Cold Case: Family secret uncovers new suspect in 1944 beheading

National

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — It’s been 76 years since a local restaurant owner was murdered in cold blood.

For the first time, a woman is speaking out about what she knows. 

Dorothy Lumley, a long-time local resident who came to Panama City on the SS Tarpon in the 1930s, said she was a young girl when the crime took place but remembers it all like it was yesterday — the mysterious murder of Joseph Mullins. 

According to media reports, the 55-year-old Downtown Panama City grill owner’s blood-soaked Chevy Sedan was located the day after he went missing by his wife, Hazel Mullins. She found his car across the street from the post office on Fifth Street. 

It wasn’t until Saturday that his headless torso was finally discovered by officers — belly down with is arms twisted in different directions. 

Now, three-quarters of a century later, the case remains unsolved but not yet forgotten as a new detail is revealed by a 94-year-old woman who says, “It was the butcher.” 

The 1940s brought us Jazz, Jeeps, and the deadliest war in our nation’s history, but cold-blooded murders were a rare occurrence, especially in small towns like Panama City. 

“We didn’t have a lot of crime in Panama City at that time,” Lumley said. “It was a quiet little town. You left everything open.” 

At 19-years-old, Lumley was told by her uncle, Warren Davis to keep her mouth shut about something he saw on the day Joseph Mullins went missing. 

“He was coming home from work one afternoon and he was coming up the clay road here on Balboa,” Lumley said. “He saw this car backed down in the woods.”

Lumley said Davis was curious, so he went to investigate the situation further.

“They were pulling something out of the back of the car,” Lumley said. “And then he recognized that it was the butcher from the Piggly Wiggly and Mullins’ wife. 

Lumley said the moment grew tense when the butcher and soon-to-be widow noticed her uncle peering around the corner. 

“He began to chase him, and he chased him all the way home,” Lumley said. “He lived on 15th street, on the corner where Po Folks used to be but there used to be a house there.” 

Lumley said her uncle wasted no time after hearing of Mullins’s death by dialing the cops and telling them what he saw. She said the headless body was discovered at the same branch where he’d seen Mullins’s wife and the butcher the day before. 

Media reports said police began their search at an undeveloped section west of the Panama City Cemetary, now Oakland Cemetery, at the corner of Balboa Avenue. 

But they had to walk a little way until they finally found his body near 10th Court and Buena Vista Boulevard. 

Lumley said when two cops showed up to take a statement from Davis, he could tell something was off. 

“They came to his house where he was at and told him to forget what he saw and it was best if he left town for a while,” Lumley said. “And not to tell anybody.” 

Lumley said her uncle was horrified by the situation, afraid of what might happen to him if he ever told anyone else. He stayed home for a very long time. 

“Over the years, the family knew,” Lumley said. “But nobody else knew and we never told anybody else and we never repeated it because he was afraid of what might happen to him if he told.” 

According to media reports, there wasn’t much evidence to go on and Mullins’ severed head was never located. However, based on the amount of blood in the car authorities were able to conclude that the decapitation took place outside the vehicle in the woods where his body was found. And that, more than likely, the weapon of choice was either an axe or a meat cleaver.

Lumley said she’s not sure why police were reluctant to use her uncle’s testimony but their warning was enough to keep her uncle quiet for the rest of his life.

“After he died, 20 something years ago, and it came out in the paper about unsolved murders,” Lumley said. “I called the police department and I told them about my uncle and they said that they think the butcher had died in Dothan.”

Media reports said that police ended up with three different suspects who were later released for lack of evidence.

Today, one theory remains — Mullins was robbed and murdered because of his presence in the underground world of gambling, media reports said.

Lumley said she’s seen those reports and is aware of Mullins’ gambling problem but she doesn’t buy it —she has a theory of her own.

“People said they were having an affair,” Lumley said. “They wanted to get him out of the way.” 

There’s another detail that Lumley said points to the butcher: “They said his head was cut off clean.”

Latest Stories:

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Tracking COVID-19 in the Bay Area

Trending Stories

Latest News

More News