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What happened to the case of James William Nunalee?

Merton Vance

James William Nunalee was a 24-year-old Wilmington police officer who was murdered on April 4, 1978 during a stop at a convenience store on Wrightsville Avenue.

Investigators believe he walked into an ambush during an armed robbery attempt around 2:30 a.m. He was shot 21 times with a semi-automatic rifle and was found dead beside his patrol car.

Early on, investigators had a suspect in Nunalee’s murder, but were never able to pull together enough evidence for a conviction.

The suspect, Gentry Earl Hubbard, was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of  killing a mobile home park owner during an armed robbery that took place on May 5, 1979. Hubbard’s wife, Maggie Suzette Hubbard, was convicted of being an accessory to the murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Police tried to talk to both of them in connection with the Nunalee murder. Hubbard refused to talk, but his wife gave sometimes incoherent statements that led police to believe she was involved. Despite that information and other evidence from the crime scene, police didn’t have enough evidence to make an arrest.

Hubbard died in prison in 1992 at the age of 61. His wife died in 1999 at age 55 in a rest home in Kansas.

The case remained unsolved for 24 years, when Hubbard’s son, who was in prison on drug and weapons charges, came forward to tell Wilmington police that his parents were responsible for Nunalee’s murder.

That statement, along with other evidence collected over the years, led police to finally close the case. Investigators believe Hubbard shot Nunalee as his wife stood by, refusing to shoot.

Here are some links to StarNews stories with more details:



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4 Responses to “ What happened to the case of James William Nunalee?”

  1. On January 22, 2011 at 12:41 pm Woody Bradshaw wrote:

    Belief that Hubbard was the only shooter would be contrary to the evidence. Billy, as he was known to friends, was shot from two different angles by two different weapons. One of those weapons was linked ballistically to a bingo parlor robbery that occurred in Dec. 1977 at the Cape Fear Shopping Center.

  2. On January 24, 2011 at 5:13 pm Susan wrote:

    I was told by someone very close to the case (on the scene) that there were definitely two shooters and two weapons. The Hubbards may have been part of it, but if she refused to shoot, there was someone else involved.

  3. On April 2, 2013 at 4:46 pm Marc Benson wrote:

    Woody Bradshaw is absolutely right. The weapons used were M-16, fully automatic rifles and similar weapons were used in the bingo robbery on Castle Hayne Road. That robbery was described by witnesses as a well planned attack…three bad guys, two with rifles, shot up the place, robbed it and that in that case, some of the shell casings were matched to the Nunalee’s assassination. The bingo robbery was never solved…neither has Billy’s murder as far as many of us are concerned. Narrow minded investigators are the one’s that pegged the Hubbard’s for this and that is the shame to the Billy’s case. Evidence was lost in both cases and it’s sad that this case remains unsolved…but after all, it was just before the Azalea Festival and we know that the festival was more important to the leaders of Wilmington…more important to the slaying of one of their own police officers.

  4. On October 12, 2016 at 7:21 pm michael luttrell wrote:

    I was the 2nd officer on scene, only minutes after this happen because I was on my way to meet billy at the store (prearranged). I heard 1 burst of auto fire and I stopped a few hundered feet around the curve to listen. I heard a 2nd burst of auto fire. I don’t remember if I heard the suspect fire billy’s weapon, which he took, towards the clerk inside, as he fled out the back door. I Thought it was in a residential area to the rear of the store and not at the store. I always thought/led to believe 2 shooters from each cornor of the store. I also was later aware of a possible suspect at the time (not Hubbard), who went to jail for another murder, but this did not develope and his coconspirator in this murder implicated this suspect in Billy’s murder, with no supporting evidence.

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