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Witness comes forward to crack cold case

Silenced by fear for 36 years, a witness finally comes forward to help put a police chief and his ex-wife behind bars, charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Marine William Miller.

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CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — Thirty-six years ago, a Camp Lejeune Marine was found lying in a wooded area in Jacksonville with two slugs in his body from an M-16 rifle. With no arrests, the case went cold. Then, last August, a witness came forward with a key piece of evidence.

“Most of the people in the case had been interviewed a number of times. This was somebody who wanted to talk to law enforcement for the first time,” said Capt. Rick Sutherland, of the Onslow County Sheriff's Office.

The witness decided to break nearly four decades of silence after reading a series of articles on the death of Sgt. William Miller. Sheriff Ed Brown has never identified the witness.

“Billy Miller's daughter, who was 1-year-old when he was killed, she went to Arlington National Cemetery this last April. And they had a picture of her and her husband, and her daughter taken there at his tombstone. And I knew that would evoke some emotion in some people,” said Lindell Kay, with the Jacksonville Daily News.

Kay wrote two articles about the Miller case for the Jacksonville Daily News as part of a series on unsolved crimes.

“Sometimes we pick one and the cops say we're doing something on that one, can you wait? (So we) pick another one? But when I approached the sheriff's department on this one, they thought that it was a right time. They had come up to a complete dead end on it,” Kay said.

The witness gave the name of a person who helped investigators to connect the dots. That information led to the arrests of Miller's former wife, Vickie Miller Hayden Cooper Babbitt, and his friend, George Hayden, a retired Marine who later became Cape Carteret and Belhaven police chief.

Investigators say Babbitt and Hayden lured Miller to a secluded part of Western Boulevard on Sept. 16, 1972, where he was shot to death. Four months later, the two were married.

“That information had never been made public before. So, when she (the witness) saw that it was, she said, it was just more than she could take,” Kay said.

The arrests stunned the communities where Hayden and Babbitt lived. Babbitt was residing in Bend, Ore., before her arrest and extradition to North Carolina.

Interest in the arrests became a big boost for the newspaper's reputation.

“The sheriff really went overboard to say how much the newspaper helped,” Kay said. “That was a good thing for the newspaper, for the people in the community to realize that the media can actually get something done."

Hayden, 57, and Babbitt, 58, are no longer married. They were charged in September with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Both were being held Thursday at the Onslow County Jail.

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