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Jan. 1, 2020

The Lost Footage

The Lost Footage

We were given the surveillance footage from the Blue Store for Eric's last day.  The Blue Store was the last reported sighting of Eric and Michael made a very significant discovery as he poured over this video.  Be sure to visit our Facebook page to see the video.  

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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 6 of a serial podcast and they are designed to be listened to in order. 


It has always been reported that Eric was last known to be seen alive that Friday night at the Blue Store by Crystal, a store employee.  At the end of the last episode, I told you that Eric left the Blue Store at 8:03 pm and headed south on Hill Rd.


Here is where things start to get a little fuzzy.  Tonya told us the Blue Store closed at 8:30 pm but Crystal is adamant that the store closed at 8 pm.  Regardless of the official time the store was supposed to close, what we can tell you is that there were customers there well after 8 pm and the doors were not locked until 8:26 pm.  More importantly, that last reported sighting at 8:03 pm doesn’t fit with the story Tobbie has always been told about Eric coming back to the store to ensure Crystal closed up and left safely and it doesn’t fit with what Michael discovered on the surveillance video either.


The camera system at the Blue Store was not the best quality even in broad daylight.  After dark, the quality is absolutely horrible.  As Michael watched the last part of the video, it was now dark in Empire, AL.  


Tonya arrives at the Blue Store at 8:08 pm, parking along Coon Creek Rd. on the far side of the gas pumps from the front of the store.  About 30 seconds later she enters the store, which is occupied by a male customer and Crystal working behind the counter.  Five minutes later, another customer walks out front with both Tonya and Crystal, presumably to smoke, as they do this frequently throughout the day.  Two male customers enter the store at 8:17 pm and engage each other in conversation for about 4 minutes before leaving the store together.


At 8:22 pm, it’s just Tonya and Crystal in the store, and Tonya places what looks like a pizza box on the counter while Crystal is on the register.  A minute later, the two open the ATM and remove the cash from it, taking it into the back room of the store, which isn’t on camera.  A minute later, they both emerge from the back and Tonya removes the till from the register and places it and a zipper top bank deposit bag in the pizza box, and appears to tape a length of receipt paper to the top of the box while Crystal is doing something in the front windows of the store.  At 8:26 pm, the two leave the store, but it is unclear from the camera angles which one locks the front door because Camera 01, which is inside the store facing the front door, was not working that day.  This is the last time that Crystal is seen on camera that night.  At the time they leave the store, the two male customers that were talking inside are still together talking, standing near the gas pumps.


At 8:27 pm, the two men move closer to the pumps to allow a white, single cab truck to pull in, stopping between the pumps and the front door of the store.  Literally right at the front door.  The two male customers appear to leave the store at 8:31 pm, leaving Tonya, Crystal, and the white truck that just arrived as the only people known to be present.


All day, there had been several white pickup trucks observed at or passing by the Blue Store.  As we’ve mentioned, the video quality on the store’s tapes is subpar at best.  As many law enforcement officers (and military reconnaissance officers) do, Michael is used to looking at vehicle silhouettes and key features to quickly identify vehicles, and this is how he was able to recognize Eric’s truck throughout the day.  Eric’s truck was a short-wheel base, single cab, white 1994 Chevrolet S-10, with no bed liner or tool box in the bed of the truck.  The majority of the white trucks seen on the security footage that day are full sized trucks, rather than a light truck like the S10.  Among the light body trucks seen on the footage, Eric’s was one of two that were single cab, as most of those seen are extended or double cab and have a second side window behind the driver’s side window.  Features like headlamp placement and style, windshield and side window shape, grill, and bumper style help to identify the truck as a Chevrolet S10 model from a distance or in low light.  Up close, when the camera angle allows it, Eric’s truck can be readily identified by all of these features plus the debris and equipment in the bed of his truck.


Michael quickly realized that the truck that pulls up to the Blue Store at 8:27 pm is Eric!  The truck appears shiny, as if it was recently washed, and you can clearly see there is no bedliner or toolbox in the back, but there is debris similar to what was observed earlier in the day in Eric’s truck.  Eric never exits his vehicle but as Michael closely watched, he realized Eric’s window was down and he appeared to be talking to someone slightly out of view of the camera.  There are several points where you can see his arm moving in the driver’s side window, and at 8:34 pm, you can see Eric light a cigarette.  At this point you can see the person he is talking to move around near the driver’s door, and they are holding a flat, square “pizza box” in their left hand. This appears to be the same box that Tonya was holding as she walked out of the store. 


At 8:35 pm, the person outside of the truck appears to lean into the driver’s side window very briefly, then walks to the back of his truck, pauses and turns around, and returns to the driver’s side door.  The driver (Eric) then appears to lean out of the window some and the person outside of the truck again moves closer to the window and they appear to come very close together for a brief time.  We will post a short clip of the video on the facebook page.  The person with the pizza box then walks to the front of the truck and crosses in front of his truck as he turned on his headlights to leave.  In the brief moment the person is illuminated in the headlights you can tell that it is a woman by her gait and clothing.  The pizza box is easily visible in her hands and even the color of her shirt is recognizable for just a split second.  She walked in front of the truck, between the gas pumps and to her truck she’d parked on the far side.  It appears Eric spoke with Tonya that Friday night at the Blue Store for approximately 10 minutes.  Eric pulls away from the Blue Store but instead of going up Hill Road as has been reported all these years, Eric turned left and went down Little Vine at 8:37 pm.  Another vehicle off camera on the north side of store, leaves the store next, taking Hill Rd south; you can see this vehicle’s headlights come on when the person with the pizza box walks to the back of Eric’s truck and turns around.  We believe this is Crystal pulling out of the store and Hill Rd is the road she would have traveled up to go home.  Tonya left and headed north on Coon Creek Rd at 8:38 pm.  

Michael and I thought this was some pretty significant information but it was the weekend.  We already had an appointment scheduled with Sheriff Smith at the beginning of the week.  While we were en route to our appointment, we were notified that Sheriff Smith wouldn’t be able to meet with us that day afterall and that we were instead meeting with one of his investigators.  This is when we met the sheriff’s new cold case investigator, Mike Cole.  The sheriff’s office already had a copy of the full surveillance video but Michael had created short video clips of crucial events, still shots of key moments and a meticulously detailed event log of the entire days events shown on the video.  He had it on a flash drive for the sheriff’s office to copy but Investigator Cole encountered some technical difficulties so we ended up emailing all the information that Michael had put together to Sheriff Smith on September 29, 2019.  We did discuss the surveillance video in detail with Investigator Cole.  After our discussion, I asked him if he minded if we spoke to Tonya about this newly discovered portion of the video and he gave us his blessing to do so. 


We knew Tonya was at work that day so we went there to see if she would be able to speak with us for a few minutes.  I put a lot of effort into obtaining quality audio for this podcast but the audio you are about to hear is subpar at best.  We were standing outside of a busy gas station sitting on the side of a heavily traveled road.  Getting quality audio here wasn’t possible.  I’m going to keep it to a minimum but I think the value of the content of the audio outweighs the poor quality.  My apologies!

Michael: (03:50)

Where you at the store the night before? 



Uh yes. For only a few minutes. Long enough to come in and grab the money and leave. If I'm not mistaken, I was, because I mean we. I mean, Crystal told me I just missed Eric by minutes.



You didn't see Eric? 



No sir. 


But he was supposed to come back when she locked up. 






But you were there when she locked up. 






But you didn't see him come back. 



No sir.



Because when you got the money…



Yes sir. 



you took the cash till and the deposit bag and put it in a pizza box. 


Tonya: (04:38)

Yeah. It's not a pizza box, but it's um, 



But it’s like that though?



yes sir. Pretty much that's how we used to cover it up.


Michael: (04:46)

You walked out of the store because I've seen you walk down to the store and the two other guys over by the pumps, they moved out of the way. Eric's truck came back in.



After I left? but I was still there?


Michael: (05:05)

The person holding that box stood there and talked to the person in that white truck for about 10 minutes.


Tonya: (05:13)

I'd have to go back and look at it, but as far as I know of, I didn't talk to him,


Michael: (05:18)

I mean you can clearly see the box.


Michael: (05:24)

And you drove a truck, right? 



Yes. I drove a, it was either it was either a little red S10 or the Black ford with the white racing stripes. 



You would park on the far side of the pumps out near the road. 



Sometimes or I would park up against the ice box


Michael: (05:42)

On that when you got there it was right after Eric put gas in his truck. He had left. A few minutes later is when that vehicle parks out there and it looks like you walking in. You got the money and everything went back out and the person that's standing next to that white truck talking for about 10 minutes. Eric leaves. The boy leaves, he turns on his headlights and it's you. I'm telling you, it's you. You walked right in front of his truck and you're holding the box. He turns his head lights on. It's just, a brief instance, but it's you.


Tonya (06:23)

Okay. As far as I can remember, I didn't, I don't remember. 



You don’t remember talking to anybody?



No, no. To be honest with you. No. Like I said that the last I remembered was he was supposed to meet me there, but I don't, I honestly don't remember talking to him. 



He was supposed to meet you there?. 


Yes, because my husband had arteriogram done that day. We was at st Vincent's all day Friday.


Tonya Michael Amber: (06:51)

And see. I thought about that because I thought, well maybe, maybe you came up there to get to get the cash.


Tonya: (06:59)

Yeah, I had to open the next morning


Michael: (07:02)

but then I thought, well, have you been in the hospital all day and all you were going to do was hand it off to somebody else. You wouldn't have come up to the store for 20 minutes just to get the cash and give it to someone else.


Tonya: (07:39)

Like I said, I had to open the next morning.  But I mean I'll be glad to go back and look at it. I mean this put as far as I can remember, I don't remember talking with Eric. Was it a long wheel base one or a short wheel?



It was short. 





Michael: (07:53)

Single cab. No toolbox, no bed liner. Shiny. Like he had just washed it, never got out. But he lit a cigarette while he was talking to…



To me? 



Because crystal was there. 






but it looked like she went out where those other two guys were after the truck pulls in and I told you they got out of the way. She went that way. And of course the cameras, the way the camera angle is, you can't really see over there. 


Tonya: (08:59)

I don't, Honest to God, I don't remember talking to Eric. I mean if we did it would have been about my husband. I mean that was pretty much it,


Michael: (09:12)

That's the part I'm curious about because I mean it wasn't just a,


Tonya: (09:17)

like I said, I hadn't been through the video again.


Michael: (09:19)

It wasn't just a short conversation either though.


Tonya: (09:22)

Well that's what I'm saying. It would have to have been about the my husband and the arteriorgram.


Michael: (09:27)

I mean that's where, so you have the initial, looking at the newspaper reports and they told you and I think they talked, some of them talked to crystal. 



That one lady that was in the pictures where I took. That's the lady that was in that. 



So the story there is when he came and got the gas and he left and you went Hill road. And that's true for the previous visit. 



I do not remember him coming back. 



But the last one where I, where I see him, he has that conversation after the store is locked up and when he left he did not go Hill Rd. 


Tonya:I have to go back and look at it. 



I mean it's, it's, it's interesting. 


Tonya: (12:35)

But, I honest to God don't remember talking to Eric that night, but it might've just been from everything that has went on. But I mean I'd have to see it again.  Was I on the passenger side or the driver's side? 



Driver’s side



Gypsy would be on the passenger side, so I wouldn't go around to that side because she almost bit me a couple of weeks prior to that. If anybody got close to that truck, she would bite them


Michael: (18:33)

it was, it was on the driver's side. Really, you don't even get real close to the, to the truck. There's just to be honest, we got it looked like you might've been smoking over there on the side of the store and Eric was smoking and y'all were just having a chat. You can see the windows down and his arm, you know, he's moving his arm in and out. But it's the box is the big thing. 



That was the money. Yeah. Like literally you can go back and see us stick it in that in that box. I mean it's the cash drawer and the um, the, the traditions bank zip bag.


Michael: (19:10)

Yeah. And it looked like you might've either taped it shut or maybe take the receipt from the end of the day on the top. Yep. So


Tonya: (19:20)

that was, I mean that part was something that we did every day. Right. I didn't want to just be like %&^^% (&(*&(  toting the cash drawer in and out. I wasn't that confident and I always toted a gun with me but it still scared me. I mean he'd done it for years. I hadn’t, you know, opening and closing and everybody in this community knew him and he knew everybody. But if I still had that box in my hand, I wouldn't have gotten too close to many people because of the fact of the amount of money that was in that box.



Well you could tell that it was awkward to carry just by the way you were holding it.

A whole lot of statements were taking that weekend, you know, from everybody. These people who weren't involved, if you lived in the neighborhood. Chuck came in and videoed. 



I honest to God do not remember talking to him that night. If I did, I wouldn't have something like that. 



But that's where it's problematic because all the statements say the last time Eric was seen was right after he filled up or put gas in his truck and headed down Hill road and then in reality, 15 minutes later he came back.


Michael: (36:19)

Well that's why I wanted to ask you about it because it's pretty unusual for out there. 



I do not remember talking to Eric that night, I honest to God. 



You don't remember talking to anybody though?






I mean Eric in the, in the truck. You would have known his truck. 



Yes. I mean I, I don't remember talking to anybody. I was so focused on my husband that day


Michael: (48:11)

I appreciate you talking. 



I'm sorry if I would have remembered, I would have told you. Like I said, I'll try the hide stuff I wouldn’t have it on damn USB.


Michael: (48:33)

I know.  You understand, I just, I really want to try and get to the bottom of it.



and I mean the only thing that we could've been talking about would have been Keith. 


I did send the video to Tonya of her speaking to Eric that night.  I followed up with her to see if she watched it and if it triggered her memory of their conversation that night.   She replied to me with “I was able to make it through the video.  I was not able to remember ANYTHING.  The ONLY  thing it did was make how I feel worse.  I did also speak with Tonya about the video one more time via phone.  The tone of the conversation on my end was like what you heard in the previous audio when Michael and I spoke with her.  She was pretty brief.  She denied any relationship with Eric beyond friendship.  She again stated that she does not remember seeing him that night and she hung up on me.


I have also spoken to Crystal numerous times about that night.  She told me she has no memory of Tonya coming in to get the cash drawer that night.  She doesn’t remember Tonya standing outside and talking to Eric that night after they locked up.  I sent her some still pics of the video to see if it prompted any memories.  Crystal told me she still didn’t remember Eric and Tonya being there that night and she was shocked that she doesn’t remember him being there at that time.  I asked Crystal if she saw anything that would make her believe that it wasn’t Eric there in that truck that night.  She responded and said “not really.  He would have been the only one in that type of truck that would stop and wait for close.”  I believe Crystal is being truthful in her recollections of that night.  She and Tonya exited the store at 8:26 pm.  Crystal told me she had a couple things going on right then.  Her husband has been out of town for work for an extended amount of time and he was coming home that night.  She also said her grandmother was very sick.  Crystal told me that her phone doesn’t work well if at all when she is inside the Blue Store.  Tobbie, Michael and I have also noticed that we don’t get phone reception when we are inside.  Crystal said it’s her normal routine when she leaves work to immediately check her phone and make phone calls from her vehicle in the parking lot of the Blue Store because she does get reception outside but when she starts on her drive home, she loses service again so she typically sits in the parking lot there and talks on the phone before she heads home.  Eric’s truck pulled up to the front door of the store 1 minute and 4 seconds after Crystal and Tonya walked out the door.  That left plenty of time for Crystal to reach her vehicle.  And I think that’s what occurred that night.  While you can see Tonya and Eric interacting, there is no evidence of Eric interacting with a 2nd person who might be standing just outside of the camera view.


As shocking as the video was to us, Tobbie wasn’t surprised. 


Amber: (02:29)

And so after Eric's death, you were in contact with Tanya a lot more? 



A lot more. That day she seemed very shaken. She came to Wayne's house where we all met after we left where Eric was found. And at that point she, um, was getting phone calls from people who went in to talk to Wayne or myself that didn't have our direct number. In fact, the phone call that I got from Ro that night came through Tanya. Um, and after that Tanya was very close. We, um, we saw each other like every other day or talked daily. Tonya would help me go and check out leads that I would get. And then I got to noticing that Tonya would know things before I would find them out and this became very evident that her and Chuck Tidwell, the investigator of Eric and Gypsy's case were, um, I don't know how to, there was just something there. Everything was about Chuck Tidwell and what he would tell her. And one day I just asked, why was it he was talking to her, but I couldn't get him to return my calls and telling her information that I felt like Wayne or I should get before anyone else. And she had no real definite excuse. She just said, Oh, we just talk. And I thought that was inappropriate.



So before Eric & Gypsy were found, how would you characterize the contact and frequency that you had with Tonya?



I might see her once a year, once every two years. I think I ran into her and Keith one time in Tennessee in a Cracker Barrel and I hadn't seen them in a year then. So it was a very infrequent. 



But all of that changed? 



All of it changed the day Eric and Gypsy's body was found.


Michael: (05:44)

That could just be because she was concerned and wanted to be helpful. Right?


Tobbie: (05:59)

In the beginning I thought that was the reason, but as time went along and she would know things before me and just odd things like I would go in the blue store and they would already know that I was on my way or Chuck Tidwell would have been there and when he heard that I was coming, he would leave and evidence that I had been trying to get and Tanya had went with me on several things. I would never get, I would never be able to talk to someone. And then later on I would find out that Tanya had talked to them and they had told Tanya things, but yet she had not relayed those things to me. People that would say, this was months after Eric's death, that they had been trying to get in touch with me, that they had asked Tanya more than once to get in touch with me and tell me they had something to tell me and they would tell her instead because she would tell him that I was busy. And you have to understand these are the people that didn't do Facebook, older people in Empire. I had made my presence known at the blue store, went up there many times during the week to be there in case people did want to talk. I think, um, my presence there got to be more of a hindrance than anything. And later I found out that people didn't want to talk to certain people there about things that had happened because they didn't trust who they were giving the information to. 



Was it Tanya that they were worried about sharing information with? 



Tanya was one of them. Yes.


Amber: (08:20)

At what point in time did you learn about the video at the blue store? This surveillance video that showed Eric the Friday before he was found. 



I knew about the video.  Tanya made copies.  Sunday and Monday what I took to be the surveillance of the day, the day before the Friday, uh, that was showing him where he was at and what time he was there. Tonya called me a few days after Eric was murdered and said she had the copy of the surveillance that Chuck Tidwell was coming to get her equipment. Uh,like he had several others around in the area and she wanted me to come and get my copy. When I got there on the table, there were several copies there. She had Chuck Tidwell, his name on two or three, I think there was three in his, in his area. And then there were two or three with Tonya's name on them. And then I had one with my name on them and they were jump drives. And when I got the jump drive and was going through it, mine cut off. And I thought that was the end of the surveillance. I had asked her for, um, the Thursday and the Sunday. I wanted it all, but she said that Chuck was coming to get it and that that's all that she had time to get. It wasn't until after I talked to you and got the equipment from the blue store that Chuck Tidwell never came and got,  I found out that my jump drive did not have the entire surveillance day on it.  And I had wondered why there was some many jump drives there and why she had names on them and that leads me to believe that she didn't want to get them mixed up.  I think now that the jump drives may have been intentionally made for certain people like mine, there were certain things that I feel like now that she didn't want me to see.



When you talk about parts of the day missing? You're talking about the end of the day?  Is that where you saw that you think is missing off of your original jump drop?


Tobbie: (12:00)

Yes. The, uh, the fact that she does come to the store, that she does see Eric on Friday night, and seems to have a conversation with him. I don't understand why she didn't tell me about that. I don't know why she was so adamant that she had not seen Eric on Friday. She kept saying, you know, that she just wished that she could have seen him, that she can't believe that she didn't get to see him before this happened. That if she had just gotten back in time from the meeting, from the doctor's appointment in Birmingham and all along she knew that she had seen him.


Tobbie: (14:13)

If we had been talking about this today, you know, almost five years later, I can see where things may have slipped their mind, but this was the day after, not even 24 hours later that they are telling people this.  It’s not only me that they’ve told.


Michael: (16:30)

I'll tell you what, what's been most interesting to me about bringing this to their attention today is that their response is that they don't remember, rather than looking at the image and saying, well, I don't think that's Eric's truck.


Tobbie: (16:51)

They know it was Eric's truck


Tobbie: (16:51)

I don't know if they thought they had erased it. I don't know if they ever thought that we would ever be able to collect that part of the evidence. Did they think they had destroyed it by her not putting that on the jump drive that she gave me back right after this happened to Eric and gypsy, maybe she thought it would never come up.


Michael: (17:31)

What did she tell you about the other footage from Saturday? For instance, the day that that Eric and gypsy were found, did she ever talk about looking at the footage from that day or early that morning?


Tobbie: (17:45)

No. Tanya made a point of saying that what was on my jumpdrive was all that she could get before Chuck would come and get her equipment. And she even made the statement that she didn't know what she was going to do. Uh, she couldn't get another set up before he would come and get it. And I questioned that point because I said, why is he having to have your equipment?


Tobbie: (18:17)

And she said that he had to have, um, the laptop and stuff that she was, had recorded the, um, surveillance on for evidence and hers wasn't the only one. And I asked her if she could give me any more details of who come to the store that Thursday when Eric was there, or even Saturday and Sunday. And she was adamant that I had everything on the jump drive that she had time to give before Chuck would come. It was always about chuck was going to come and get the equipment and recording this on those jump drives took time. Um, her equipment was older, slower. Even when I asked if I could have 48 hours, she said, no way. and I left it at that.


Michael: (19:20)

When did you find out that the Sheriff's department actually did not collect the DVR and laptop?


Tobbie: (19:28)

It wasn't until, um, just a few months ago. I'd had a fire in my home and I had lost notes and the jump drive that Tanya had given me, but I knew Tanya had made extra. And so I called Tanya and I hadn't talked to her in quite some time. I had broke it off with her maybe two, three months after Eric's death. I called her. I asked her if she had an extra jump drive that I had lost mine in the fire. And she said, um, yeah, she had an extra one. But she also said that she had the, um, computer her laptop that it was on. And so I called Amber, I called you and I asked you could it be useful and I think you said yes, get it. So I called Tanya back, told her I would like to have the laptop and in the conversation, I had made the comment, I thought Chuck had picked this up and she said, no, he never did. That was the first time that I had realized that she had had it all this time I didn't realize that the surveillance system, the hard drive that the cameras are hooked to, I did not realize that that had not been, um, taken in for evidence by Chuck Tidwell like Tonya and Chuck had told me that he was going to until later at the blue store. It may have been September of 2019 when crystal said that the old system was back there in the drawer in the office. I asked her, could I have it? She told me I would have to ask the owner of the blue store. And I asked her to call him and I talked to him and his son and they let me have it.  Which I immediately met Amber & Mike and gave it to them.


Michael: (22:38)

Were you under the impression that that DVR system head had been unplugged and stored with the intent of maintaining the footage from that weekend?


Tobbie: (23:02)

From my understanding that  equipment was supposed to be in evidence. After talking to crystal, I found out that that equipment was put in a drawer back in the office, but they hardly ever used after they got the new equipment. Um, and it had just been sitting there for years.


Michael: (23:35)

So when we looked at that and discovered that everything from that Friday, the footage that was on those thumb drives, the following Saturday and Sunday, all of that is now gone because that DVR was left running for a little bit over a month before it was unplugged. Were you surprised by that?


Tobbie: (24:07)

At the point that I've found that out, no, I wasn't surprised. There's been so much evidence, um, destroyed, lost in this case that, um, I, I guess I was more aggravated that I wasn't more diligent in, in trying to get more evidence. But to say I was surprised after what I've learned about what all's happened. No, I think it was an intentionally done. But I don't think that is the only thing that they know that had evidence and leads to do with Eric's case that they've not talked to me about, told me about or anyone else except for maybe Chuck Tidwell.


Amber: (31:07)

When you say that you cut on your off after a few months, what was the kind of the final straw? What caused it?


Tobbie: (31:27)

I don't remember anything big. I think it was just everything just kept adding up, all the red flags. Like she would know things before I would know, uh, Chuck Tidwell would tell her things before he would tell me or Wayne. Some of the things he never would tell us and it's like people would tell me that they didn't want to talk to Tonya, that they didn't feel comfortable talking to Tonya. And it was like people knew what I was doing before I would be doing it. You know, I would like tell her I was going to be doing something and different people would know. It's like she would give me information knowing that it was fabricated. It was like she wanted me to go and, giving me false hope or giving me information that she knew wasn't true. And she talked a lot with Chuck Tidwell and by this time I had started suspicioning Chuck Tidwell, just with the way he was handling the investigation, better yet, the way he wasn't handling the investigation. They seem to be just too close. He would tell her something to tell me and I thought this was inappropriate. I felt like he should be talking to me, not to anyone else. I had told her about things that I had been told about evidence with Eric. Um, and she would try to say, Oh no, that's just somebody giving you false information. Don't believe everything you hear. But it was like once I would start doing things on my own, it would really upset her. She would say, you don't need to be going to these places by yourself.  You don't need to be doing these things by yourself. You always need to let somebody know where you're at. Just little things like this. And I had talked it over with Wayne. At one point, she couldn't get me one day. I had left my phone at home. I was at work. She had called Wayne and Wayne called me at work. I said, she has my work number. Why didn't she call me? He said, I don't know. He said, ah, I'm just not happy with her. He said, there's just something there. So he felt the same way. All of a sudden since Eric's death, it's like she wanted to be right in the middle of everything. She wanted to know everything that was going on and she would get very irate and upset when I, when she would find out that I had done something and didn't tell her. At one point her and Chuck Tidwell were having problems.


Tobbie: (34:51)

She had unfriended him on Facebook. She wasn't talking to him. And at that point I was talking to Chuck a little bit and she would say, please tell him that I'm over my mad spell. I'm gonna friend him again on Facebook. It was like they would go through these episodes to where one day they were talking and the next day they weren't, but it was kind of eerie when you would go in the blue store and he would be sitting on the stool there at the cash register, behind the cash register. And for several days, every time I would go in, he would be there and then people would start commenting on it. A lot of people in Empire commented on it. Even saying one time that Hey, we got a job here now. You've been to work, you know, are you one of the employees here? Because he was there so much. Um, and I just didn't feel comfortable with an investigator that’s supposed to be investigating my son's murder, just acting like he did. It was very suspicious.

Amber: (36:10)

Were there others that, other than you and Wayne that voiced concerns or suspicions about Tonya?


Tobbie: (36:19)

Yes. There were several, several in the family that noticed how she was acting, that was suspicious, you know, why is she acting like this now? Um, and, but her and Eric were close and I think that's what, what I was feeding off there in the beginning is that they went to school together. They were close. He was there a lot. But, um, I dunno, you just, sometimes you just have to listen to your gut.


And while Tobbie’s gut has been telling her for many years that there are things Tonya is not telling her, we don’t yet know what all this means.  Maybe there’s a simple explanation for it all but video doesn’t lie.  We’ve given Tonya the opportunity to provide that and she is adamant that she doesn’t remember talking to Eric or anyone else in the parking lot that night.  Join us next time to hear the most heavily rumored story about what happened to Eric and Gypsy.  

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 secretstruecrime@gmail.com 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.