Mantachie police chief takes heat for cold case

By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

Mantachie’s police chief has come under fire for reopening an unsolved murder case from the 1970s.

During last week’s regular meeting of the the town board, Mantachie Mayor Jeff Butler questioned Police Chief Richard Erickson about an advertisement published in the Aug. 30 edition of the “Mantachie Area Promoter.”

The ad, found on page 13 of the publication, requests that “anyone with any information that is willing to give any verbal or written statements” regarding the 1978 death of William “Billy” Lee White, who was found shot to death in front of Mantachie Town Hall, contact the police chief.

According to Butler, publishing the ad was akin to ripping the scab from a wound.

“I’ve been getting a lot of heat from [White’s] family,” the mayor told the police chief. Butler then asked who asked Erickson to begin reinvestigating the case.

Erickson said no one requested he further the long-dormant investigation; it was simply part of his duties.

“Part of my responsibility as chief of police is to look into unsolved cases,” he told the board.

The mayor then took issue with the cost of publishing the advertisement — $75 — which he said was not authorized by the board. Alderman Tim Jones added his disapproval to the mayor’s, crying foul to both the unauthorized expenditure of the town’s funds and the unrequested reopening of the case.

Erickson said he mistakenly believed the advertisement would run for free as a public service. He then requested that the board enter into private executive session if they wished to discuss the matter further.

The board voted to go into executive session later that night, but took no official action related to the advertisement or the unsolved case following their private discussion.

White was found dead beside his pickup truck on Easter morning 1978. He had been shot in the chest when his body was discovered. Inside his truck, which was parked outside town hall, was a 30.06 rifle.

An autopsy later determined that the shot to White’s chest caused his death and was not self-inflicted. Officials believed the motive for the crime was robbery — White was allegedly carrying $400 in cash, which was missing, prior to being shot. Police also suspected that White may have been killed at another location and moved to town hall in the pre-dawn hours.

No arrests were ever made in the case.

adam.armour@journalinc.com