Court documents: Donald Webb lived in hiding with wife, died from stroke

By Douglas McCulloch | Jul 20, 2017
Courtesy of: FBI A photo of Donald and Lillian Webb taken in 1975 and released by the FBI in June along with over a dozen new photographs.

Career criminal and fugitive Donald Eugene Webb, whose remains were unearthed in a Dartmouth back yard on July 13, spent four weeks in a Wareham hospital, resided in New Bedford and Dartmouth while on the run for murder, and lived the end of his life disabled from a stroke.

Court documents outline what investigators knew about Webb — wanted for the murder of Saxonburg, Pennsylvania Police Chief Gregory Adams in 1980 — from the murder itself to how he managed to elude capture for close to two decades until his death in 1999.

 

The murder

Webb — described as a career criminal specializing in jewel theft — was in Pennsylvania on December 4, 1980 casing a jewelry store to rob. He was wanted by police at the time for his role in a jewelry store heist, according to investigators.

During a routine traffic stop, the 49-year-old Webb killed Chief Adams. Adams, who was 31 years old, was badly beaten and shot twice at close range.

Adams managed to get a shot off at Webb before succumbing to his injuries. The chief had a wife and two young sons at home.

Investigators honed in on Webb as the suspect after a New Jersey driver’s license bearing one of his known aliases and blood matched in type to his was discovered at the crime scene. When the getaway car, a Mercury Cougar, turned up in a Howard Johnson's parking lot in Warwick, Rhode Island, investigators then believed he returned to this area.

On December 31, 1980, a federal arrest warrant was issued for Webb. He was charged with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, and charged in Pennsylvania with first degree murder.

But finding Webb proved difficult. He was one of the longest tenured fugitives ever to appear on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” list. His whereabouts remained a mystery until his remains were found.

 

Renewing the investigation, surveilling Lillian Webb

The FBI renewed its effort to find Webb and solve the long-running cold case in 2016.

In August of that year, Pennsylvania State Police obtained a DNA profile from evidence recovered at the 1980 crime scene. The data was entered into CODIS, the FBI’s DNA database, according to court documents.

On July 12, the day before Webb’s remains were unearthed, investigators met with Jack Cicilline, an attorney acting on behalf of Webb's wife, Lillian Webb.

It is unclear what prompted the meeting. In late June, after learning of a secret room in Lillian Webb's current home, the family of Chief Adams filed a lawsuit against Webb, Lillian Webb, and Stanley Webb, Lillian's son. The family’s lawyer said the suit was an effort to compel Lillian and Stanley Webb to cooperate. The family believed the pair knew Webb’s whereabouts.

The chief’s family was apparently correct. Cicilline relayed to investigators a detailed account of Webb’s life from the time of the murder to his death in 1999, provided to him by Lillian Webb. Lillian Webb received immunity from prosecution in exchange for providing information about Webb.

As investigators suspected, Webb returned to Massachusetts after the murder. Investigators long believed Webb was shot in the leg during the altercation that claimed Adams’ life. When he returned to Massachusetts, he spent four weeks at Tobey Hospital in Wareham receiving care under the alias of “John” LNU (last name unknown) after returning to the Bay State, according to court documents.

Peter Cohenno, spokesperson for Southcoast Health, said it is “highly unlikely” that Tobey Hospital would still have records to verify Webb’s 1980 stay, as records are only required to be kept for 20 years.

In 1980, the hospital did not verify the identities of its patients, and only collected patients’ names and dates of birth, Cohenno said. Now, patients admitted to Tobey must provide their name, date of birth, and a picture ID, and identities are verified.

At the time of Webb’s treatment, hospitals were not required to report people being treated for gunshot wounds to law enforcement, Cohenno said.

Webb initially lived at 275 Hawthorne Street in New Bedford with Lillian Webb. New Bedford assessment records show Lillian Webb still owns the home.

It is not clear if that home was ever searched in connection to the murder, but investigators state in court documents that they believe the home contained a secret, hidden room where Webb hid out.

Lillian Webb’s New Bedford home was placed under surveillance in the 1990s. According to court documents, an FBI agent observed that whenever Lillian Webb returned home, she always used a garage door opener to open the garage door, drove her car into the garage, and immediately closed the garage door before exiting her car. She was also observed to use “evasive driving techniques” and wear wigs and change her hair color during periods of “overt and covert physical surveillance.”

 

The secret room on Maplecrest Drive

Cicilline told investigators that Lillian Webb purchased a new home, 28 Maplecrest Drive in Dartmouth, in 1997. Assessment records show she purchased the home for $160,000 in August of that year. Stanley Webb is listed as a co-owner.

Investigators noted the property included arborvitae-style trees that tower over neighboring houses, blocking the view of the entire back yard. They also pointed out that its location is not easily accessible, making it ideal to hide a fugitive.

In November of 2016, investigators discovered a secret room in Lillian Webb’s Maplecrest Drive home. The room is described in documents as being the size of a large shower stall. It is located behind a closet in the lower basement level.

A hook lock was installed on the inside of the door. Given the height of Lillian Webb, and the position of the lock at the top of the door, investigators believed it was unlikely, if not impossible, for Lillian Webb to operate the lock.

It was in this room that investigators discovered a cane – significant to the investigation because it was believed Webb was shot in the leg during the altercation with Adams – and a collection of coins officials speculated were used by the Webbs for financial support.

At the time of the discovery, Lillian Webb told investigators she had the room constructed after purchasing the home, intending to use it to hide in the event of a break-in. She denied knowing anything about the cane or coins.

During the July 13 search of the home, in addition to Webb’s remains, a green Tupperware container used by Lillian Webb to transport and bury Webb’s body was recovered, along with a .22 caliber revolver, according to court documents.

 

The end of Donald Webb’s life

Cicilline stated that sometime shortly after Webb and Lillian Webb moved into 28 Maplecrest Drive, Webb suffered a stroke after a period of illness, according to court documents. The stroke was severe, and resulted in a complete loss of mobility and left Webb unable to care for himself.

Cicilline detailed a conversation between Webb and Lillian Webb in which Webb told his wife he believed he was dying, and instructed her to begin digging a hole in the back yard to bury his body. Lillian Webb agreed, and dug a grave in the back yard.

Webb later suffered a second stroke and died inside the Dartmouth home. Lillian Webb buried her husband in the grave she dug under Webb’s instruction. According to officials, Webb died in 1999.

 

Illegal gambling investigation

In January of this year, Massachusetts State Police detectives assigned to Attorney General Maura Healey’s office began an investigation into an illegal gambling operation, which ultimately led to the discovery of Webb’s remains.

Limited information on that investigation is available, however, the court documents on the Donald Webb case confirm that Lillian Webb’s son, Stanley Webb, and Jacquelyn Webb were the targets of that investigation. It is unclear how Jacquelyn Webb is related to Stanley Webb, however they live together in Westport.

A copy of the July 13 search warrant indicated that investigators arrived at 28 Maplecrest Drive specifically to search for the body of Donald Webb both inside the residence and under the earth within the boundaries of the property. Lillian Webb was also named as a person to search for evidence.

Stanley Webb is listed as the owner of Nutel Communications, a Fall River company that produces electronic vending machines that dispense telephone calling cards. The company has been targeted by law enforcement in the past. Stanley Webb was convicted of operating a lottery in the early 2000s with the machines, but his conviction was overturned following an appeal.

The home at 28 Maplecrest Drive where Donald Webb's remains were discovered. (Photo by: Douglas McCulloch)
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