Fugitive stays on most-wanted list a record 18 years
September 25, 1999
By Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas
SAXONBURG, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- The year was 1981. The U.S. hostages in Iran were free. President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II had both survived assassination attempts.
It was the same year that the FBI placed Donald Eugene Webb on its "10 Most Wanted List."
As of September 24, Webb, a thief and master of assumed identities, broke the record for remaining on the list longer than anyone else in its nearly 50 year history.
Saxonburg, Pennsylvania, about 25 miles north of Pittsburgh, is small-town America -- population 1,600. It is a quiet place, a town with just two police officers.
At Davison's Restaurant, people will never forget December 4, 1980, a cold winter day nearly 19 years ago.
"I was just in shock, you know, and I couldn't believe what I was hearing," said Tom Pieper, a Saxonburg area resident.
Chief Gregory Adams was on routine patrol when he pulled over a car with out-of-state plates in the Agway Feed Store parking lot. Something went terribly wrong.
"The struggle took place majorly right here," said current Saxonburg Police Chief Gordon Mainhart. "There were blood stains."
Shot twice, Chief Adams was fighting to survive.
"The call came over the scanner that there was an officer down," said current Saxonburg Mayor Brian Antoszyk.
Antoszyk was just 19 years old back then and a volunteer fireman. He was one of the first on the scene.
"He was conscious and told me he was shot," said Antoszyk. "He was so serene, so he knew, he just knew that it was not long,"
The chief's wife, Mary Ann, was home with their two young sons when she got the awful news.
"Just don't let him be dead, don't let him be dead," recalled Mary Ann Adams of that fateful day. "I'll take care of him every way possible, just don't let him be dead."
Chief Adams died on the way to the hospital. It was the first and only murder in Saxonburg's 167-year history.
There were no eyewitnesses to Adams' murder, but police say the suspected killer made one critical mistake. He dropped a fake driver's license at the crime scene.
"Now that, of course, proved very valuable to this case, and we determined it was a fraudulent license," said John Stepansky of the State Police. "However it did lead us to the accused in the crime -- Webb."
Donald Eugene Webb.
"Webb was a jewel thief ... there was a jewelry store in Saxonburg, and that is probably what he was casing," said FBI Special Agent Lawrence Likar.
Police found the suspect's gun at the scene. State and area police were called in and began looking for a suspicious white car seen leaving town.
Seventeen days later, police found that car in Warwick, Rhode Island, but the trail had gone cold.
Webb, wanted for first-degree murder, was placed on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List in May 1981.
"They basically blanketed the country, with every office going out covering leads," said Likar.
More than 10,000 leads were pursued, including potential sightings in Canada and Mexico of Webb, a member of a New England crime gang.
"Webb liked fast women," said Likar. "He liked strippers, exotic dancers. He was a mob guy, basically, kind of on the fringes."
For awhile, Gregory Adams' widow was hopeful that her husband's killer would be caught.
"Every day I'd get up and say, 'OK, I'm going to get a call today' and after a while, I stopped thinking that," she said.
The FBI interviewed every Donald Webb in the country. They age-enhanced the suspect's photograph as the years dragged on. With no results.
FBI agent Likar continues to chase occasional leads.
"You'll start to think -- well, he's gotta be dead, but then you start thinking about it. Why don't we know that? Maybe we better keep looking harder," said Likar.
Officer John Briney's theory is different.
"As far as I'm concerned, I would say that, yes, he's still alive," said Briney.
"My theory is he may have been taken care of by somebody and is not around," said area resident Harold Dohmen.
Chief Adams' sons are grown now.
"It will help if he gets locked up, but it won't help me, it won't help my brother or my mother," said Greg Adams, the late chief's son and namesake.
"I hate him to death," said Ben Adams, the chief's other son.
Ben was almost 3 years old when his father was killed.
"He did something to me that traumatized my life, and I'm never going to forgive him for it," said Ben.
Mary Ann Adams remarried; she's Mary Ann Jones now.
"I would like to see him caught," she said. "Do I think he will ever be caught after all these years? Not really."
FBI officials say Webb, now 68, will not come off the Most Wanted List unless he is caught or they're certain he is dead.
Maybe then -- and only then -- can Saxonburg finally put to rest its tragedy.
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