Details of Disappearance
Powell was last seen in Pensacola, Florida on April 29, 1984. She and her sister went to the Flora Bama Lounge on Perdido Key Road that night, then stopped at Richey's Bar and Package Store on Navy Boulevard to buy some drinks. At Richey's, friends introduced Powell to a man, and at closing time, she left with the man to go to a party. She has never been heard from again.
Investigators subsequently identified the man Powell was with as Ronald Harvey Fleming. Photos of Fleming are posted with this case summary. He was a member of the now-defunct Skull Munchers motorcycle gang, and had a substantial criminal record and a history of violence towards women. When questioned, he told police he didn't know Powell and couldn't remember having been at Richey's on the night she disappeared.
The case was reopened in 1989 and police re-interviewed all the witnesses, including Claude Wilkins, a friend of Fleming's and fellow Skull Munchers member. When they had questioned him in 1984 he hadn't disclosed any information about Powell's case, but in 1989 he told them Powell had been murdered at his house on the night of her disappearance. Wilkins said he'd seen the murder, but had lied to the police earlier because he was afraid.
In June 1990, Fleming was arrested in Louisiana and charged with first-degree murder in Powell's case. Wilkins testified against him at his trial in 1991. His description of what happened was so graphic it physically sickened one of the jurors.
He stated that after he, Fleming and Powell arrived at his residence, Fleming suggested she have sex with Wilkins. She did so, and afterwards all three of them were sitting on the sofa. Powell, who was still nude, was talking to Fleming, who was fully clothed. She said she wanted to leave, then made a remark about wanting to die.
Fleming pulled his .44 Magnum revolver from his holster and stuck it in her mouth. She didn't try to resist, and Wilkins, who was drifting in and out of sleep, thought they were just playing a game. Wilkins's eyes were closed when the gun went off. After shooting Powell, Fleming told Wilkins that she was going to accuse them of rape, so he had to kill her.
The gunshot woke up Wilkins's roommate, Frank Kaner, who would also testify at the trial. Wilkins went to Kaner's bedroom and told him to go back to bed, which he did, and he slept through the rest of the night without realizing what had happened.
When Kaner woke up at daybreak, he noticed the bathroom was messy and noticed bloody towels and a bloodstained mop. He woke up Fleming, who promised to clean up. By this time, Powell's body had been hidden in a vehicle outside. Kaner left for work a short time later, still not realizing anything was wrong; he thought Fleming and Wilkins had just "partied too hard."
He didn't learn about Powell's death until he came home from work that afternoon, when he came home and found Wilkins, Fleming and some women cleaning the crime scene; Powell's blood had saturated the couch cushions and spattered on the walls, floor and ceiling. Kaner asked what had happened and Wilkins told him, "Ronnie killed some chick."
Kaner helped Wilkins take part of the couch to the dump. He later found a large-caliber round in a glass and threw it out the front door. Wilkins and Fleming put Powell's body in a sleeping bag, put it in the back of a pickup truck, and dumped it on some property off Highway 29 that belonged to Fleming's father. Several months later, Fleming told Wilkins he had "taken care of" Powell's body.
Wilkins later lead authorities to the Highway 29 property, but when police searched it they found nothing. Police also searched the residence where he and Kaner had lived in 1984 and found traces of blood in Powell's type, and a hole in the wall that had been filled.
Fleming maintained his innocence at trial and testified in his own defense. He admitted he'd been drinking heavily the night Powell disappeared and admitted he'd gone to Wilkins's house.
He said he was in the living room with some of his friends when he heard Wilkins arguing with a woman in a back room. The woman was threatening to put Wilkins and his friends in jail. Fleming said he decided to leave then, and he didn't come back until shortly before daybreak. He said he didn't know Powell and never saw or smelled any blood at the house, and when Kaner saw him the next day he was stripping the floors, not cleaning up a crime scene.
The friends Fleming claimed had been with him at Wilkins's house the night Powell disappeared had all died by the time of his trial. Although his defense suggested Powell might not even be dead, Fleming was convicted of her murder and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. The prosecution had sought the death penalty.
Fleming has since died in prison. Wilkins was not prosecuted for his role in the homicide, although Fleming's trial judge said he believed he was more involved in Powell's death than he admitted. Powell's body has never been found, but foul play is suspected due to the circumstances involved.