The search for Donald Eugene Webb, a career criminal with mob ties who allegedly killed a Saxonburg, Pa., police chief in 1980, came to a stunning end Friday when authorities said the fugitive’s remains had been found in his former wife’s backyard in Dartmouth.
The remains were dug up Thursday night on the Maplecrest Drive property of 82-year-old Lillian Webb. But investigators learned her former husband died in 1999 while still on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, the bureau said Friday in a statement. He was in his late 60s.
Donald Webb had been charged with fatally shooting Chief Gregory Adams in Saxonburg during a traffic stop on Dec. 4, 1980. Lillian Webb, who recently received immunity in exchange for her cooperation, filed for divorce in 2005, court records show.
The state medical examiner’s office identified the remains as Donald Webb’s on Friday.
Adams’s widow, Mary Ann Jones, 64, had sharp words for Lillian Webb during an earlier interview Friday, before the remains were formally identified.
“She aided and abetted a man that was wanted for murder,” Jones said of Lillian Webb. “Seriously, bury a body in your backyard? It’s still so incredible.”
Attempts to reach Lillian Webb and her lawyer for comment were unsuccessful Friday.
Jones, whose sons were both under the age of 3 when Adams was killed, said after the announcement that she was at a loss for words.
“I’m still trying to process that,” Jones said in a phone interview from Florida. “I have no thoughts on that. It totally flabbergasts me that they buried him in the backyard.”
Law enforcement officials did not say Friday how they learned when Donald Webb died. They did not disclose a cause of death.
State Police attached to Attorney General Maura Healey’s office had obtained a search warrant for Lillian Webb’s property, as part of a separate investigation, that led to the discovery of her former husband’s body Thursday, according to the statement.
The FBI did not elaborate on the separate probe, but Healey’s office said it had to do with an illegal gambling operation. That probe is ongoing.
Donald Webb was the only fugitive wanted in the United States for killing a police chief, the FBI said.
“Although it’s unfortunate Mr. Webb will never be brought to justice to pay for his crimes, we’re hopeful the family can find some closure in knowing that this alleged murderer has been located,” said Harold H. Shaw, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston Division, in the statement.
His comments were echoed by Healey, who said in the bureau’s statement that her office “is committed to working with our state police officers, the FBI, Bristol County DA’s Office and Pennsylvania State Police as this investigation continues.”
Butler, Pa., District Attorney Richard Goldinger said in an e-mail that he did not expect anyone to be charged criminally in Adams’s death.
“Lillian Webb was granted immunity,” Goldinger wrote. “Donald Webb was charged in the murder of Chief Adams. Since he is deceased, there is nobody to prosecute for Chief Adams’ murder. We have no other information, at this point, that would lead us to charging any other individuals in this matter.”
Webb went missing soon after the slaying of Adams, who was shot twice at close range in Saxonburg on Dec. 4, 1980, after being “beaten about the head and face with a blunt instrument,” according to the FBI.
At the time, Webb was living in New Bedford with his wife and stepson and had ties to mobsters in Rhode Island. His white Mercury Cougar was found in a Howard Johnson’s parking lot in Warwick, R.I., about two weeks after the chief’s murder.
On Dec. 31, 1980, a federal arrest warrant was issued for Webb alleging unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, after he was charged in Pennsylvania with first-degree murder for Adams’s killing.
Webb was a career criminal believed to be in Pennsylvania planning to rob a jewelry store, authorities said. He was wanted at the time for an earlier robbery in New York and allegedly decided to murder Adams rather than go back to prison.
Jones said Friday that she wants to know how Donald Webb managed to evade arrest after her husband’s murder.
“That’s always haunted me,” she said. “How the heck did he get out of Saxonburg?”
She said the discovery of Webb’s remains have left her pondering a troubling thought about his family.
“Does that family hate my family so much, that they couldn’t give us details that he died, and turn his body over?” Jones said. “Do they have to hide it after he’s dead, so that we still get no justice? I mean, what is wrong with that family?”
Adams’s murder had a profound effect on the town of Saxonburg as well, according to the current police chief, Joseph Beachem. He said in a phone interview that he spoke with Jones and her sons two years ago at a memorial event for Adams.
“Talking to other officers in attendance that day, you can’t help looking at them and thinking of your own family and the pain that [Adams’s family has] had to endure,” Beachem said.
In the statement the FBI released later in the day, the Saxonburg chief said the “biggest question in the history” of the town had been answered with Friday’s announcement.
“Our thoughts are with the family and we hope this eases their minds, if even only slightly,” Beachem said.