Inside a KKK murder plot: Grab him up, take him to the river

By JASON DEAREN

The Associated Press

Editor’s note: This is Part II of a two-part story.

Murder plot in motion

On Jan. 30, 2015, less than two years after Moore had signed his klan oath, the murder plot was in motion.

Moore’s tires crunched on Newcomb’s driveway as he pulled his SUV past a weathered sign on a fence post. It featured a pistol barrel pointed at would-be trespassers. WARNING: There is Nothing Here Worth Dying For.

Moore found Newcomb excited about a new idea he’d had for how to kill Williams.

“I have several bottles of insulin in here if you wanted to do it that way,” Newcomb said.

“Do we do it fast and get the hell out? Or do we want to grab him up and take him somewhere and shoot him with insulin?” Newcomb asked.

Moore masked his surprise. He’d thought they were just doing reconnaissance, and now Newcomb was planning to strike.

“It’d be quieter,” Newcomb said, “if we can grab him up, throw his ass in the car and take off with him somewhere. And we’ll just inject his happy ass with a bunch of insulin and let him start doing his floppin’.”

An insulin overdose is an excruciating death marked by uncontrollable tremors. For a medical examiner, it’s difficult to detect. A person’s blood sugar declines naturally when they die, whether the person is diabetic or not. And syringe pricks are so small that, unless you’re looking for them specifically, they’re nearly undetectable.

“I’ve got two full needles ready, and then I got two other bottles with us,” Newcomb said.

“Is that your wife’s meds?” Moore asked.

Newcomb said they were, but that she had plenty extra.

He went into his garage and returned with a child’s fishing pole, decorated with images of the cartoon character “Dora the Explorer.”

“If we was gonna grab him up and take him down towards the river he’ll need a fishing pole like he’s been fishin’ right?” Newcomb asked, rhetorically. “I wanna make it look realistic.”

They were looking at the fishing pole when “Sarge” Moran pulled into the driveway. He apologized for being late.

“Sarge. I brought some insulin. Me and Brother Joe (Moore) was talking, and if we can just kinda grab his ass up,” Newcomb said before Moran interrupted.

“Are we going to grab him now?”

“I mean, we’re going down to look at some things right now and see if a chance presents itself,” Newcomb said.

“I’m following y’all’s orders. Whatever orders are given,” Moran responded eagerly. “I’m here to serve. I’m at the will and pleasure of.”

The three klansmen piled into Moore’s SUV and pulled onto a two-lane highway, driving under Spanish-moss-draped tree branches.

They had the cooler of syringes, the Dora the Explorer fishing rod, and Newcomb’s handgun, which he rested between his legs.

They fell silent as they drove past dirt roads that led back into dense Florida brush.

Then Newcomb’s cell phone rang. His young daughter’s voice was at the other end of the line.

“Y’all don’t need to bother me today unless it’s very, very important. OK?” he scolded. His voice softened. “All right. I love you. Bye bye.”

Without missing a beat, Newcomb returned to his plans. A gun sat between his legs as he spoke.

“What I was thinking, though, is if we could grab that package up and take him to the river, which is not that far from him,” Newcomb said. “Put his ass face down and give him a couple of shots, because I’ve got two completely full and they’re already ready to go.

“If I set that fishing pole like he’s been fishin’, and give him a couple shots and we sit there and wait on him, then we can kind of lay him like he’s kind of tipping over into the water and he’s breathed in just a little bit.”

Moran had other logistical issues on his mind. What would they do with the body?

“If we’re going to do a complete disposal. If we’re going to chop up the body,” he said, before being cut off.

Newcomb said they had lots of options.

“I mean, if we have to do pow pow, we will,” he said, referring to shooting Williams.

Whatever they decided, Moran said, they needed to protect themselves. They’d brought face shields and coats to cover their skin in case things got messy.

After his initiation into the klan, the FBI had authorized Moore to start recording the group’s two main leaders. Initially, they did not know the klansmen included active law enforcement personnel.

After the klansmen brought Moore into the murder plot, however, the FBI widened the scope of the people he could record. The FBI had outfitted Moore’s SUV with recording devices that broadcast live to agents as they drove to Palatka.

Also, the FBI had made a number of moves to keep Williams safe. They held him in a safe house. They placed police vehicles around his neighborhood so when the klansmen arrived, the FBI agents, Florida Highway Patrol and Palatka police were clearly visible.

When the klansmen drove into Williams’ neighborhood, the sight of police patrol cars unnerved them. “Can’t make too many rounds with him sitting there,” Newcomb said, eyeing a squad car.

Moore tried to play it cool as he turned the car to head back to Newcomb’s house.

“I just hate that we didn’t get to achieve our goal today,” Newcomb said.

“We’ll catch that fish,” Moran reassured him.

Later Moore dialed his FBI contact, and described breathlessly what he’d recorded. “He actually loaded up a couple of insulin syringes and he was ready to grab him,” he said, panting. “It’s all on the recording.”

Pretending to be dead

Williams lay on the floor of his mother’s house, pretending to be dead. The prior day he’d received a strange phone call from his probation officer, asking him to come to the office the next day.

Williams was confused. He’d met with the officer that very day, and hadn’t been in any trouble in the hours since.

He told his mother about the call, and she told him to go.

“If you didn’t do anything wrong, just head on down there and talk to him,” she said.

When he’d arrived at the mystery meeting there were unfamiliar faces in the room. They were federal domestic terrorism investigators.

They told him his life was in danger. He’d need to go into protective custody.

But first, they wanted to go to his house and take a photograph.

On the way, Williams saw his mother, Latonya Crowley, in a car at a stoplight on her way out of town for the weekend. The agents waved her down and she turned around and tailed their dark blue van back to her home.

Inside, the agents poured water on Williams’ pants. They’d torn his shirt to appear as if he’d been shot.

When they were done, the FBI placed Williams in a safe house. Not even his mother knew where he was. They would only speak by phone until the men who wanted to kill Williams were in custody.

The plot thickens

A few weeks later, Moore waited for Driver outside a Starbucks in a strip mall parking lot.

He’d already shown Moran the staged murder photo of Williams lying on the floor, video recording his gleeful response. The day before, he’d done the same with Newcomb, who told Moore “good job” and hugged him.

Driver was his last assignment. In their last discussion about Williams, Driver had said he’d stomp Williams’ “larynx closed” if he had the chance. Moore had said either he or someone he contracted with would finish the job.

They greeted each other, and Moore told Driver to sit in his car.

“We remembered how emotional this was for you and wanted — thought you might want some closure.”

Moore handed Driver the phone with the photo of Williams’ supposedly lifeless body.

“Let us know what you think,” Moore said.

“That works,” Driver said curtly.

“That what you wanted?”

“Oh, yes,” Driver said, relaxing into a chuckle.

Sarge Moran was at home when a prison colleague called: Could he come in on his day off to get fitted for new uniforms? Authorities arrested him when he arrived, and held him in the prison where he’d spent decades as a guard.

Driver and Newcomb were arrested at their homes.

In August, 2017, Newcomb and Moran stood trial at the Columbia County Courthouse in Lake City. Joseph Moore was the state’s star witness, testifying against the men he’d spent years befriending. For a time, the government protected Moore’s family; his current whereabouts are unknown.

In the end, a jury convicted Moran and Newcomb of conspiracy to commit murder. They were each sentenced to 12 years. Driver received four years after pleading guilty, and is due out this year.

Because of threats in Florida prisons, Driver was moved secretly to another state to serve his time, according to a source with knowledge of the case. Even though they are in prison, neither Newcomb nor Moran were in Florida’s inmate locator system and could not be reached for comment.

Even though three current and former Florida prison guards were exposed as klansmen, the state’s Department of Corrections says it found no reason to investigate whether other white supremacists were employed in its prisons.

There were no other “investigative leads,” Michelle Glady, the department’s director of public relations, said in a statement to The AP. “However, any allegation of a staff member belonging to a group such as those mentioned, would be investigated on an individual basis.”

Those in violation of a “willful breach” of the department’s core values can be fired or face arrest.

On a recent visit to the prison where the three klansmen worked, numerous cars and trucks in the employee and volunteer parking lots were decorated with symbols associated with white supremacy: Confederate flags, QAnon symbols and Thin Blue Line flag decals.

Williams and his family live today with uncertainty and paranoia.

“My fears? That maybe some of the other klan members could come around, and try to find us and harm us,” his mother, Latonya Crowley, told The AP in her first interview about the ordeal.

Looking back, Crowley remembers weird occurrences around the house before the FBI got involved.

In one instance, a neighbor said they saw two white men — they looked like police — in Crowley’s yard at daybreak. “No police came to my house,” Crowley remembered replying to the news, dismissively.

A bag of her trash full of her empty insulin containers — she’s diabetic — also disappeared. She wonders if that’s why Newcomb thought to use insulin.

But Williams and Crowley are thankful, too. The FBI saved his life, and the state of Florida prosecuted the men who threatened him.

Williams has filed a lawsuit against the klansmen and the Florida Department of Corrections.

Williams’ attorney is frustrated that Florida hasn’t investigated more thoroughly to see if there are more white supremacists working for the state prisons, and wants them to take responsibility. Florida, for its part, has sought to have the case dismissed and declined further comment on it.

Williams is haunted by Driver’s imminent release and the specter of other klansmen have made it impossible for him to move on.

“In the state of mind that he’s in today, I don’t see him getting better,” Crowley said.

By