GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — When a judge advised a North Carolina man that he was a fugitive wanted in the killing of a retired immigration official nearly 40 years ago, his only response was: “That’s what the papers say.”
William Claybourne Taylor, 67, hung his head during much of a brief video appearance before Judge Pete Hunter and asked for a court-appointed attorney. Authorities say he had been living under an assumed name when they arrested him without incident Thursday in Reidsville, a sleepy town about 20 miles south of the Virginia state line.
An FBI “Most Wanted” poster described Taylor as a dance instructor, trumpet player, convenience store clerk and welder. Authorities say he was using the name James Emmet Manion, and that he was the triggerman in an attempt to assassinate the then-mayor of Williston, Florida, in January 1977. The shooting left the mayor, Eugene T. Bailey, wounded and killed Walter H. Scott, a former official with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
The shooting occurred as Scott was driving the mayor and two other men along U.S. 27, about 20 miles west of Ocala, Florida, when another car pulled alongside their vehicle, according to the Ocala Star-Banner. After the driver was shot, the victims’ car veered into pine trees. A person approached the back of the car and shot Bailey, the newspaper reported. The two other men escaped unharmed.
According to an account in The Gainesville Sun on the 36th anniversary of Taylor’s disappearance, three years passed before Taylor, older brother Ray Taylor and another man were accused of scheming to assassinate the mayor and collect legal fees by representing his family.
The mayor was a successful businessman with a $2.5 million estate, according to news reports.
After the slaying, Ray Taylor moved to Tennessee and become a successful prosecutor, according to the paper, but he was convicted in 1980 as chief planner in the plot.
Media reports say the third man, believed to be the driver of the car from which the shots were fired, testified against Ray Taylor in exchange for a manslaughter conviction and was sentenced to 15 years of probation.
William Taylor was indicted in 1980 on charges of murder and aggravated battery and arrested five days later in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the FBI said. The agency said he never returned to Ocala after being released in Tennessee on a $20,000 personal recognizance bond.
A federal arrest warrant was issued in 1980 after Taylor was charged with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.
Bailey’s daughter, Mary Gene French, still lives in the Ocala area and said she was relieved to hear about Taylor’s capture.
“Ever since that happened, I’ve been looking over my shoulder,” the 91-year-old great-grandmother said. “So I’m doing just fine now. I hope they hold him. I hope they don’t let him get away again.”
French said her father was never really the same after the shooting. Bailey lived through Ray Taylor’s trial and conviction but died a few years later from a stroke, French said.
William Taylor is being held in a detention center in Guilford County, North Carolina.
In Reidsville, 86-year-old neighbor Alberta Morris said she was shocked to hear the news about Taylor. She occasionally saw him work in his tree-shaded front yard, but never talked to him. She said she once got a ride to a doctor’s appointment in Greensboro with Taylor’s wife. Morris said Sheryl Manion had family in Reidsville.
“I don’t know how long they were married or anything. I hope she didn’t know about his past,” Morris said.
No one answered a knock on the door at the beige and green, two-story home Taylor and his wife shared.
Associated Press writer David Fischer in Miami contributed to this report.