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Special Report: Tracking a killer

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REBECCA, GA (WALB) -

March 22, 2002,  the home of Tommy Joe and Deborah Wideman was destroyed by fire. The couple and their 20-year-old pregnant daughter, Melissa, were nowhere to be found. Only their cars remained outside the home.

"We got a call early in the morning the house was on fire, That's the only thing we knew then," said Larry Wheeler.

Wheeler is Deborah Wideman's brother. He drove to the family's brick home near Highway 112 in Rebecca which was nothing more than smoldering ashes. 

Hours later he learned everyone's fear was true.

"They came back and told us there was bodies in the house," he said.

The Turner County tax assessor, his wife, and their 8-months pregnant daughter were dead.

 "We did literally sift through ashes for evidence," said Turner County Sheriff Andy Hester.

Hester was a deputy at the time and worked the case. As evidence was gathered it soon became clear the fire was no accident. The Wideman's were murdered. They were shot to death. The house was intentionally torched.

Hester said it appeared whoever murdered the Wideman's wanted to cover their tracks.

"This is one of the most heinous crime scenes I've been on in my law enforcement career," said GBI Agent Ben Collins.

Collins says not a day goes by he doesn't think about the Wideman case. And rarely does a day go by that someone in Turner County doesn't talk about it.

"Not only does the family deserve some peace. The community deserve's peace. This a small, tight knit community," said Collins. 

In a small town like Rebecca, crime rarely happens, much less a triple homicide.

While Tommy Wideman was tax assessor, most agree he was well liked and didn't have any enemies. Deborah Widemann owned a bridal shop in downtown Ashburn.

They mostly kept to themselves which has led Deborah's brother to believe the family likely knew their killer and this was not a random crime.

"No I don't. I think it was a specified crime and whoever did it knew what they were doing," he said.

While the arson fire destroyed a lot of evidence, it appeared nothing of value was missing from the home.

Persons of interests were interviewed, but no arrests were made. The case eventually grew cold but it's far from closed.

"As information continues to come in, we follow out those new leads as well," said Collins.

But after 11 years both law enforcement and loved ones are convinced someone knows who killed the Wideman family. By now it's likely someone has talked about the crime and they have information that could be vital.

"Sometimes it's the small pieces of information that help us put a piece of the puzzle together and solve a case," said Collins.

Sheriff Hester says he knew the Widemans and still people come up to him asking if the case remains open.

"There's nobody out there more committed to solving the crime than the sheriff of the county. I would love to solve to the crime, not only because that's what I do but because they were friends of mine," he said.

As for Larry Wheeler, he can only hope to see the killer or killer brought to justice.

"It would help me greatly, physically it would, but if I don't, I know the good Lord is going to take care of whoever done it," he said.

For now, the unsolved triple murder still haunts a small south Georgia town.

Still, the case remains active. And a large reward is being offered.

In 2002, then- Georgia Governor Roy Barnes signed an order that offered $14,000 to anyone with information that could lead to an arrest and conviction. That reward still stands.

If you have any information of murders of Tommy, Deborah, and Melissa Wideman call the GBI office in Perry at 478-987-4545 or the Turner County Sheriff's Office at 229-567-2401.

 

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