- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 31, 2009

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. | William Miller’s final errand was supposed to be helping his estranged wife with car trouble. The Marine sergeant left home one night in 1972 and within the hour was found dead on a rural road.

Thirty-seven years later, three people face trial on murder charges for what prosecutors say was an ambush triggered by a love triangle around Miller’s wife and violence between Marine pals.

The case remained unsolved until Miller’s sister contacted a newspaper reporter looking into cold cases, and the resulting investigation elicited new information from a 1970s baby sitter.

Miller’s ex-wife, Vickie Babbitt, 58, is scheduled to go to trial in March on charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Also charged with murder and conspiracy are George Hayden, 57, who married Mrs. Babbitt after Miller’s death and later became a small-town police chief, and Rodger Gill, 56, an ex-Marine who was friends with the others.

“All these years I’ve been carrying on this crusade trying to get the cold case reopened. Everything fell into place. I just know we have divine help,” said Miller’s sister, Sharron Aguilar, 68, who with her husband owns an automotive air conditioning and restoration company in Houston.

Trial dates for Mr. Hayden and Mr. Gill have not been set yet. They and Miller were friends in the Marines Corps.

On Sept. 16, 1972, court records say Miller got a call from his wife asking for help with car trouble. A month earlier, he had kicked her out of their Jacksonville house after returning from a year’s service in Okinawa, Japan, to find Mr. Hayden living with her. He beat up Mr. Hayden to get him to leave. When his wife of two years walked out with Mr. Hayden, they took the Millers’ 1-year-old daughter, Wendy.

Miller borrowed a neighbor’s car for the late-night trip to help his estranged wife and took a .22-caliber pistol with him. He had told his sister days before that he felt threatened.

Passing motorists found Miller’s body near Camp Lejeune less than an hour after he left home. He’d been shot twice.

Prosecutors say Mrs. Babbitt faked car trouble to lure Miller to a secluded stretch of rural road in Jacksonville. They say Mr. Hayden was waiting in a ditch with an M-16 rifle and shot Miller in the temple and back. He appears to have been surprised: When police found the car, its engine was running, the headlights were on and Miller’s pistol remained in the front seat, unfired.

“I spoke with him for the last time when he called crying to say he found George living with Vickie. He stated George would not leave, so he beat … George,” Miller’s sister, Miss Aguilar, said in an e-mail to the Associated Press. “George then threatened Bill, stating ‘I have an M-16.’ He told me he was getting a lawyer to divorce Vickie and fight for Wendy.”

Miss Aguilar said she always suspected Mrs. Babbitt. When Miller died, Mrs. Babbitt called the family and told them he had been killed but didn’t offer any details. She attended the funeral at Arlington National Cemetery with Mr. Hayden, but wouldn’t talk with the family.

Mrs. Babbitt and Mr. Hayden married four months after Miller’s death, then divorced four years later. She later remarried and worked as a bookkeeper at Austin Tile Design Studio in Bend, Ore.

Miss Aguilar never quit trying to get the case open. When Lindell Kay, a crime reporter for the Daily News of Jacksonville, started working on a project about unsolved murders, Miss Aguilar sent him the initial investigation report, and Mr. Kay wrote two stories about the case.

After Mr. Kay’s stories appeared in August 2008, a former baby sitter for Miller’s daughter named Bonnie Sharpe came forward with information that became the starting point for a new investigation and led to the arrests of Mrs. Babbitt and Mr. Hayden one week before the 37th anniversary of the murder.

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