Motive Still Unclear Ten Years After Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman Was Killed

Aug 13, 2018

His political persona earned Bill Gwatney, shown here in 1995, the nickname “Gwatzilla,” a moniker borrowed from his car dealerships’ advertising. He was shot inside the headquarters of the Democratic Party of Arkansas on Aug. 13, 2008.
Credit Arkansas Business

Monday marked the 10th anniversary of the murder of Bill Gwatney, chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas. He was shot August 13, 2008 at the party’s state headquarters in Little Rock and died several hours later. The gunman would be shot and killed by police later that afternoon.

Ten years after the killing, a motive is still unclear. Gwen Moritz with Arkansas Business recently spoke with several of those who witnessed or were involved in the case and wrote this update.

If Tim Johnson had ever done business with Bill Gwatney or his family’s business, it had not been recently. He had not applied for a job or bought a car or had a vehicle serviced in the previous five years. Investigators found no personal or professional connection that would explain why Johnson targeted Gwatney.

The investigation that continued for three months also found no political motive for Johnson’s crime, although it was not unusual for the Arkansas Democratic Party to receive calls and correspondence from people who were angry about one thing or another. “Nothing that would alarm us,” Amy Bell, Gwatney’s assistant, told the LRPD.