Between death and justice
Published 11:33 pm Friday, September 19, 2008
Miller’s family had to wait 36 years for solace
By GREG KATSKI
Tuesday marked the 36th anniversary of Marine Corps Sgt. William “Billy” Miller’s death.
Before the arrests of former Belhaven Police Chief George Hayden and Miller’s ex-wife, Vickey Miller Babbitt, were made in the case last week, those close to Miller were left with 36 years of unanswered questions — years filled with frustration, hopelessness, anger and despair.
Sharron Aguilar, Miller’s sister, questioned the untimely death of her brother the moment she got the news.
Shortly after the death of Miller on Sept. 16, 1972, Aguilar and Miller’s mother received a suspicious and succinct phone call from Babbitt in the dead of night.
A short while later, Aguilar received a phone call from her mother, who was hysterical. Confused and upset, Aguilar tried to find anyone with information as to her brother’s death.
Aguilar finally got the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office on the phone. The office verified Miller was dead, but it provided minimal details.
At his funeral, Miller’s family tried to pry Babbitt for details of her husband’s death.
Babbitt, who was visibly distraught at Miller’s funeral, was accompanied by Hayden.
Oh, she put on a big show. Aguilar somberly recalled the funeral service.
Over six months later, and still with little information as to her brother’s cause of death, Aguilar turned to her local government for help.
Aguilar contacted her local congressman in Madison, Wis., where she and most of her brother’s family lived. With her congressman’s help, she received a judge advocate’s report from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
Everything in the report pointed to Babbitt and Hayden, “which made us even more upset,” said Aguilar.
Distraught over her son’s death, Miller’s mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis six months later, according to Aguilar.
Miller’s mother fought a long, tough battle against MS; she died 20 years after her son’s death.
The making of a murder
Miller joined the Marine Corps at the height of the Vietnam War. After completing his training, and before deploying for his first tour of duty, Miller came home to Madison, Wis., on leave. While enjoying the fruits of a civilian’s life, Miller met his first wife.
The two met, were swept away by each other, and married within two weeks. Miller’s sister, Aguilar, said the two were young and foolish, and eventually the marriage fell apart. But between two tours in Vietnam, and being stationed at Camp Lejeune, Miller and his first wife had two baby girls.
After separating from his first wife, Miller started dating fellow Marine and go-go dancer Babbitt. On leave, Miller decided to introduce his new girlfriend to his family in Wisconsin.
Aguilar was not overly impressed by her brother’s new lady friend.
Babbitt’s demeanor was quiet and shy, Aguilar said.
Before deploying to Okinawa, Japan, for further military training, Miller married Babbitt. The newlyweds soon had a baby daughter, Wendy Miller.
Leaving his wife and baby girl behind, Miller spent a year across the world training to fight for his country.
While in Okinawa, Miller wrote letters to his sister, Aguilar.
What Miller came home to was a house inhabited by his wife, Babbitt, and her former boyfriend, Hayden.
Miller called his sister, clearly upset.
Miller kicked Babbitt and Hayden out of his house. His wife took their baby daughter with her. Furious, Miller told his sister he was going to take his wife to court over custody of their daughter. Miller’s plan was to find a part-time job to afford an attorney.
Weeks later, on Sept. 16, 1972, Miller was found dead on Western Boulevard in Jacksonville. His death was the result of two gunshot wounds, one to the temple and one to the back.
A family left behind
Three months after the death of Miller, Babbitt and Hayden were married.
The newlyweds, living with Babbitt and Miller’s daughter, Wendy, soon left Jacksonville for the West Coast.
Miller’s family knew of Miller and Babbitt’s infant daughter, but little more.
Babbitt’s daughter, who now goes by Wendy Miller McGee, said the new family “moved around a lot.”
Babbitt spoke little to Miller McGee about her dead father, and never in truths.
Babbitt and Hayden moved their family around and stayed married for five years.
The couple had a baby boy in 1973, while the family stayed on the move.
Even after Hayden and Babbitt separated, the two families shared significant time with each other.
The last time Miller McGee saw her stepfather was at her daughter’s birth in 1992.
A short while later, Miller McGee received an anonymous letter in the mail. The letter, originally from the NCIS, was the judge advocate’s report into the case of Miller’s death.
Since the investigation was still ongoing, officials could tell her little about the case.
Undeterred and after much digging, Miller McGee got in contact with her father’s mother.
Speaking to her long-lost grandmother, Miller McGee learned of her two half-sisters and extended family.
She also learned of her mother and stepfather’s involvement in her father’s death.
See tomorrow’s edition of the Daily News for the conclusion of the Sgt. William “Billy” Miller murder case saga.