Crime & Courts

Killer thought Walmart texts signaled someone knew his deadly secret

Sure, Matthew Gibson was remorseful.

But paranoia – not a heavy heart – apparently sent the Watauga County man on a frantic, sleepless trek to Arizona, where he confessed to a murder that happened 17 years ago, police said.

Detective Alicia Marquez of Arizona’s Winslow Police Department said Monday she met Gibson shortly after 7:30 a.m. one morning last June. He was sitting in the police department’s lobby, scared and sobbing, and said he wanted to talk about a crime he committed more than a decade before.

He told Marquez a bizarre tale: He met a woman in Bullhead City, Ariz., late one night. They went back to his trailer. She became loud and obnoxious. He told her to leave and she wouldn’t. He finally bludgeoned her to death with a Maglite flashlight, dumped her body by the Colorado River and kept quiet for years.

Thought someone knew

Then the text messages, voice mails and a letter came. And suddenly Gibson, living in a small settlement near Boone, felt he needed to divulge his secret.

“We see a lot in this line of work,” Marquez said. “He was in so much fear for his life.”

Gibson, Marquez said, thought someone knew about the murder in Bullhead City and was toying with him. The 55-year-old told the detective that he began receiving text messages and voice mails from Walmart telling an Anita Townshed that her prescription was ready. A search of public databases by the Observer shows three women in North Carolina with similar names, including one living in Watauga County.

Gibson later received an envelope with a Walmart advertisement in it but no return name or address. He felt someone was monitoring his calls, he said.

Gibson’s conclusion: Townshed must have been the woman he killed. Now he felt someone might have put “a contract on his head.”

“In his own mind … somebody knew what happened after all these years,” Marquez said.

Gibson sped across the country. He checked into a motel in a Oklahoma but got back on the road rather than spending the night because he thought he was being trailed.

He felt the same all the way to Arizona, where he stopped for protection at the police department in Winslow, about 250 miles from Bullhead City. That’s where a shaken Gibson confessed to Marquez.

A different woman

Gibson, a former cocaine and methamphetamine addict, didn’t know the name of the 38-year-old woman he’d killed in Bullhead City in 1997. But it wasn’t Anita Townshed. It was Barbara Brown Agnew.

His attorney, Ron Gilleo, said Monday that Gibson told him he’d found religion a few years ago, and the killing had been gnawing at his conscience. “He felt bad,” Gilleo said. “It was weighing on him.”

But Gibson shared a different story with Marquez. He turned himself in, he said, because he was scared. If it hadn’t been for the messages and the letter from Walmart, Marquez said Gibson told her, he wouldn’t have said anything.

Marquez said Gibson had deleted the text messages and voice mails, and she couldn’t confirm the validity of the letter.

Without Gibson’s confession, police would never have had a case against him, Gilleo said. He was never on law enforcement’s radar, Marquez acknowledged.

Gibson wanted to plead guilty to manslaughter and begin his 10-year sentence without delay, said Gilleo, a public defender in Bullhead City. “I thought he was a really nice guy,” Gilleo said.

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