Kingfish killings remain mystery
Twenty-nine years ago, the Kingfish Boat Ramp, popular with boaters breaking away for a day and herons seeking an easy lunch, was the site of a triple slaying.
Nearby that Aug. 1, a fourth killing took place.
On Aug. 1, 1980, pediatrician Juan Dumois, 47, his sons Eric, 13 and Mark, 9, and local resident Robert Matzke, 60, were fatally shot by an unknown assailant. Dumois’ brother-in-law, Raymond Barrows, 54, also was shot, but survived.
Headlines referred to the killer as a hitchhiker. The surviving witness called the killer an assassin. A number of people, from columnists to detectives to Matzke’s widow, speculated that the killer was a professional hitman.
The shootings took place at about 5 p.m., after Dumois, his sons and Barrows returned from a fishing trip and loaded their boat at the Kingfish Boat Ramp. They were enjoying the end of their last day of vacation in Holmes Beach.
Pulling away from the ramp, they were approached by a man on a bicycle who asked for a ride because he had injured his ankle.
The stranger loaded his bike into the boat, got in the back seat of Dumois’ station wagon with the children, and then Dumois pulled out, proceeding west on Manatee Avenue from the ramp.
Almost immediately the man opened fire, striking all of the victims in the back of the head with a .22-caliber handgun.
To passersby, the wagon appeared to have jackknifed on the north shoulder of Manatee Avenue just west of the boat ramp at the entrance to Westbay Cove North. But according to official reports, the shooter steered the car to the side of the road.
The gunman then lifted his bike from the boat and went westbound on Manatee Avenue.
Matzke was working outside at nearby Westbay Cove and, suspicious about the man leaving what appeared to be an accident, pursued the bicyclist to the parking lot of the Foodway grocery store. The two men exchanged words before the gunman shot Matzke in the head, loaded his bike into a tan-colored vehicle in the parking lot and fled, traveling east on Manatee Avenue, heading off the Island.
The ensuing investigation, led by the Holmes Beach Police Department, involved the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and federal agents.
Barrows survived to provide law enforcement with the details of what happened and a description of the gunman. Matzke died at the scene. The boys and Dumois died at a hospital.
June Alder was a reporter with The Islander at the time of the slayings and, in a column for the newspaper in 1999, remembered: “The headlines in the newspapers the next day shocked Islanders out of their midsummer lethargy. It seemed impossible, but on our peaceful Island there had occurred a massacre one could only imagine happening in Chicago or New York City.”
More than 100 suspects were interviewed in the investigation.
Federal authorities focused on Chicago native Richard Lee Whitley, who had been arrested in Tampa shortly after the killings and was wanted by the FBI in connection with a homicide in Falls Church, Va. Whitley, however, provided a confirmed alibi for Aug. 1.
Local authorities focused on William Peter Kuhlman, who had been charged and acquitted in the slaying of a Bradenton Beach woman shot twice with a .22-caliber pistol, according to newspaper archives.
Barrows, the surviving victim, died of natural causes in 1982.
Investigating law enforcement agencies have undergone changes in command, as well as personnel.
But the case remains open, with the Gold Star Club of Manatee County Inc. still offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.
Longtime Islanders remember the Kingfish Boat Ramp killings, if not the details of the crime.
And those who knew the victims still think of the crime.
“It hurts when I think of the potential the boys had,” said Michael Lopez of Tampa, who played soccer with Eric Dumois and recently began to research the case after coming across some old papers. “After all these years, I can still remember Eric’s little brother tagging along with him after school.”