Cold case: 1968 slaying of Florida milkman, WWII vet solved after suspect ID’d, authorities say

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY, Fla. – A suspect in the 1968 killing of a decorated World War II veteran who was fatally shot while working as a milkman was identified through new key witnesses, authorities said more than five decades after the slaying shocked a Florida town.

The killing of Hiram Ross Grayam was Indian River County's oldest cold case. During a news conference held 56 years after Grayam’s killing, officials last week declared the case closed and identified the now-dead suspect.

On April 10, 1968, two men entered Grayam's milk truck, forced him to drive to a wooded area and fatally shot him, according to Press Journal archives. Grayam was found the next day, law enforcement officials said, calling the killing an apparent armed robbery.

Indian River County Sheriff Eric Flowers said one of the two people seen with Grayam, the suspected shooter, was Thomas Jefferson Williams, who was about 21 at the time.

Larry Grayam, Hiram's son, called the announcement “bittersweet,” saying after six agency administrations, he was “very pleased that we’ve come to the point that we can now close the case.” Larry, who was 16 and a volunteer ambulance corpsman at the time of his father's killing, said the devastating loss led him into public safety and photojournalism careers.

“My father was well known in the community,” Larry Grayam said. “Many of the citizens liked him because if they didn’t have enough money to pay their milk bill, he would dip into his pocket to pay the milk bill.”

Coming on the heels of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination six days earlier, the killing of Grayam, 47, traumatized the community, inflamed racial tensions and made front-page headlines.

As the 1968 suspects were two Black men, and Grayam was white, then-Sheriff Sam Joyce tried to calm tensions by saying: "This was not a racial crime. It was a robbery."

Suspect emerged in 2006

A Gifford, Florida, girl running after a milk delivery truck for a birthday gift promised by Grayam was the key witness who last saw him before he was found dead the next day, officials said.

“My dad had promised to give (the girl) birthday cake, and she saw him driving away. She ran towards the truck to say, ‘Where’s my birthday cake,’ (but) he had these two gunmen in the car with him,” said Larry Grayam, 72, of Vero Beach, Florida. “So, he shooed her away, didn’t want her to get hurt (and) said, 'I'll be right back. I have to take these two boys somewhere.'"

A witness who heard gunshots saw the men fleeing in a 1950s-model Chevrolet. Grayam was robbed of $70.

Williams first emerged as a suspect in 2006 following Grayam’s efforts to draw attention to his father’s unsolved case through interviews for newspaper articles and TV news broadcasts.

“We believe that the articles that were run in the Press Journal and Channel 25 … caused this individual to run scared, and he responded by (writing) a letter to the editor of the newspaper,” said Grayam. “At that point he wasn’t on anybody’s radar, but he kind of interjected himself into the crime and he became a suspect.”

Karen Grayam, the daughter of a Hiram Ross Grayam, a milkman who was slain in 1968 in Gifford, displays a scrapbook with her father's picture Oct. 13, 2006. The Sheriff's Office reopened the case then. She had a scrapbook of photos and articles dating to 1968. In a news conference in 2024 naming the suspected killer, who is dead, her brother Larry Grayam said she had since died.

At the time, Williams denied knowledge of the murder and told detectives he was not involved. He was dismissed as a suspect along with several other possible suspects in the following years, Flowers said.

In February 2022, they reconsidered Williams after an inmate at Indian River County Jail, said at the time to be related to Williams, told detectives Williams confessed to him “he killed the milkman back in 1968.”

With the new information, detectives then found a woman in Miami who had been married to Williams. Detectives spoke with her in December 2023.

“She did not know this other family member (the inmate), had never spoken to him and gave the exact same account,” said Flowers. “Which ultimately gives us two independent witnesses who both say that this guy confessed to killing the milkman to them.”

Williams was said to be a career criminal who, in detectives' interviews, was implicated in other killings. He died in 2016, but Flowers said they were able to determine through the talks that he was in Gifford at the time of the shooting.

“(The inmate and Williams' former wife) were willing to speak with us only because this guy was so violent he is now dead,” Flowers said.

The identity of the second person considered a suspect in the case is known to detectives, Flowers said, but he declined to name him.

Back in 1968

Grayam was reported missing when he did not return from his route through the Gifford area. His delivery truck and body were found the next day after deputies onboard planes saw his delivery truck in a wooded area.

Flowers said he believes because Grayam was well known as a “nice guy” in the area, the two men used a ruse to get into the truck.

At the time of his father's death, Larry Grayam said they found in company records “he had less than $100 on him.”

Hiram Grayam was a World War II veteran who served in Gen. George Patton's 3rd Army, performed many civic duties, including serving as state commander of the Disabled American Veterans and was district commander of the Civil Air Patrol, according to Press Journal archives. He was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded during the Battle of the Bulge.

Corey Arwood is a breaking news reporter for TCPalm. Follow @coreyarwood on X, email corey.arwood@tcpalm.com or call 772-978-2246

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: 1968 slaying of Florida milkman, a WWII vet, solved; suspect named