Ezekiel Evans interview
Friday, October 20, 2023 – 3:00 p.m.
Zeke Evans is an old friend of the victim, Hoyt Biffle.
Detective Beckwith and Magee interviewed him at the Marshall County Correctional Facility in Holly Springs, Mississippi.
- Detective P. Beckwith
- Detective J. Magee
- Ezekiel "Zeke" Evans
Detective Beckwith: Zeke Evans?
Zeke Evans: Who wants to know?
Detective Beckwith: I'm Detective Paul Beckwith, and this here is Detective Jo Allyn Magee. We're here to ask you a few questions about some of your old friends.
Zeke Evans: What makes you think I want to tell you anything?
Detective Magee: One of your old friends is dead.
Zeke Evans: Yeah? Which?
Detective Beckwith: Hoyt Biffle. He was murdered a couple of days ago.
Zeke Evans: You don't say.
Detective Magee: You don't seem too broken up.
Zeke Evans: Well, I ain't happy about it, but it don't have a thing to do with me. I've been rotting here in Holly Springs for a few years now, so if you think I had a hand in it, I believe my alibi is airtight.
Detective Magee: We weren't suggesting that you killed him—
Zeke Evans: Or had him killed.
Detective Magee: Or had him killed. We just thought you might have information as to who did kill him.
Zeke Evans: Aw, hell, I ain't talked to Hoyt in years. He ain't exactly a frequent visitor to the lockup.
Detective Beckwith: When was the last time you talked to Hoyt?
Zeke Evans: Not recently. He doesn't come to visit, and he don't call. I ain't exactly able to just pick up and go see him. Look around you, detective.
Detective Beckwith: Understood. Has he made contact with you while you've been in prison?
Zeke Evans: Sure, but nothing of any note. I sure wouldn't be able to remember any conversations or nothing.
Detective Beckwith: How did Hoyt contact you the few times he did?
Zeke Evans: Early on, he wrote me a couple of letters. They were short and to the point. I didn't keep them.
Detective Magee: All right, how long ago was the most substantive conversation with Hoyt that you do remember?
Zeke Evans: Like three years.
Detective Magee: What was your conversation about?
Zeke Evans: I asked him to invest in the security company I was starting. He said no.
Detective Magee: Did that make you angry?
Zeke Evans: It was his money, his decision. I told him he was going to make a boatload of money on it, and he would regret not taking the chance.
Detective Beckwith: Regret in what way?
Zeke Evans: In a financial way. I told y'all I don't kill people.
Detective Beckwith: Did you ask your college mentor, Alden Puckett, for the money?
Zeke Evans: I asked him first. He said his job at the university wouldn't allow for it.
Detective Magee: Did you have the feeling that your old friends didn't trust that you could succeed in your business plans?
Zeke Evans: Nah, they just are tight with their money. They always were. I thought they'd tell me no, so I had to be creative.
Detective Magee: What do you mean, "creative?"
Zeke Evans: I borrowed $20,000 from Jack McNaul, the CEO of Eddingfield Financial Services in Olive Branch.
Detective Magee: So when you say borrowed, you mean…?
Zeke Evans: I stole it. That's why I'm here. You gotta hear the story.
Detective Beckwith: Stick to the Cliffs notes version.
Zeke Evans: I heard that this financial wizard, Jack McNaul, gave the most extended TED talk in the history of TED talks in 2018. It was all about investing for business and then milking investors for all their worth.
Detective Beckwith: And you were a smitten student?
Zeke Evans: Oh, hell no. I was recording him so I could use his speech patterns to stitch together an audio deepfake of his voice.
Detective Magee: What for?
Zeke Evans: So I could use it with live-voice-manipulation software and a burner phone to call one of his subordinates in his finance department to tell them to transfer $20,000 to a shell company I set up down in Pascagoula.
Detective Beckwith: But you got caught.
Zeke Evans: I shouldn't have. As far as I know, my phone call was the first use of deepfake audio to mimic another person's voice for the duration of an entire phone conversation. My problem was not shutting down my Pascagoula shell company quick enough.
Detective Magee: So it attracted attention from law enforcement.
Zeke Evans: Yeah, I didn't want to have the shell company outside of Mississippi so the FBI would be up in my business, but government tax accountants figured out my scam, and the state sent their goons instead. I was busted by pencil-necks, just like Al Capone was.
Detective Beckwith: So, how much time are you doing?
Zeke Evans: I plea-bargained down to six years. It's pretty good. They were threatening 35.
Detective Beckwith: How did you get that sweetheart deal?
Zeke Evans: The state and the feds wanted me to walk through how I created convincing deepfake audio. That made for a nice bargaining chip. Good thing they didn't talk to Alden first since he's the man behind most of the deepfake principles, so I was, in a sense, just relaying to the cops the things I learned from Alden.
Detective Magee: When did you learn this from Alden?
Zeke Evans: Starting way back when I was in college in Texas. Alden was program coordinator in the computer science department at the time, but he spent his nights hacking. And I mean every night. By the time I got to college, he was already a legendary phone phreaker, using the alias "slipperylizard93," and revered by computer geeks everywhere for being able to infiltrate any phone system in the world. I bet Alden ain't paid for a long-distance call in his life.
Detective Beckwith: And so he taught you how to hack?
Zeke Evans: The better hacker you are, the better computer security designer you are. Hoyt and I were Alden's students at UT-Tyler. We were taught security during the day and donned the black hat at night.
Detective Beckwith: The "black hat?"
Zeke Evans: Malicious hacking. For us, it was all about the money.
Detective Magee: So Hoyt was involved in this malicious hacking as well?
Zeke Evans: Sure was. No one skirted computer security like Hoyt. The man was a genius.
Detective Beckwith: How long did you hack with Alden and Hoyt?
Zeke Evans: Five or so years, all in Texas. It all ended about 10, 12 years ago.
Detective Magee: Why? What happened?
Zeke Evans: That's when we started the auction caller scam. Alden began to perfect the first credible audio deepfakes. Hoyt was already a master of cracking criminal money laundering schemes by using the computer to infiltrate, count patterns, and record transactions in offshore bank accounts. I can't really tell you how he did it, but he did.
Detective Beckwith: So what does that have to do with an auction?
Zeke Evans: Well, a lot of the bigwigs profiting off these money laundering activities also loved to fill their homes with all kinds of expensive auction house trinkets. So Hoyt would identify a bigwig and his compromised financial institution that was laundering his money.
Detective Beckwith: Then what?
Zeke Evans: Then Alden would use audio deepfakes to impersonate the bigwig to convince the corrupt financial institution to wire money for an imaginary bid in an imaginary auction. If a real-life face or voice was needed for the job, that's where I came in.
Detective Magee: When was a real-life face or voice needed?
Zeke Evans: I became an auction house manager now and then. A bank professional. I should have been an actor.
Detective Beckwith: Weren't you worried that you'd be caught?
Zeke Evans: By police? Ha. Our advantage is that we were criminals stealing from criminals. Why would the police ultimately care?
Detective Magee: But the bigwigs would. Weren't you worried that they would take drastic measures to stop you?
Zeke Evans: Like putting a hit out on us?
Detective Magee: Yes.
Zeke Evans: Yeah, we thought about that, so we took steps to hide.
Detective Magee: Like?
Zeke Evans: Well, for one, once we got the stolen money wired to us, Hoyt would set up accounts in the very same corrupt institution that we stole it from and place the money there.
Detective Beckwith: Why?
Zeke Evans: Because who's going to think that you're going to have the cojones to use the same institution you stole from to launder the money you stole?
Detective Beckwith: Hoyt is good.
Zeke Evans: Yeah. As soon as the money was transferred to our own offshore accounts, it was as good as in our pockets.
Detective Magee: So why did you stop?
Zeke Evans: Somehow, Texas Rangers out of Garland were on to us. They charged us with a bunch of crimes just to out us to the public. The rat bastards couldn't catch us, so they exposed us to the people we stole from, hoping they'd do the dirty work.
Detective Beckwith: What did you do then?
Zeke Evans: Once the charges were dropped, we went underground. We hid near larger cities with airports, first in Red Lick outside Texarkana, then on Lake Ouachita outside Hot Springs, Arkansas, and then finally in a shack in the woods outside Coldwater, Mississippi, which is a stone's throw from Memphis. That's where Hoyt put us in the clear.
Detective Magee: How so?
Zeke Evans: He switched from hacking bank accounts to reconstructing our pasts in such a way that we couldn't possibly have done what the Rangers claimed we did. With us laying low for a few months while Hoyt did his thing, we were able to rejoin society without much worry that people were coming after us.
Detective Beckwith: Did you have any subsequent encounters with the people you stole from?
Zeke Evans: I haven't. Like y'all said before, Hoyt was good.
Detective Beckwith: Are any of your old hideouts still around?
Zeke Evans: The Red Lick apartment ain't. It's been bulldozed. And we were renting a houseboat on Lake Ouachita so that it would only be a temporary residence. The shack outside Coldwater should still be there. I would be cautious going there, however.
Detective Magee: Why?
Zeke Evans: Because while Hoyt was fixing our pasts, Alden and I set a number of traps and surveillance on the property.
Detective Beckwith: Great.
Zeke Evans: Yeah. I can draw you a map of the place if you get one of these guards to get me a pencil.
Detective Magee: We'll see. Do you think one of your old bigwigs may have gotten to Hoyt or Alden?
Zeke Evans: Wait, I thought you said that Hoyt was the one who was killed.
Detective Beckwith: Alden is missing.
Zeke Evans: That don't mean he's dead. Alden knows his share of people and properties between here and Texas.
Detective Magee: Where would you think he might be laying low?
Zeke Evans: Not a clue. Your guess is as good as mine.
Detective Beckwith: When was the last time you talked with him?
Zeke Evans: Ever since I've been here, Alden's given me the cold shoulder. He is paranoid about cops. Always has been.
Detective Beckwith: All right, Mr. Evans, let's get you that pencil so you can get back to your cell.
Zeke Evans: Can't wait.
Interview ended – 3:44 p.m.