MILWAUKEE - A Milwaukee man has been charged in the deaths of six people in January on the city's north side.
Travis Birkley, 34, has been charged with six counts of felony murder resulting from an armed robbery – party to a crime, according to court documents.
According to a criminal complaint, police were called to the home near 21st and Wright on Jan. 23 around 3:30 p.m. When police arrived, they found two people outside the home who said, "There’s two bodies down there." Police surveyed the three-story home and found three bodies in the basement – people who appeared to be sleeping. Once blankets were removed, police noticed gunshot wounds to the head of all three, later identified as Charles Hardy, 42, Caleb Jordan, 23, and Javoni Liddell, 31.
Michael Williams, Michelle Williams
In the upper unit of the residence, police found Donta "Michael" Williams, 44, and Michelle Williams, 49, dead from gunshot wounds. Police also found several rooms that appeared to have items out of place, as though someone had been searching for an item or items. Police then entered a large room that contained piles of items, as though someone was piling things up while looking for something.
During follow-up searches, Donald Smith, 43, was found deceased under a pile of clothing in the second-floor bedroom.
Investigators found 10 fired 9mm cartridge casings in the upper unit of the residence.
In the basement, detectives found numerous indicators that several people were living there. Additionally, they found prescription bottles and paperwork in the name of Travis Birkley, as well as a VISA debit card in the name of the Birkley's cousin.
In total, 11 fired 9mm cartridge casings were taken to the Milwaukee Police Department Intelligence Fusion Center and subjected to testing which determined that the casings were consistent with having been fired by two different 9mm handguns. One fired six and the other fired five, consistent with two shooters being involved in this incident.
Police spoke with a family friend of Michelle Williams who said her family hadn't heard from her in days. When the witnesses went to the home on 21st and Wright, they found dried blood on the doorknob and on the interior door. They then called 911. When officers arrived, a witness went inside but found the door to the main part of the house locked, so she went downstairs. Once there, the witness saw the legs of two people and ran upstairs to tell the police that there were "bodies" in the basement.
Homicide investigation near 21st and Wright, Milwaukee
A friend of the victims said she would go there almost daily to buy and use K2, or synthetic marijuana, which was sold there. She stated she was at the residence on Jan. 19 and saw Donta Williams, Donald Smith, Michelle Williams and Charles Hardy present. She stated that while she was there, Donta Williams was on someone’s Facebook Live counting out his profits from selling K2. She stated that he counted up to $16,000 while she was there.
The same witness said she spoke to victim Donald Smith on Facebook Messenger on a video chat at 7:33 a.m. on Jan. 20. The call lasted 26 minutes and 53 seconds and ended just before 8 a.m. on Jan. 20. This was the last time she saw Donald Smith. She tried to call him at both 11:53 a.m. and 11:59 a.m., but he did not answer. She then went to the residence that same day around 12:50 p.m. and was pounding on the door, yelling her name in an attempt to be let in. No one answered, and Donald did not answer any of her texts or calls ever again, the complaint said.
Phone records and interviews with family members found all the victims were killed on Jan. 20, sometime after 8 a.m.
Suspicious call to police
A 911 call occurred at 3:46 a.m. on Jan. 23 from the same number that left an unread text message on Donta Williams’ cell phone on Jan. 20. The caller was female and was crying, stating, "Please help me," indicating she was shot in the head. The caller stated that she was currently at 2505 N. 24th Street and that three other people had been shot. Detectives noted that the address number is the exact number of the residence involved in this incident, just off by three blocks. He also noted that the claims of injuries matched those suffered by several of the victims. Multiple people could be heard on the call, according to the complaint.
Homicide investigation near 21st and Wright in Milwaukee
Once the female caller was transferred to the Milwaukee Fire Department operator, she again repeated the address of 2505 N. 24th Place and now stated that four other people in the house were also shot. The female caller stated that she was shot in the face and began to ask for help. The line was disconnected and police were immediately dispatched to the address. Five different Milwaukee police squads were dispatched to the residence, and police determined that the address did not exist. The officers attempted numerous times to call the phone number back without success. The police checked this area for over 25 minutes and could not find any victims, the complaint said.
Dispatchers checked phone records for the caller's number, and they appeared to show that call was made from the area of 2876 N. 32nd Street. Two minutes later, a Milwaukee police officer arrived in the area of 2876 N. 32nd Street, which was a closed construction site. Officers went to two businesses, neither of which reported hearing any gunshots at that time. Police also made several attempts to call the number back but were unsuccessful.
On Jan. 25, Milwaukee police tracked the 911 call to a residence at 2835 A. N. 29th Street. At that residence, police found Birkley and three other people. The cellphone was located inside the residence and determined to be Birkley's cellphone, according to the complaint. Someone inside the residence admitted to police that she was the one who made the phone call. She said Birkley was the one that told her to call and what to say. Thus, someone with the Birkley made the suspicious phone call to police that had the exact house number, as well as the knowledge that multiple individuals had been shot, and that at least one person had been shot in the face, the complaint said. Therefore, Birkley allegedly told someone to make a phone call that clearly contained information only someone involved in the crime would have.
Birkley's cellphone records
According to prosecutors, starting at 11:53 p.m. on Jan. 19, 2022 and until 3:05 pm on Jan. 20, 2022, Birkley's cellphone hit off cell towers and displayed timing advance data consistent with him being at the homicide location. Importantly, this includes several hours after the homicides occurred.
During a review of his cellphone, detectives located a "selfie" that had been taken using the cellphone on Jan.20 at 10:25 a.m. The picture shows Birkley in what appears to be a basement. Referring to the walls, pipes and other distinguishing markings in the photo, police were able to locate a spot in the basement of 2505 N. 21st St that corresponds with that photo. Thus, prosecutors allege Birkley took a photo of himself in the basement where three dead bodies were later located several hours after they were believed to be killed.
21st and Wright homicide scene, Milwaukee
Lastly, the "selfie" shows Birkley wearing a pair of what appears to be expensive eyeglasses. Witnesses told police that he did not wear glasses. Two witnesses were shown the "selfie" and identified the glasses worn by Birkley as belonging to Donta Williams. One witness was able to forward a photo of victim Donta Williams wearing what appears to be the same glasses prior to his death.
When combined with the timing described above, prosecutors say this is consistent with Birkley taking a photo of glasses taken from the deceased victim while in the basement where three dead victims were at a time consistent with all six victims already being dead.
A confidential witness told detectives they knew Birkley, and he had admitted to committing the homicides with his cousin during a "robbery gone bad," the complaint said.
The witness said Birkley told him that he and his cousin had planned to rob Donta Williams and after being let into the upper unit, had pulled firearms on Donta. Birkley then stated that Michelle had come from a "blind" spot in an attempt to protect Donta, so Birkley told the witness that he and his cousin had shot Michelle first and then Donta. He added he and his cousin then went downstairs and had to shoot Charles Hardy because he was coming upstairs with a firearm or was about to come upstairs with a firearm, the complaint said. Birkley then said that everyone else in the basement had to be shot so that there would not be any other witnesses.
The witness said victim Donald Smith must have heard the gunshots. Birkley told them that he and his cousin did not know that Donald was present until he came out, and they shot him, as well.
Cash bond for Birkley was set at $1 million.
Milwaukee police said they continue to seek additional information regarding this incident. Anyone with any information is asked to contact Milwaukee police at 414-935- 7360 or to remain anonymous, contact Crime Stoppers at 414-224-Tips or P3 Tips App.