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24-year-old mystery is solved, detective says

Published Sep. 12, 2005

The deathbed confession of a former gang member may finally have shed some light on the fate of a 17-year-old girl whose disappearance has haunted investigators and family members since 1974.

Jack Calvar, the lead detective on the case, now says he believes he knows what happened to Amy Billig:

She was taken by members of the Pagans' motorcycle gang, drugged, raped and murdered, her body dumped into the Everglades within hours of her abduction, Calvar told the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale for a story published Thursday.

Paul Branch, a Pagans "enforcer," died at his home near Charlottesville, Va., in December. As his life came to an end, the convicted murderer told his wife how Billig was grabbed and taken to a "party" in the Everglades, Calvar said. Before the party ended, she was dead.

Branch had been interviewed by police over the years, but had never admitted to knowing what happened to Billig. However, Calvar said Branch's confession, first reported by his wife in December, included dozens of details consistent with information previously gathered by investigators.

Billig's mother, Susan Billig, now a widow in her 70s, for years crisscrossed the country, following tips that her daughter may have been brainwashed or abducted. Repeatedly, she said she believed Amy was alive.

She also endured 21 years of taunting telephone calls from a man claiming to know where Amy was, claiming she had been trained as a sex slave.

In 1996, U.S. Customs Agent Henry Blair was sentenced to two years in prison for aggravated stalking. He admitted he had never known anything about Amy's case.

On Wednesday, Mrs. Billig said she was aware of investigators' latest information, but didn't want to discuss it.

"It's been a harrowing past few days," she said. "It's too painful to even talk about."

Based on hundreds of interviews and Branch's confession, Calvar said he believes the Pagans picked up Billig as she headed for her father's art gallery about a mile away. She probably was hitchhiking, as was common back then, he said.

"Once in the car or van, it wouldn't have been too hard to control a 17-year-old girl with a bunch of guys," he said.

Billig, a willowy young woman who weighed 102 pounds and stood 5 feet 5 inches tall, was taken to a Pagans' party in the Everglades, where the gang had a trailer-clubhouse. The Pagans were major dealers in drugs, guns and prostitutes in the 1970s.

"She became insulting to some of the bikers," Calvar said. "You don't do that in those groups. That's when they started to teach her a lesson. Through the rape, she probably fought back, and that's why they kept pumping her with dope."

About two dozen gang members raped Billig as they controlled her with drugs, Calvar said. Finally, she had had too much. Her heart stopped.

Through with her, her tormentors dumped her in the swamp.

"We will never find a body," Calvar said.

But the case still is not closed, he said. Calvar returned Wednesday from Charlottesville, Va., where he interviewed a man mentioned by Branch's wife as someone with possible information. The man, incarcerated for murder since May 1974, gave unconvincing denials but told Calvar the names of former bikers who might know more.