Did a friendly school librarian looking forward to retirement shoot himself in the head with a shotgun while perched on his dinghy? Or was he murdered by someone with something to hide?
Life seemed very good for Patrick Lee Mullins. He had a happy marriage, two sons he adored, and retirement from a life of teaching on the near horizon. He had so many plans that he didn’t know which one to dive into first: there was a 30th wedding anniversary trip coming up, a business venture with his brother doing what they loved best – fixing old motors and boats, and future grandchildren.
It was an ordinary Sunday afternoon on January 26th, 2013, when Patrick decided to take his old Stumpnocker fishing boat out for a quick spin to run gas through its engine. But he never returned, and as the afternoon turned into night, Patrick’s wife, Jill, grew increasingly concerned. She called her son Miles and Patrick’s brother, Gray, to take a boat out to see if they could find him. When midnight approached, Jill finally called 911.
The Coast Guard, Manatee County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol, and Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission began an exhaustive search at first light that included helicopters, Search & Rescue vessels, 18 surface units, and a C-130 aircraft equipped with advanced FLIR technology. They covered over 2,000 square miles.
Patrick’s boat was discovered around 11 am, floating out to sea, and there was no sign of Patrick, other than his straw hat and glasses. When detectives checked out the boat back at the Coast Guard station, they found no sign of foul play and assumed Patrick must have fallen overboard.
Seven days later, a fisherman found Patrick’s body floating near the opening to Tampa Bay, in four feet of water, attached to a 25-pound anchor, and wrapped up in rope like a gruesome package. He’d been shot in the head with a shotgun and strangely, his body showed few signs of decomposition or predator activity, given how long his body had been in the water.
At first, detectives leaned towards suicide as Patrick’s manner of death, but Patrick didn’t own a gun and there were no records that he had recently purchased a gun. Investigators and the Medical Examiner also said they were inclined to rule his death a suicide because Patrick lived a relatively safe and sedate lifestyle, and because of the way the anchor rope was tied — his arms were free – suggesting that he could have tied the anchor around himself. They also found Pat to be an unlikely murder victim because he didn’t seem to have any enemies and didn’t engage in high-risk activities.
Friends and family report they never saw Pat depressed and he had everything to live for. Patrick’s family believes he encountered some illegal activity on the river, during his outing, and was killed to silence him.
Due to his family’s persistence, Patrick’s manner of death has been officially ruled “undetermined” and an outside forensic expert who was recently brought in to examine the case files reconstructed aspects of Patrick’s death and found it difficult rule out murder.