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How a suspected police chief murderer avoided capture for 37 years

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DARTMOUTH, Mass. - For decades, he was one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives.

Last week, the body of Donald Eugene Webb was found buried behind his wife's home in Dartmouth.

He was wanted for the violent murder of a Pennsylvania police chief back in 1980.

State police documents Boston 25 News’ Bob Ward obtained reveal that Donald Webb spent the last 17 years of his life hobbled and hidden away in the basements of two houses in Massachusetts.

SEE THE DOCUMENTS: That detail the investigation, from beginning to end

According to these documents it was his wife Lillian Webb, loyal to the end, who kept him hidden inside 28 Maplecrest Dr. in Dartmouth. When the time came, she buried him.

WHO WAS DONALD WEBB

Webb, according to police, was a mobster, tied to the Patriaca New England crime family, based in Providence. Webb specialized in jewelry store burglaries.

He was a flashy dresser, a big tipper and known to love dogs, according to the FBI. He went by many different aliases over the years.

In December 1980, while casing his next target, Webb shot and killed a Saxonburg, Pennsylvania police chief.

>>THE POLICE CHIEF'S WIDOW: She says she is 'relieved' suspect lived in 'pain and agony'

Webb, already a fugitive from New York State, swore he was never going back to prison. 

According to a state police affidavit, Webb suffered a severe leg injury in the struggle with the police chief. After fleeing the murder scene, Webb drove back to Massachusetts. Using the alias "John," Webb spent a full month at Toby Hospital in Wareham, according to an interview with Lillian and her lawyer. 

After his release, police records show that Webb moved in with wife Lillian into their home in New Bedford, which police believe had a hidden room. For 17 years, Webb lived in the darkness of his basement, in a hidden room.

WEBB STAYS HIDDEN AWAY

Over the years, state police watched Lillian come and go, sometimes wearing wigs and sometimes changing her hair color.

In 1997, Lillian bought the Dartmouth house, which police later discovered had a hidden room, the size of a large shower stall, built in the basement.

A system of hooks and locks prevented anyone from accidentally opening the door, according to documents.

Life continued for Lillian as her husband stayed hidden until later 1999. According to an interview with Lillian’s attorney, Webb suffered a stroke thhat year. 

“Webb lost mobility and the ability to care for himself. Lillian stated that Donald Webb informed her that he was dying and instructed her to being digging and prepping a hole in the back yard to bury him in,” said the documents.

He then suffered another stroke and died. Documents said the Lillian buried Webb herself in the backyard, and he’s been there since 1999.

THE FBI MAKES A MAJOR BREAK IN 2016

In November 2016, the FBI discovered the hidden room inside the house while executing a search warrant.

Agents noted in the documents that given Lillian’s height, it would have been difficult for her to reach up and fasten the lock in the hidden room.

Inside hidden room, FBI agents said they found walking cane and three cardboard boxes of silver coins. In addition, 42 photographs of Webb were found in the home; those photographs were later released to the public.

The FBI asked Lillian who the black walking cane belonged to, and documents said she replied saying she never used it nor knew anything about it.

As for the coins, the documents said she had no answer about the ownership or how they came to be in the house. The documents note that Webb’s history of burglaries and thefts made the discovery of the coins “notable.”

Lillian allegedly told the FBI the hidden room was constructed after she moved in, saying, "if she was ever home and her residence was burglarized, she could hide in the hidden room."

Agents also ran an Accurint search for the home; Accurint is a public records database. It showed that there was a landline at 28 Maplecrest Dr. registered to Donald Webb.

“Investigators believe that Donald Webb was, or is, still affiliated with this residence and as such investigators believe that evidence of the crime of Homicide will be located within the residence, specifically the hidden room,” said the documents.

Months passed, and during that time the FBI released the new photos of Webb and asked the public with help finding him or his remains. 

>>See the new photos

FBI returned to the Dartmouth property in June with a new search warrant. They were looking to seize items that could have Webb’s DNA on them, including the hidden room door, the door frame and the cane.

LILLIAN MEETS WITH INVESTIGATORS

Faced with the prospect of prison time for harboring a fugitive accused of killing a police chief, Lillian finally came clean in July, according to documents. 

Her lawyer, John “Jack” Cicilline, whose uncle is currently a U.S. representative, called the FBI. He said that Lillian was willing to discuss what happened to Webb.

Lillian led investigators to her husband’s body. State police found Webb in a green Tupperware storage container, along with a .22 caliber revolver, buried in the backyard. 

>>MORE: Possible human remains discovered during investigation

The remains were positively identified as Webb, putting an end to the 37 year case.

Editor's note: The FBI documents say that Webb died in 1997, but they have since told Boston 25 News that Lillian told them it was 1999.