A year later, Ridge murder still yielding no major leads
The Polaroid sits on Ron Smith’s desk.
A bearded man lies on his right side, a dirt garage floor beneath him. Shirtless, his belly droops over his jeans. Blood, still moist, has crossed part of his face from left to right.
Next to him is an X-shaped lug wrench, connected to a lug nut, which is connected to a wheel on a jacked-up car.
The photo of Danny Lester Wllliams was taken a year ago on Oct. 2, 2001, the night he died of a single gunshot to the back of the head at his Pleasant Valley Road home on San Juan Ridge
“I’m looking at his face every day,” said Smith, a Nevada County Sheriff’s sergeant.
If Smith’s tone is at all defensive, it’s partly because Williams’ family thinks the Sheriff’s Office has been slacking. It’s also because the case is Smith’s lone unsolved mystery as head of the investigative unit. Four homicides and other suspicious deaths have occurred since then.
“The problem is, we haven’t been able to solely concentrate on this case,” Smith said. “It’s not offered as an excuse. The case requires this whole unit, and we’ll work until we can close it. Unfortunately, Danny Williams is the only case under my watch that we haven’t solved.”
The probe has been a slow process of elimination.
It’s been too slow for Williams’ mother, Flo Williams, who lives in Shasta County. The 70-year-old suffers from colon cancer, and she wonders if the case will be solved in her lifetime.
“They don’t do nothing. We just think they’re sitting on it,” she said. “They think they got the other ones to work on.”
Danny Williams, 51, was a logging truck driver. He lived with Diana J. Gibbs, and they celebrated their relationship with a wedding ceremony May 6, 2000.
They never got a marriage license, Smith said. But according to a neighbor’s account, they were always happy, and Williams had no known enemies.
“I know she couldn’t do what was done to him,” neighbor Mike Wise said. “As far as I know, (the relationship) was all good.”
Yet Smith said Gibbs, among others, hasn’t been eliminated as a suspect.
“Based on the evidence, it would appear he was shot by someone he knew and maybe felt comfortable with,” Smith said. “He wasn’t standing up and confronting someone.”
Gibbs reported finding Williams in the garage after she returned from a friend’s home and had washed dishes. Cooperative at first, she stopped talking with investigators long ago, Smith said.
Efforts to reach Gibbs for comment were unsuccessful.
A further complication is that Gibbs’ family is at odds with Flo Williams’ family – tension that festered into a probate battle.
Each side claimed it had a valid will signed by Danny Williams. In the end, Flo Williams dropped her challenge, and Gibbs got the estate.
Another frustration has been delays in getting ballistics results from the state Department of Justice for four handguns taken in the case. One belonged to Gibbs’ son, the other three to Williams or his family, Smith said. Williams was killed with either a .38 or .357 bullet; it’s possible the gun was a revolver, because no casing was found.
At this point, Smith doesn’t suspect any gun in custody is the murder weapon, but they’re bases he needs to cover.
As for the long-awaited ballistics results, DOJ spokesman Mike Van Winkle said priority is given to cases headed to trial, or if a known suspect is on the loose. Williams’ case fits neither category.
Smith has also talked with a psychic at the urging of Gibbs’ oldest daughter Kelly McDaniel. “(The psychic’s) vision is that the murder occurred sort of the way Diana speculated,” he said.
The psychic said two strangers killed Williams. The supposed strangers were men – one tall, the other short.
In the end, Smith said, “It’s not anything specific enough where we can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘it did or didn’t happen that way.'”
Possible mistaken identity has been considered.
Days before his death, Williams supposedly told Gibbs about an early-morning encounter with a stranger.
This stranger called Williams “Tom” and asked about a former neighbor named Tim Moore.
According to Smith, Gibbs said that Williams replied: “First of all, I’m not Tom. Secondly, you shouldn’t be walking up here like this.”
Gibbs was married to a Tom Windus. He was a suspect in the unsolved 1993 murder of San Juan Ridge resident Ricky Abel. Windus died in a motorcycle crash.
Meanwhile, there are no new leads as investigators check deeper into earlier witness statements. The hope is that one might provide the needed breakthrough.
“There’s no way of knowing.” Smith said. “The phone could ring any time. Someone could say, ‘Hey, I got information on the Danny Williams case,’ and away we go.”
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