Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Biloxi Confidential

Out in the Open

By this time, with so many breaks coming in what had been thought of as a cold case, it became impossible to keep the investigation a secret. Someone on the inside — probably from the Harrison County Sheriff's Office — leaked the story to the media. While Cook was in Georgia investigating the Ransom connection, he was questioned by a crew from a Biloxi TV station. By the next day and the day after, the story made headlines in newspapers all over the South.

Word spread that a convict in Angola had been responsible for tipping off investigators and Fabian began fearing for his life. Prison snitches were reviled above nearly all other offenses among inmates, and Fabian's fears were very real ones. He begged for protective measures and received them, but not before going on record officially and spilling the beans during a live interview with a TV reporter. Among other things, Fabian, with his features electronically smudged, implicated Halat in the conspiracy to kill the Sherrys.

"Peter Halat knew that somebody was gonna die, and better Sherry than him," Fabian said on camera.

Immediately Halat was besieged with requests by the media to comment on the allegations, and, during a press conference the following day, he vehemently denied any involvement. He fielded every question hurled at him, sometimes directly, other times sarcastically or defensively, but never evasively. He tried to turn the tables on his accuser, posing the question "Whom would you rather believe?" him, an elected official and respectable citizen, or a convicted murderer? But, despite his best denials, Halat could not put the story to rest. It had become too hot by that point.

In short order, other details of the case spilled out: the scam money arriving in Halat's law office, the role played by LaRa Sharpe and the enormous number of phone calls to and from Angola, and more. Halat knew he had to fight back and he did.

Five days after his first press conference he called another, this time producing visitor logs from Angola that appeared to disprove Fabian's allegations. No records showed a meeting in March — or any other month — in 1987; the time frame pinpointed by Fabian when the murder conspiracy was supposed to have been hatched. However, to this point only a handful of people — four investigators plus Lynne — knew about the March 1987 meeting. Fabian had divulged it to only them and had never mentioned it in his televised interview. Halat's determined efforts to distance himself from that place and time only fueled suspicion among those in the know. How could he have known Fabian was referring to a meeting in March 1987 unless he had actually been there?

The prison visitation logs also showed a small detail that no one in the media picked up on immediately: an attempt by Halat to bring Gillich into the prison with him, with Gillich posing as a private investigator. Lacking the proper credentials, Gillich had been turned away, but the notation in the logs had great significance. It was the first time Gillich's name had publicly surfaced in possible connection with the scams and the murder conspiracy.

George Phillips
George Phillips

Soon after Halat's very public denials, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi George Phillips made an announcement. His office, along with the FBI, was joining the investigation, and a grand jury was being convened in Jackson to look into the case. Subpoenas were to be issued. Finally, nearly two years after Vince and Margaret Sherry had been murdered, the FBI was getting officially involved.

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