I-Team Investigation: 2 Families, 1 Question
ST. FRANCOIS COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - A year after two young men died just feet apart from each other, their families came together in a surprising show of unity and determination.
They do not believe 22-year-old Joe Gillam shot and killed 30-year-old B.J. Edwards on January 20, 2013, then shot and killed himself.
"You have two families that were completely destroyed," Kimberley Brown said.
The shootings happened in the driveway of Edwards' ex-girlfriend's home in Park Hills, but neither family thinks the men's deaths are the result of a murder/suicide, as Park Hills Police concluded.
Could someone else have been involved? Could something else have happened?
As the Missouri Attorney General's office reviews the case, we sat down with both families and poured over dozens of pages of reports to try and piece the complicated story together.
B.J. Edwards' mom, dad and step-mom joined Joe Gillam's parents, brother and other family members to meet with us recently in a station conference room.
"Sorry don't bring those boys back, does it," Joe's father Bill Gillam said to the group, his voice choking with emotion.
It is clear emotions are still very raw. This meeting marks the first time many of these people have met.
On one end of the long table sit family members of B.J. Edwards.
Joe Gillam's family sits on the other end.
"There's no closure for either of our families," said Joe's mom, Kimberley Brown.
B.J. Edwards was 30-years-old and served in the Marines. His commander called him a "fine marine and solid leader," in a written recommendation his mother shares with us.
Back at home, B.J. took on the role of proud father to a bright and beautiful daughter.
"He just loved her so much," said B.J.'s mom Billie Kay Edwards tells me. "They're just really close."
Joseph Gillam was 22-years-old. He served in the Navy and planned to return to school to follow his passion of working with children with special needs.
"He was such a good boy," Brown said. "Everybody loved him."
On January 20, 2013 everything changed.
Joe's mother will never forget the phone call.
"It was awful," she whispered through tears.
For B.J.'s mom Billie Kay Edwards, the gut-wrenching news came with a 5 a.m. knock on the door.
"They didn't give me very many details at all," she said of the Park Hills Police who told her. "Just that he had been killed and that the person who killed him had killed himself."
According to Park Hills police, B.J. Edwards showed up at his ex-girlfriend's home that night.
The reports show Edwards muscled his way inside, where he found the woman and Joe Gillam.
The woman reportedly told officers that Edwards started beating Gillam. He then reportedly broke her cell phone. She then ran to a neighbor's to call 911.
The female witness told police when she got back, Joe Gillam got in his vehicle to leave. She reportedly told him to wait.
She said Edwards charged Gillam. That's when she said she heard two gunshots, then Gillam reportedly told her he shot Edwards.
According to the police reports, Gillam then walked around to the back of his Jeep, put the gun to his chin and pulled the trigger.
"They called it a murder-suicide right then, at 5:00 in the morning," B.J.'s mom recalled.
Over the course of several months, we spoke with St. Francois County Prosecuting Attorney Jerrod Mahurin about this case.
In May 2013, he sent out a letter indicating no criminal charges would be filed. But, he wrote, due to questions raised by both families, he made the decision to send the case to the Missouri Attorney General for review.
Do you think that your son was killed and that Mr. Gillam then killed himself as the police laid it out in that report, we asked Billie Kay.
"No, I don't think it happened that way at all," she answered.
"There's no way you would believe he (Joe) took his own life," Crystal asked Joe's dad.
"No ma'am, he had too much to look forward to," he answered.
"I have a lot of unanswered questions," said B.J.'s dad Calvin Edwards. "And I'm not going to sleep until I get the answers to them."
One of the biggest issues the families have is the close relationship between B.J.'s ex-girlfriend and the Park Hills Police Department. A Park Hills officer is the father of her young child.
There are other questions raised by the St. Francois County Coroner when he arrived at the scene.
"There were lots of firemen and rescue workers," Coplin recalled when he arrived just before 2 a.m. to a packed crime scene.
"Blood was all over everything," Billie Kay said after reading through all the police reports. "And my son's hand was hung in the door of a car. Someone slammed the door shut on his hand."
But that's not what Coplin found when he got there.
"Actually the door was open when I got to the vehicle," he said.
Coplin stressed it's not unusual to find things moved at a crime or death scene, but a couple of things really bugged him. He later detailed them in a letter given to us by the families.
"I was informed the gun was on safety, which is very unusual in a suicide to have the gun on safety," Coplin said of the weapon found at the scene.
Then, there's the matter of the shell casings.
Edwards was shot twice, but Coplin found only one casing by his body. Gillam, shot once, had two casings by his body.
"I can't figure out how the shell casings ended up in the position they were in," he said. "You know, there are a lot of things that could happen. And I just don't have any answers for those."
Was the police department forthcoming, in your opinion, with the information? We asked Billie Kay.
"No," she replied. "No, they weren't."
As mentioned earlier, the families soon learned the woman who witnessed the shootings shares a child with a Park Hills Police Officer. That officer's own report showed he was off duty that night and specifically called to the scene.
"And (he) took her to the police station in his personal vehicle," B.J.'s dad told us. "Too many things that don't add up."
In fact, according to the story Heartland News posted on our web site in January 2013, that same officer gave us the details on the case, reporting it to us as a murder-suicide.
"My son was called a murderer because of that false report you received," Bill Gillam said.
Gillam said if his son actually pulled the trigger, it was in self-defense.
Both families say police told them B.J. and Joe exchanged heated phone calls and texts. Calvin pulled his son's phone records.
"And we met with Mr. Gillam and pulled his (Joe's) records and we looked at them side by side," they said. "They have never made contact then, nor have they now."
"We knew something was wrong from that point forward," Kimberley Brown said of the phone records.
Both families say the only connection the two men had besides the female witness is the fact that, for a brief time, all three of them worked at the Farmington Correctional Center.
With the families' concerns mounting, Calvin Edwards' wife, Johnna, began knocking on doors, tracking down B.J.'s friends and others who came in contact with both men that night.
"I tracked these people down so I could get their version, maybe a missing piece," she said.
Johnna also reached out to Bill Gillam, and calls meeting the rest of Joe Gillam's family therapeutic.
"I feel the same way they do," she explained. "We are going through the same thing, just on a different, maybe, level. Maybe not, though."
Navy veteran Joe Gillam is buried at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Mo.
Marine B.J. Edwards is laid to rest at the Veteran's Cemetery in Bloomfield, Mo.
Standing at his son's grave, we asked Calvin Edwards how he finds the strength to fight for his son, and for Joe Gillam.
"I look through B.J.'s eyes is basically how I do that," he explained, "what I think he would do if it would have been me in that situation."
We reached out to Park Hills Police Chief Bill Holloway several weeks ago, hoping he would have a comment on the case. After several more messages, we haven't heard back from him yet.
In the meantime, the Missouri Attorney General's investigation continues. The families have been told to call weekly to check on its status. We will do the same and let you know what happens next.
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