With a confidential informant in sheriff’s custody revealing details of what happened on November 12, 1984, and a suspect, Joseph Mark McCormick, whose DNA implicated him in the rape and murder of Peggy Sue Altes, investigators finally began to let go of the idea that Jerry Watkins was in any way involved in the killing. However, from the benefit of hindsight, one has to wonder if the damage was already done. With Hancock County authorities so sure that Jerry Watkins was the guy, and their failure to pursue anyone else during the fourteen years Watkins sat in prison, how could investigators now be perceived as credible as they began to turn their attention to other suspects?
According to the confidential informant, several men, including himself and McCormick, were participants in the crime. After Peggy Sue was kidnapped from Porter Park, she was transferred from a car to a van that was driven by McCormick. After driving around, the van ends up in the Hancock County field where the murder took place and where Peggy Sue’s body would eventually be discovered. Initially the informant attempted to distance himself from the worst aspects of the crime. “(The informant) at first said that he and another man were dropped off at a culvert near the scene but later said he actually went there and saw what happened. He still has nightmares about it,” Captain Jim Bradbury testified at a bond hearing.
Naturally, McCormick’s defense attorney John Davis highlighted the confusing and constantly shifting narrative of events offered by investigators. “I am just trying to figure out what they say happened,” Davis said, playing the simple country lawyer for reporters. “Their informant has told seven different stories of what happened….I’m just trying to make some sense of it all.” Even as investigators were finally starting to put the puzzle together, it was clear they were going to face an uphill battle after they’d previously worked tirelessly to ignore the truth for so long.
At McCormick’s bond hearing in late September of 2001, another member of the murderous crew responsible for the brutal slaying of Peggy Sue Altes emerged from the shadows when former confidential informant Kenneth Wayne Munson took the stand. Munson testified that on the afternoon of November 12, 1984, he visited the home of a friend on the southeast side of Indianapolis. After smoking some marijuana, he, the friend and several other men went to a local liquor store in a van driven by Joseph McCormick. However, the men did not purchase any alcohol, but drove to nearby Porter Park instead. There they met with another group of people who had already grabbed Peggy Sue and were holding her in a Camaro. “They had her in the back seat of their car and they pulled the car up to the side of the van and shoved her from the car into the van,” Munson testified. Once in the van, Peggy Sue was bound with cloth and sat on a milk crate between the front seats. Munson sat in the back on the floor of the van as McCormick drove to a park on Prospect Street. Most likely, the park Munson referred to is Paul Ruster Park at 11300 Prospect Street, near the Marion County/Hancock County line. According to Munson’s testimony, it was at this park where McCormick raped the girl. “I pleaded for the girl. I tried to get him to stop but (another man) stuck a gun in my face and told me to shut up and don’t cause no trouble….I saw your client rape that baby,” an emotional Munson told defense attorney John Davis. The man who threatened Munson with a gun was the friend Munson visited that afternoon. Munson testified that he was bound with duct tape. The van continued to the Hancock County field where Munson was able to free himself from the duct tape as McCormick again raped Peggy Sue and another man attempted to. According to Munson’s testimony, McCormick then held the girl while another man stabbed Peggy Sue. Munson testified that as many as five men were in the field when the crime occurred and that McCormick threatened him after the crime. “Joe wanted to shoot me. I ran and hid for two days.”
Investigators believed Munson’s story because he was able to provide a description of the vehicles and weapons used in the commision of the crime. Additionally, a year earlier, Munson was able to retrace the route taken by the abductors and lead investigators to the location of the crime scene. “He was pretty shaken up about being there,” Indianapolis Police Department Lt. Louis Christ testified at the hearing. “There was a small deer at the corner of Jacobi Road and the lane when we drove up that day and (Munson) started to tear up. We stood there for a while and he just cried. He wasn’t saying much that day.”
There seems to be little doubt that Ken Munson was a witness to the horrible events of that day back in 1984. Even if he fudged a few facts in an attempt to limit his culpability in the crime, he clearly knew things only a participant would know, and the DNA evidence against McCormick backed up his story. Despite his career as a criminal, Ken Munson seemed genuinely affected and remorseful over the events of that day, and willingly gave his testimony even though he surely knew that he was implicating himself in serious criminality that would land him back in prison. However, as the murder trial of Joseph Mark McCormick approached, he too would have a few things to say about the bloody crime and the vicious men involved, things that would implicate others and reveal Ken Munson to be less the unfortunate witness and more the willing participant.
The Indianapolis Star
The Indianapolis News
The Daily Reporter (Greenfield, Indiana)
Watkins v. Miller, Southern District of Indiana (2000)