RALEIGH — After two months of waiting, I walked through the razor-wire fences at Central Prison to sit a handshakes distance from the Mummy Murderer, the convict locked away for suffocating three people by wrapping their heads in duct tape.
For months, hed been sending mysterious letters, promising fresh documents and new details on the 40-year-old crime thought to be Raleighs first triple murder.
Twice, hed enclosed a cashiers check in the letter one for $4,900, one for $1,100 offering them as a partial payment on $100,000 he would forfeit if he told a lie.
Now Bobby Mills rolled over to me in a wheelchair, thin as a stick-man, head as hairless and sunken as a skull, and spoke seven words that broke my heart.
Im canceling this interview, he said, and heres why.
Before he explained, Mills pulled out a thick manila envelope, waved it in front of my face like a dog treat, and showed how it was addressed to the Department of Justice rather than me. Mills included no street, city or ZIP code on the envelope, but it doesnt matter. I wont be reading it.
For all I know, the envelope could contain 100 sheets of Hello Kitty stationery with All work and no play makes Bob a dull boy typed from top to bottom. If he really does have information on the real killer, hes not sharing.
I ticked him off.
I was a career criminal, he told me in the prison hospital, revealing the gist of his story. And I was good at it. But I never hurt anybody.
Lets back up.
In 1973, police discovered three bodies suffocated inside a Raleigh apartment, their hands bound with neckties and their heads wrapped from chin to eyebrows with duct tape a lurid scene in a case the press soon dubbed the Mummy Murders.
At the time, investigators all the way up to the state attorney general linked the triple slaying to the Dixie Mafia, a loose-knit crime syndicate skilled at safe-cracking, cigarette smuggling, gambling and prostitution across the South.
One of the three victims in the Mummy Murders was to have testified in a drug case, and investigators theorized that all three died for the sake of silencing the one.
But after a parade of suspects and a decade of sleuthing, only Mills took the rap, largely thanks to testimony from jailhouse snitches with felony records. Even the prosecutor who sent Mills to prison with a life sentence stated that he couldnt have acted alone.
So 30 years later, he starts sending letters and checks. I start asking to see Mills and learn that hes being isolated for various infractions and cant be seen for more than a month. I figure I ought to write what I knew about the re-emergence of a long-forgotten killer, and old associates start calling me to help out.
Thats where I crossed Mills.
Which poker players bluffing?
One of the callers, Bill Ross in Hickory, told me he knew Mills from his days as a professional poker player. He described the inmate as a terrible card player and a bumbling thief who once drove his car into the side of a building in a failed attempt to rob it.
Mills angrily denied ever knowing anyone named Bill Ross and insisted he never tried to rob a building via car crash. But Mills agreed that his poker skills were awful, and also that he lived a life of crime. So Im not sure how I committed a deal-breaker by writing about this escapade that allegedly happened more than 30 years ago.
He cited other errors, but he wouldnt tell me what they were, only that they came out of old newspaper clippings that were wrong at the time. I offered to set the record straight, but Mills declined, saying essentially, No hard feelings.
He rolled his wheelchair out the door and explained to a correctional officer, This is the press. I dont talk to the press.
But before he left, Mills made one last offer.
You can make a phone call for me, he said.
To whom? I asked.
Mills shook his head. I had blown it again.
No, he said. Not now. Not since you asked.
I asked how I could make a phone call without knowing whom to call, but it was clear we dont speak the same language or follow the same set of rules.
The Mummy Murderer retreated into his puzzling world of confinement, content to take his secrets with him.
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