HIS BROTHER’S KILLER STILL RUNS FREE

8:44 pm Crime Stories

BY Dawn Shurmaitis

Monday, December 4, 1995

About a week ago, Lee Atkinson had a dream about his long-dead brother,
Bill. In the dream, the two brothers laughed and talked and had a helluva
time together.

Lee took the dream as a sign.

It was time to get people thinking about Bill again, and the gunman who
killed him Jan. 12, 1987.

“Nobody should get away with murder,” says Lee.

“We shouldn’t bury and forget him.”

Bill, who lived in Hanover Township, was shot in his black Chevrolet Blazer
near a remote strip mine, his body found by chance hours later by a group
of four-wheelers. The bullet entered Bill’s jaw and exited above his ear.

Lee shakes his head at the memory of his brother’s shattered face.

“They did the best they could,” he says of the mortician’s efforts. “But it
wasn’t him.”

It was Lee who broke the news of the shooting to his mom.

“She was terrified,” he recalls. “It tore her apart. He was the first-born
boy.”

Married twice, Bill left behind four kids and two grandchildren. Most are
grown now. Officially, the case is still open. Police never close the books
on unsolved homicides.

But after an intense investigation, the police inquiry into Bill’s murder
fizzled. No one came forward with information solid enough to lead to an
arrest.

Lee is highly appreciative of police efforts throughout the years and
understands why justice is so hard to come by.

“They did an excellent job,” he says.

Thursday, a state trooper drove from Wyoming to Lee’s trailer in a remote
section of Salem Township to discuss the case and to let him know police
are still trying to find the killer.

“Somebody out there knows something — something Bill said or did that
night. Somebody should contact police,” Lee says. “They might not think
it’s important, but anything could bring this together.”

Lee and Bill were two of nine kids born to Doris and Bill Sr., a coal miner
with the Blue Coal Co.

When they were younger, Lee and Bill got their kicks together by downing
diet pills “for the high of it.”

Lee knocks the table hard with his knuckles and smiles.

“I ain’t took one in 20 years,” he says. “I’m done with all that crap.”

The Atkinson family was not close, says Lee, who explains “different
situations just split us up. We were all poor.”

But if one brother needed something, the other brother provided.

“You could call and ask Bill for anything — borrow money, anything,” Lee
says.

For a while, Lee worked for his brother, roofing in Nanticoke. Didn’t last.

For a time, Lee also worked at the Benton foundry and in a diner. Lee, who
has bad retinas, is now going blind and no longer works.

He has lived the past 13 years in the Sleepy Hollow Trailer Park. He shares
the ramshackle trailer with his girlfriend, Charlotte Wildoner, and their
basset hound, Bonker.

Lee is 42 now, the same age Bill was when he died. The two men looked alike
— both small, about 5 feet 2 inches tall, thin, with blue eyes and light
hair.

Lee doesn’t try to paint a pretty picture of Bill. He’s honest.

“He could be hard. Real hard. If you did something wrong, he’d smack you,”
says Lee. “But he was real nice with his family.”

Bill was especially generous to his parents, helping them with bills and
anything else they needed. Lee remembers one year, shortly after his father
got cancer and was having trouble getting around. Lee bought each parent a
recliner.

Bill was arrested a few times, for drunken driving, assault, printing up
his own money. He worked a lot, too, driving a tractor-trailer and other
jobs.

He drank — blackberry brandy and beer. He also sold cocaine, which an
autopsy revealed in his system.

Lee thinks the drugs killed Bill. So do police, who have long speculated
Bill died during a drug deal gone bad.

If Bill hadn’t died, Lee is sure he would have ended his bad ways and
started a new life.

“I think he would have gotten help. He knew it was a bad road. He knew he’d
reach the edge of the cliff and have to jump off,” says Lee, taking another
puff off his Private Stock cigarette.

“He would have gotten off drugs and gotten everything together.”

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