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UNSOLVED: Patrick Lee Mullins' Death is Steeped in Suspicious Circumstances

The police speculate he took his own life, but the truth remains out to sea.

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  • Photo Credit: 21 Laps Entertainment

Patrick Lee Mullins was a beloved librarian at Palmetto High School in Bradenton, Florida. The 52-year-old was happily married to Leslie Jill Mullins, and dedicated himself to being a loving father to his sons. He regularly took his boat out on the Braden River, and January 27th, 2013 was no different. Until he didn't come back home.

Earlier that day, Mullins assured his wife he'd return later to help her rearrange some furniture. When Jill arrived home in the evening and couldn't find Patrick, she was struck with panic. It only got worse when Patrick's empty boat was found with the motor still running. It would be eight more days until his body was recovered.

Mullins' cause of death was a shotgun wound to the head—an injury that the police, at the time, believed to be self-inflicted. Mullins' friends and family thought the determination of suicide was ridiculous, and several other circumstances of his death didn't quite sit right with them. The most suspicious circumstance of all was that his body was found tied to a 25-pound anchor.

The official autopsy conducted by Dr. Russel Vega, the chief medical examiner for Florida’s 12th District, declared the circumstances of Mullins' death to be "undetermined." While Vega refused to commit to a suicide theory, he confirmed that the close-range shot Mullins suffered was able to be self-administered. However, Mullins' family asserts that he didn't own a shotgun, and no evidence surfaced that he purchased one in the days leading up to his death.

Vega's autopsy put another dent in the Sheriff's Office's suicide theory when he described the anchor rope as "an unusual mechanism." Though Vega stated it was also possible for someone to apply those knots to themself, Mullins' family insists that the knots used in equipping Mullins' body with the anchor were not the kind of knots an experienced boater would use.

Perhaps the biggest piece of evidence that Mullins may have been murdered is the inconsistencies of Mullins' injuries when compared to most self-inflicted wounds. Vega noted that most suicides result in a contact wound, with burning gunpowder leaving residue on the body. If Mullins was the one holding the gun against his own head, his wound should have had stippling.

Further forensic evidence suggests that the likelihood of Mullins having died on his boat is very low. Whether Mullins was ultimately murdered or took his own life, it would be impossible to die in such a way without getting blood on the boat. However, no blood splatter or samples were recovered from Mullins' boat, even after conducting a luminol test.

To make the circumstances of Mullins' death even more suspicious, his body was in surprisingly good condition for having allegedly been underwater for more than a week. Tampa Bay is known for being very shark-dense, yet no local fauna touched Mullins' remains. Typically, it takes just a few minutes of submersion for a dead body to start being scavenged, as the more than a dozen native species of sharks in the bay can smell blood from half a mile away. Since Mullins' head wound would have been a homing beacon to these creatures, his undisturbed remains lend credence to the theory that his body was dumped long after he died.

Whoever might have been the cause of Mullins' tragic end, whatever amount of time his body spent in the water washed away a lot of the evidence. No gun was ever found, either carted away from the scene by a killer or swept away by the current after being dropped.

In the event that Mullins really was murdered, who could be responsible for that sort of senseless crime? Some theories point toward Damon Crestwood, Mullins' neighbor and friend of his brother. After Mullins disappeared, Crestwood's behavior reportedly got more and more erratic. The two had never been very close, yet Crestwood took to dissolving into uncontrollable sobs. Mullins' wife has revealed that Crestwood was frequently spotted looking out along the Manatee River, crying for hours. A friend of Crestwood reported that he was constantly checking in on the strength of their friendship, asking if he could count on his support if "something happened." On the Memorial Day following Mullins' death, Crestwood publicly tied a rope around his waist, in the exact same way it had been tied around Mullins' body when he was recovered.

As time passed, Crestwood suffered breakdowns around the anniversary of Mullins' death. To cope, he allegedly took up crystal meth. Crestwood died of a meth overdose in 2017, and though he was never an official suspect, his behavior suggests he may have, at the very least, known the truth behind Mullins' death.

Another theory—one that both Mullins' family and a considerable online population subscribe to—is that Mullins was murdered after he came across criminal activity out on the water. It's suggested that he saw something suspicious, and before he could report it, the criminals rid themself of a problem. This aligns well with the fact that Mullins reportedly had no known enemies.

To learn even more about this shocking and tragic case, check out Unsolved Mysteries' volume 3, episode 7, "Body in the Bay," streaming now on Netflix.