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TV show chronicles 1986 murder

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William Happ was executed Oct. 15 for the murder of Angela Crowley

By Abdon Sidibe

The story of the brutal murder of a young travel agent nearly three decades ago and the capture of the killer, William Happ — and his execution last year — are being retold, this time to a national audience.

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Kaylan Eggert, a television producer with Investigation Discovery, and her crew were in the county Thursday taping and interviewing detectives who worked the 1986 murder of Angela Crowley. The footage will be used in a show called “Swamp Murders.” Its second season premieres June 10.

“Swamp Murders” delves into the lives of the victims of heinous crimes and the difficult law enforcement work involved in bringing the criminals to justice, said the show’s co-executive producer Ashley Crary.

“These are true crime stories with real surviving relatives. We try to understand their journey and how they cope, especially when it takes a long time for them to get justice,” Crary said.

“We also try to get the family to tell us about the victim before they were killed. Angela, for example, had just moved to Florida, found work as a travel agent and used to be a cheerleader and was very popular with her friends. She was beautiful and young ...,” Crary said. The cases are set in the South and around swamps or bodies of water, she added.

Happ was executed by lethal injection Oct. 15 of last year, moments after confessing to the crime and apologizing to Crowley’s family.

Happ abducted Crowley from a Crystal River convenience store parking lot, then drove her to the Cross Florida Barge Canal where he raped and strangled her.

With 24 visitors, including Crowley’s siblings, watching from the death chamber witness room at Florida State Prison, Happ recited a final statement that he had hand-written to prison officials earlier that day.

Crowley, who had just moved to Lauderdale Lakes from northern Illinois in December 1985, was driving to visit a friend in Yankeetown for the Memorial Day weekend.

She stopped at a Cumberland Farms payphone around 2:30 a.m. May 24, 1986, to call her friend. The two had arranged to meet in Crystal River, and then Angela would follow her friend to Yankeetown. (The store, across from Crystal River City Hall, is now a Chevron food market. The pay phone is no longer there.)

Crowley never made the call. Authorities said Happ, wanted in California on robbery and kidnapping charges, was walking along U.S. 19 to his great-aunt’s house, where he was staying. 

He broke Crowley’s car window with his fist. Newspaper carriers later said they heard screams and the sound of breaking glass.

Happ took Crowley to the Cross Florida Barge Canal. After beating and raping her, he strangled Crowley with her own pants and dumped her body into the canal.

Authorities arrested Happ in December after the FBI located him in Pittsburgh, Pa., and returned him to California to serve prison time on kidnap and robbery charges there. His fingerprints matched prints found inside Crowley’s car.

His trial was moved to Lake County due to pre-trial publicity. The first attempt ended in a mistrial; he was convicted during a second trial of murder, rape and kidnapping, and in July 1989 he was sentenced to death.

Jerry Thompson, a retired Citrus County Sheriff’s Office major, was the lead investigator at the time and remembers getting the call about Crowley’s body in the canal.

“It was a Saturday,” Thompson recalled. “We didn’t really know when she was killed, but we could tell it was less 24 hours,” Thompson said.

Thompson and his co-investigator John Plevell were both interviewed for the show.

“It took two hours to tape it, but I already told them I was not expecting them to use all of that,” Thompson joked. 

“But the family (Crowley) said it was all right to do the show and it was good,” Thompson said.

Contact Chronicle reporter A.B. Sidibe at 352-564-2925 or asidibe@chronicleonline.com.