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Suspicious Death

Patrick Lee Mullins

Popular school librarian takes his boat out for a spin and never returns

  • Last updated: October 30, 2022
  • Bradenton, FL
  • January 27, 2013

Overview of Patrick Lee Mullins

For Patrick Lee Mullins, life seemed sweet indeed in Manatee County, FL in 2013.

The happily married 52-year-old was looking forward to celebrating his 30th wedding anniversary that June with his beloved wife Jill, an educator. Pat was the proud father of two grown sons; Mason, who served in the army and was deployed to Afghanistan, and Miles, a civil engineering major at the University of South Florida.

The Mullins men enjoyed each other’s company and spent many happy hours rehabbing an old Army jeep, and off-roading through some of the rougher terrain in the county. A member of the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP), Pat was also anticipating retiring soon from a satisfying career as a popular and well-regarded school librarian and media specialist at Palmetto High School in Palmetto, Florida. Pat was described as a primarily sensible guy who had a dry sense of humor with a nice sardonic streak, and he was popular with adults and students alike. Friends portrayed him as kind, sensitive, an all-around great guy, a family man, and a "real friend". At school, Mr. Mullins could always be counted on to encourage students to explore the joys of recreational reading, and he would frequently quietly pay the ACT and SAT fees for students who struggled financially.

He believed in his students and their ability to succeed. While he earned a comfortable salary even while employed at the school, he could expect a windfall of upwards of $150,000 upon retiring.

Once he left the academic world, Pat had no intention of merely playing golf. A skilled mechanic, Pat’s greatest hobby was collecting and restoring old Evinrude boat motors. Growing up on Florida’s Anna Maria Island, Pat was an avid fisherman and boater.

He hoped to spend some of his retirement earnings on purchasing and running a boat motor repair shop with his brother Bert, who also worked at the high school. Pat owned a 16-foot “Stumpknocker” skiff that he liked to take out on the Braden River, frequently testing the engines he had recently tinkered with. It later emerged that Pat had no known financial, health, or substance use issues, nor did he have any serious problems in his personal life.

It was nearly unthinkable to Jill, his sons, his family, and his friends that he’d have reason to do himself harm, yet that is how authorities ultimately ruled in his death.

On January 27, 2013, Pat took his boat out on the Braden River somewhere between 3:00 and 4:00 pm, allegedly to test an engine he’d recently rehabbed.

Pat would have launched the boat about 300 yards west of his home, which was located on a tributary of the river. Some sources indicated he’d left a note for Jill letting her know he was taking the boat out for a spin, others state that he had spoken with her. Regardless, she didn’t think anything was unusual when she returned home from family obligations in Sarasota that day to an empty home. But as the hours ticked by with no sign of Pat, she became concerned and called her son Miles.

Miles raced home from the University of South Florida, and family and friends began searching the neighboring streets and waterways, looking in vain for Pat or his boat. Jill called 9-1-1 to report her husband missing, and the following day, the investigation began in earnest with detectives from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies.

Multiple authorities were brought in, including the Coast Guard, Manatee County Marine Patrol, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Also the following day, a member of the Tampa Bay Pilots Association spotted Pat’s boat near Egmont Key. The tugboat captain had called the St. Petersburg station at 10:00 am to report a boat adrift, and it was determined that the craft belonged to Pat. The engine was running, and the gas can and some personal items of Pat’s were intact inside the boat.

It was located a considerable distance from where Pat would have launched on the river, at least a 2- to 3-hour trip from his home. There would have been no reason for Pat to attempt such a journey simply to test an engine. Authorities and the family felt it was more likely something had happened closer to home - in the Braden or Manatee Rivers - and currents took the boat to its ultimate location unoccupied. Regardless, after the discovery of the Stumpknocker, the Coast Guard and other agencies inspected the area for nearly 70 hours, covering more than 2,200 square miles, in an attempt to locate any sign of Pat.

The effort included six vessels from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission, a patrol vessel, a C-130 airplane and a helicopter from the U.S. Coast Guard, and a search-and-rescue team from Eckerd College. They called off the search the night of January 29, having had no success.

The agonizing wait lasted 7 days, finally ending tragically but predictably on February 5.

While fishing off Emerson Point near the mouth of the Manatee River, a charter boat fisherman spotted what he initially thought was a mannequin under 4 feet of water, near a seagrass bed. A closer look revealed the awful truth; he had discovered a human body, which was later confirmed as belonging to Patrick Lee Mullins. A 25-pound anchor was tied to the remains, and there was what looked to be a shotgun blast to the head; a wound that was eventually determined to be the cause of death. Leaving the body undisturbed, he contacted FWC, and subsequently the District 12 Medical Examiner’s Office.

When Dr. Wilson Broussard arrived at the scene he noted multiple exit wounds from buckshot on the top of the victim’s head during his initial examination, even though the back of the skull, cheeks, and face were no longer intact. An identification card retrieved from the body indicated it was the missing librarian. An autopsy conducted the following morning would later confirm these initial findings, and positively identify the remains as Pat Mullins. And while the cause of death was indeed confirmed to be the shotgun blast to the head, the manner of death was deemed “inconclusive”.

It took almost half a year for the family to learn further medical details about Pat’s death. The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office officials were quick to conclude that Pat had died by suicide, even though he’d left no note behind and didn’t own a shotgun. No blood, brain matter, bits of skull, or bodily fluids were found in the Stumpknocker, and Pat had no history of depression, financial troubles, or substance use disorder.

Law enforcement’s suggested execution of the act defied logic; they theorized Pat may have wrapped himself in the rope attached to the anchor, perched on the edge of the craft, and shot himself in the jaw with a shotgun angled upwards. How he would have been able to reach the trigger they did not explain, nor could they account for the fact that not a speck of forensic evidence was found in the boat. Further challenging law enforcement’s conclusion of suicide was the discovery during autopsy that while it was clear that Pat was shot at close range, there was no stippling near the entrance wound, which would have been indicative of a contact wound. It seemed likely that whoever fired the weapon hadn't pressed the gun to the cheek.

The Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Russell Vega, eventually shared these forensic details with the family. He also told them that the shotgun was fired below Pat’s right earlobe at the rear of his cheek, with a slight upward trajectory. The doctor admitted he’d never seen a self-inflicted shotgun wound of this nature. Regardless, he also supported the theory of suicide, primarily because Pat’s lifestyle did not seem consistent with being a murder victim.

Additionally, he speculated that the manner in which the anchor rope was tied seemed to have been self-engineered. However, everyone could at least agree that regardless of the manner of death, it is highly unlikely that Pat died in the Stumpknocker.

Pat’s family and loved ones were having none of the suicide theory.

They suggested that Pat may have encountered an armed and dangerous individual on the river and inadvertently witnessed something he should not have seen, likely connected to drug smuggling. Because he was the type of person to stop and lend a hand to anyone in distress, it would have been easy for someone to fake engine trouble to lure Pat into a deadly situation before he was even aware of any danger.

Due to some truly bizarre behavior on his part, there were indications that a family friend named Damon Crestwood may have been involved in Pat’s death - or at least have insight into what happened. However, Crestwood died of an apparent methamphetamine overdose in April of 2017 without ever revealing what he knew to authorities.

Additionally, Darryl Davis – the lead detective on the case who happened to be a former student of Jill Mullins - was inexperienced and had never conducted a death investigation prior to this one. There was contention between family and law enforcement over how authorities obtained some video footage under a CSX Railway bridge, which Jill believed was mishandled and not done in a timely fashion. She felt police were treating her in a condescending manner, and they seemed put out by her demands for answers to her questions. The widow was outspoken in her criticism of the Sheriff’s Office’s hesitation in investigating the death of her husband, and she made no secret of the fact that she did not think they were utilizing adequate resources in the case.

While the Medical Examiner’s Office did seek a second opinion on the gunshot wound due to what appeared to be multiple exit wounds, it was ultimately determined there was only a single blast. A forensic anthropologist at the University of Florida conducted an alternate examination, but because of the damage and bone loss, an additional bullet path couldn’t be conclusively excluded. The ruling of “undetermined” stood, with the strong theory by authorities leaning towards suicide. In October 2013, feeling patronized and that she wasn’t being taken seriously Jill hired an attorney to challenge the findings of the medical examiner and the authorities. The sheriff’s office acted in response to the publicity announcing a $10,000 reward in the case for more information. Along with $10,000 raised in September by the Mullins family at a fundraiser and $1,000 from Crime Stoppers, it brought the total reward to $21,000.

Where the case stands today.

Jill has not given up hope that what she believes to be Pat’s murder will one day be solved. In 2017, Pat put up her house for sale, though she planned on remaining in the area. She became engaged to Mike, a retired gentleman who she had met 18 months prior. She would only consider a relationship after disclosing the full details of Pat’s death. To her relief, her fiancé was fully supportive of her efforts to uncover the truth. As recently as 2020, Jill was still posting signs and posters on the fairgrounds at the annual Manatee County Fair in the hopes that someone would come forward with new information about her husband’s death. Also in 2020, Jill and her attorney finally succeeded in getting the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to classify the case as a homicide, after being labeled as “undetermined” for years. However, that appears to be the last activity on the case; tips have dried up and forward motion seems to have stalled. We can only hope that the attention brought to the case by the upcoming November 1 episode “Body In the Bay” on Unsolved Mysteries will breathe fresh life into the investigation, which remains open.


  1. Date Missing:January 27, 2013
  2. Date Found:February 5, 2013
  3. Date of Death:January 27, 2013
  4. Age at Incident:52
  5. Race:Caucasian / White
  6. Gender:Male

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