A 1980 murder, a hidden room in a Dartmouth home, a 2017 lawsuit
The 1980 murder of a rural Pennsylvania police chief is receiving renewed attention after the discovery of a hidden room in a Dartmouth home.
The room — and a cane — in the house at 28 Maplecrest Drive, where the suspected killer’s family has lived for two decades, was apparently discovered by the FBI as much as a year ago but made public last week as part of the slain chief’s family’s quest for justice.
It is the latest development in a “cold case” that has kept federal investigators coming back to a quiet neighborhood near Buttonwood Park in the belief that the family of jewel thief and murder suspect Donald Webb was sheltering him or at least knew of his whereabouts.
Giving some hint as to when the secret room was discovered, a resident of the neighborhood said last week that she opened her front door last summer to find more than 20 FBI vehicles parked in front of 28 Maplecrest as officials investigated the home of Lillian Webb, Webb’s wife at the time of the murder, and her son Stanley Webb.
“She’s not very friendly,” the neighbor said of Lillian. “She pretty much kept to herself… it’s so crazy.”
No one answered the door at 28 Maplecrest Drive when visited by a Dartmouth Week reporter.
The story begins on Dec. 4, 1980 when Chief Gregory Adams of Saxonburg, Pennsylvania, a small town outside of Pittsburgh, made what he thought was a routine traffic stop in the parking lot of an Agway Feed Store. It cost him his life.
In a narrative of the crime published by the FBI, the agency said it believes Webb committed the murder while in the rural town casing a jewelry store to rob. Age 50 at the time of the murder, he had developed a specialty for jewelry store robberies and already had a lengthy criminal career, according to the FBI.
Adams, then 31 years old, was badly beaten and shot twice at close range, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. It is believed that Adams managed to get a shot off at his attacker before succumbing to his injuries.
Investigators honed in on Webb after a New Jersey driver’s license bearing one of his known aliases was discovered at the crime scene. That all-out manhunt began in this area after the getaway car, a Mercury Cougar, turned up in a Howard Johnson's parking lot in Warwick, Rhode Island.
Based on that discovery, FBI agents believe Webb returned to the Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts area following the murder.
But finding him has been a long struggle. There are few leads, and some doubt that he is still alive. He would be in his late 80s at this point.
The FBI described Webb as a master of disguises and identities. He was born with the name Donald Eugene Perkins, but legally changed it in Bristol County in the late 1950s, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. His "wanted" poster contains a long list of known aliases, including A.D. Baker, John S. Portas, and variations using Stanley Webb’s name.
In 1981, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Webb was spotted in New Bedford by a tipster, but was gone when investigators arrived. He has also been featured on television crime shows "America’s Most Wanted," and in 1987 and 1989 episodes of "Unsolved Mysteries."
In 1990, the FBI received a letter purported to be written by Webb. The writer expressed remorse for the murder, and discussed a possible surrender if the letter writer was allowed to talk alone with John Walsh, host of “America's Most Wanted.” The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that a handwriting analysis came back inconclusive.
In 2015, on the 35th anniversary of Adams' death, the FBI’s Philadelphia field office announced a $100,000 reward for information leading to Webb’s whereabouts, be it his present location or the location of his remains if he is dead.
At the time, the FBI described Webb as “one of the longest-tenured fugitives ever to appear on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive list.” Webb occupied a space on that list for several decades. His name was removed from the list in 2007.
His known associates include people from Fall River and Taunton, including members of the Patriarca Crime Family, based out of Providence, Rhode Island.
Members of Adams' family have now taken matters into their own hands in their search for justice. The family’s attorney, Thomas King III, has filed a lawsuit against Lillian and Stanley Webb after the family learned about the hidden room in Dartmouth. Donald Webb is also named in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit is an attempt to secure the Webbs’ cooperation.
“What we really seek is to get these people to the table [to] tell the truth,” King said. “We want to know where Webb is. The fact that there was a hidden room inside a closet, with a lock on the inside of the door, that’s what leads us to believe the family knew of [Webb’s] whereabouts.”
Particularly salient to the family is the fact that a cane was recovered from inside the room.
“The cane is important because it’s believed that [Webb] was shot in the leg” during the altercation with Adams, King explained. The injury may have forced him to rely on a cane for mobility.
King filed the civil action in Pennsylvania last week and in Bristol County on June 6. It has been served to the Webb family, he said.