BARROW COUNTY, Ga. — There has been a break in a yearlong murder mystery.
The FBI said the murder of an elderly Barrow County couple in May 2019 was linked to an international opioid ring. Investigators say it was also tied to the dark web.
The break came as part of what is being called “Operation Disruptor.” Feds said the operation was a coordinated international effort to disrupt opioid trafficking on the darknet.
Federal agents have arrested 179 people and seized about 500 kilos of opioids and $6.5 million in cash and virtual currencies.
Authorities told Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne that it appears that the operation also involved the sale of stolen information on the darknet, including information tied to two Georgia murder victims.
“Within days of them being brutally killed, their identities were stolen,” Barrow County Sheriff Jud Smith said about the victims in that case, Ron and Dorothy Hess.
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In the days following their killing, investigators said charges started popping up on their credit cards after someone stole their identities.
“People’s information is sold on the dark web,” Smith said.
The sheriff said the Hess' information went up for sale on the dark web, and when he learned about a Georgia case mentioned at a national news conference about a major operation targeting the dark web, he knew that the Georgia case was the Hess case.
“An investigation into the murder of an elderly couple found brutally murdered in their home led investigators to a man who used the darknet to purchase sensitive information stolen from numerous elderly victims, including the murdered couple,” a federal agent said during the news conference.
“They have family. They have a daughter that’s still having to live with the situation that their mother and father were brutally murdered and then to have this happen, their identities stolen,” Smith said.
The sheriff told Winne that the Barrow County District Attorney’s Office learned of a connection between the Hess fraud case and other elderly victims, and a federal investigation ensued.
Durrell Tyler has been identified as a suspect in the Hess fraud case, though the couple is not mentioned by name in the federal fraud indictment against Tyler. He has pled not guilty to the charges.
Documents indicate that Tyler was ordered to be detained pending trial, and one of several things cited in the indictment included “very concerningly, one victim elderly couple was found murdered in the days prior to the defendant apparently engaging in efforts to use their telephone number to engage in fraud.”
Smith said investigators are still looking for a black Hyundai sedan with Maryland plates in connection with the Hess murders.
While Tyler has not been cleared in the murders, Smith is not calling him a suspect either.
“We don’t think at this time that Mr. Tyler had anything to do with our homicides, but we’re not ruling him out in any case, shape or form at this point,” Smith said.
The detention order was issued on May 14, almost a month prior to the fraud indictment against Tyler, which did not mention the Hesses specifically as victims, so far as we could tell.
An earlier document did, however, refer to Barrow County deputies finding victims with the initials W.H. and D.H., both shot in the head, and raised the possibility that the murders could be part of a wire and mail fraud scheme.