Family murders play out in Ga. courtroom

SPRINGFIELD, Ga. -- "Help. Help. Help. I'm shot." That plea to a 911 operator was the first public sign that one of Effingham County's most prominent families was in trouble.


Hours later, strangers would begin to hear the shocking news from Springfield-Egypt Road. A tale filled with age-old sins like lust, greed and betrayal soon would be revealed. A very private, close-knit family would be thrust into the spotlight. Its secrets would become rumor mill fodder.

And the family's eldest son would be at the center of it all.


That fateful sound

Linda Heidt liked word-find puzzles. The 58-year-old grandmother and mother of three was up late on a summer Sunday night working on just such a puzzle when she heard the sound that changed her life.

It had rained that evening, and the loud noise she heard from her bathroom brought up a familiar worry.

Her husband of more than 40 years, Philip, used a respiratory apparatus, known as a CPAP machine, and Linda had a fear lightning could strike the equipment and harm him.

The sound she heard that night wasn't a storm. It was the first of three shotgun blasts that would steal away her family and bring her physical and emotional torment. Taking a step or two into her dark bedroom, she called for Philip, her husband, as she saw the fiery shot that took his life and then another blast that came close to taking hers.

After an unknown amount of time, Linda Heidt awoke from a blackout to the sight of her teeth on the floor.

She began to pray.

Making her way to the bedroom phone and finding it dead, she got herself to the kitchen and her pocketbook, reaching inside to find her cell phone.

Having been shot in the face, her cries for help were distorted and difficult to understand. It took dispatch operators six minutes to get an address from her.

She told operators she did not know who had shot her and her husband or whether a suspect was still in the house.

As she sat against a wall, holding clothes up to her bleeding neck and waiting for help, she was not yet aware of her 59-year-old husband's fate - or that of her youngest son, Carey, 32. Both lay dead in their beds; Philip in the one he shared with his wife for more than 40 years; Carey in the one where he slept as a boy.


After learning from law enforcement that two of her loved ones were dead in her home, Linda Heidt's memories over the next four weeks would be blurred - memories she'd probably rather forget - as she lay recovering in a hospital bed some 30 miles from the bloody scene of the crime.


Protecting his family, business

Philip Martin Heidt was a prominent, well-liked and well-respected businessman in Effingham County. Involved in real estate development, the local leader was the center of much commercial and residential development.

His son Carey Albert Heidt worked along with him at what was Coldwell Banker Intercoastal Realty in Rincon. Active in the Chamber of Commerce, Philip Heidt was described as very private man who loved his family dearly.

Effingham County's once booming real estate market was spiraling downward like the rest of the nation's in 2008, putting mounting financial pressures on both Philip and Carey Heidt.

The stresses from loan payments on property owned by Philip Heidt through multiple partnerships were beginning to take a toll. Creditors and bankers badgering him for overdue loan payments were mounting, and so was the debt.

Amid this financial stress, Philip soon would discover a devastating family secret. That secret threatened to topple the family, and it just may have cost him his life.

Philip's eldest son, Craig, was having an affair with his youngest son's wife. The affair was tearing Philip apart. He tried unsuccessfully, on multiple occasions, to put an end to it.

In the meantime, Carey Heidt also had learned his wife of 13 years was being unfaithful, with her admitting to the affair in May 2008.


"We're just friends"

The affair began about a month earlier when Robin Heidt told Craig she had feelings for him one night after the family had dinner at a local restaurant.

The next day the two were intimate for the first time in the living room of Philip and Linda Heidt's home, while Craig Heidt's parents slept.

Carey Heidt was determined to save his marriage and his concerns over his three children led him to seek counseling for himself and Robin.

Despite Carey Heidt's attempts at preserving his family, Robin and Craig's relationship progressed.

An angry Philip Heidt and a broken-hearted Carey Heidt told Robin and Craig to end the affair, with Philip threatening to write Craig out of his will.

Philip Heidt reminded Robin of all the things Carey had provided for her, and told her Craig would never be able to keep her in the lifestyle to which she was accustomed.

In one argument on a day shortly before the murders, Philip tried to prevent Robin from leaving her and Carey's house by taking her car keys, incensing both Robin and Craig.

In another confrontation at a Rincon restaurant, Carey told Craig to stay away from his wife. The argument ended with a familiar refrain in the early days of the affair from both Craig and Robin: "We're just friends."




Financial stability concerns

Craig Heidt was making big plans that summer. He traveled to Newington 13 days before the murders to meet with a Realtor about purchasing some land.

The Realtor, Christy Campo, was surprised Craig wasn't using his father for his business and wanted to know if she should contact Philip Heidt.

After being told he was the "black sheep" of the family and how he wouldn't "urinate on his father if he were on fire," Campo began to ask more questions about how he would finance a purchase of up to $400,000.

Craig had told her he planned to sell a large tract of timberland and pay off a mortgage on another home to raise the cash to buy the land.

"He'd know something in a couple of weeks," he had told her.

Campo learned there was no tract of land in Craig Heidt's name.

Craig also did not pay the mortgage on his home as he had told Campo. His father paid the mortgage on the home that may have been in Craig's name, but only his former wife and his son and daughter actually lived in it.

For a number of years, Craig had worked at Georgia-Pacific but was on disability for back injuries at the time of the murders. His disability income was not quite $3,000 a month, a good portion of which went to his ex-wife and two children to support them.


Future plans

Unbeknownst to Robin, Carey Heidt had begun divorce proceedings in the summer, including changing the beneficiary on a $3.5-million life insurance policy to a trust for their three children.

Philip Heidt also had been working on a new will, concerned in part about preserving 300 acres of family land for the future. He told his attorney and accountant he wanted to write Craig out of the will, but changed his mind.

Craig Heidt's share was reduced from one-third to one-ninth in a will signed Aug. 22, 2008, just three days before the murders. Carey missed an appointment the same day to sign his new will.

The Thursday prior to the murders, the tensions escalated to the point where Craig Heidt brought out a gun at his father's house and a tussle between he and Carey ensued.

The following night, Craig and Robin spent the night in a small hunting cabin near Oliver, where Craig was temporarily staying after he had moved out of the home he and a former girlfriend shared in Springfield. The cabin was a frequent rendezvous spot for the couple.

That night the two discussed recent events, with Craig becoming increasingly angry and threatening to go "old school" on his father and brother.

The next morning as the two were saying their goodbyes outside the cabin, evidence they had been caught at their secret spot could be heard in the skies above. A helicopter flying low, just above the pines, was circling the area.

The helicopter was explained away by Craig, but Robin had a hunch they had been caught.

The helicopter was being flown by Ellis Wood, a business associate of Philip Heidt's, who had tracked Robin's SUV via a tracking device installed on her vehicle with coordinates of her location supplied to Wood by Carey Heidt.



The final hours

Robin spent Saturday night with a friend, heading home Sunday to prepare lunch for her children and Carey, who had been to church.

The helicopter incident and the continued affair led to a heated discussion with Carey that day, sending him packing to spend the night at his parents. It was the first time in 13 years he had done so.

Craig was upset when Robin told him later that Sunday the helicopter was sent by his father and Carey.

Meanwhile, Carey settled into his parents' house.

Carey called and told his children goodnight just after 8:30 p.m., the last time they'd speak to their father.


The scene of the crime

In the early morning hours of Aug. 25, 2008, the Heidt family home was shrouded in darkness. The only lights visible being a small one in the kitchen and another behind a closed bathroom door.

The house was secured. The door off the carport was locked, with the key to the double-key deadbolt safely resting on the mantle inside the house, where it always sat. A spare key was most always kept in a small storeroom off the carport on top of the home's air-conditioning unit.

The killer most likely entered the home through the same door with the spare key.

The killer maneuvered without trouble through the darkened home, heading first for the bedroom where Carey Heidt slept.

Carey opened his eyes, maybe hearing a sound, as he took a shotgun blast to the face. A shot close enough that Styrofoam from the wadding in the shell was embedded in his left eye.

Moments later, the killer turned and headed to the master bedroom where Philip Heidt, rousing from the sound of the blast that killed Carey, held a sheet in front of himself as he lifted his head and shielded himself, bracing for his fate.

Linda Heidt, coming from the bathroom, sees the fatal shot to her husband and can only speak his name as she gets the third, final blast from the gun to the face.

The killer had no need to rush. The house was in a remote area on a tree-lined dirt road, with what he thought were three dead people inside.

The killer takes the time to stop and pick up the three fired double-aught Winchester buckshot shells from his 12-gauge gun.

To complete the crime and stage it as if a random burglar was to blame, the killer broke a window pane to the back door though which he gained entry to the house. Shaking with panic and adrenaline, he missed the glass at first, leaving a half-moon mark on the door with the butt of his shotgun.

He plants the spare key he used to gain entry to the house in the inside deadbolt lock, apparently not remembering "that" key is still sitting on the shelf.

He wants the scene to appear as if a stranger caused the bloody carnage.

He takes no cash.

He takes no jewelry.

He takes no electronics.

He rifles through no drawers.

He pours gasoline around the home, enough that the finish was removed from the floor in areas, and puddles were found when police arrived.

But he never strikes a match because it's too late. Linda Heidt is already on the phone calling for help.


The verdict

Craig Heidt was arrested May 22, 2009, in a road stop after he had taken Carey Heidt's children to school. He had moved into his brother's home about four months after the murders so he could be with Robin and her and Carey's children. Craig and Robin already had purchased engagement and wedding rings and planned to move to Charleston, S.C.

On May 28, 2009, an Effingham County grand jury returned an 11-count indictment against him. Although Craig Heidt remained in jail, his relationship with Robin continued until she ended it in February.

Between his arrest and his trial, he would be charged with criminal interference with government property, possession of a prohibited item by an inmate and possession of a weapon by the Screven County sheriff. He had damaged a mattress and was found to be in possession of a cell phone and a small razor blade.

Also leading up to the trial Robin Heidt would be arrested in February 2010 and charged with threatening at least two witnesses in the case, both felonies. She is later allowed bond with a requirement she move to Charleston, and in August allowed to return to Effingham to enroll her children in school.

After a number of delays, a jury is seated Nov. 30 and eight women and four men decide Craig Heidt's fate.

And on Thursday evening, two years and four months after the crimes and after almost two weeks of testimony, Craig Heidt was found guilty on all 11 counts. The date a judge will reveal Craig Heidt's sentence has yet to be set. What that sentence will be is unclear. The case was not a death-penalty case, but Craig Heidt could be sentenced to life in prison on each of the 11 counts.

While justice in the eyes of the law may have been served with the verdict, the Heidt family has been shattered and the tears haven't ended.

Another son is now lost and adding to the pain, the public has been witness to it all.



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