Dateline   |  February 15, 2013

'A Gathering Storm', Part 6

Washington State homicide detectives arrive in Florida and get their first look at their primary suspect, Jim Huden. Meanwhile, Jim’s best friend fears for his life.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> for seven months after russell douglas was shot between the eyes, police had little more to go on than a corpse and an empty shell casing. with their case in a dead end , whidbey island detectives desperately wanted to believe that bill hill , the tipster who had led them to florida was something other than a crack pot with an axe to grind.

>> when we first landed in florida we met with bill hill , confirmed the story we wanted to meet him face-to-face, obviously.

>> what was his mood?

>> he was a bit nervous. i think he was still in that mode where he knew he was turning in his best friend .

>> once again, bill hill told the detectives what he knew, that his best friend jim huden had told him he'd killed a man in whidbey island and that huden's girlfriend peggy thomas had helped set up the whole thing with the knowledge of the victim's wife. it was a compelling story, but with no murder weapon or any other physical evidence connecting jim huden to the murder of russel douglas , the detectives were no closer to being able to make an arrest.

>> the next day we decide we had no cards other than to just go talk to jim huden and say what he'll say to us.

>> after arranging to have a second team of detectives visit peggy thomas simultaneously in las vegas , the detectives drove over to jim huden's house, jean answered the door.

>> i showed her my badge and my i.d. and said i was from island county , washington .

>> jim was there.

>> yes. he was sitting on the couch. he said what's island county washington doing all of the way here in florida ?

>> oddly enough, he didn't say anything like that.

>> the detective didn't beat around the bush.

>> i looked him right in the face and i said mr. huden i know you're the man who pulled the trigger and killed russel douglas and his only response was i don't know why someone would say that. i was sure at that moment i was in the room with the man.

>> an innocent man would say i'm crazy.

>> he never once made a denial of my accusation.

>> huden admitted to being on whidbey island with peggy thomas over the christmas holidays, but denied ever owning a gun. he admitted to having briefly met russel douglas , but said it was only to drop off a present at his apartment near seattle for brenna from peggy .

>> i asked if he'd be willing to come down to the police station with us. i said we'd like to get your story on tape. he agreed.

>> he's under no obligation to do that. he doesn't have to go anywhere with us.

>> do you want a soda?

>> i'm fine. if the coffee is ever done i'll have that.

>> with tape rolling, jim huden freely agreed to being in washington at the time of the crime, to meeting russel douglas there and to being a lousy, two-timing husband, but that's where jim huden drew the line.

>> i'm a son of a -- but no killer. i'm a [ expletive ].

>> for nearly an hour, it covered old ground with few interruptions with detectives in las vegas who were at that very moment grilling huden's girlfriend peggy thomas .

>> peggy was my guide out there?

>> i would be surprised if it was any different than mine.

>> and he was right, like jim , peggy wasn't giving the police anything in her interview. so detective mike beach decided to shake things up.

>> who is bill hill ?

>> he's a friend of mine who lives here. bass player .

>> does that surprise you that i brought up that name?

>> yes.

>> why?

>> uh, because you're from -- whidbey island ?

>> would it surprise you that i've been talking to him almost daily for the last week and a half?

>> yeah, it would surprise me.

>> i just wanted to see a reaction. up until that point he was playing it pretty cool, and i think i got the reaction i was hoping for. it kind of deflated him a little bit.

>> it's truth or dare time, jim . you know what you told bill. he's your best friend in the whole world. the guy is falling apart over this, literally falling apart over the guilt he's carrying around because you told him what you did.

>> i don't buy that for a minute.

>> if revealing bill hill as their source was intended to shock jim huden into confessing it failed. with no murder weapon, no warrant and no authority to make an arrest in the state of florida , the detectives had to let their primary suspect go free. were you worried at all about bill hill ?

>> now you've disclosed he's the source of all this.

>> we made sure before we went back to washington that bill understood that we had to give his name, but my hope was that jim huden would be far too worried about his own skin and not have to worry about taking retribution on bill hill .

>> easy for him to say. bill hill remembers being terrified when he heard his former friend knew he was the one that called the police.

>> oh, yeah. scared to death.

>> watching your back.

>> oh, yeah. yeah.

>> that terror was amplified a few days later when hurricane charlie which had been churning up the gulf, suddenly made an unexpected turn and slammed into punta gorda . packing 150 mile-an-hour winds, charlie leveled parts of town, taking out electricity and giving plenty of cover to someone like jim huden who might want revenge.

>> i slept on the couch in the living room with my 357 under the pillow.

>> because you thought jim was coming?

>> yes.

>> how did you sleep?

>> not very good.

>> as it turned out. the detective was right. jim huden had plenty on his plate and no intention of sticking around. once charlie died down no one was surprised to learn that jim huden was literally gone with the wind.

>>> coming up, it's peggy 's turn to be interrogated. will she give up her lover?

>> he said, you know what? just know that i love you. you're never going to see me or hear from me again. and peggy herself, she's on the next man.

>> she's the biggest mistake i ever made in my life. i mean, she's evil.

>> and the whole case goes south with the man hunt