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Unsolved 1980 murder in Port Richey points to two suspects but lacks proof

PORT RICHEY — Joe Hudson wasn't working the night he chased an armed robber out of the Silver Spur Package Store and Lounge.

Around half past midnight, a man in a plaid shirt, about 6 feet tall weighing a buck-sixty with curly hair, shoved a gun at a cashier and demanded cash. He put $400 in a bag, then ran. The cashier ran too, yelling, and Hudson took it from there.

It was dark, and Hudson, 50, ran through the door underneath the neon "package" sign. He turned the corner and met a gun. Witnesses recalled a single shot. Buckshot, some said. One of the pieces struck Hudson in the jugular, another in the head. He hit the parking lot dirt and died. That was Jan. 5, 1980.

• • •

In its heyday, the Silver Spur was a Pasco landmark, one stop on a three-bar circuit where cops and county commissioners hung out. It was demolished for good in the late '80s. Many of the witnesses from that day are dead or can't be found. The original detective is retired.

But the law remembers.

"People forget about old crimes, but they need to know we don't forget about them, and we're not going to stop investigating," said Pasco sheriff's Detective Jason Hatcher.

All the Pasco detectives are assigned a few cold cases — Hatcher said he has about four. What makes this one stand out though, is Hatcher and Hudson's family think they know who's responsible, and have for a long time.

They just need the proof.

• • •

Jean Winkles was 25 with a husband and kids of her own when her father was murdered. She wishes she saw him more back then. He was retired from the Air Force, and had travelled all over, including overseas. He moved to Pasco to be near his mother, who died before he made it. He wore his hair short and had an easy smile in an old photograph Hatcher keeps in the case folder, a fat mess of handwritten reports.

Hudson didn't like to be idle — he was a working man — so in Pasco he got an overnight job at the post office.

That didn't last, Winkles said. The hours were tough. Back when the family lived in Washington D.C., Hudson worked at a liquor store, so experience drew him back to that. He started at the Spur in the mid '70s. The bar/package store sat on U.S. 19 in Port Richey.

Winkles remembers the phone call. She didn't know what to do with her hands.

Detective Phil Sides showed up in the early-morning hours with a plainclothes officer, and they talked.

Over the next few months, Sides kept her in the investigation loop, and the blanks slowly filled in.

The most likely culprits were two escaped prisoners from Starke. At first, the detectives thought Hudson had been shot six times. It seemed deliberate. But the autopsy came back and it was pellets, Winkles said, probably from a sawed off shotgun.

The word was these two men were just going down U.S. 19 robbing businesses. They had hit a Pizza Hut on Jan. 4, a crime the men admitted to. The pattern of the robberies was all the same: guy runs in and orders the cashier to fill a bag, then they drive off.

A break came when a man named Norman Dean, another prison escapee, told detectives he knew the men, and they had told Dean about a robbery in Florida and how a man was killed there. A photo lineup was created, but witnesses couldn't identify them.

Still, investigators told Winkles they believed these were the men responsible for killing her father.

• • •

Hatcher was 10 years old when Hudson was murdered. The men Dean identified — who Hatcher won't name because he doesn't want to compromise the investigation — are currently in state prison for other crimes. They're old men now. Hatcher went to visit one of them in 2008, the one he thinks did the shooting, but didn't get anything. They're most likely going to die in prison. He has tentative plans to meet the other man soon.

"They have a loyalty to one another," Hatcher said. "It's still there."

There are other things he wants to do: look up old witnesses, research family members and go through old evidence again, carefully. Maybe, he said, there's something he overlooked, maybe there's some DNA to find. Something.

He knows Hudson's family is holding out hope. He wants to solve it for them. "There could be a witness that didn't tell detectives (they saw something) back then. Maybe they left," he said. "Maybe vehicle descriptions. Someone could have seen that car. Someone travelling through."

Winkles holds the same hope but grapples with frustration and switches from forgiveness to anger and back again. She prays for closure.

"The Bible says we're supposed to forgive and it's not always easy," she said. "I have found in the toughest things you want to forgive, but often times you take it back."

Her father's murder, she said, changed her forever. It left a stain on her son. She doesn't want to get her family's hopes up. She doesn't want to pick at old scabs.

"You can't go back. At 25 you're not ready to sit down and realize that the world you had painted in Technicolor is now black," she said. "The only color you're going to get is by digging through the black. I think that's the hardest part."

Times Researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Contact Jon Silman at (727) 869-6229, Jsilman@tampabay.com or @Jonsilman1 on Twitter.

Unsolved 1980 murder in Port Richey points to two suspects but lacks proof 08/08/13 [Last modified: Friday, August 9, 2013 4:50pm]

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