Real Name: William Thomas "Tommy" Zeigler
Location: Winter Garden, Florida
Date: December 24, 1975
Details: Tommy Zeigler was wealthy and well known in Winter Garden, Florida. His family owned Zeigler's Furniture Store and several apartment buildings. However, everything changed when he was accused of four murders in a shootout at his furniture store on Christmas Eve 1975. The victims were: his wife Eunice; her parents Perry and Virginia Edwards; and customer Charlie Mays. He was subsequently convicted of the quadruple murder and put on death row. However, he maintains his innocence. A polygraph examiner, hired by Unsolved Mysteries, believed that he was telling the truth.
According to prosecutors, Zeigler murdered his wife in the kitchen area of the furniture store. His motive was a $500,000 life insurance policy. However, he claims that their marriage was great and that he loved her. Prosecutors also maintain that he killed Eunice's parents, who were also at the store that night. He then killed customer Charlie Mays in an attempt to frame him for the murders. Charlie was found with store receipts and cash stuffed in his pockets. He then shot himself in the side to make it appear as if he was a victim.
According to Zeigler, the four victims were already dead when he entered the store through the back door and found that the lights were not working. He claimed that when he walked into the main showroom, he was hit in the back of the head. As he tried to get back up, two men came towards him. One was short and stocky while the other was large and burly. They attacked him and threw him back into the hallway. Since Zeigler carried large amounts of cash at the store, he carried a handgun for protection. He used it on one of the assailants, apparently wounding him. Another assailant turned the gun back on Zeigler and shot him in the side.
On the night of the murders, Zeigler stumbled out of the store at 9:25pm. Minutes earlier, he had called the police chief to tell him that he had been shot. Almost immediately, police found some troubling inconsistencies. First, Eunice was found with her one hand in her coat pocket and had no evidence of being robbed. This suggested that she knew her assailant. Next, it was discovered that Zeigler's shirt was stained with Type A blood; this is also Perry's blood type. Zeigler's blood type is O. However, his attorneys believed that the blood came from an assailant. Finally, investigators located five handguns at the scene. Four had been wiped clean of fingerprints. Two of the guns were inexpensive "Saturday Night Specials" made by the company RG. Three of the guns were documented as belonging to Zeigler. The cheaper guns were not registered to him, but were connected to him by another witness. Zeigler, however, claims that he would never buy such low-quality guns.
A key witness for the state was Felton Thomas, a friend of Charlie Mays. Thomas testified that on the night of the murders, he had gone to the store with Charlie. He claimed that Zeigler took them to a nearby orange grove to show off some new guns. He also had them fire off the weapons. Prosecutors believe that he did this so that the two men would get gunshot residue on their clothing and leave their fingerprints on the weapons. However, his defense attorneys do not understand why the guns would be wiped clean if this was Zeigler's intent.
Thomas testified that once they went back to the store, Zeigler asked him to kill the power; he complied. Zeigler then asked him to break into the store. Prosecutors believed that he did this to make it seem like the murders were the result of a robbery gone wrong. Thomas also claimed that they next drove to Zeigler's house to retrieve a key to the store. They then returned to the store, where Charlie planned to pick up a TV. Thomas left the two and went home. Prosecutors believed that, once inside, Zeigler shot and killed Charlie.
Defense attorneys, however, claim that Thomas's story was false. They note that his entire story would have had to occur in a twenty-one minute time frame. Zeigler claimed that he had never met Thomas before.
Another prosecution witness was Ed Williams, who had worked for the Zeigler family for over ten years. He testified that on the night of the murders, Zeigler gave him a handgun. Later that night, he turned the weapon over to authorities. Ballistics tests would reveal that bullets from that gun killed Perry and Virginia Edwards. However, Zeigler testified that the gun had been taken from his truck two weeks before the murders. Interestingly, Williams was one of the people that had access to the vehicle.
A witness also linked Williams to the weapon that killed Eunice, one of the Saturday Night Specials found at the scene. The witness testified that he had purchased the guns for Zeigler. However, he admitted that they had never met face-to-face. The deal had been made through an intermediary: Ed Williams. This led defense attorneys to believe that Williams was involved in the murders, not Zeigler.
Zeigler's defense attorneys were also troubled by the fact that some witnesses were never called to testify. A couple had reported to the police that they had been driving by the store on the night of the murders when they saw four cars outside. One of the cars was a white Cadillac. They also saw a man fitting the description of Charlie Mays. His attorneys believe that Charlie was actually involved in the murders.
The trial lasted nearly four weeks; in the end, the jury convicted him of all charges. Although they recommended life in prison, the judge, Maurice Paul, overruled this and sentenced him to death. Zeigler believes that Paul had held a grudge against him ever since they testified for opposing sides in a bitter legal dispute. However, prosecutors maintain that there was no evidence that Paul was unfair or unethical in Zeigler's case.
On May 19, 1986, Zeigler was one day away from execution when a judge granted him a stay. In 1987, his attorneys used the Freedom of Information Act to look through the prosecution's files. They found previously undisclosed evidence, including a tape recording from an eyewitness that was never called to the stand. The witness was staying at a hotel on the night of the murders. His room faced the back of the furniture store. The man said that at about 8:30pm, he saw a police officer, service revolver drawn, behind the store. At around 9pm, he heard shots. This led Zeigler's attorneys to believe that an officer may have been involved in the murders. However, prosecutors believe that the account is not credible. They suspect that the man heard something that sounded like gunshots and was incorrect about the time of his sighting.
Zeigler continues to maintain his innocence and has appealed his case several times.
Suspects: Felton Thomas and Ed Williams are considered possible suspects in the murders. Defense attorneys also believe that victim Charlie Mays was involved in the crime, but ended up being killed himself. Prosecutors maintain that Zeigler alone was responsible for the murders.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the January 31, 1997 episode.
Results: Unresolved. Zeigler has lost eight appeals and remains on Florida's death row, awaiting execution. He was originally scheduled to be executed on October 22, 1982. However, the U.S. District Court in Jacksonville stayed the execution due to new evidence. He was then scheduled to be executed on May 20, 1986. The execution was stayed by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal due to inadequate representation. In April 1988, his death sentence was overturned. He was later re-sentenced and again given the death penalty.
In 2001, Zeigler and his attorneys were granted new DNA testing. Some of the stains on Zeigler's clothing was tested, but none of the evidence matched Perry Edwards. The bloodstains instead belonged to victim Charlie Mays. Also, some DNA on Charlie's clothing was found to belong to Perry. However, not all of the bloodstains on Zeigler's shirt were tested. A judge later ruled that the evidence was not enough to suggest that Zeigler was innocent.
Over the years, Zeigler's numerous attempts for a proper analysis of the blood evidence have been denied. His request for a new trial in 2005 was denied after DNA tests failed to conclude that Charlie was the perpetrator. In 2010, Zeigler was awarded new Touch DNA testing, but this decision was eventually reversed. In February 2013, the Florida Supreme Court again denied his motion for DNA testing. In April 2017, another DNA testing motion was denied. Finally, in May 2021, a Florida prosecutor agreed to allow DNA testing to be conducted on evidence in the case. However, the Florida Attorney General pushed back on the agreement, claiming that it did not comply with state procedural rules.
- Tommy Zeigler on Wikipedia
- "Free Tommy" Website
- Tommy Zeigler Inmate Profile
- Zeigler's Fate Deliberated - July 1, 1976
- Zeigler Trial Goes To Jury - July 1, 1976
- An Ailing Juror Halts Decision In Zeigler Trial - July 1, 1976
- Christmas Murderer Faces Electric Chair - July 17, 1976
- Zeigler Sentenced to Death For Slaying Wife, Handyman - July 18, 1976
- Graham signs two more death warrants - April 19, 1986
- State readies one execution, fights stay of another - May 19, 1986
- TV viewers to vote on killer’s guilt - February 20, 1989
- Dna Results Won't Set Zeigler Free - June 6, 2002
- Lawyer: Dna Clears Man In '75 Killings - January 16, 2003
- Zeigler, Through Vidster's Eyes - October 16, 2011
- State Supreme Court rejects Tommy Zeigler DNA decision appeal - February 21, 2013
- Local investigator hopes withheld evidence will help death row inmate - February 22, 2014
- Tommy Zeigler case: Justice journalists probe 1976 murder - March 8, 2016
- Tommy Zeigler trial plagued by 'significant' problems, report says - June 13, 2016
- Judge denies Tommy Zeigler's request - July 19, 2016
- Florida Supreme Court denies new DNA analysis in death row inmate William 'Tommy' Zeigler's case - April 21, 2017
- Florida death row inmate to get DNA tests in 1975 killings - May 21, 2021
- Attorney General asks judge to block DNA testing in Tommy Zeigler case - June 2, 2021
- Attorney general, state attorney at odds over DNA testing in Zeigler case - June 9, 2021