Lakeland Police Say The Shooting Looked Like a Robbery Attempt
August 16, 2003
During the past 11 years, Julia Waters has heard numerous stories about why someone shot her 36-year-old son to death.
She’s heard people say that maybe some trouble followed Rodney Williams when he moved from his hometown of Smyrna, Ga., to Lakeland about nine months before the shooting.
But Waters said her son didn’t have many enemies.
She said Lakeland police told her the shooting appeared to be an attempted robbery.
But working as a painter, Williams didn’t have a lot of money.
Her family sometimes thinks Williams’ girlfriend, who was with him when he was shot, knows more about the incident than she has said.
But detectives said they don’t have any reason to think that.
So for the past 11 years, Waters has been left wondering and trying to figure out why her youngest son was killed.
Lakeland police Detective Brad Grice said he’s hoping to figure that out, too.
As part of a continuing series in partnership with the Lakeland Police Department, The Ledger is profiling many of the department’s 37 cold cases and unsolved homicides.
The detectives’ hope that with a little help from the community and some extra time to work, they might be able to solve more of the cases, and, in turn, bring closure to many more families.
“Solving it wouldn’t bring Rodney back to me, I know that,” Waters said. “I’ve learned to deal with that.
“I just think it would be good to solve it for the good of everyone. If this person is bold enough to shoot someone point blank like that, what’s to say he wouldn’t do it again.”
'Solving it wouldn’t bring Rodney back to me, I know that. I’ve learned to deal with that.' Julia Waters
It was just after 1 a.m. on Aug. 16, 2003.
Williams and his girlfriend were walking home from a night of drinking and shooting pool at Wally’s on East Main Street.
Williams was carrying his pool stick in a case over his shoulder. Neither was carrying much money.
For a shorter route, the couple cut through the parking lot of the former Bumper Auto Parts on North Lake Parker Avenue.
That’s where Lakeland police said the couple was confronted by a black man who demanded money from them.
Williams’ girlfriend, who is not being named because a suspect has not been identified, told police that as Williams reached for his wallet, the man pulled out a pistol and fired one shot at point-blank range into her boyfriend’s chest.
The man then ran to a white car, possibly a Chevrolet Impala, that was waiting on Oleander Street, and it sped away, police said.
Williams’ girlfriend ran across the street to a mobile home park and banged on doors, asking for someone to call law enforcement, police said.
A nearby resident checked on Williams and attempted to find his pulse until an ambulance arrived shortly after, police said.
He died at the scene.
Other than basic descriptions, Waters said her son’s girlfriend couldn’t give many details about the shooter — something Waters said she’s always thought was weird.
“She was standing right face to face with this person,” Waters said. “But she can’t seem to remember what this person looked like.”
After the shooting, his girlfriend told The Ledger that she and Williams were married and possibly expecting a child together. However, Waters said that wasn’t true.
She said Williams and his girlfriend had been dating for a little more than a year.
The couple moved to Lakeland from a suburb of Atlanta in November 2002 to start a new life, Waters said.
Williams got a job as a painter with Fussell Paint Contracting, and the couple lived in a mobile home off of Oleander Street.
Their move was sudden, Waters said, but Williams had family in Lakeland.
He was easy-going and simple, she said. He seemed to be doing well in Florida.
Waters said she’s hoping Lakeland police will start looking at her son’s case again and go over details they might have missed.
With as many stories as she’s heard floating around during the past decade, one of them, she said, has to be at least partially true.
Stephanie Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7550.