Clarification: The following article originally stated that Chauncey Bailey was an editor for the Oakland Tribune. Chauncey worked at the Tribune from 1993 until 2005. At the time of his murder, he worked at the Oakland Post.
Forty years after the case went cold, the Santa Barbara Police Dept. has reopened the investigation into a local 1968 double-homicide.
Detectives are on the case again after new information has potentially linked the Santa Barbara murders to a series of recent Oakland crimes, including last year’s murder of an editor with the Oakland Tribune. Reports at the time of the 1968 murders focused on the victims’ affiliation with a Santa Barbara mosque that would act as the forerunner to the Oakland-based organization, Your Black Muslim Bakery. Prior to his murder, Tribune editor Chauncey Bailey was investigating the organization.
Bailey’s death sent shockwaves through journalistic circles and prompted volunteers and advocates from an array of media organizations to form the Chauncey Bailey Project to continue the work of the slain editor. The Project’s investigations narrowed-in on the alleged inner-dealings of Your Black Muslim Bakery, a religious organization that was accused of committing a variety of crimes ranging from intimidation and fraud to murder.
Investigators working on behalf of the Project later named the Bakery’s founders, Abdul Raab Muhammad, formerly known as Billy X Stephens, and his brother, the Bakery’s late patriarch Yusuf Ali Bey, formerly Joseph H. Stephens, as persons of interest with regards to the 1968 Santa Barbara murders.
Further inquiries uncovered that before moving to Oakland and founding Your Black Muslim Bakery, the brothers were the chief administrators of the now-defunct Santa Barbara mosque central to the 1968 double-homicide investigation.
Santa Barbara Police Dept. Detective Mark Vierra is overseeing the current investigations into the murders and said that the ties between the Oakland crimes and the 1968 slaughter have prompted his department to re-examine some of the evidence of the case, untouched now for nearly four decades.
“We thought [upon discovering the ties], ‘how interesting that this guy who is attached to the 1968 murders is also connected to what’s going on up in Oakland,'” Vierra said. “Maybe we can connect these dots and see what goes on.”
On August 17, 1968, Wendell Scott, 30, and his wife, Birdie Mae Scott, 33, were each shot twice with a .30-.30 rifle while asleep in their beds. Their two children, who were asleep in another room, were left untouched.
According to police records, the 1968 investigations focused primarily on Billy X Stephens who was the mosque’s minister as well as the person who notified police of the murder some 20 minutes after neighbors would later report hearing the gun-shots.
According to documents released by the police department, Stephens may have been involved in a feud between the Scotts and the mosque administration. The couple had allegedly attempted to disaffiliate with the mosque after Wendell Scott wrote a letter to the Nation of Islam alleging that the mosque administrators had forced him to participate in criminal activities, including burning Stephens’ two cars so that the minister could collect insurance money for them.
According to reports, Stephens learned of the letter and suspended the couple. They were killed just two weeks later. Stephens has denied having any involvement with the murder and the case was never solved.
According to Detective Vierra, the case ran dry back in 1968 largely because those affiliated with the Scotts and the mosque remained “tight lipped” at the time.
“There were some people who saw what happened to the Scotts and became weary,” Vierra said.
Now he says the strategy of the investigation is to find those affiliated with the Scotts and the mosque – those who may have been reluctant to come forward at the time – and get them to tell what they know. The task, however, is further complicated by the passage of time.
“We are trying to round up people who after 40 years are still around,” Vierra said. “But names have changed, people have passed on.”
At least some of the Scotts’ relatives and former mosque affiliates are known to still be residing in Santa Barbara, and some are eager to see justice pursued. Among these is Audrey Hazelwood, Birdie Scott’s daughter, who was 13 at the time of the murder. In a recorded interview with Chauncey Bailey Project reporter Bob Butler, she said her family has long awaited closure.
“My mom’s mom always said she would live to see this day [when the investigation would be resumed]. But I guess its in my lifetime, not hers,” she said.