Detectives search for answers in cold case that began with a frantic call for help

WOODINVILLE – It was the middle of the afternoon on Feb. 15 1977 when a frantic call came in from a Woodinville home.

As 51-year-old Bill Willls tried to give his address to the operator, the line went dead with a thud. Then a pop. A single gun-shot had killed the man inside his own home.

Tragically, investigators found Bill had grabbed his handgun to protect himself, which ended up being the same weapon the suspect or suspects used to murder him.

The working theory of the case from day one has always been a burglary gone wrong.

It’s an aspect of the case that strikes a cord with King County Sheriff’s Detective, Christopher Johnson.

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"Someone breaking into your home and violating your space is something that touches everybody."

The King County Sheriff's Office doesn't have a cold case unit, so when they're able to find the time to pull a case file off the shelves, they're invested, and don't want to put it back until it's solved.

Inevitably that emotion grows stronger when they contact the victim's family. In this case, Bill's son.

"He doesn't live around here anymore but he's kept his phone number the same from back then in the hopes that someday he would get a phone call from a detective," says Detective Johnson.

Fred Wills that decision was natural because he's never given up hope.

"I just kept my phone number just in case something happened and the police wanted to call me, and that's what happened," Wills says.

For investigators, these are the moments that affirm their tireless work.

"I could hear the emotion in his voice," says Detective Johnson.

For Fred Wills, having his father's case reopened decades later and the prospect of getting answers, means everything.

"I was 28 at the time, now I'm 71."

For the last 43 years, Fred has been left to think about the last moments of his father's life, a desperate call for help.

"I've often thought if i went into listen to it maybe i'd hear something that i'd recognize but I don't think I could it," Fred says. "Emotionally I don't think I could make it through, it's that bad."

The murder changed changed everything. Fred's mother could never go into the home again. They'd never look at the world the same.

"Every time I would see somebody at the grocery store I would think to myself, could that person have been part it?"

At the time of his murder, the WWII vet was living his favorite role in life thus far: being a grandfather.

"He could not get over the fact that he had a granddaughter," says Fred.

Bill Wills spent the night before his murder, Valentines Day, showering his granddaughter with gifts. After his death, nothing was the same.

"We didn't have anymore children at that point."

All this time later, detectives and family hope you can help finally close this incredibly painful chapter of decades with no answers.

"We want to hear from anyone, whether or not you were previously contacted by the police," says Detective Johnson.

Crime Stoppers of Puget Sound is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for information that helps lead to an arrest. You can remain completely anonymous by calling 1-800-222-TIPS or you can use the P3 Tips App. You can also contact the King County Sheriff's Department directly.

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