Convicted Lakeville, Indiana murderer, Jeff Pelley, and his Indiana University Wrongful Conviction Clinic attorney, Fran Watson, are in St. Joseph County Superior Court this week seeking post-conviction relief and a potential new trial. Emboldened by the success of the popular true crime podcast, CounterFactual, they have a new theory that it wasn’t Jeff Pelley who brutally murdered his father, Bob Pelley, his stepmother, Dawn, and his stepsisters Jolene and Janel, in 1989, but rather some bad hombres from Florida with whom Bob had been involved in some shady business dealings.
Fran Watson claims to have an important new witness, Toni Beehler, who could blow the case wide open. “Prior to the trial, the defense attorney did not know about a witness who will be testifying at these evidentiary hearings, and her testimony would have been consistent with the defense theory that the killers were tied to the fraudulent bank activity and the mob influence,” Watson explains.
Beehler came forward and talked to detectives in 2003 after Jeff Pelley was charged for the murders. Beehler told investigators that she had been hired by Bob’s church to take pictures for the church directory. She claims Bob didn’t want to have his picture taken “as he had another life prior to becoming a minister.”
So, clearly, he must have been mobbed up, right? At least that’s the story Jeff Pelley and Fran Watson would like to implant in everyone’s imaginations, because Beehler says Bob Pelley gave her no additional details about his past life. Apparently Beehler’s information was vitally important to convey to investigators after Jeff Pelley had been charged, but not so much during the initial investigation that followed the murders.
The CounterFactual podcast takes great pains to try to implicate Bob Pelley in all manner of illegal activity. The whole podcast is constructed around illuminating his so-called shady past. It becomes a podcast within a podcast as host, Delia D’Ambra, investigates murder and criminal activity in Florida that Bob had nothing to do with. Still, podcast producers and Fran Watson would like everyone to think Bob was involved, or at a minimum knew too much, and for that he and his family were bumped off by mob hitmen.
Much is made about the fact that Jeff Pelley only had about a 20 minute window of opportunity to commit these murders. However, if you buy into the mob hitmen theory, another window of opportunity comes into focus. The same witness statements that open and close a window for Jeff Pelley, create one for the alleged hitmen. There is only about a 15 minute window between the time Jeff Pelley leaves the family home and the victims begin to go missing in action. That indicates the alleged hitmen must have arrived shortly after Jeff Pelley’s departure. It’s an incredible stroke of luck that Jeff avoided becoming the fifth victim, but also a bit of misfortune that the hitmen’s timing makes Jeff look really fucking guilty.
Of course, there’s also all that circumstantial evidence that points to the murders originating from within the house. But that just speaks to the cleverness of the hitmen to not force entry and to avoid a violent struggle with the occupants. Nor did the hit team ransack the home, search for potentially incriminating documents or steal any valuables. Additionally, the hitmen knew enough to use the 20-gauge shotgun from Bob’s bedroom, making it seem as if the perpetrator was someone very familiar to the family, and who had familiarity and unfettered access to all areas of the domicile.
For a full explanation of the mob hit theory, in all its improbable and convoluted glory, one should listen to the CounterFactual podcast. Episode 18, “Factually Based?”, is a critical episode where the fanciful hitman theory runs up against cold reality and reason. Contrast Fran Watson’s conspiratorial ranting and raving to the methodical analysis of an independent crime scene expert who is brought in to offer his opinion on the crime scene and the type of killer who could have committed such a horrible act.
Jeff Pelley was convicted by a jury in 2006 and had his conviction upheld by the Indiana Supreme Court in 2009. If real evidence exists to exonerate Jeff Pelley, then it needs to come out. But asserting that Bob Pelley’s criminal past finally caught up with him is reckless, irresponsible and wholly without merit. However, there is one individual who has a documented criminal past that involves theft and even an FBI fraud investigation and conviction. Now, who is the one with the secret life he doesn’t want anybody to know about?