I know that anything that happens in empire, you should know. I also know that if someone burned a body in your backyard, that should be a message to you too. I said, what is going on that they would try to be blaming it on you and pretty much left the conversation that if he heard anything that he would get back with me. He was very adamant that he did not have anything to do with Eric's murder and he wanted me and Wayne to know about it. He didn't know why people in Empire was trying to, uh, blame him. And that was my first talk with RO about this.
How did you feel after you spoke with him? Did you feel like he was being honest or did you just not know?
I really felt like Ro was being honest. You could almost hear the fear in his voice. I think number 1 he was upset about Eric and Gypsy’s death and then also the fear of someone trying to blame him and the repercussions of what would happen if people believed what was being told.
Michael and I wanted to speak to Ro. I called him on a Saturday afternoon and he told me we were welcome to come by. When we arrived, Ro met us outside and gave us a warm but maybe a somewhat apprehensive greeting. We didn’t record our conversation that day but as we spoke with Ro, I knew I wanted to. There was much more to Ro’s story than I anticipated. At the end of our meeting that day, I offered Ro the chance to tell his story to all of you and he agreed.
How did you first meet Eric?
Met him through a mutual friend. He had a mobile home for sale. I was interested in it, so he told me that we would have to go through his dad because his dad actually had contacted me and told me that we just got gonna have to go through him because he said that on all of the sons business don't usually go as planned. So he would have to have all of the money up front before I moved the mobile home and that he would allow me to pay him in payments, which he wrote me receipts for all of them, but I wouldn't be able to move it until it was all paid in full. That's how I first came encounter with Eric.
When I actually went to move the trailer, he didn't have the, um, the title to it, so we had to go to the bank and we rode up there together. We made a stop at a farm place and got some food. He talked about his mama a lot and his family. Everybody in the bank knew him, you know. That day I spent some time with him and we also went to the mutual friend's house before we left for a second. He had to stop up there.
His best friend was somebody that I knew
I thought was his best friend because I never seen him unless I the other one. He was, um, it was kinda in the neighborhood. So he did a lot of work. You're always saying passing through. Um, he always honk his horn, blow wave. Decent guy.
I asked Ro if he saw Eric that Friday, the day before Eric and Gypsy were found murdered.
He was with Daniel that day. Every time that I seen him go down toward that school, um, every time I ever seen him he was either with Daniel or Daniel's wife.
I spoke with the man Ro is referring to as Eric’s best friend. He told me he wasn’t with Eric on that Friday but he said that he saw Eric shoveling gravel in the camp that day. I asked Ro about that. The camp isn’t a big place. If Eric had been there working that day, it’s unlikely that Ro wouldn’t have known about it.
I don't know if it was that day. I know that he, um, put Graebel and our hole up the role by the church, by my mom and them mail box. And um, I know he had, um, I seen him putting gravel at, uh, my brother driveway. So I don't know if it was exactly that that day cause it's been so long. I really don't think it was, but it could have been.
Ro’s name has been brought up to us several times as a person potentially involved in Eric’s death. The stories vary but most all of them involve either Eric owing him money or taking Ro’s money and property. I asked Ro about these stories and asked him if he or anyone else in the camp had a problem with Eric.
He was fine up here. I mean, he was up here doing work out the kindness of his heart. He was. I mean, I don't think I had the trailer. What, two, three weeks. So I had just stopped owing them.
Ro adamantly denies that Eric owed him money and he said Eric never stole from him.
Um, my home had just burned down previously, so we were looking for somewhere big enough to, you know, for my family to stay. Um, we was at all mobile home place. And my brother called and you said that somebody called and said that they found Eric truck burned by the school. Then he called back and said that they said he was in it. And I remember telling my brother, I said, whoever did that must not know who he is, that it’s fixing to be hell to pay for somebody. And the evening went on a couple hours and he called me back and he was like the um, detectives up here, they say they want to talk to you, that somebody put your name in it. And I told him to put them on the phone and I told them what I was doing and I told him that I was fixing to get my family and we was fixing get in the car. And we was on our way up here. And by the time we got here, they was gone. So I called them back and they told me to come to the station and I went right to the station.
Basically asked me if I knew him, how and something I believe they asked me about him owing me some money or something. I showed him the paperwork of me owing him and paying him.. And um, that was actually the second time that I brought it. But, um, I asked him then because I was already getting calls of people saying that there was threats being made and my name being in it and stuff. And I asked him and I asked him to get me a lie detector test and whenever they had to do so that I can get on the right path because I have no knowledge of anything that happened to that young man.
I asked Ro who questioned him that afternoon at the Walker County Sheriff’s Office. He told me it was Dayron Bridges, Sheriff Underwood and a 3rd person he couldn’t remember. I asked him if the 3rd person could have been Chuck Tidwell.
I believe that's exactly who it was.
Ro told me he requested to be given a lie detector test numerous times but they never did.
And I asked on every occasion that they called me back in and I also asked mr, um, Gentry, I think his name is in Cullman. And he contacted me once, um, and I also asked him to give me one, but I never ever heard back from him either.
How many times did they ask you to come in for questioning?
I want to say three. They sit outside my house. They was kinda everywhere that I went. If I went to a dog food for the dog, I would see them. It was kinda like I was really been looked at. I felt like they was
How long did they sit outside your house and follow you place?
It was months. I'm not sure that it ever really stopped.
As Tobbie & Ro have both described to you, the rumors of Ro’s involvement in Eric’s death began the day Eric & Gypsy were found and so did the threats against Ro. Unfortunately, someone actually followed through with these threats. One of Ro’s brother’s lived in the Camp too and he lived across the road from Ro. Someone drove by and shot up Ro’s brother’s home. Ro can’t remember exactly when it happened. Tobbie is pretty certain that it happened within a day or 2 of Eric & Gypsy being found.
It was, it was something after, it was after Eric Cates was found by the school. It was probably about two, two weeks at the most, probably less than that. I wasn't here.
I was with my mom. There was a lot going on. I just needed a break really. And um, as soon as we got where we were going, my phone rung and they told me that they had shot up my brother house and I called my fiance and I told her to get out the house
Basically I let my mom know and she almost lost it. And we came on back home. And when I got home, my brother, he was there, my oldest brother and my brother, other brother had told me that he was on the couch and had just got up and got something to drink. And when they started shooting at one of the bullets actually went into the couch because like I said, they only shot
and rooms that the lights was on that and um, he was scared. They scared him. That's where he was staying at the time and he left that night and he didn't come back.
Where were your fiance and your children?
The lights just happened to be out. She happened to have got in and was sitting in her car and noticed the car going up and down the road, slowing down by the house.
Tobbie described Eric’s dad, Wayne, receiving a phone call from Eric’s friend, Daniel.
The next day on Sunday, I believe it was Sunday, wayne got a phone call and he was told that, um, someone had shot up Ro’s House and, um, it upset Wayne because after we talked, Wayne didn't think Ro had anything to do with it.
And the next time I talked about the house being shot up is when we went Wayne and I had to going in, I believe it was on Monday and give DNA.
And the fire marshal, Mr. Freeman, Deputy Bell and Chuck Tidwell were there when we, when we, we're going to give the DNA sample and before we got seated, Mark Bell, who was already seated at the time, wanted to know if I was the one who had shot up Ro's house.
How'd you respond to that?
I told him that's not the way I played the game. That ammunition was too expensive to waste like that. Did they question you any further about it? No. They did ask Wayne at the time. Um, if he had anything to do with it. And Wayne told them that he did not. He did not know anything about it at, you know, before it happened. Like it was only after it happened that he was informed about it.
When was the last time you spoke to one of the investigators about any of this?
It's been a long time. The last memory I have of all that going on is when my brother’s house got shot up and they was all at the store and my brother asked him had they had any leads or whatever. And um, Mr. Tidwell told him that he heard his brother that his house got shot up because I got into it with some guys in Birmingham. And I went up there and he wasn't there and I ended up calling him and we, we had a couple of words backwards and forth because everything he was doing was just basically the saying stuff that I felt was slandering our name. And none of it was true. And I felt like they had the tools to find out the truth, but they wasn't using them or trying to, and he was putting us in jeopardy when it was kinda all on them.
And I told him that they need to do their job and he got upset and they said that they was doing their job and I told him, no, you're not. For one night. I asked you for a lie detector tests three, four times. You haven't done it. For two I done told you that we've been getting threats. You told us that ain't nobody around here get that kind of money. But my brother has done, got shot up and they would've shot up mine if I would have been at home because they only shot in rooms that lights was on in. They rode this rode for 20 minutes waiting on the light to come on in this house. Our families was in these houses. You've been up here since this incident happened. Five cars on one end, five on the other. But you missed this car driving for 20 minutes and you leave at the exact time that they shoot up the house. But it's still on me? No, I don't have a problem with nobody and I don't cause a problem with anybody. I treat people I want to be treated and I never did anybody wrong. It's not in my family history. It's just false. And I felt like they wasn't doing their job. And I told them, it's not who you want it to be. It's who it is.
And when you see that the path you’re going up, it's wrong. You need to fix it. And that's how I felt about it.
Did the Walker County Sheriff’s Office investigate who was responsible for this drive by shooting?
They say they did, but I don't believe so. I don't think that hard to find out. And I know it wasn’t anyone from Birmingham like Chuck Tidwell said.
When we went to speak with Ro that first day, we didn’t know a lot of the details surrounding his part in this story and we had no idea just how deeply Eric & Gypsy’s murders had impacted his life. And not just his life but the lives of his entire family. Ro was emotional that 1st day as he told his piece of this story.
And I feel like if that night never happened, my brother was still be here because it would have been home. He ended up getting killed probably a week or two later away from home.
Ro told us his brother was murdered just weeks after Eric and while he doesn’t think his brother’s death is directly connected to Eric’s, he fully believes his brother only left his home because he was scared after his home was shot up. If the drive by shooting had never happened, he believes his brother would be alive and well today.
I have a burden on my heart knowing that I was falsely to put in something that they could of from the beginning, proved that it was false and gave that family closure and gave them a chance to go after the people that they should be going after and them leaving me in it when my family became a target. That's how I feel about it.
It was Ro’s brother’s birthday on that day we visited his home. We could see the pain in his eyes as he spoke of his brother and the events that occurred after Eric & Gypsy’s murder. As Tobbie described earlier, she spoke to Ro that very night.
I don't remember if I call her or she called me. I might've called her. I know at one point, miss, um, the lady that store might've gave it to me, gave me her number and said she wanted me to call her. So it's possible I call her. Yes ma'am. Well, the first time I talked to Ms Tobbie, um, she wanted to talk to me. I said I didn't have any problem talking to her, the police or anybody else because I didn't have anything to do with it and that wasn't going to change. So I wanted them to be able to do wherever it was that they needed to do to get to the bottom of what they was trying to figure out. So if it was me going down there talking to them, taking a lie detector test, whatever, I was willing to do it. I figured that easy route would be to point at me once that I was in the midst of the conversation of being involved. That's always an easy target. Point at the
Black community, which is fine, but we didn’t have nothing to do with this. If you look at the history of everything that go on around here, we don't have nothing to do with. It is easy to point the finger.
II have lost too much involving something that I had nothing to do with and it is unfair. I refused to lose anything else between this. I mean I grew up here, I've been here my whole life. I thought I wanted to raise my kids here, but this done changed everything. To me it's always been kinda, should've been an easy case.
And like I told them from the beginning, people come to a murder scene in a group and everybody get the same story and you see that that story is a lie. You got to ask yourself, why did everybody show up here with the same lie? Because from my own understanding, everybody that was there that pointed them this way was at the barbecue that he was supposed to been at at night. Where the real altercation happened at.
Where was the BBQ that night?
They say past the store. I don't know. It's between Sipsey and Empire.
It was some kind of party of some sort and like I say, if you with somebody all day and you driving past this house and going down towards the school, who you was with that day, know exactly where you was going, what you was doing and who you was involved with that way. If you're with somebody that every time you're around here, that person knows what happened to you. And you can lie about it all you want to but your lie not going to stick.
Ro and I spoke about specific names that have come up. There are a bunch of names. Some of these are names you are going to hear in future episodes.
All of them. From what I understand that was all there and from what I understand, those are the same people that showed up down there before they got him out and put my name in it and I will always believe whoever put my name in it, got something to do with it. It's no reason for you to show up at a murder scene, homicide scene, whatever kind of scene it is and volunteer false information. There's no reason for it.
Well, I'll say this also, in a place like this, everything gets out eventually and if it doesn't that mean it was on one or two people or it was a family because as high as that reward was and people actually knowing him and knowing he wasn't a bad guy, somebody would have told the truth. Got to be family. If it happened around here, it’s was definitely family because it happened in the same place. I know not to go that way.
A lot of them names, I didn't hear or know of until after everything was said and done, then I started learning or this person and that person and this person
you. They got their own section and it's, there's nobody, I mean there's a dead end. Why would anybody go around there?
At the time I thought that they was just, sorry, possible they didn't know where they was doing, but going through it and seeing other departments and all that they need and do and all, it's hard to put blame on them, I put blame on them for how they handled it, but I'm not going to say I don't think they did them to solve it or didn't try. I don't know enough to say that, but I think they went about it completely wrong. I think they tried to show a force against people who wasn't willing to help any way they could because the majority of people around here are actually great people, you know, and nobody wants to see somebody's life get took especially for no reason. So I feel like they could have talked to people like human treated them like humans and just basically, you know, killed them with kindness. Just do your job. We understand you got to do your job, but there’s a way to do it.
Ro mentioned a BBQ that was rumored to have been near Sipsey the night before Eric and Gypsy were found. It’s not the first time this BBQ has been mentioned. As a matter of fact, tips came in about this too on the same day that Eric & Gypsy were found.
I was at Wayne's home and Wayne got a phone call from a man telling him that there was some people out in the yard at the trailer park that they had had a party, um, and that the people were cleaning up the house and they had water hoses and they were spraying off the porch.
And even out in the yard. And it was a little eerie because this is pretty much the same conversation that we had had with the man that had called about the, um, incident in Empire about water hoses and cleaning off porches and clean off the yard, sweeping the yard. Uh, but this was at a trailer park in Sipsey and that they refused to call the Sheriff's department. They said that they called them and nothing was done and that they would get harassed. Deputies would never come when, when any of them in there call pretty much, um, on certain people. He never mentioned any names. A little while later a woman called and she was telling us that, um, at that time more people had arrived and they were taking things out of the house, um, putting them in a trunk.
She never gave us a description of the vehicle. She wanted to know how much longer it would be before the cops got there. This went on for probably an hour. I called Chuck.
Tidwell and told him about it. When the man called Wayne back, he was, you know, a little upset. Um, he, you know, asked Wayne, anybody was coming that um somebody needed to get there in a, in a hurry. And then the woman called me back. So at the same time, Wayne was talking to the man, I was talking to the man’s wife because she was saying that her husband had called Eric’s dad about this. They were on opposite ends or at one of the was out in the yard. I really don’t remember that part. One of them was out in the yard when the other was inside the mobile home. So they were both calling us and she said that her husband had talked to Eric’s dad and told him about the cleaning up at this trailer.
Speaker 3: (15:35)
And she implied that it wasn't the first time that they had called and complained about this trailer, but that nothing was ever done. Several hours later, the, uh, the man called back and told Wayne that he and his wife both had been there all day and that no law enforcement had come to that mobile home.
Did you follow up with Chuck and ask him about going to the mobile home?
Oh yeah. Chuck just said that there was a barbecue there that not that there had been a fight, but that it had nothing to do with Eric.
Did he say how he knew this since he didn't go there?
I ask did he go and make a report and he said no, that another officer had went to the mobile home. Um, which I didn't believe that because the neighbors had said that they had been there all day watching and nobody came. I tend to believe these people because I mean, from what they were saying, they were right there. They could see anybody coming down the road and going into this, uh, it's not like it was way back off the woods. They could see everything that was happening and they were pretty much saying they really didn't have any faith in them coming anyway because they never came.
Tobbie doesn’t know who all lived in this mobile home but she does know that the girlfriend of one of the people who’s name comes up over and over and over again in Eric & Gypsy’s murder lived there and that this man was seen there with her numerous times. Why would an investigator not follow up on a lead about a BBQ, a violent fight and the cleanup and possible disposal of evidence that all occurred the night before and the day that Eric & Gypsy were found? It seems even more curious when you compare it to how much scrutiny they investigators put Ro under yet were never even willing to administer the lie detector test that Ro practically begged for. These lie detector tests were administered to many other persons of interest in the case. It appears that certain leads where completely disregarded while others resulted in dark clouds of suspicion hanging over the heads of others and no one ever made the effort to eliminate any of these leads. A seasoned investigator with the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, Mike Cole, spoke on this topic to me although the subject matter was not related to Eric’s case. I’m paraphrasing a bit here but he told me an investigator’s job is to work the leads and rule out suspects and theories until you are left with the one or ones. If Ro was ever ruled out, he nor anyone else in the general public was told. Ro was a ready and coorperative subject. There is no excuse for not doing what was needed to rule him out so that the investigation could have focused on more promising suspects especially when he and his family were facing very real threats.
We want to offer a special thanks to Julius Ro Goodmon for being open and willing to tell his story. It wasn’t easy for him to do and he could have chosen the path the others with rumored involvement have taken but he didn’t.
What did lead to Eric and Gypsy’s murder? Was Eric set up? Did a woman or possible even multiple women play a part in their deaths? Could Eric’s good heart have been exploited and used to lure him to his death? Join us next time as we explore the other things going on in Eric’s life.
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.