PENSACOLA, Fla. — The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office has doubled the number of deputies on the street as the department continues searching for suspected murderers William Boyette and Mary Craig Rice, who authorities say are on a multi-state killing spree.
An attempted murder Monday morning marked the third attack over the last week in a spree that has crossed state lines and left three women dead and one critically injured.
ECSO deputies responded to a Pensacola address around 6:30 a.m. CT Monday to reports of a home invasion and vehicle theft. The mother of Kayla Crocker went to Crocker's house to check on her after the young mother didn't show up for work and found Crocker with a gunshot wound. Her 2-year-old son was reportedly unharmed.
Crocker, 28, was taken to the hospital in critical condition, and her vehicle, a white Chevrolet Cobalt, was stolen from the residence. Authorities confirmed via video surveillance that Boyette and Rice took the stolen vehicle to a Shell gas station only minutes later and ate at a nearby Hardee’s.
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Rice had previously been considered a person of interest in the attacks, but was upgraded to an official suspect Monday afternoon. Authorities believe Rice had multiple opportunities to flee or ask for help, and was seen entering stores on her own.
The small communities along the Florida Panhandle have been on high alert for a week, when the pair’s alleged crime spree began. Two bodies were found at the Emerald Sands Inn in Milton on Jan. 31. One of the victims, 30-year-old Alicia Greer, was in a relationship with Boyette, but police have said all consequent victims have no known connection to the suspect. The second victim in that attack was identified as Jacqueline Jeanette Moore, 39.
The pair then allegedly went to Lillian, Ala., where authorities say they killed Peggy Broz and stole her vehicle Friday morning. The pair is believed to have then returned to the Pensacola area.
Monday’s shooting marked the third attack and law enforcement authorities don't believe it will be the last.
“What we are experiencing is a running nightmare, quite honestly,” ECSO Chief Deputy Chip Simmons said during a press conference Monday.
Simmons said all minor property investigations have been put on hold to free up deputies to search for Boyette, 44, and Rice, 38.
“In short we have a killer, he is in our midst … everyone, and I mean everyone, should be aware of this, should be aware of what they look like.”
Boyette has a drug trafficking history, according to Morgan, including heavy use of the drug Spice. Users have been known to stay awake for several days at a time, Morgan said.
Boyette, 44, had a lengthy history of violent crimes leading up to the homicides over the past week. A familiar thread is woven through each. Arrest records show a consistent violent pattern in which Boyette is accused of attacking girlfriends, threatening to kill them and on numerous occasions allegedly beating or stabbing them until they called for help.
Boyette was accused in 2014 in Santa Rosa County of beating a girlfriend because she came home late from work and smelled of alcohol. He told her that if she reported his abuse he would "drag (a trial) out and make her life miserable," according to the arrest report.
The victim was so in fear for her life that she initially lied to police, telling them Boyette hadn’t touched her despite the redness and swelling on her face. Eventually she told police Boyette had threatened to kill her a number of times, according to the arrest report, and that he was the offender in another violent case where she had told police she was attacked by a stranger. Charges in the case were dropped when the victim recanted once again.
A Pensacola woman called 911 in June 2015 and whispered to dispatchers that her boyfriend was trying to kill her. She said he had stabbed her multiple times in the arms and legs. He had tried to strangle her and taken away her phone in an attempt to keep her from seeking help, she said. When Escambia County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrived on scene, the victim was bleeding and crying as she directed police to a bedroom where her attacker had passed out with a large kitchen knife in his hand.
In the bedroom, deputies found William Boyette.
Boyette was booked into Escambia County Jail on a $260,000 bond facing charges of kidnapping, battery, aggravated assault, aggravated battery and obstructing justice. He spent less than a year in custody before he was released June 17, 2016, when prosecutors were forced to drop the charges against him because his victim couldn't be found. She was wanted on her own criminal charges.
Within 14 hours of his release, the U.S. Marshals arrested Boyette in Santa Rosa County on a probation violation. He served only three months in jail.
It's a story that has played out over and over throughout Boyette's life.
He was arrested at least three other times in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties in as many years on battery, assault, kidnapping and weapons charges, but never served more than a year in jail for the offenses. Boyette's troubles go as far back as 2002 in Santa Rosa County, where he has faced charges of grand theft, drug trafficking, felony battery, possession of a firearm, armed robbery with a firearm, aggravated assault by threat, and resisting arrest. In many cases, charges were eventually dropped.
Boyette had been out of local law enforcement custody only four months before he allegedly killed he first of the three recent victims.
The same caliber of weapon has been used in each murder, but authorities haven't released any further details on the weapon.
Deputies have been searching a wooded area near Nine Mile Road after footage showed Boyette and Rice in the area Monday. Morgan said police are searching for possible encampments, and dogs have been used to search those areas.
“He has made this statement to many, many people that he will not be taken alive,” Morgan said.
“So again, in law enforcement we take those threats and those admonitions very seriously.”
Follow Emma Kennedy on Twitter: @Em_Ken_