This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and the University of North Florida’s Applied Journalism class.
From a young age, Patrick (Pat) Mullins loved growing up on the water of Florida’s West Coast. So great was his passion for life on the water that he later purchased a home along Manatee County’s Braden River. Pat wanted to share his enthusiasm for enjoying nature, boating, and restoring old outboards with his sons, Mason and Miles.
“Each of our sons had a small boat Pat fixed up for them when they were in elementary school,” said Pat’s wife, Jill Mullins. “Mason painted the bow of his boat to resemble the P-40 airplane that had the menacing shark’s teeth on it. Miles weighed so little that his boat would tilt about 80 degrees before it would settle on to a plane.”
Pat dreamed of being a grandfather and fostering a love and appreciation of boating and the outdoors with the next generation. The opportunity to share those precious moments with grandchildren was taken from him in January 2013 when Pat failed to return from what was supposed to be a routine test drive of an old boat motor.
Just one day after his disappearance, the empty little boat was discovered adrift in the Egmont Channel far from the Mullins’ home. Eight days later Pat’s body was located near where the Manatee River and Tampa Bay merge. According to the medical examiner’s report, he died from a shotgun wound to the side of his head. He had been tied to the anchor rope. Over a decade later, his murder has not been solved.
In many ways Pat was a perfectionist who loved his family, his career, and his boating. The third of five children, Pat developed an interest in boats and boat motors in his youth. Growing up on Anna Maria Island meant the water was the getaway for Pat and his two brothers. The boys essentially taught themselves how to repair old outboards that neighbors would happily pass down to them. This childhood amusement became a passion.
Pat majored in elementary education and marched in the Gator band while finding time to work at a marina during college. Juggling the professional educator career with the beloved pastime of working on engines led Pat to balance two different lifestyles. That perfectionist side of him took over when at work. He would always wear a tie. And he would always motivate his students to work their hardest. According to his wife on weekends, “he’d be covered up to his elbows in grease when he found he needed to run to the parts store. He’d come in from the garage, shower, and painstakingly remove the grease from under his fingernails just because he might run into one of his 4th graders.”
On January 27, 2013, Pat took his boat out for what was supposed to be a quick trip. Pat owned a small shallow water boat known as a Stumpnocker which was the perfect size to go out on the Braden River, an offshoot of the significantly larger Manatee River. No stranger to this narrow river, Pat set off to test one of his antique outboards on the day of he disappeared.
When Pat failed to return home later that evening, Jill Mullins contacted the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office to report him missing. The following morning the skiff was seen by a vessel traveling along the Egmont Channel. That same day the United States Coast Guard brought the boat to shore. The Stumpnocker’s ignition was on, and Pat’s hat and sunglasses were on the boat, but both Pat and the boat’s anchor were missing. As there were no obvious signs of a struggle, the sheriff’s office released the boat to the family immediately.
When Pat’s boat was found, it had traveled northwest of Egmont Key towards the Gulf of Mexico, miles away from the Braden River where it had been docked.
Chris Slattery, an experienced charter captain in Boca Grande, said he was familiar with the unsolved case of Patrick Mullins. He noted that the location where the boat was discovered seemed odd.
“Shallow fishing boats (such as the Stumpnocker) should not be out there in rough seas,” said Slattery. Jill and other boaters familiar with Pat’s routine have continually maintained that Pat would only take this boat in the Braden River.
Eight days after the discovery of the boat, Pat’s body was found by a local charter boat captain. The body was taken to a local marina where a spokesman for the sheriff’s office told the gathering reporters that Pat’s death was a suicide prior to the arrival of the medical examiner. He requested that they leave as sharing the story would be difficult for the deceased’s family. The medical examiner’s notes indicated that Pat died from a shotgun blast; however, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Officers withheld this information from the family and the press who were initially told he had suffered major trauma to his head.
Although several sheriff’s personnel and the district 12 medical examiner stated to the family that they felt Pat’s death was a suicide, neither the medical examination nor the local sheriff’s investigation into Pat and his family’s activities found any evidence to substantiate their feelings, so the cause of death was listed as “undetermined.”
Pat’s wife, Jill, and their two sons, Mason and Miles, continue to hope for resolution. In the fall of 2013 Jill, with much support from friends and the community, held a fundraiser to generate reward money. Donations from the community were generous and $10,000 was raised. Another $10,000 was offered by community organizations. And recently Jill has added another $5,000. She explained, “If we can keep this in the public’s eye, then someone will hear something and hopefully we will get an answer.”
During his years as a media specialist Pat would tell Jill that he’d made a purchase on their credit card for a student who needed to register for a high school equivalency exam or a college entrance test. For several years after Pat’s death, friends and family donated money to the high school to pay for students who faced these challenges.
Pat Mullins’ influence on his students is still evident. Former students and their parents often share how “Mr. Mullins” made a difference in their lives. Most frequent are comments that indicate he redirected students from a negative path to a more positive one. His passions continue through his sons, now young men who have married and have children, Pat’s grandchildren, that he so anxiously awaited taking on river outings. Mason and Miles are sharing their dad’s passions with their children in his stead.
“I am extremely proud of our sons, and I know Pat would be too.” said Jill Mullins.
Anyone with information concerning Patrick Mullins’ murder is asked to call the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office at (941) 747-3011. To remain anonymous and possibly be eligible for a reward, call Crime Stoppers of Manatee County Crime Stoppers at 866-634-TIPS.
Please consider using the buttons below to share this case in hopes that someone, somewhere will come forward and give this victim and family the answers they need and the justice they deserve.
If you have a loved one that is the victim of an unsolved homicide, please submit their case here for consideration in a future Cold Case Spotlight post.