By Maximillian Boudreaux, CNN
A triple homicide committed 50 years ago has been solved after the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina received information revealed by a Georgia inmate during a visit with his son.
In February 1972, a man and his wife went with a neighbor to check on her parents and brother in Boone during a snowstorm when they found the three victims “brutally murdered,” according to a news release this week from the sheriff’s office.
The case remained unsolved for nearly five decades, but based on interviews with the son of an infamous killer in Georgia, authorities now believe Bryce Durham, 51, Virginia Durham, 44, and Bobby Durham, 18, were killed by “Dixie Mafia” hit men.
In 2019, Shane Birt was at the White County Sheriff’s Office in northern Georgia being interviewed for a book about crimes in the state when he related a story his father had told him during a prison visit.
Birt said he shared a close bond with his father, Billy Sunday Birt, who died in prison in 2017 while serving a sentence for murder. The son said his father had told him about taking part in “killing three people in the North Carolina mountains during a heavy snowstorm,” the Watauga sheriff’s news release says.
According to Birt, his father said the group had almost got caught.
After the revelation, the White County Sheriff’s Office contacted the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office with the new information.
The men responsible for the killings were identified as Billy Sunday Birt, Bobby Gene Gaddis, Charles David Reed and Billy Wayne Davis, according to the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office release.
The men “were part of a loosely organized network known as the Georgia-based ‘Dixie Mafia,’ which is thought to have engaged in dozens of violent crimes in Georgia and elsewhere across the Southeast in the 1960s and 70s,” the release said.
Davis, 81, is the only surviving member of the quartet and is serving a life sentence for a 1971 murder in a prison in Augusta, Georgia, according to prison records.
When investigators from the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office visited Davis, he “implicated Birt, Gaddis and Reed as engaging in a hired ‘hit’ in the North Carolina mountains, one where they almost got caught during a bad snowstorm.”
Detectives interviewed Davis in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
“It was these interviews that ultimately helped us determine who was responsible through the corroboration of evidence. We are confident that we now know who committed these crimes,” said Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman in the news release.
Davis claimed he was the getaway driver in the Durham killings and that the other three men entered the house, according to the release.
CNN reached out to an attorney who previously represented Davis and has not yet received a response.
The sheriff’s office said two sources corroborated evidence from the crime scene and the case was similar to one in Georgia in 1973 in which the men were involved.
Authorities still don’t know who solicited the hit on the Durham family, according to the news release.
The Watauga County Sheriff’s Office reached out to the Durham family in November to share the discoveries in the case.
Ginny Durham, the surviving member of the family, offered her appreciation to the people who brought justice to her family.
“I would like to thank all of the people who worked for decades on my family’s case. I know that they sacrificed many days and weekends in order to work on solving this case since 1972,” Durham said. “I would especially like to thank Len Hagaman, Sheriff of Watauga County, who has been involved from the beginning and was dedicated to a closure for myself and my family.”
Hagaman said the community will keep the family in its thoughts and prayers.
“Please, let’s remember their continued wishes for privacy,” he added.
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CNN’s Sam Perez contributed to this report.