John Welles Murder: How Did He Die? Who Killed Him?

Image Credit: Beth Flowers-Waldron/CounterClock

The residents of Arcadia, Florida, bore witness to a gruesome murder in 2003 when the police found John Welles’ deceased body in a ditch. The 17-year-old was last seen at around 11:30 am on July 8, 2003, but he went missing soon after, and within hours the case had turned into a homicide. ‘CounterClock’ season 4 chronicles John’s death and takes the listener through the police investigation, which tried its best to get to the bottom of the incident. Let’s delve into the details of the case and find out more, shall we?

How Did John Welles Die?

John Welles was a lively 17-year-old high school student, adored by his friends and family alike. Acquaintances talked about John’s kindheartedness and mentioned that he was always ready to extend a helping hand or make a new friend. Moreover, being a brilliant student, John had aspirations of joining the Coast Guards after completing his education. The teenager was also a popular member of the  Fort Ogden Methodist Church and resided with his family in Arcadia, Florida.

On July 8, 2003, John decided to go down to the local Walmart store for some shopping but returned home at around 11:30 pm. Surprisingly, he seemed unreachable shortly after and appeared to have vanished into thin air. Within moments a large group gathered at the Welles household and began combing through the local areas looking for the teenager. On the other hand, John’s grandmother, Pat, even called 911 and reported her grandson missing. Subsequently, in a shocking turn of events, John’s deceased body was discovered floating inside a watery ditch in Joshua Creek. The vehicle that the victim drove was also located nearby.

Although people immediately let investigators know about the location, the police only managed to get on the case about 24 hours after the boy was first reported missing. Unfortunately, the crime scene was disturbed by that time, and somebody had even removed pieces of evidence, which could have been crucial. Nevertheless, after an initial examination, detectives believed that John had slipped into the water by accident, struck his head on a piece of metal, and drowned to death. However, an autopsy soon determined that John had a bullet lodged in his head, and authorities knew they had a homicide investigation on their hands.

Who Killed John Welles?

The initial investigation into John’s murder was relatively slow as there were no eyewitnesses or proper leads to follow. Although law enforcement officials sat through numerous interviews and hunted for witnesses, most avenues led to a dead end, and investigators found themselves back on square one. However, according to the podcast, after asking around for quite a bit, detectives learned that John’s grandmother, Pat, had removed some pieces of evidence from the scene of the crime before the arrival of the police. Additionally, she was also one of the three people who first located the victim’s body in Joshua Creek. Yet, when questioned, Pat insisted on her innocence and claimed she had nothing to do with the crime.

In addition to Pat, the police also looked into two other major suspects, namely Pat’s step-son, Skip, and John’s friend, Patrick Skinner. Interestingly, the podcast mentioned that Patrick Skinner revealed how John’s relationship with Skip had turned rocky in the days leading up to his murder. Besides, Skinner even talked about how he found a loaded pistol near John’s vehicle, a few feet away from the ditch where John’s body was found. Unfortunately, in his excitement, Skinner could not determine whether the gun had a full magazine or a single bullet missing, but the weapon was ultimately hidden from police investigators. On the other hand, investigators couldn’t go anywhere with Skip as he outright denied being involved in the homicide and was quite adamant about his innocence.

In the months that followed, Investigators tried their best to come up with other theories about the homicide and soon discovered that John was embroiled in a land dispute. Although this could have been a motive for the slaying, detectives were never able to connect the incident to John’s death. Interestingly, in 2006, the police received a surprising breakthrough when a teenager by the name of Sara approached the police and claimed she had a lead about John’s murder. When questioned, Sara mentioned that she had a violent relationship with her 19-year-old boyfriend, Kevin Callahan, who had knowledge about the way John was killed. Although Kevin never confessed directly, he told Sara that he had a handgun that would match the same bullet found in John’s head. This seemed like a good enough lead to follow, but the podcast noted that detectives never paid much attention to it.

According to the podcast, in 2017, about 14 years after John’s murder, a different autopsy report claimed that the gun fell out of John’s holster when he tried to dismount from his vehicle, struck a piece of metal, and discharged accidentally, shooting the victim in the head. Furthermore, a forensic pathologist and a firearms reconstruction expert examined the report and arrived at the same conclusion. Thus, the manner of John’s death was changed to an accident, and the police were able to stop their homicide investigation. To this very day, John is believed to have died from an accidental firearm discharge, and no one has been suspected or arrested for the same. (You can listen to the full CounterClock season 4 podcast here.)

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