angie.thompson@gaflnews.com



REBECCA -- The unsolved murders of three adult members of the Wideman family and an unborn child here almost a year ago continues to haunt members of this small community.

With the case no closer to being solved today than when tragedy struck March 22, 2002, hopes are that a segment taped, edited and ready to air on America's Most Wanted will provide useful tips.

The segment was originally scheduled to air tonight, but Ray Farkas of Off-Center Productions said the new tentative air date is March 15.

Farkas and his television crew interviewed law enforcement agents, arson investigators, members of the community and members of the murder victims' families.

"Maybe it will show the pain people are in and shake something up," Farkas said Friday.

Farkas said film editors can make changes to a producer's work, but this time the segment that will air will be the one he created.

"We shot footage at a city council meeting and a ladies' club meeting," said Farkas.

Farkas said the segment will also include footage of churches where he and his crew attended services. The intent, he said, was to paint an accurate picture of the essence of Rebecca. That essence, he said, includes the importance of religion.

The production crew also interviewed and taped at Rebecca's Magic Mart and at Moultrie's GBI Crime Lab.

A truck driver reported seeing smoke coming from the longtime Wideman homestead off Georgia Highway 112. The bodies of Tommy Joe Wideman, 51, his wife Deborah Wheeler Wideman, 48, and their pregnant daughter Melissa, 20, were pulled from the charred ruins. Melissa was in the last stages of pregnancy at the time of her death.

Crime laboratory analysis revealed that the three had been shot before an arsonist used an accelerant to start the blaze.

If the fire was started to destroy evidence in the case, it worked. Turner County Sheriff Randy Kendrick said there aren't any theories or evidence to pinpoint that the assailant(s) are from Turner County or elsewhere and there are currently no suspects.

"We don't know," said Kendrick. "We don't have any evidence either way. It is possible that they are from here or from up north. Anything is possible in this case."

Kendrick said the $50,000 reward offered for information leading to an arrest in the case may have prompted some tipsters to call with information, but none of the tips have been useful to date. He encourages people to continue calling and not to discount what they may have heard about the case as trivial.

"If someone has heard something, we want them to call and let us know and we will run it down and see," said Kendrick. "At this point, anything can happen."

Farkas interviewed Kendrick, Turner County investigator Steve Mauldin, arson investigator Ronnie Dobbins, a GBI agent, and an expert from the GBI crime lab for the segment, as well as members of the Wideman and Wheeler families. All of those interviewed for this article said they were interviewed separately.

Larry Wheeler (Deborah Wheeler Wideman's brother) said Farkas interviewed him at his house and also interviewed his sister Linda Peacock.

"We are planning to get together as a family to watch the show," said Wheeler. "We are going to tape it and watch it over and over and analyze it."

Wheeler has created a web site www.widemanmurders.com featuring photographs and information about the case. He hopes the show and continued media coverage will provide useful clues.

Wheeler said it is frustrating for him and his family that the case is unsolved and he hopes the show will "get the people mad enough to solve this thing." He also said the murders have changed the "way people talk with me."

"I think someone knows something but they are afraid to say anything," said Wheeler. "There are no perfect crimes."

Wheeler said he had been told the Wheeler interviews were not included in the segment to be aired. Farkas wouldn't comment on the specific content of the segment.

"I would really like to see it and comment on it," said Whee





ler.

Charles Wideman, the only surviving sibling of Tommy Joe Wideman, said his family is just as eager as the Wheeler family for the case to be solved.

"We keep hoping because we want to know what went on," said Wideman. "Anything that would put it out there ... It is hard for me to comprehend that someone would know something and wouldn't come forward with it."

Wideman's mother Mary Jo Wideman, who owned the home where the three were killed, was in the hospital at the time of the fire. According to Wideman, his brother Tommy Joe and his family would often spend the night at the home when his mother was in the hospital or at her beach home.

"They would move back to their house when she came home," said Wideman. "Mama would worry that without neighbors, someone would break in and mess up the place."

Wideman said the murders, the death of his mother shortly after and the death of his son in a car wreck two years earlier have been difficult.

"All of it has changed our lives dramatically," said Wideman. "All of the people who are my friends sit and talk about it with me all the time. They'll ask me whether or not I have heard anything about the case."



To contact reporter Angie Thompson, call 382-4321, ext. 208.

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