WALKER COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — It’s been eight years since Eric Cates and his dog were murdered in Empire in Walker County. To this day, the case has not been solved.
Cates’ mother said her son and his dog Gypsy were burned alive in his truck eight years ago this month, but the case is still unsolved. She said she is not giving up hope.
“But I had to do this,” Tobbie Stover, Cates’ mother said. “There’s no giving up.”
For eight years, Stover has pushed for answers in the murder of her son Eric Cates and his beloved dog Gypsy.
“This is not right,” Stover said. “Why is the victim not getting the justice he so rightly deserves? Why are the criminals being protected.”
On March 21, 2015, Cates and Gypsy’s bodies were found in his burned-up truck behind the old Empire school.
“The crime scene not being secured,” Stover said.” Letting people go back there but not us. It raised questions. The truck was taken to the county garage, but it was dropped in the yard. It was drizzling rain, but it has stayed in the weather for many years and never been moved.”
Stover said she tried to get answers from the Walker County Sheriff’s Office and chief deputy Dayron Bridges, who was on the case at the time of her son’s death.
“I was just asking the questions, you know again, has Eric’s body been taken to the department of forensic science, where is Gypsy’s body,” Stover said. “And he refused to answer any of our questions.”
Stover said she was told her son’s case could not be solved.
“You do not tell the family whose son has been so horrifically murdered that the case is not going to be solved the same day the body is found,” Stover said.
Cates’ murder happened when Jim Underwood was the sheriff. Since then, Nick Smith has taken over. The lead investigator on the case at the time of Cates’ death has retired and been replaced with a new one. Stover said she still has no answers.
“This was an easy, solvable case,” Stover said. “I go back again. It’s not because they are incompetent. It’s not because they didn’t have years of experience. It’s because they did not want to solve it.”
Stover said the autopsy report ruled Cates’ death a homicide. She said investigators had a different conclusion.
“Eric had died from an accidental overdose and had dropped a cigarette and caught himself on fire knowing that the autopsy, that they refused to let me see, told a completely tale,” Stover said. “It was a homicide. “An accelerant was used, and Eric was brutally beaten. He was alive in the truck long enough to get the soot in his lungs.”
Eventually, the Alabama Attorney General’s Office stepped in. The case is now being investigated by its cold case unit. Cates case is listed as “open” on the attorney general’s website.
Despite years of waiting, Stover said she’s encouraged that soon she will get answers, and someone will be held accountable.
“This is the first time in over eight years that I have felt confident we’re getting somewhere,” Stover said.