Charges filed in January discovery of 6 bodies in Milwaukee home

The January discovery of six bodies inside a northwest Milwaukee home was the result of an armed robbery and the subsequent execution of the victim and witnesses to the crime, according to a criminal complaint, which also suggested the group was killed several days before they were found.The arrest of Travis Birkley comes more than four months after relatives of the victims and police officers found the bodies inside the home near North 21st and West Wright streets on Jan. 23. Arrest records for Birkley, 34, which were obtained by 12 News Investigates through an open records request, indicate police took him into custody last week at a home near North 16th and West Wright streets, less than half a mile from the original crime scene.Held in the Milwaukee County Jail, Birkley was originally being held on pending charges of first-degree intentional homicide. However, according to a criminal complaint signed by Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Grant Huebner, prosecutors charged Birkley with six counts of felony murder, as a result of an armed robbery.THE DISCOVERY | Initially, two police officers responded to the home shortly before 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 23 and met two witnesses. The female witness told the officers, “There’s two bodies down there,” according to the complaint.One officer went to the basement of the home and found three people laying with their heads and top halves of their bodies covered with blankets.Investigators later identified the three as Charles Hardy, Caleb Jordan and Javoni Liddel. All three, according to details of their autopsies listed in the complaint, had been shot once in the head.After the initial discovery, the two responding officers called for backup, the complaint noted.When two assisting officers arrived to the home, they went to the upper unit of the home and found a man and woman dead. The two were later identified as Donta Williams and his wife Michelle.THE CRIME SCENE | According to the complaint, detectives noted several rooms in the home appeared to have been ransacked, as though someone was looking for something. It was here, detectives made another discovery.“During follow up searches, victim Donald Smith was found deceased under a pile of clothing in the second floor bedroom,” the complaint said.Investigators found 10 spent 9mm shell casings in the upper unit. The document said a detective found an additional 9mm shell casing in the basement. Ballistics testing revealed six of the casings were fired from one gun; five were fired from another weapon.“This would be consistent with two shooters being involved in this incident,” the complaint added.THE MYSTERIOUS 911 CALL | “Please help me”During a Jan. 27 news conference, four days after the bodies were discovered, Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman told reporters about a mysterious 911 call made roughly 12 hours before the victims were found.“This 911 caller claimed she was the victim of a shooting, and that multiple other people were shot,” Norman said during the news conference.“Please help me,” the complaint noted the female caller telling dispatchers, saying she was shot in the head. The caller gave the house number of where the bodies were discovered, but a street three blocks away. The complaint said the woman indicated three more people had been shot. Responding officers discovered the address the woman reported did not, in fact, exist.The complaint indicated dispatch records indicated the phone call was made in the area of a closed construction site near N 32nd Street and W Locust St, however, responding officers did not find anyone there.A review of the call when it was transferred to the Milwaukee Fire Department led detectives to believe there was a voice in the background in addition to the woman’s voice.THE SUSPECT & THE EVIDENCE | The complaint suggests Birkley was on the radar of detectives early on in the investigation. Detectives reported finding 10 cellphones at the crime scene, however, only two of the phones contained recent data relevant to the investigation, the complaint noted. The phones belonged to Donta and Michelle Williams. The last activity on Donta Williams’ phone was a 9 second phone call in the early hours of Jan. 20.There were 25 missed phone calls between 8:27 a.m. and 9:57 a.m., the complaint said. The last read text message was the night before shortly before 7:30 p.m. There were 17 unread text messages from 2:00 a.m. on Jan. 20 through Jan. 24 at 4:12 a.m.The first unread message stood out to investigators.“U still up if so buy a blunt and a cigarette,” the unread text message to Williams phone said. Detectives noted the phone number which sent the message was the same number used to make the mysterious 911 call the morning of the bodies were discovered.Two days after the bodies were discovered, detectives tracked the cellphone number to a home on N 29th St. Inside the home, the complaint said, detectives found Birkley and three other people. Detectives also found the phone listed to the number they were tracking and discovered it belonged to Birkley. One of the other three people in the home was a woman who admitted to police she made the mysterious phone call at Birkley’s direction. The woman also indicated Birkley told her what to say.“Therefore, the Defendant told someone to make a phone call that clearly contained information only someone involved in the crime would have,” the complaint noted. The complaint did not explicitly say whether Birkley, the woman and the two others in the 29th St. home were the same four people Chief Norman indicated on Jan. 27 were being held as persons of interest. A police spokesperson later said the four who were being held were eventually released.Although no specific timeline is given for the analyzation of Birkley’s cellphone contents, the complaint said when detectives received the results, there was evidence suggesting Birkley was directly involved in the homicides.Cell tower information placed the phone in the area “consistent with being present” at the home where the homicides were committed. The complaint said the cellphone utilized towers several times on Jan. 19 and Jan. 20.The complaint said that information was consistent with witness statements which alleged Birkley was, in street terms, ‘muscle’ or a security guard to defend drug dealing at the home.“Importantly, starting at 11:53 p.m. on January 19, 2022 and until 3:05 p.m. on January 20, 2022, the Defendant’s cellphone is hitting off cell towers and displaying timing advance data that is consistent with the Defendant being at the homicide location. Importantly, this includes several hours after all signs of life of the victims has ceased,” the complaint added.Also on the phone, the complaint noted, was a selfie taken Jan. 20 at 10:25 a.m. The picture, according to the complaint, was of Birkley in what appeared to be the basement of the home where the bodies were discovered.“The Defendant took a photo of himself in the basement where three dead bodies were later located, at a time several hours after they were believed to be killed.”The selfie, detectives discovered, according to the complaint, showed Birkley wearing a pair of Donta Williams glasses. Two witnesses identified the glasses in the picture as belonging to Williams, the complaint said. Witnesses also told investigators Birkely did not wear glasses.“When combined with the timing described above, this is consistent with the Defendant taking a photo of glasses taken from the deceased victim while in the basement where three dead victims are, all at time consistent with all six victims already being dead.”THE ALLEGED CONFESSION & MOTIVE | A confidential witness would eventually tell detectives Birkely admitted to the witness he carried out the homicides. The witness is not identified or described in any manner in the complaint other than to note the person knows Birkley and the victims, likely to protect the witness’s safety.According to the complaint, the witness saw Birkley after Jan. 21 in possession of red colored K2, or synthetic marijuana, “which was only known to be sold by Donta Williams.” The witness also said Birkley had cash and a gun the witness knew as belonging to Williams. The witness told investigators the gun was one of the “house guns” kept at the 21st St. home for security.The witness said Birkley admitted to them he committed the homicides with his cousin in a “robbery gone bad.”The witness said Birkley and his cousin planned to rob Williams. The witness said, after Birkley and his cousin were led to the upper unit, they pulled guns on Williams.“The Defendant then stated that Michelle had come from a ‘blind’ spot in an attempt to protect Donta, so the Defendant told CW1 that he and his cousin had shot Michelle first and the Donta.The autopsy notes in the complaint indicated Michelle Williams had six gunshot wounds. The notes indicated Donta Williams was shot once in the cheek.The complaint said Birkley told the witness he and his cousin went downstairs and “had to shoot” Hardy because he “was coming upstairs with a firearm or was about to come upstairs with a firearm.”“The Defendant then said that everyone else in the basement had to be shot so that there would not be any other witnesses,” the complaint said. The witness said, at some point, Smith “must have heard the gunshots.”“The Defendant told CW1 that he and his cousin did not know that Donald was present until he came out and thus they shot him as well.”The complaint also said the witness later tried to recant the story, but had been captured in a recorded conversation telling someone else Birkley and his cousin committed the homicide and “that was why they had to dispose of two firearms.”The complaint does not indicate whether the two guns believed to have been used in the crime were ever recovered.The complaint also does not identify Birkley’s cousin by name. That person has yet to be charged with a crime.The complaint also notes a friend of the victim, who is only identified by their initials, recalled going to the 21st St. home on Jan. 19. The friend reported seeing The Williamses, Smith and Hardy. The friend told investigators she saw Donta Williams on someone’s Facebook Live counting K2 sales profits.” state that counted up to $16,000 while she was there.”The next morning, the complaint said, the friend spoke to Smith on a Facebook Messenger video call for about a half hour. The video call ended around 8:00 a.m. on Jan. 20.”That was the last time saw Donald Smith. She tried to call him at both 11:53 a.m. and 11:59 a.m., but he did not answer.”PREVIOUS HOMICIDE | A review of criminal court cases against Birkley reveal his most recent conviction was from a 2017 guilty plea to misdemeanor retail theft in an amount less than or equal to $500, according to online records.The record also indicate Birkley plead guilty in a 201 misdemeanor case of trespassing and theft of movable property equal to or less than $2,500.The same online records show Milwaukee County Children’s Court Judge Marshall B. Murray sealed a 2002 case involving Birkley.The new criminal complaint against Birkley indicates he was an adjudicated delinquent in a 2002 felony case of first degree reckless homicide, but does not reveal specific details.SIX HOMICIDES INVESTIGATIONS CLEARED | Birkley’s arrest is a major development for Milwaukee police and its investigators who have had an increasingly challenging year because of the number of homicides, shootings and other violent crimes. The arrest improves the department’s homicide clearance rate, a number many use to measure a police agency’s success without deeper context.“Our detectives have been working tirelessly since these terrible events unfolded,” Norman said on Jan. 27, adding, “We have been relentless in following up on all leads.”The clearance rate alone, some argue, should not be the singular way to assess the department’s progress, given the volume of cases the department is investigating in addition to other factors, compared to previous years.Birkley made his intial apperance in court Sunday morning. He is being charged with six counts of Felony Murder – Armed Robbery.If convicted, he could face up to 330 years in prison.A $1 Million cash bond has been set for Birkley.The court commissioner also ordered him to take a DNA Sample.Birkley’s next appearance is June 15th for a preliminary hearing.

The January discovery of six bodies inside a northwest Milwaukee home was the result of an armed robbery and the subsequent execution of the victim and witnesses to the crime, according to a criminal complaint, which also suggested the group was killed several days before they were found.

The arrest of Travis Birkley comes more than four months after relatives of the victims and police officers found the bodies inside the home near North 21st and West Wright streets on Jan. 23.

Arrest records for Birkley, 34, which were obtained by 12 News Investigates through an open records request, indicate police took him into custody last week at a home near North 16th and West Wright streets, less than half a mile from the original crime scene.

Held in the Milwaukee County Jail, Birkley was originally being held on pending charges of first-degree intentional homicide. However, according to a criminal complaint signed by Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Grant Huebner, prosecutors charged Birkley with six counts of felony murder, as a result of an armed robbery.

travis birkley, 34 (milwaukee co. jail photo)

WISN

Travis Birkley, 34, is charged with 6 counts of felony murder

THE DISCOVERY |

The female witness told the officers, “There’s two bodies down there.”

Initially, two police officers responded to the home shortly before 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 23 and met two witnesses. The female witness told the officers, “There’s two bodies down there,” according to the complaint.

One officer went to the basement of the home and found three people laying with their heads and top halves of their bodies covered with blankets.

Investigators later identified the three as Charles Hardy, Caleb Jordan and Javoni Liddel. All three, according to details of their autopsies listed in the complaint, had been shot once in the head.

After the initial discovery, the two responding officers called for backup, the complaint noted.

When two assisting officers arrived to the home, they went to the upper unit of the home and found a man and woman dead. The two were later identified as Donta Williams and his wife Michelle.

THE CRIME SCENE |

“This would be consistent with two shooters being involved in this incident,”

According to the complaint, detectives noted several rooms in the home appeared to have been ransacked, as though someone was looking for something. It was here, detectives made another discovery.

“During follow up searches, victim Donald Smith was found deceased under a pile of clothing in the second floor bedroom,” the complaint said.

Investigators found 10 spent 9mm shell casings in the upper unit. The document said a detective found an additional 9mm shell casing in the basement. Ballistics testing revealed six of the casings were fired from one gun; five were fired from another weapon.

“This would be consistent with two shooters being involved in this incident,” the complaint added.

THE MYSTERIOUS 911 CALL | “Please help me”

“There was a voice in the background in addition to the woman’s voice.”

During a Jan. 27 news conference, four days after the bodies were discovered, Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman told reporters about a mysterious 911 call made roughly 12 hours before the victims were found.

“This 911 caller claimed she was the victim of a shooting, and that multiple other people were shot,” Norman said during the news conference.

“Please help me,” the complaint noted the female caller telling dispatchers, saying she was shot in the head. The caller gave the house number of where the bodies were discovered, but a street three blocks away. The complaint said the woman indicated three more people had been shot. Responding officers discovered the address the woman reported did not, in fact, exist.

The complaint indicated dispatch records indicated the phone call was made in the area of a closed construction site near N 32nd Street and W Locust St, however, responding officers did not find anyone there.

A review of the call when it was transferred to the Milwaukee Fire Department led detectives to believe there was a voice in the background in addition to the woman’s voice.

THE SUSPECT & THE EVIDENCE |

“The defendant took a photo of himself in the basement where three dead bodies were later located.”

The complaint suggests Birkley was on the radar of detectives early on in the investigation.

Detectives reported finding 10 cellphones at the crime scene, however, only two of the phones contained recent data relevant to the investigation, the complaint noted. The phones belonged to Donta and Michelle Williams.

The last activity on Donta Williams’ phone was a 9 second phone call in the early hours of Jan. 20.

There were 25 missed phone calls between 8:27 a.m. and 9:57 a.m., the complaint said. The last read text message was the night before shortly before 7:30 p.m. There were 17 unread text messages from 2:00 a.m. on Jan. 20 through Jan. 24 at 4:12 a.m.

The first unread message stood out to investigators.

“U still up if so buy a blunt and a cigarette,” the unread text message to Williams phone said. Detectives noted the phone number which sent the message was the same number used to make the mysterious 911 call the morning of the bodies were discovered.

Two days after the bodies were discovered, detectives tracked the cellphone number to a home on N 29th St. Inside the home, the complaint said, detectives found Birkley and three other people. Detectives also found the phone listed to the number they were tracking and discovered it belonged to Birkley.

One of the other three people in the home was a woman who admitted to police she made the mysterious phone call at Birkley’s direction. The woman also indicated Birkley told her what to say.

“Therefore, the Defendant told someone to make a phone call that clearly contained information only someone involved in the crime would have,” the complaint noted.

The complaint did not explicitly say whether Birkley, the woman and the two others in the 29th St. home were the same four people Chief Norman indicated on Jan. 27 were being held as persons of interest. A police spokesperson later said the four who were being held were eventually released.

Although no specific timeline is given for the analyzation of Birkley’s cellphone contents, the complaint said when detectives received the results, there was evidence suggesting Birkley was directly involved in the homicides.

Cell tower information placed the phone in the area “consistent with being present” at the home where the homicides were committed. The complaint said the cellphone utilized towers several times on Jan. 19 and Jan. 20.

The complaint said that information was consistent with witness statements which alleged Birkley was, in street terms, ‘muscle’ or a security guard to defend drug dealing at the home.

“Importantly, starting at 11:53 p.m. on January 19, 2022 and until 3:05 p.m. on January 20, 2022, the Defendant’s cellphone is hitting off cell towers and displaying timing advance data that is consistent with the Defendant being at the homicide location. Importantly, this includes several hours after all signs of life of the victims has ceased,” the complaint added.

Also on the phone, the complaint noted, was a selfie taken Jan. 20 at 10:25 a.m. The picture, according to the complaint, was of Birkley in what appeared to be the basement of the home where the bodies were discovered.

“The Defendant took a photo of himself in the basement where three dead bodies were later located, at a time several hours after they were believed to be killed.”

The selfie, detectives discovered, according to the complaint, showed Birkley wearing a pair of Donta Williams glasses. Two witnesses identified the glasses in the picture as belonging to Williams, the complaint said. Witnesses also told investigators Birkely did not wear glasses.

“When combined with the timing described above, this is consistent with the Defendant taking a photo of glasses taken from the deceased victim while in the basement where three dead victims are, all at [a] time consistent with all six victims already being dead.”

THE ALLEGED CONFESSION & MOTIVE |

“Everyone else in the basement had to be shot so that there would not be any other witnesses.”

A confidential witness would eventually tell detectives Birkely admitted to the witness he carried out the homicides. The witness is not identified or described in any manner in the complaint other than to note the person knows Birkley and the victims, likely to protect the witness’s safety.

According to the complaint, the witness saw Birkley after Jan. 21 in possession of red colored K2, or synthetic marijuana, “which was only known to be sold by Donta Williams.” The witness also said Birkley had cash and a gun the witness knew as belonging to Williams.

The witness told investigators the gun was one of the “house guns” kept at the 21st St. home for security.

The witness said Birkley admitted to them he committed the homicides with his cousin in a “robbery gone bad.”

The witness said Birkley and his cousin planned to rob Williams. The witness said, after Birkley and his cousin were led to the upper unit, they pulled guns on Williams.

“The Defendant then stated that Michelle had come from a ‘blind’ spot in an attempt to protect Donta, so the Defendant told CW1 that he and his cousin had shot Michelle first and the Donta.

The autopsy notes in the complaint indicated Michelle Williams had six gunshot wounds. The notes indicated Donta Williams was shot once in the cheek.

The complaint said Birkley told the witness he and his cousin went downstairs and “had to shoot” Hardy because he “was coming upstairs with a firearm or was about to come upstairs with a firearm.”

“The Defendant then said that everyone else in the basement had to be shot so that there would not be any other witnesses,” the complaint said.

The witness said, at some point, Smith “must have heard the gunshots.”

“The Defendant told CW1 that he and his cousin did not know that Donald was present until he came out and thus they shot him as well.”

The complaint also said the witness later tried to recant the story, but had been captured in a recorded conversation telling someone else Birkley and his cousin committed the homicide and “that was why they had to dispose of two firearms.”

The complaint does not indicate whether the two guns believed to have been used in the crime were ever recovered.

The complaint also does not identify Birkley’s cousin by name. That person has yet to be charged with a crime.

The complaint also notes a friend of the victim, who is only identified by their initials, recalled going to the 21st St. home on Jan. 19. The friend reported seeing The Williamses, Smith and Hardy. The friend told investigators she saw Donta Williams on someone’s Facebook Live counting K2 sales profits.

“[The friend] state that [Williams] counted up to $16,000 while she was there.”

The next morning, the complaint said, the friend spoke to Smith on a Facebook Messenger video call for about a half hour. The video call ended around 8:00 a.m. on Jan. 20.

“That was the last time [the friend] saw Donald Smith. She tried to call him at both 11:53 a.m. and 11:59 a.m., but he did not answer.”

PREVIOUS HOMICIDE |

“…a 2002 felony case of first degree reckless homicide…”

A review of criminal court cases against Birkley reveal his most recent conviction was from a 2017 guilty plea to misdemeanor retail theft in an amount less than or equal to $500, according to online records.

The record also indicate Birkley plead guilty in a 201 misdemeanor case of trespassing and theft of movable property equal to or less than $2,500.

The same online records show Milwaukee County Children’s Court Judge Marshall B. Murray sealed a 2002 case involving Birkley.

The new criminal complaint against Birkley indicates he was an adjudicated delinquent in a 2002 felony case of first degree reckless homicide, but does not reveal specific details.

SIX HOMICIDES INVESTIGATIONS CLEARED |

“We have been relentless in following up on all leads.”

Birkley’s arrest is a major development for Milwaukee police and its investigators who have had an increasingly challenging year because of the number of homicides, shootings and other violent crimes. The arrest improves the department’s homicide clearance rate, a number many use to measure a police agency’s success without deeper context.

“Our detectives have been working tirelessly since these terrible events unfolded,” Norman said on Jan. 27, adding, “We have been relentless in following up on all leads.”

The clearance rate alone, some argue, should not be the singular way to assess the department’s progress, given the volume of cases the department is investigating in addition to other factors, compared to previous years.

Birkley made his intial apperance in court Sunday morning.

He is being charged with six counts of Felony Murder – Armed Robbery.

If convicted, he could face up to 330 years in prison.

A $1 Million cash bond has been set for Birkley.

The court commissioner also ordered him to take a DNA Sample.

Birkley’s next appearance is June 15th for a preliminary hearing.

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