A Tangled Webb: Did the FBI leave a Cop-Killer on the Street?

A Miscarriage of Justice

December 4, 2020, marks the 40th anniversary of the murder of Saxonburg, Pennsylvania Police Chief Gregory Adams. Shortly after the Chief’s brutal murder, police identified Donald Eugene Webb, a jewel thief and bank robber with ties to the local Patriarca Crime family, as a suspect.

Saxonburg, PA Police Chief Gregory Adams

At the crime scene, police found evidence linking Webb and his wife, Lillian, to the murder; a bloody driver’s license in the name of Albert Portas, Lillian’s long-dead first husband. They found other evidence suggesting Webb suffered severe injuries in the struggle.

Several days after the murder, police found Webb’s rental car, used during the crime, abandoned at the old Howard Johnson’s in Warwick. In the car, investigators found blood matching Webb’s type. But no one ever arrested or charged Webb.

According to the FBI, they couldn’t find him.

Despite having this evidence, the FBI did little to catch Webb. They set up a surveillance camera on the house—at first, on the wrong place—to watch Lillian. But other than that, did little else to suggest they were doing everything they could to catch a cop-killer.

Webb made it to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list (later joined by Whitey Bulger), where he remained for twenty-five years. Yet despite this high-profile designation as a fugitive, he wasn’t out of the country, or even out of New England. He was hiding in his own home, in Massachusetts, aided by his wife, using a hidden room in the basement. It was one of two locations where Webb and his wife lived while he was a fugitive.

Stanley Webb, a former New Bedford Police officer and Webb’s stepson, co-owned one house with his mother. He is now under indictment in Massachusetts on an unrelated 2018 gambling case linked to Organized Crime.

Other than the early attempts to gain Lillian’s cooperation—which failed—the FBI never tried to obtain a search warrant for Webb. The first time the FBI executed a search warrant at Webb’s home was in 2016, thirty-six years after the murder. They used much of the same information available to them decades earlier to justify the search.

The search yielded little results other than a hidden room used by Webb.

In 2017, investigators from the Massachusetts and Pennsylvania State Police, relying partly on information in the FBI search affidavit about the secret room and the Bureau’s contact with Lillian in 2016, executed a search warrant. They found Donald Eugene Webb, or at least his remains. Lillian Webb finally admitted her husband died in 1999 after suffering several strokes. She claimed she buried him, by herself, in the backyard when she was sixty-two years old. She then led investigators to the grave.

The search uncovered more than just Webb’s remains. Investigators also found more evidence related to the hidden room he used to hide out for almost nineteen years—the facts of this miscarriage of justice shock the conscience.

It took the FBI thirty-six years to get a search warrant to search a location intimately connected to Webb.  It took thirty-seven years and the assistance of two State Police agencies to do what they should have done all those years ago.

The FBI told Chief Adams’s family they were doing everything in their power to catch his killer. It would seem they put his name on the most wanted list and forgot about it.

Then hoped everyone else would.

A strikingly familiar story about the FBI back in the 1970s and 1980s, echoing the saga of Whitey Bulger. For almost nineteen years after the murder, Donald Eugene Webb was alive and living in Dartmouth, MA. Yet the FBI never looked for him in the most likely place. They were grossly inept in ignoring the evidence, or they intentionally left a cop-killer on the street for reasons known only to them.

Why is it known only to them? Because the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant is sealed in a case over forty years old where the only known suspect is dead. The only indication of the existence of the search warrant is the reference to it in the affidavit used by the State Police in their search warrant.

It gives one pause.

But this is not the end of the story. In 2017, Chief Adams’s widow, now remarried, sued Lillian Webb and her son, Stanley, for the Police Chief’s wrongful death.

This case, given the revelations out of the Boston FBI office handling of Whitey Bulger, raises questions about why it took the FBI all those years to find a cop-killer. After the fatal struggle with Adams, Webb spent time in a hospital under an assumed name. Despite the evidence of Webb’s injuries, which common sense dictates would spark an inquiry at hospitals in New England—Webb’s home turf—investigators never found him.

Or they never looked.

Despite many reports of Webb being seen in New England, it took almost thirty-seven years for them to focus on Webb’s wife and son. After finding the remains, the FBI never filed charges of harboring a fugitive. Instead, the FBI sought immunity for Lillian’s cooperation, thus avoiding messy complications of disclosing the content of their investigation in discovery.

Was this another case of the FBI turning a blind eye to criminal activity in their single-minded pursuit of Organized Crime? Did the FBI let a cop-killer walk free in exchange for information on the mob?

Had you asked me these questions in 1980 when, as a young police officer on the East Providence Police Department, I learned of the cop-killer’s connection to Rhode Island, I would have thought you insane.

But now, knowing what transpired with the FBI and Bulger, it screams for the truth to come out.

Justice delayed is justice denied. Justice derailed by an agency such as the FBI is an injustice for which we should all demand a full accounting.

Time to untangle the troubling story of Donald Eugene Webb.

Captain (Ret.) Joe Broadmeadow East Providence Police Department Lieutenant (Ret.) Tom Denniston Rhode Island State Police

Please share this and let the Chief’s family know we will never forget or rest until the truth comes out.

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