PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — What were you doing 40 years ago?
Most of you won’t remember, some of you weren’t even born. But for one Bay County, Florida man, it’s a day that changed his life forever.
“It’s the worst day ever, and it’s still the worst day ever.”
June 14, 1982 started out as a normal day for Randy White. The route salesman for Maxwell House Coffee met his wife Renee at their Lynn Haven home for lunch.
“Her favorite thing to do at lunch, every day, was to watch’ Days of Our Lives,’ 12-to-1, didn’t miss it,” White said. “So, naturally, I fix her a sandwich and she’s sitting there watching days of our lives.”
Randy followed Renee as she headed back to work.
“She blew the horn at me, and I blew the horn, and she pulled on into the office,” White said. “Little did I know there was someone in the office waiting on her.”
‘She started screaming’
Renee Floyd grew up in Bay County. After her 9th grade year at Mowat Junior High, the family moved to Cottondale. Randy White met her at a pizza parlor in Marianna.
“Immediately, I was attracted to her. And I grabbed her by the arm and I said, ‘Sit down.’ and she said, ‘Who are you? I don’t know who you are.’ I said, ‘It don’t matter. Sit down anyway.'”
The two saw each other every night for the next three months, then got married.
“We were pretty much inseparable from that point on. We just spent all our time together, did everything together,” White said. “She loved to go to New Orleans. That was her favorite place to go. And every anniversary on our wedding, I would take her to New Orleans.”
The couple moved to Lynn Haven, and Renee went to work for a local state farm insurance agent named Jim Dickerson. His office was located at what is now the corner of Highway 77 and Peachtree Drive.
As Renee returned to the office on June 14, the telephone was ringing. It was her friend Geri Gilchrist calling. As Renee answered the phone, she saw a man in the office.
“She started screaming, and the phone dropped, and Ms. Gilchrist could hear what was going on, some of the stuff, that was going on, the screaming, the yelling. so, she hung up immediately and notified law enforcement,” said Frank McKeithen, former sheriff of Bay County who was lead investigator on the case.
The man in the office was Kayle Barrington Bates, a delivery man for a Tallahassee paper company. Authorities say Bates had made at least one delivery at the office before, and targeted Renee White.
The evidence indicated Renee tried to fight Bates, but he stabbed her twice with a hunting knife. Bates then dragged her body behind the office, which was surrounded by woods back then.
Because of Gilchrist’s call, police arrived quickly.
“Lynn Haven police department was the first agency there, eh, when they responded. and they actually found Bates walking out of the woods,” McKeithen said.
Over the next seven hours, former Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen interrogated Bates, finally gathering enough information to charge him with Renee’s murder.
“This guy is one of the lyingest people I have ever met in my life,” McKeithen said. “He had a story, anything we asked him, he had a story.”
Randy White was also at the sheriff’s office that afternoon, feeling totally helpless as to what was happening. He’d received a phone call that there was an emergency and quickly returned to the insurance office.
Deputies quickly put him in a car, where he was joined by the sheriff’s office chaplain.
“And I’m asking him over and over, ‘Where’s Renee? what’s going on?’ and I’ll never forget, he looked at me and he said, ‘I have no easy way to say this to you but, Renee’s been murdered. and you’ve got to go down to the sheriff’s station and you’ve got to identify some things for us.”
Randy White helped investigators identify his wife’s belongings.
In March 1983, a jury convicted Kayle Barrington Bates of first-degree murder, and Judge Fred Turner imposed the death penalty. He is currently on death row.
For most people, this story ended with Bate’s conviction. But for Randy White, the story was far from over.
More than a murder victim
Forty years after his wife’s death, White wants people to remember Renee as more than a murder victim.
“My most memorable thing about her is she always had that smile,” he said. “And she was always happy, I never saw her when she wasn’t smiling, or being receptive to anybody that came around her. she was a really outgoing individual. really good, good person.”
White lives with the memories of his Renee, both happy and tragic. In the nearly eight years they were married, Randy and Renee were deeply in love and truly happy.
White said it is difficult for him that Renee is gone, yet Bates is still alive in prison.
“I’m not one of those people that want to go out you know, ‘Let’s kill this guy.’ It’s the fact that the sentence was handed down from the state and he did take a life and I think that he should have to pay with his life also,” he said. “And, I believe we either have to have a death penalty or don’t have a death penalty. but this 40-year grace period, that’s just unacceptable.”
White is not alone in his frustrations.
“I don’t understand,” McKeithen said. “We talk about how we have the best system in the world. Well, our system may be the best, but it’s still not that good.”
In a very real sense, Renee was not Bates’ only victim that day.
“It put me in a real bad place for probably 2-or-3 years after she was murdered,” White recalled. “I could not mentally get myself back together. I became a hermit, I wouldn’t go out of the house. I stayed to myself, I wouldn’t make friends, I was even scared to make friends because I didn’t want to have those same feelings I felt when I lost her.”
White got help some help and was able to resume his life. He moved away from Bay County for more than a decade. But relationships were still difficult.
“I stayed single for 14 years,” he said. “I swore to myself I’d never remarry, I did not want to have to ever go through that and those feelings again.”
White did meet someone and remarried. He and his wife, Jennifer, have been together for years. Still, she’s supportive of the feelings he still has for Renee.
“I’ve had people say, ‘You know, you should be past that.’ What people need to understand, I did not divorce Renee,” he said. “We were together, I did not quit loving Renee.”
White said his main purpose for talking about Renee’s murder is to keep the memory of her alive. But he also wants people to understand what life is like when your life is violently and senselessly ripped away from you.
“She was a human being like all of us and even though she is not with us anymore, there’s other people that it still affects,” he said. “And even though I go on in my life, I never get passed that part of my life. And I never will.”
In January, the Florida Supreme Court rejected Bates’ most recent appeal of his death sentence. His attorneys are now taking their appeals to the federal courts.