CHARLOTTE, N.C. A Navy cold case unit is re-examining evidence that could lead to an investigation into the suspicious death of a man who was the third husband of an Augusta woman who has five dead husbands in five states, an agency spokesman said Wednesday.
Investigators with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service's cold case squad in Washington have been reviewing documents, interviews and other materials related to the death of Petty Officer Richard Sills, who was living in the Florida keys with his wife, Betty Neumar, when he died.
"You review the materials and then decide whether there's enough to go on," NCIS spokesman Ed Buice said. "That's the process we're in now. We've solved cases that are older than this."
He said he didn't know when agents would make a decision about whether to open a full-scale investigation.
But family members praised the squad for taking a second look.
"This is a relief," said Michael Sills, 57, of Oakland, Maine, who has been pressing police to investigate his father's death. "We just want them to examine the evidence. When they do, I believe they'll come to the same conclusion as my family: my father was murdered."
The Monroe County, Fla., Sheriff's Office closed the case in November, saying it was too old and the investigation would cost too much to continue.
Richard Sills' death was ruled a suicide in 1967. Florida investigators reopened the investigation in June 2008, after Neumar was arrested in North Carolina in the 1986 death of her fourth husband, Harold Gentry.
Since that arrest, police have also begun to re-examine the deaths of her son 34-year-old Gary Flynn, whose 1985 death in Ohio was ruled a suicide and three of her other husbands, though she faces no charges in those cases.
In the North Carolina case, Neumar, 77, is charged with three counts of solicitation to commit first-degree murder. Authorities say she tried to hire three different people to kill Gentry in the six weeks before his bullet-riddled body was found in his rural North Carolina home. A trial date is pending.
A telephone message left for Neumar's attorney, Charles Parnell, wasn't returned Thursday.
Neumar was released nearly three months ago after posting a $300,000 bond and is staying at her Augusta, Ga., home until the trial.
Sills said he didn't know anything about the Florida investigation into his father's death until his family was contacted earlier this year by the AP.
Since then, he has asked several police agencies to re-examine the case, including the Monore County sheriff's office, the Florida attorney general's office and the NCIS office in Florida. But each time, he said he was told the case was too old or they didn't have jurisdiction.
But Sills didn't give up. He kept making phone calls, until he reached the cold case unit in Washington. An agent there told him this week that they would examine the evidence.
"That's all my family has asked for. My father was in the Navy. He served honorably. This is the right thing to do," he said.
Neumar was working as a beautician in Jacksonville, Fla., in the mid-1960s when she met Richard Sills, who was divorced from his first wife and had four children.
On April 18, 1967, police found his body in the bedroom of the couple's mobile home in Big Coppitt Key, Fla. Neumar told police they were alone and arguing, when he pulled out a gun and shot himself.
The NCIS documents obtained by The AP revealed that Richard Sills may have been shot twice not once as Neumar told police. One bullet from the .22-caliber pistol pierced his heart, while a second may have sliced his liver.
According to a Monroe County Sheriff's Office investigative report, the medical examiner said that without an autopsy, he would be unable to determine if Richard Sills was shot once or twice. No autopsy was performed when he died. And without knowing the number of gunshot wounds, there's no way to know if his death was a suicide or homicide, the report said.
County investigators planned to exhume Richard Sills' body from an Ocala, Fla., cemetery for an autopsy, but then determined that a statute of limitations applied to the case, the records said. Investigators have said Florida law sets a time limit on prosecution of some categories of homicide, including involuntary manslaughter, but not on premeditated or first-degree murder.
But Sills' family believes authorities used that as an excuse.
"How do you know if it's premeditated unless you investigate?" Michael Sills said.
Georgia authorities last year closed their re-examination of the death of Neumar's fifth husband, John Neumar, saying they have no evidence she was involved. His family has criticized the finding.
Authorities in Ohio have also said they were re-examining the 1970 shooting death of Neumar's first husband, Clarence Malone. Malone was the father of Flynn, who was later adopted by Neumar's second husband, James A. Flynn.
It's unclear when Neumar met or married James Flynn. She told investigators he "died on a pier" somewhere in New York in the mid-1950s. She and Flynn had a daughter, Peggy, and his death is the only one officials are not reinvestigating.