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Mysterious America

Partners in Crime? The Murder of Darwin Ray Webb

The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.

Thirteen months after Linda Diane Shriver’s murder, the frozen body of a 29-year-old man from Lancaster, Texas named Darwin Ray Webb was discovered in a deep ditch along Illinois State Route 316, three-quarters of a mile west of Loxa Road. A work crew was patching the road when they discovered Webb’s body shortly before noon on Tuesday, February 11, 1975.

The 5-feet 6-inch tall Webb was wearing brown shoes, bluejeans, a flowered shirt, and gold corduroy jacket, and was laying on his back parallel with the road. His chest and neck bore wounds from two shotgun blasts at close range. 

Darwin Ray Webb and 30-year-old Russell Lee Roberts of Warrensburg, Illinois were suspected of robbing an IGA store in Mattoon the previous Friday. At approximately 7:06 p.m. on February 7th, two gunmen wearing ski masks and ponchos armed with shotguns cleaned out the front registers and a safe at Taylor’s IGA at 1316 DeWitt Avenue.

One customer, a man named Joe Mitchell, tried to intervene and grab a shotgun from one of the men. It went off in the struggle, blowing a hole in the ceiling. The second gunman struck Joe on the back of the head with the butt of his shotgun and the pair fled. Before they took off, a bystander wrote down their getaway car’s license plate number.

Click here to order the book Tales of Coles County!

At 12:20 a.m. Saturday morning, police arrested 5-foot 9-inch, 170-pound Russell Lee Roberts at the intersection of 21st Street and Western Avenue, approximately one mile southwest of the store. He was driving a white and blue 1969 four-door Chevrolet. At some point, Roberts may have switched plates because according to the Journal Gazette, his car did not match the description of the getaway vehicle given by eyewitnesses. Prosecutors charged Roberts with armed robbery.

Coles County Coroner Richard Lynch theorized based on local weather and evidence at the crime scene that Darwin Ray Webb had been killed sometime between late Friday night and early Saturday morning, February 7th or 8th. An inch and a half of snow fell on Saturday, and there was no snow underneath Webb’s body. A corpse would not produce enough heat to melt that much snow, he reasoned. Because of the freezing temperatures, however, it was impossible to precisely determine time of death.

There was no evidence directly tying Webb to the IGA robbery, or to Russell Lee Roberts. Webb and Roberts were both at the Macon County Jail in Decatur from January 30 to February 3 and were released on bond within days of each other, but otherwise, investigators could not establish any relationship between them.

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Was it a coincidence both men ended up in Coles County, or that Webb was killed by the same type of weapon used in the IGA robbery? If not, what would lead one accomplice to murder the other? In 1975, Roberts pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of robbery and was sentenced to one year in prison. To this date, no second person has been charged in the IGA robbery, and no one has been charged with the murder of Darwin Ray Webb.


Sources

  • “Police arrest man for holdup at IGA.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 8 February 1975.
  • “Body taken from scene.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 12 February 1975.
  • “Police seek murder weapon.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 21 February 1975.
  • “Jury rules death due to homicide.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 22 February 1975.

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