Feb. 26, 2020

The Struggle Is Real

The Struggle Is Real

Tobbie reveals that her struggle to get Eric's case investigated is an ongoing battle.

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Transcript

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

 

Before I jump into this episode, I have something I want to address upfront.  This podcast exists to shine light on the stories of victims such as Eric and Gypsy and their loved ones who are left behind.  This episode is going to be upsetting for some of you and frustrating for others. We’ve left out some of the current struggles Tobbie has been facing in the last few months and is continuing to face now but you are all invested in Eric’s story and in the struggles his family has faced trying to get justice.  It’s time for you all to know that Tobbie’s battle for justice is real and seemingly never ending.  This isn’t an episode that we wanted to do but we’ve reached a point where the truth must come to light.

 

We met with Tobbie and Eric’s brother Chris for the first time on August 28, 2019.  We met Sheriff Nick Smith the next day.  In our initial meeting with Sheriff Smith, he shared Eric’s toxicology results with us.

 

Nick: (01:05:19)

And I did know it is overdose level three times and I haven't shared that with her

 

While she made repeated requests for the toxicology results, no one had shared this information with Eric’s mother in the 4.5 years since his murder.  When I told her, she wasn’t surprised by it.  She’d actually made those persistent requests because she suspected that’s what the toxicology results would reveal.  

 

Tobbie: (00:50)

Not long after we got the letter, Wayne and his brother got the letter from Empire describing an event that supposedly happened to Eric, we had already met with the Sheriff's department and gave them a copy of the letter. And probably about a week after we met with the sheriff, which would've been probably a month after Eric had been murdered we were still getting leads and things that people, you know, would try to give us tips. And one of the tips that we got was that, um they gave Eric a hot shot after he was in the truck. When we ask who gave the hot shot, he wouldn't say. What he said was the guy that made the fresh batch. I ask, uh, we had the guy on speaker phone. He had called Wayne's number and uh, ask, um, I asked him where he got the shot and that's when he said they gave it to him in the truck. Now, whether that was at the school or wherever the truck was when that happened, he didn't say, um, but he did say this when, when tried to press him for more information, he said, um, was Eric doing drugs? And he said no. He said Eric's drug of choice was heroin, but the meth will show up. But he said Eric hadn’t done heroin in a while. Um, he, he didn't say how long he had just said in a while. That was his words. Anybody that had seen Eric and had talked to Eric weeks prior to this happening to his murder will tell you that Eric was probably the best they had seen him in years. Even on the video when the store those that know Eric will tell you that he was doing great. Not perfect, but that he was, seemed like he was getting his life together. 

 

Tobbie: (03:47)

So that's one reason why I kept asking for a toxicology report. I wanted to know what was in the toxicology report.  And finally back in January when Sheriff Smith let me see the toxicology report, there was no heroin in his system. 

 

Tobbie: (04:17)

Just the meth. And I think it was probably three times more than what, uh, you know, you would, you would have, I mean, he had a lot and um, the comment was made that Eric had stopped struggling, stopped fighting. Um, and I believe that is whenever he had, he had just bled out so much from what I've been told that he couldn't defend hisself. And that might be one reason why there was so much meth in his system. They gave it to him and the blood stopped circulating. I don't know, but it just made what we were told about Eric getting a hot shot that much more clearer. And I believe that that was someone that I believe it was someone that was there or someone that was very close to someone that was there to be able to tell us that. 



We’ve been told of numerous cases of hotshotting but I wanted to get another take on the problem.  I spoke with a former law enforcement officer from Walker County.  He did not want to be recorded and wants to remain anonymous.  I asked him if hotshotting is a prevalent problem in Walker County right now.  He told me there’s a lot of hotshotting going on there right now and that it has been an issue for many years.  Another law enforcement officer in the county told us that the hotshotting problem is probably bigger than they realize because even the victims who survive it are too scared to tell what happened to them.  He said sometimes they don’t remember who did it but just know that it was someone in the group of people they’d considered to be friends. 

 

Towards the end of our meeting, Sheriff Smith shared some information with us that really took us by surprise.

 

Amber: (01:03:05)

It's a solvable case. I mean, I’m not trying to poke at you, but I mean, just saying. I mean there's a lot of people there. This shouldn't have been hard to solve, especially in the beginning. Now it's harder. 

 

Nick:

Yeah. But it's hard, it's hard to back up and then solve it. You know,

 

Nick: (01:03:28)

It's almost like the show first 48. I mean, a lot of people you know, if it ain't solved in that first couple of days, this is very, very hard. And I think because the body was burned, it's hard for them to determine cause of death because you know, there's rumors that he was shot. There was rumors he was stabbed. So it's hard for them to….

 

Amber: (01:03:55)

Does it matter? You know? I mean it does but yeah, I mean I don't think there's going to be doubt in the jury's mind. I mean and he was still breathing when he was set on fire.  Right?

 

Nick: (01:04:14)

The investigator that investigated the case and he hasn't said openly but he thinks that because of the toxicology that he's thinks Eric because he was three times the overdose limit for methamphetamine that he overdosed and dropped a cigarette and caught himself on fire is what the investigator says. 

 

Amber:

Which investigator?

 

Nick:

The one that was investigating the case

 

Micheal:

Tidwell?

 

Nick:

Yeah

 

Nick: (01:04:51)

But he don't work here no more.

 

Nick: (01:04:55)

He's a state fire marshall now. (laughter all around including sheriff)

 

Amber: (01:04:55)

Oh good. That's great. He sounds qualified for that. He dropped a cigarette and set himself on fire in the, and the dog with a cigarette. 

 

Nick:

yeah. It's what they said. 

 

I think you can tell by the audio that we were shocked when Sheriff Smith shared that theory with us.  

 

I asked Tobbie when she’d first heard a theory of Eric’s death being accidental.

 

Tobbie: (41:10)

After your meeting with Nick Smith. Oh, I want to say it was in August. Was that when you met with the sheriff? 

 

Amber

Yes. 

 

Tobbie:

And he told you that theory at that point, and you relayed it to me and I was very disturbed by that due to the fact that I'm a forensic specialist with the TV crew out of New York had looked at those pictures and had advised me that from his expert opinion that an accelerant had been used in that fire 




Tobbie: (42:03)

And the theory that it came from his shoes where he had possibly spilled some gasoline and then had dropped a cigarette and set himself a fire, uh, accidentally. I didn't buy that because of the floorboard in the truck after the fact. The material on his legs, the blue jeans, um, it just didn't, to me, you couldn't prove that. The majority of burn was from his waist up. And if they're saying it started from his shoes, that didn't happen based on pictures that I saw. 



Tobbie was never told of this theory and as we spoke to more and more people over the first couple months, we realized that many people around the community had been told this is what happened to Eric & Gypsy.  To me, this is yet another slap in the face of the victim and his family by those in power.  If this was a viable theory, which it’s not, then law enforcement or the district attorney’s office or, better yet, both of them should’ve had that conversation with Eric’s family.  Instead, it seems that they chose to go out into the community and whisper these unfounded rumors into the ears of anyone who would listen.  Even Tonya mentioned this theory to us at our first interview with her.

 

Tonya: (01:45:43)

They said a cigarette fell down and caused the fire.

 

Amber:

Who said that?

 

Tonya:

Chuck

 

Sheriff Smith also told us this theory originated with Chuck Tidwell but we have some doubt that all of the credit goes to Chuck for this.  Nick said “it’s what THEY said.”  Who is they?  I received an anonymous call from a man who claimed to be either current or former law enforcement at the Walker County Sheriff’s Office.  He told me he helped work Eric’s case some and the inside knowledge he had of the case made his claim quite credible.  He wouldn’t give me consent to record him and he wouldn’t reveal his name.  He told me that this theory didn’t originate with Chuck Tidwell.  He told me the origin of the accidental theory was the district attorney’s office.  We don’t know where the theory came from.  Time will tell.  We do know the theory is bogus.  Eric did struggle with addiction but Eric’s drug of choice was never meth.  Eric’s addiction was to heroin and narcotics.  If Eric had money for drugs and the desire to use that night, he wouldn’t have chosen meth.  Beyond that, where were Eric’s keys?  If Eric accidentally started this fire as he sat behind the wheel of his truck, wouldn’t you expect the keys to be in his truck?  How would Eric’s truck be parked in the center of a large mudhole with him and Gypsy both in it without the keys?  What happened to the hat he was wearing?  There were fragments left of his clothing so why would his hat be different?  What happened to his necklaces that were hanging from the rearview mirror and in his ashtray?  Sure, the fire could have damaged them some or even potentially melted them.  We don’t think the fire was hot enough to melt the metal but if it had, the metal wouldn’t have evaporated into thin air. The necklaces would’ve been found.  What happened to Eric’s knife that was in his truck?  The knife he used earlier that very day.  The reality is that Eric & Gypsy were found burned to death in Eric’s truck.  The ashtray was found ajar.  No keys in sight.  His valuables were missing.  The door to his gas tank was open and the gas cap was not on.  If the cap was ever found, no one has ever shared that information with Tobbie.  Another detail that goes along with this theory is that the accelerant for the fire was gasoline that Eric accidentally got on his boot when he was pumping gas earlier in the night.  The surveillance video doesn’t reveal anything to give credence to this theory but there’s one other major problem we see with it.  For that theory to hold true, the fire would’ve had to have been started in the floorboard of the truck.  All indications point to the fire starting in the seat.  Eric’s boots and lower legs had very little fire damage and were mostly intact.  If the fire started by a cigarette coming in contact with an accelerant in the floor board or on Eric’s boots, you would expect these areas to have sustained much greater damage from the fire than they did.  There is one more huge issue with this theory and my anonymous law enforcement caller was kind enough to point it out to me.  According to him, they have witnesses and surveillance footage that indicates Eric pulled into Perry Selman’s yard and never left again.

 

After Sheriff Smith shared this theory with us, I became more and more concerned with it.  Would this ridiculous and unsupported theory in the case file be an obstacle to obtaining the justice that Eric and his loved ones deserve?  I brought it up a time or 2 with Sheriff Smith when I spoke with him on the phone.  He told me not to worry about it.  I had the clear impression that he didn’t believe in this theory either.  He told me that their investigation would clear up any questions about the accidental theory.

 

In August 2019, during my very first conversation with Tobbie, she mentioned she’d had some difficulty getting anything done on her case with the prior administration at the Walker County Sheriff’s Office.  Then she told me about Nick Smith.  Nick and Tobbie met during his campaign for sheriff.  In July 2018, candidate for Walker County Sheriff, Nick Smith, made a facebook post about Eric Cates. It was a photo of Smith, his wife and Tobbie.  Part of the post he made read “Along with assigning a cold case detective to Eric’s case, I plan to appeal to ALEA for assistance from their top investigators as well, along with any assistance from neighboring counties we may need.” Nick Smith was elected sheriff of Walker County and he took office in January 2019.  Tobbie had HOPE and FAITH for the first time since shortly after Eric & Gypsy’s murder.  In February 2019, there were numerous news stories announcing that ALEA or often referred to as the State Bureau of Investigation, was reviewing Eric’s case.  Sheriff Smith told the Daily Mountain Eagle that the case files for Eric’s case had been turned over to the SBI.  This same information was reported by al.com, ABC 33/40, and WVUA 23.  Each piece of news coverage stated that Eric’s case files had been turned over to the State Bureau of Investigation.  In March, Sheriff Smith confirmed to Tobbie that the SBI had Eric’s case files.

 

When we met with Tobbie for the first time, she was expectant and reassured because Sheriff Smith was in office and he had the SBI working Eric’s case.  According to Tobbie and the news coverage, the SBI had been on Eric’s case for almost 7 months.  We did ask Tobbie if she’d spoken with an investigator from the SBI and she stated she had not heard from them yet.  

 

We met with Sheriff Smith the next day and one of our first questions was about the SBI involvement.

 

Nick Smith: (00:47)

But one thing that I would do, um, if I was elected and that would be contact the state and have the state come in and kind of review where the sheriff's department was at on the case and uh, let them kind of take it, take the investigation from there.

  

I asked Tobbie when she first spoke to Nick about the SBI’s involvement in Eric’s case.

 

Tobbie: (07:20)

Nick Smith told me back in March of 2019 that he had met with the SBI and that they had been given a copy of Eric's case file. 

 

Tobbie: (07:35)

And of course I, you know, I was glad that he had followed through with one of the promises that he made me. And, and Nick Smith never made me the promise that he would solve Eric's case. The only thing that he had promised me was that if he was elected, that he would get outside help. He would get other eyes to look at the case and see if he couldn't help in that manner. And you know, from my talks with Nick after he was elected and got into office to my knowledge, he never looked at Eric's case file. Um, I think he may have looked at a few pieces of paper or a document or two, but he has told me that he has never looked at Eric's case. And I understand it. It's just like he's told me, Nick Smith told me that this case had been screwed up from the very beginning. 

 

Tobbie: (08:52)

It had not been worked like it should, um, from many different angles and he wanted to get it out of his lap. I mean it's bad enough working a murder such as my son, Eric and Gypsy’s. Um, but to come along, you know, four years later and, and have to start in the beginning, um, is, you know, having to look and see what they've already done, what they didn't do and you know, and it's like he told me there was so much not done in the beginning that should have been done, it makes it harder on this case. 

 

While what Nick & Tobbie say about the case being a mess is true, I’m not as understanding as Tobbie about this matter.  When you run for sheriff and you win, you now own all the problems of the prior administration.  You don’t get to pass over difficult cases.  It is your job, your duty, your obligation to make a good faith effort to solve these cases.  We aren’t talking about some stolen property here.  We are talking about a human life.  The life of a person who has loved ones who are suffering an unbearable loss and we are talking about murderers who have been left to walk free and we believe these same people are responsible for the deaths of others since Eric.  More senseless murders that could have been prevented if this case had been handled properly from day 1.  

 

During our first meeting in August, Sheriff Smith told us he’d hired Investigator Mike Cole to work the cold cases.  We all, including Tobbie, were ecstatic at this news.  Assigning a cold case investigator to Eric’s case was one of Sheriff Smith’s earliest promises to Tobbie and we all thought it was another promise kept.   Tobbie thought she’d hear from the new investigator as he began to work on Eric’s case but the call never came. In December 2019, when she finally initiated contact herself, she learned it was because no one at the Walker County Sheriff’s Office was actively working Eric’s case, not even the cold case investigator. 

 

Michael and I both jumped into this investigation with both feet. We’ve spent a great deal of time in Walker County interviewing people and also even more time conducting follow up interviews by phone.  We realized not too far into it that no one we were speaking to had been interviewed by investigators from the SBI.  We were a little frustrated.  Why weren’t they interviewing anyone?  In September, Sheriff Smith requested that Michael and I schedule another meeting with him.  We received a call a few minutes before our appointment notifying us that Sheriff Smith was unable to make our meeting and that we’d be meeting with one of his investigators instead.  We met with Investigator Mike Cole and one of the first things he told us was that the Walker County Sheriff’s Office was not the only investigating agency involved in Eric’s case.  He said it was also being investigated by the SBI.  At Sheriff Smith’s request, Tobbie scheduled another meeting with Nick Smith for January 3, 2020 and asked Michael and I to accompany her.  When we arrived for the meeting, Mike Cole informed us that Sheriff Smith would be unable to attend.  Instead, we met with Investigator Cole and the captain of investigations, Darryl Mote.  

 

It came as a shock to me. Nick Smith had scheduled a meeting with me on January the third,, to bring me up to date on some things about Eric's case. I had asked numerous times to see the autopsy report, to see the toxicology report to no avail. A couple of things that I had to asked about previous statements that I wanted to confirm that what they were telling me now was what they had stated back in their original statement back in 2015. 

 

Tobbie: (11:29)

So we were going to that meeting on January the third with anticipation of getting that information. This was about the third time that  I had asked to see it through Nick. Uh, and when we got there, the sheriff had an emergency and he wasn't able to meet with us and so met with them. Cold case investigator Cole in, um, chief investigation, Mr. Motes. And during that meeting,  I guess they were blindsided about giving me the answers that I had previously asked Nick for about the autopsy and about the toxicology report and statements. They were very upfront and refused to tell me anything, said they couldn't because it was still a working case. And during those conversations where I had been told that the SBI was actively working the case, I asked Mike Cole if he had heard from the SBI.  He had not. And he and Mr. Motes, assured me that SBI had Eric's case file, the original. And I informed both of them that that is not what Nick Smith told me, that Sheriff Smith had told me that they had gotten a copy of Eric's case file and was going to look at it and assist if they could, that they didn't just take cases, they assisted. And so I was a little worried and I kept telling myself, you know, something's not right here. You should have been calling the SBI following up.



One reason Sheriff Smith had asked Tobbie to schedule this meeting was due to concerns she had about evidence in Eric’s case potentially being missing.  Tobbie had seen much of the evidence prior to Sheriff Smith taking office and admittedly, Tobbie knew better than anyone what should be there.  Mike Cole & Captain Mote did not appear to be on the same page with Sheriff Smith.  Both admitted that they had not looked at Eric’s case file and had no idea what evidence was in their custody. Tobbie was frustrated.  We were all frustrated.  Tobbie had been trying to get a straight answer to the same questions for a very long time and no one could answer them because they hadn’t and wouldn’t take the time to look at Eric’s case.  Tobbie had been promised by Sheriff Smith that he would have someone working Eric’s case and 1 year after he took office, it had become apparent to her that no one was.  When she inquired as to when they would have time to look at Eric’s case and see what evidence still remained, their response to her was somewhat condescending.  Tobbie was reminded by them that there are many other murder cases that need investigating too and those people are just as important as she is.  Why wouldn’t she be expecting Mike Cole and Nick Smith to be investigating her son’s death?  That’s exactly what Nick Smith promised her.  In the February 2019 article published by the Daily Mountain Eagle about Sheriff Smith requesting help from the SBI, they wrote:

 

“Smith addressed the case of Cates first because it is one of the county's most recent cold cases and because Stover approached him during last year's National Crime Victims' Rights Week Candlelight Vigil. At the time, Smith was nearing the end of his campaign for the Sheriff's Office. 

 

"This case isn't more important than any of the others, but we have to start somewhere," Smith said.”

 

That sure sounds like confirmation of Eric’s case being investigated to me.  If you’ve ever met Tobbie, you know that she wants all these cases solved.  She’s never asked for special treatment.  As a matter of fact, the only treatment she’s received hasn’t been the good kind.  Her husband was threatened with arrest, she was threatened with arrest and no one will even take the time to read her son’s casefile.  Tobbie came for a meeting at the request of the sheriff and the meeting had a specific purpose.  When Tobbie arrived expecting what she was asked there for to actually happen, she was almost shamed for it.  The goals Tobbie had been asked by Nick to come there for were not obtained.  No new information came from the meeting.  It was a complete and utter waste of time.  We left this unneccessary meeting and went to lunch together.  We began to wonder aloud.  If the SBI has the case file and are supposedly involved and investigating Eric’s case, why aren’t we finding anyone who’s seen them around Empire and why aren’t we hearing of even one single person they’ve spoken with.

 

Tobbie: (13:46)

So after lunch I went home and I started making calls. I called the SBI and got in touch with the Lieutenant Thompson and told him what had occurred that day in the meeting. And Mr. Thompson told me, Investigator Thompson with the SBI, told me that they were not working on Eric's case, that they had not been given the original nor a copy of his case file. That when they met with the sheriff and Chuck Tidwell back the last of February of 2019 that they were given two pieces of paper about Eric. And that was it. 

 

Tobbie: (15:01)

To find this out, I was very upset. I was devastated that I had believed that from March of 2019 until the January the third of 2020 that the SBI had been actively working and investigating Eric and Gypsy's case. 

 

Tobbie: (17:26)

I met with Nick Smith on January the 9th and I told him of my concerns about finding out the SBI had not been looking into Eric's case and he admitted that they dropped the ball, that he should have been following up on it too. That he believed that Chuck Tidwell had made a copy of the file and had given it to them and, um, no, he had not been calling the SBI to follow up. 

 

Tobbie: (18:01)

And that's where he apologized. He said I should have. So he, he was a little aggravated to, um, the, um, the name Chuck Tidwell, has come up in this case numerous times. Um, the geo fencing that was supposed to have been requested. There had been problems with the it. Uh, chuck Tidwell was supposed to have done there. Nick had to go back and reorder it because it had not been done appropriately. So there, there was just several things still going on, um, with this case that was just falling through the cracks. Um, and it was just, um, very frustrating, very frustrating.



In the last 30 days, another rumor and theory shown its face.  I began to receive messages from Walker County residents who had no direct or indirect connection to Eric’s case.  Many people from the community have asked me if Eric committed suicide.  As my conversations with these people progressed, they provided more and more details that they were given.  At least one claimed that a gun was found in Eric’s truck and they’d been told by someone from the sheriff’s office that Eric shot his own beloved dog and set himself on fire.  These people said they’d be told that Eric’s mom knew the truth about what happened to him but she just wasn’t willing to accept it.  I was stunned by these rumors and judging by the number of people contacting me, the rumor was becoming fairly widespread. Tobbie was as shocked as I was about this new rumor.  She was almost certain that a gun was not found in Eric’s truck.  Eric didn’t carry a gun.  She called Mike Cole and Nick Smith both to inquire about a gun being found in Eric’s truck and both confirmed they were not aware of a gun found in Eric’s vehicle.  She mentioned to Sheriff Smith that people were claiming this information came from those inside his office and he told her he just didn’t believe that was true.

 

On January 28, 2020 Tobbie received a call from Mike Cole asking her to come in and meet with him and Sheriff Smith the next day.  

 

Tobbie: (22:35)

at that point on January the 29th, he let me see the toxicology report and there was a high amount of meth in Eric's system. And I had already told the sheriff and Mike Cole that we had been told that Eric had been given a hot shot and possibly going to be a high amount of meth in his system but then at that point there was no heroin. Like I said, that confirmed what the tip had been about Eric getting a hot shot.

 

Tobbie: (23:30)

As I was looking at the autopsy report, I didn't see a few things that I felt like should have been attached to the autopsy. Prior autopsies that I had been privileged to look at in my work and for family there had always been a diagram, but since I saw the last one, the, uh, Alabama forensic department no longer gives that diagram unless it's requested.

 

Tobbie: (24:19)

to get a complete autopsy, you have to request all of the working papers during the autopsy because there were a few things that got my attention in this autopsy report. Number one, the front page, even though it had Eric's name on it, on that same page, there was evidence collected from someone else. 

 

Tobbie: (24:50)

And in previous autopsy reports I had never seen evidence collected in an autopsy report like that. That would've been an evidence sheet.

 

Tobbie: (25:16)

When we met with the DA back in 2015, the latter part of 2015, the DA had told us that he had the autopsy report, but that we couldn't see it. At that time, the only thing that stood out to him was that there was sued his lung. 

 

Tobbie: (25:41)

I asked was it both lungs, which lung? And he couldn't tell me and he really refused to answer any other questions about the autopsy. Well, at the point that I got to see it on January the 29th, there were a few things in there that caught my attention. The two things that was referenced that I felt like should have been explained. There was not a sheet explaining those discrepancies. And when I asked the sheriff and Mike Cole about that. The sheriff was very upfront. He said, I don't know what's supposed to be in there. I was hoping you being a nurse, you could explain some of the terms and technology, you know, what is being said here. Um, and Mike cole did too. Um, he said that he had taken autopsy before, but there were some things in there that he was questioned that everything looked fine to him. And what I saw, it wasn't fine and there should have been a description of what the forensic medical examiner had found. And there wasn't a sheet telling that. And when I went back through the pages, I noticed that the pages were not numbered in order. There were pages missing.

 

Tobbie: (26:50)

In my opinion, I was not looking at a final autopsy report, a conclusive report. And when I voiced that concern to the sheriff and to Mike Cole, Mike Cole informed me that that is, was a completed autopsy. And again, I refused to believe that. And when I asked him about the DA's copy, he said that that was the DA's copy. And that's all we had. He became a little irritated with me when I kept, you know, I was adamant this was not a complete autopsy and that's what I wanted to see. 

 

Tobbie: (28:20)

And so he finally agreed to get with the DA and see what they had. At that point when I got home, I called the DA's office to see in fact what they had. And she told me she would get back with me the next week. I waited to no avail to hear back. I called the DA's office back again. Susie was helpful in giving me the person to contact at the forensic department. I called him, I left a message, um, and he was at on maternity leave. So in the process of waiting for a couple of weeks, he did call me and um, went over my questions for him and he told me that he could not open Eric's autopsy report up, that that would have to come from the DA. So I called the DA's office back and requested that they get in touch with the Alabama forensic department and request a completed autopsy with all working papers. It had to come from their letterhead and Susie said that she would get with the DA and see what they could do. And as of today, which is February the 21st, I still have not heard anything. I don't know if it's been requested at this point or not. So we're still in the waiting mode 

 

It was during this meeting that Tobbie realized that the suicide theory had originated in the sheriff’s office.

 

Tobbie: (42:58)

So I was really a little aggravated with the cold case investigator Mike Cole on that January the 29th meeting when he was absolutely adamant at times. He believed that it was either an accidental or suicidal event. At that point I'm asked him, I said, so you've looked at Eric's case file and you get this from what you have seen or what you have read. And he admitted he still had not looked at Eric's case file at that point and the meeting had a little downturn there.

 

Here was Mike Cole, a cold case investigator with numerous years of experience that the sheriff and investigator Motes have told me what an awesome investigator he is, top notch. And yet he was trying to get me to believe that my son 

 

Tobbie: (44:33)

had committed suicide or an accident 

 

Tobbie: (44:39)

and I wasn't buying it. Now I have no formal education as a forensic specialist. I'm telling you from the pictures that I saw, I could not have believed that what Mike Cole was telling me could be proved. And I even asked him what proof did he have to validate his theories and he could not show me any. 

 

Do you find it unusual that an investigator would form an opinion like this on a file he admittedly hasn’t even looked at yet?

 

Tobbie: (46:36)

Again, it just proved to me that he had not looked at the case file. I mean he was honest about that. There was a lot of information in Eric’s case file, and he had not had time to go through it. But to make such a statement about a murder case, to not be able to back it up, ludicrous. Especially for someone that is supposed to have that many years experience and be that great of an investigator. 



As I mentioned before, Tobbie has been very concerned that some of the evidence in Eric’s case could be missing.  We know the surveillance video from the blue store was missing because we were asked to provide a copy of it to the sheriff’s office.  Two particular pieces of evidence have been weighing very heavy on Tobbie and she’s been inquiring to both Nick Smith and Mike Cole since at least October of 2019 to see if those things were still in evidence.  The items in question are surveillance video from 2 residents in and around Wingo Rd near the Empire school.  She has asked countless times for one or both of them to please confirm that they do still have those videos in their possession.  Each time she’s asked, she was told that they hadn’t gotten around to taking an inventory of what evidence they have but they’d be doing it soon.  This went on for months with the last time the request was made being at the January 3rd meeting with Investigator Cole and Captain Mote.  The trend of not following through continued and Tobbie to this day has never been told if that video footage still exists or not.  

 

In January 2020 Crime Stoppers announced a $5000 reward for information leading to an arrest in Eric’s case.  It was another ray of hope for Tobbie and she was eagerly awaiting the news conference with the announcement of the reward but the happy event ended up turning a little sour for her.  At the press conference, Mike Cole mentions they have some home surveillance video showing Eric’s truck going towards the school.  This is the video that Tobbie had been asking them for months to please confirm that they still had in their possession.  Why wouldn’t they at least have the courtesy of setting her mind at ease about this before Mike Cole seemingly confirms on live television that he’s seen the video? 




So I know another thing that upset you was Mike Cole’s interview at the press conference on January 21, 2020 when they announced the $5000 Crime Stoppers reward for Eric’s case.  What was it about the interview that was upsetting to you?

 

Tobbie: (50:30)

I had asked the sheriff previously about Crime Stoppers and on January the ninth when I met with Nick Smith, I brought it up again. I had to ask him, would he consider asking Crime Stoppers for help. They would do a reward but it had to come from the Sheriff's department. And  he told, as a matter of fact, Nick said I'm meeting with them after I finished with you. And so that was a great relief. He had reached out to Crimestoppers and he said that Eric was going to be one of the cases. And so I was all upbeat for that. Nick again had followed through on one of his promises and so I wanted to see how it played out the next week. I believe it was when Mike Cole made the ad, the commercial, whatever you want to call it, for Crimestoppers. 

 

Tobbie: (52:25)

And in that clip, Mike Cole said that surveillance video that he had, that it showed only one vehicle going in. And I was really just dumbfounded. I had never heard that before. And from the people that I had talked to and that you, Amber, from your podcast had talked to, we know that other people have been in and out. And so how it came about on Mike Cole's video surveillance that he had looked at, I didn't understand. You know, what did he have that we had never been told before? And so that was one of the things that I asked him on January the 29th when I finally got to meet with them. I told him that I had seen the Crimestoppers ad and then I thanked him and I thanked the sheriff for it. But I said, I've got some questions for you. I said, on your surveillance video that you said there's only one vehicle, can you tell me at what time you looked at that video? What time frame were you looking at that you only saw one car go in and that happened to be, or one vehicle and that vehicle was Eric's what time frame are you talking about? And he talked for a minute and he said he, I think it was around eight 30. And I said, so when you were watching the video, you only saw one vehicle go in? 

 

Tobbie: (54:26)

And he said, yes. And then he said, because I pinpointed him, I asked him, I said, so you watched the video? That's when he said, no, it was from the report in the file. And so I said, oh, so you've had a chance to look at the case file. And again, he told me no, that he could just seen that statement. So all along, I have been told that evidence from Eric's case file and from evidence that was collected  that things have went missing. Back in November of 2019 I confronted Sheriff Smith with the tip that I had received that more of Eric's evidence had been lost. And he assured me that he did not, that only one person had a key to that evidence and that nothing has went missing since he became sheriff. So I'm a little concerned about the video that Mike Cole says he gave that description of and I hope one day that I would be able to see that, to be able to confirm that in fact they do have surveillance videos such as that.  I just found it strange that people are saying one thing and a maybe surveillance video shows that what a piece of paper is stating because my paper does not match his piece of paper. So you know, again, you know, from the very beginning there have been so many things said that you have to sift through, you have to follow through to validate anything. 

 

Tobbie: (56:48)

And to me, you know, if I was in Mike Cole's place, knowing how much has been destroyed, I guess, not collected, before I gave a statement claiming that the only one vehicle had went through, I would want to have that video and I'd want to look at it for myself. I would want to be able to validate anything that I was putting out there because of the controversies around Eric and Gypsy's murder case. 

 

In your conversations with Nick Smith, you told me he’s expressed some frustration and feeling like he can’t get anything done with this case.  What does he mean he can’t get anything done with this case?  He’s the sheriff!

 

Tobbie: (47:37)

Well, yes, he is the sheriff. But to get a warrant or to get a case in court, you've got to go through the DA and the DA, Bill Adair, has made it very clear that  he doesn't want his case. When Wayne and I and Chris went to meet with Bill Ada

ir with our concerns about the processing of the vehicle. Um, no one had talked to the individual that had written that statement saying what happened to Eric. And I understand there's bits and pieces in there that are not true, but there's also bits and pieces in there that is true. And for that person that wrote that letter, not to be brought in and given an interrogation and interviewed about what she had written.  There's just so many things that went wrong in this investigation. And what concerned me was that Bill Adair understood our questions and he understood how upset we were that things were not being done, but yet he has a team of investigators himself, 

 

Tobbie: (49:04)

and he is the one that will ultimately be taking this to a grand jury and before a jury and a judge. So personally, I would want to have every bit of information that I could possibly get if my intentions were to process this case. But when you don't send your investigators out to investigate a crime scene like this, a murder and when you don't call the Sheriff's department and say, you know, I'm going to need more information, I need to know more about this case before I can prosecute. What's going on. That never happened. So from the very beginning we saw, Wayne, Chris and I saw that Bill Adair had no intention of ever bringing this case to a court room.

 

Tobbie’s recent conversation with Sheriff Smith sure seems to support Tobbie’s thoughts on the district attorney’s willingness to work on Eric’s case.  Sheriff Smith told Tobbie that the district attorney has told them until they can prove to him that Eric’s death wasn’t an accident or a suicide, they aren’t doing any work on the case.  

 

Eric’s family is going to need the continued support of the public to get over these obstacles that those who’ve been elected and hired to serve and protect keep putting in the path of justice.  Despite all that you’ve heard here today, there is progress in the case, new developments and good news that we will share with you as soon as we are permitted to do so.

 

If you have any information that could help in solving the murders of Eric and Gypsy or the mysterious death of Randy Hicks, 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.