MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — A man finds a body underneath a bridge on his way to work. The man found dead had just been seen the night before leaving an LGBTQ+ bar with another man. This is the story of Donald Whatley.
WKRG News 5 is looking back at the crimes that shocked the Gulf Coast. Donald Whatley’s story is the eighteenth in the series.
It was Dec. 29, 2003 when a man walking to work noticed something under a bridge. When he approached the entrance gate to his job, he discovered that the thing laying on the ground was a man’s body. The man called 911.
The body was taken in for an autopsy and was identified as Pravinbhai “Pete” Patel. The autopsy showed that Patel died of “multiple traumatic injuries,” including injuries to his head, neck, shoulder and sternum. He was found with his pants around his neck. The medical examiner, Dr. Kathleen Enstice, determined that the injuries to Patel’s face were consistent with a beating, the injuries to his neck were consistent of strangulation, and the injuries to his chest were consistent with being run over by a vehicle.
According to court documents, Patel had been seen at Gabriel’s bar in Mobile on Dec. 28 with another man. Patel allegedly drove up to the bar and walked up to Whatley before they entered the bar together. On Jan. 4, Patel’s vehicle was found burnt and submerged in a mudhole off Theodore Dawes Road.
Three years later on Aug. 4, 2006, Whatley was at a police station in Beaumont, Texas when he admitted to committing a murder in Mobile. This is the statement Whatley gave to police:
Back in 2003 around December 29th I killed a man by the name of Pete Patel. I’m not sure what the proper spelling of his name is and I think Pete was just a nickname. But he was a man of Indian descent that owned a small motel by the name of the Budget Inn in Mobile, Alabama. On the night the murder happened, I had gone to a local gay bar there in Mobile by the name of Gabriel’s to look for someone to rob. It was there that I first met Pete. We made small talk and he hit on me for sex. I agreed to go with him and we left the bar in his car. I don’t remember what time it was but it was pretty late. To the best of my knowledge I think his car was a light green Honda. Pete was driving when we left the bar and we went to the Africatown Cochran Bridge. When we got there we got out of the car and sat on the hood. I smoked a cigarette. We were talking and he put his hand on my leg. That just freaked me out so I hit him with my fist. It knocked him down so I got up on top of him and hit him a couple of more times and then I started choking him. I thought at that point he was dead. So I took his pants off of him but he started moaning. When he did that I jumped in his car and ran over his head a couple of times. The driver’s side front tire was the tire that ran over him. I then took off in his car. I stopped about a quarter to three-eighths of a mile down the road and went through his pants. I got a couple of hundred dollars out of his wallet and threw his pants out. I took off again but just a short distance down the road I threw his wallet out. I went and bought some crack with the money I got. I then drove his car to Theodore, Ala. and burned it. I started the fire with some gas I bought at a convenience store. The police never talked to me about the crime until 2005 when my DNA connected me to the crime scene. I don’t think they had enough to charge me because I was never charged and I never admitted anything to them. I would have never, if I had not been all messed up on alcohol. I’m very sorry for what I did to this man. I hope that by my confessing to what I have done will ease the pain of some of his family.Donald Whatley
At the end of the trial, Whatley was found guilty of murder during the course of a robbery. In a 10-2 vote, the jury recommended Whatley be sentenced to death.