DNA evidence, cellphone records and tips from an informant in April led Columbia police to arrest McLanks restaurant co-owner Jeffrey McWilliams as a suspect in the December 2017 death of Augustus Roberts in the Old Hawthorne subdivision of east Columbia.
Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight on Wednesday charged McWilliams, 28, with second-degree murder, armed criminal action and first-degree robbery. He is the latest of several people to be arrested and charged with crimes related to a large marijuana-trafficking operation involving Roberts that is being investigated by Columbia police, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI.
McWilliams was arraigned Wednesday afternoon before Associate Circuit Judge Stephanie Morrell. He was being held in the Boone County Jail without bond and is represented by Columbia attorney Stephen Wyse.
Wyse asked that Morrell set a bond amount. She declined and said she would transfer the case because of a conflict of interest. She did schedule a bond hearing for May 18 with Associate Circuit Judge Tracy Gonzalez.
A heavily redacted probable cause statement written by Columbia Police Detective Steven Wilmoth provided this narrative of Roberts’ homicide and the events leading to McWilliams’ arrest:
Police were dispatched to the area of Cash’s Crossing on Dec. 11, 2017, after receiving a complaint about a suspicious person. They arrived to find a woman, whose name was redacted from the statement, covered in tan paint. She approached them yelling for help from the direction of 1904 Lasso Court.
Police found Roberts inside the home with a gunshot wound and serious injuries to his face. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Officers also found tan paint spilled in the garage of the Lasso Circle address that matched the paint on the woman. She told officers that three unknown people wearing ski masks had broken into the home brandishing guns and demanding money and property. When she fled to seek help, she heard a gunshot inside the house. She admitted Roberts was trafficking marijuana.
During the investigation, police were dispatched to an abandoned U-haul truck at the end of Dorado Drive nearly four miles away from Lasso Circle. The U-Haul contained several boxes of marijuana and THC vapor pens. Police found blood on the truck as well as paint that matched that found at Lasso Circle. They later learned that the U-Haul had been parked in the victim’s driveway before he was killed.
Police found a black Ralph Lauren pullover, size XXXLT, near the U-Haul that also had blood and tan paint on it. They sent the pullover to a DNA lab that was able to extract a DNA profile from the collar that was separate from the blood. The Missouri State Highway Patrol Lab later matched the blood to Roberts, but it remained unknown who matched the DNA taken from the collar.
On April 8, Wilmoth met with a person who said he knew who was responsible for Roberts’ murder. He told Wilmoth he had spoken with another person who told him that he and two others went to rob Roberts that night and that one of them, “Jeff,” shot and killed Roberts. He said he did not know Jeff’s last name but knew that he owned McLanks restaurant.
The informant also told Wilmoth that he had talked with someone who told him “Jeff went to do a million-dollar lick and fucked it up.” That person, whose name also was redacted, was angry that the woman at the home had not been killed as well. The informant said the three people who committed the robbery showed up at his house with a thousand pounds of marijuana and a bunch of money.
On April 20, Wilmoth went to McLanks with a search warrant and took a DNA sample from McWilliams that the University of Nebraska Human DNA Identification Laboratory matched to the DNA from the pullover.
Before talking with the informant, police performed a “cell tower dump” to find records of phone calls made in the Lasso Circle area near the time of the murder. Those records turned up several from a number police believe belongs to McWilliams.
McWilliams was the owner of Let’s Roll, a Thai rolled-ice cream shop that operated in Broadway Marketplace but now is closed. McLanks was featured in a 2019 episode of the Food Network’s “Restaurant: Impossible” and a 2020 episode of “Restaurant Impossible: Back in Business.”
The arrest is the latest of several related to the Roberts homicide and the marijuana-trafficking operation.
In 2019, Blake Jeffery Johnson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Roberts gave Johnson marijuana and thousands of dollars a month to distribute it, and he was the man who rented the U-Haul that Roberts used to store his stock, according to a news release at the time from Timothy Garrison, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri.
Coffee Zone owner Osama Nadir Yanis, 49, and his son, Nadar Robert Osama Yanis, 24, pleaded guilty in 2018 and 2019, respectively, for their roles in the trafficking and distribution of Roberts’ marijuana. Dylan James Blake, 29, pleaded guilty in 2019 for his role in the trafficking, and Christopher Michael Bradshaw, 26, pleaded guilty to possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute.
Other suspects in the case include former marijuana reform lobbyist Eapen Thampy.