By M.P. Pellicer | Eerie.News
On May 16, 1980, Theresa Fillingim, 16, was reported missing to the Tampa Police Department. On April 3, 1981, several human remains were recovered from the property of Billy Mansfield. On July 20, 2022, with the help of DNA evidence one of the skeletons was confirmed as belonging to Theresa.
William "Billy" Mansfield Jr. was the eldest of five children, born to a father who was a convicted child molester. He joined the army as a teenager after altering his birth certificate. While serving he became addicted to alcohol and drugs. In 1975, he lived in Michigan and married Phyllis Spielmaker. His family was originally from Grand Rapids. His wife described Mansfield as a closeted bisexual who often brought men home that he picked up at gay bars, and engaged in sex in front of her. He once discussed a murder with her. She said he was easygoing, however when drunk he would become violent.
By the time they divorced in 1979, he had returned to his family home in Florida.
In 1975, Elaine Zeigler, 15,an Ohio native was vacationing with her family in a campground near Brooksville, Florida. She was last seen walking to the showers. Initially it was thought she was a runaway. Several witnesses described seeing her talking to a younger man near the shower area, and getting into his light blue 1966 Ford Fairlane with Florida plates.
The family went to bed not realizing until the next morning she had not returned. All her belongings were left behind. The only thing missing was her hair dryer which she had taken to the showers.
The search led nowhere, and Elaine appeared to have dropped off the face of the earth.
Two years later Billy Mansfield pled guilty to a sexual misconduct charge against a babysitter. He received a sentence of six months and 36 months probation. Shortly after serving his prison term he raped two teenagers, ages 15 and 16 at knifepoint in a rural area of Grand Rapids, Michigan. He committed the crime on the second anniversary of Ziegler's disappearance. He was sent back to jail for violating his probation.
His cellmate during this jail stint was Albert Lee III, 27, who told him he murdered Linda VanderVeen, age 11, a school crossing guard who was abducted from her post in February 1979. Lee was arrested six weeks after VanderVeen's body was found in a snowbank. She'd been strangled with her uniform tie.
Mansfield used this information to testify against Lee in exchange for a lesser sentence. He served only one year.
Later that year Albert Lee was convicted, but it was overturned because witnesses were hypnotized. Twelve years later a second trial ended with a conviction of first-degree murder, and he was sentenced to life without parole.
In a 2009 prison interview, Lee denied killing VanderVeen, telling the reporter that police planted evidence in his car. By then Linda's parents and her brother were dead. In 2022 he is still serving his sentence.
Once Mansfield was released he returned to Florida, and in June, 1980, Mansfield forced Pamela Sherrell, 18, into his van then drove to a trailer where he lived. He proceeded to beat her. She reported the attack to police, but he had fled when they went to the location. Five months later he was arrested in Santa Cruz, California but he posted bail and was a free man once more.
In November 1981, the body of Rene Saling, 29, a mother of three was found off a road in Watsonville, California. She was partially nude, with her blouse torn and pants lowered to ankles. She was raped and strangled to death, but her body was also riddled with bullets. The police said she was killed elsewhere and dumped where a passing motorist found the body, which was in a drainage ditch leading between the bar and the KOA campground where the Mansfield brothers were renting a trailer.
Later it was determined she met Billy Mansfield at the Wooden Nickel Too bar, and they left together in his green Oldsmobile Toronado. Mansfield was reportedly working at a mushroom farm in Santa Cruz.
Witnesses testified she was drunk when she arrived at the bar around 10 p.m. looking for her husband Raymond. He saw her first, and hid in the bathroom to avoid a confrontation. Within minutes of arriving the manager threw her out because she was so intoxicated. Sometime after this she hooked up with Mansfield.
Less than a week later, Billy and his brother Gary, 23, were arrested in Nevada for questioning in Saling's murder. Despite lying about their identity, they matched the description of the Mansfield brothers, and they were arrested. Both were arraigned on murder charges. The media called them "The Bag Brothers" since they wore paper bags over their heads to hide their appearance. They pled not guilty to the charges.
November, 1980, was not a good month for the Mansfield boys. William Mansfield, Sr., an air conditioning repairman was sentenced to 30 years in prison for sex crimes involving young girls. He was originally charged with 40 sex offenses, but the charges were dropped in a plea-bargain with prosecutors and he was convicted of only four sex-related crimes. He pled no contest to three counts of lewd and lascivious assault on a child under 14, and one count of soliciting a minor for prostitution.
Another one of his sons, Robby Mansfield, 18, was arrested in Brooksville on a charge of burglary of a dwelling and grand theft of a rifle.
William Mansfield, Sr. was released in 2005 based on his good behavior, after serving a third of his sentence. That year The Tampa Bay Times reported that William Mansfield’s crimes included sex acts with dozens of children, including one girl who was just 9 months old when the abuse began.
In March, 1981, an anonymous tip led the Hernando County Sheriff's Department to secure a warrant to excavate a six-acre property belonging to the Mansfield family in Spring Hill, Florida. Virginia Mansfield, mother of Billy, Robby and Gary still lived in a trailer house along with her stepmother and three other sons. The family had moved to the property from Michigan in 1970.
Digging among the junk that littered the grounds, ten feet from the trailer the first discovery was made. They found a skull and a hip bone covered by a blanket in a shallow graveyard. The bones appeared to belong to a child between the ages of 9 and 12. The skeleton was lying on its side in a fetal position.
Then other bones were found, and examination by a pathologist concluded they belonged to a female under 20 years of age. Then a second set of remains were tentatively identified as those of Elaine Ziegler missing since 1975.
The excavation continued, turning up cow and chicken bones. A week later under a fireplace a small sack of bones was found. These were later determined to belong to an aniaml.
Two more skeletons belonging to young women were unearthed.
Soon identified were the remains of Sandra Jean Graham, 21, a divorcee who had disappeared from the parking lot of Pam's Liquor Lounge in Tampa the year before. She was seen in the company of a man described as a "biker". A dental comparison confirmed who she was. It was determined she had been strangled with an electrical wire.
The skulls of the other two Jane Does were sent for reconstruction, but no matches were made.
October, 1981, Billy Mansfield escaped with the aid of another prisoner. Within 12 hours they were arrested.
When Mansfield's trial began in July, 1981, the prosecutor read from a letter he had sent to his mother. It read: "there are certain circumstances from which God seems to absent himself, concrete circumstances of violent action and response from which there is no retreat, and in which man is left alone and in darkness to make his own life or death decisions."
While being held in California he was indicted for the murder of one of the four victims found on his property. He was also charged with attempted sexual battery of Pamela Sherrell. During his 1982 trial his brother Gary and a woman known as "Cindy" testified against him. For his cooperation, conspiracy charges against Gary Mansfield were dropped.
Billy Mansfield was convicted of Saling's murder and sentenced to 25 years to life. He then pled guilty to all four Florida homicides and was given four life terms as part of a plea bargain.
In 1982, during Mansfield's trial for the Florida murders, Peggy Oates Knight, 22, described the night when Elaine Zeigler disappeared. She said that Elaine believed Mansfield would help her run away from home.
Knight lived near the KOA campsite near the Mansfield property, The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported. She had become friends with Elaine, who she described as "a loner, very quiet." She always walked around like she had problems. The evening before she disappeared she told Knight she wanted to run away because her stepfather had made sexual advances toward her. She testified that Elaine said the man had sexual relations with her. She didn't want to tell her mother because she had just married her stepfather.
She told Knight, she'd met someone named Billy who was going to take her south to Miami and "take care of her." Soon after Mansfield showed up at the recreation room. He was filthy. Knight said she warned Zigler not to leave with him, but she went anyway. She said that Mansfield's eyes were dark, piercing and extremely dilated. "His eyes looked so black, like they look right through you. It was frightening, very scary." she said.
Fast forward to October, 2020, when police arrived at Gary Mansfield's home at 3442 Roundup Lane, situated behind his parents' house. A search warrant yielded equipment for a meth lab and illegal drugs. The 62-ear-old was subsequently arrested on several drug possession and distribution charges. They said they "located items on a nearby property that were deemed to be suspicious."
This led to a search the Mansfield property on Centerwood Avenue in the Weeki Wachee Acres neighborhood where remains were unearthed in 1981. It's known as the "Houes of Horrors" by neighbors.
Ironically the Mansfield property is less than 500 feet from a church called Iglesia De Dios Corona, or the Church of God’s Crown.
On July 20, 2022, one of the Jane Does unearthed in 1981, finally was given a name. She is Theresa Caroline Fillinghim. She disappeared a week from her 17th birthday. Her sister reported her missing on May 16, 1980.
Her remains were sent to different labs through the years, but not until 2020 were they ever able to develop a DNA profile. In 2022, a new technique was used on the sample and with the information developed it was compared to her sister, which confirmed her identity.
Her sister, Margaret Johns who lives in Cape Coral, Florida had been made aware the year before that they tentatively had found her sister's remains, but confirmation was made now. She felt that many of her family members were cheated of this closure since many of them had passed away.
Billy Mansfield is up for parole this year. Johns said if she has to fly out there and testify herself to keep him from getting out, then that’s what she’ll do.
Court documents said all the women found in 1981 on the Mansfield property were sexually assaulted by both Billy Mansfield, his younger brother Gary and their father William Mansfield Sr. It was Mansfield Jr. who would then kill them and sometimes dismember them.
The fourth set of remains is still a Jane Doe
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