With a murder trial looming, Joseph Mark McCormick in March of 2003 secured an extraordinary deal with prosecutors in the Peggy Sue Altes murder case. Agreeing to plead guilty to child molesting, McCormick saw the murder charges against him dropped in exchange for his cooperation and testimony against others involved in the crime. The man whose DNA connected him to the crime would not only not face trial for murder, but was sentenced to a mere six years in prison followed by 14 years of probation. Surely the proffer of such a sweetheart deal to the one man tied to the crime by physical evidence must have been made with the full confidence that his testimony would secure convictions against those responsible for the murder. How could officials let a man off with only six years for raping an eleven year old girl unless they were absolutely certain that the worst monster of all was going to spend the rest of his life behind bars?
Days after McCormick’s plea, additional men were arrested for the murder of Peggy Sue Altes. As a result of McCormick’s cooperation, the brothers Hugh Perry Munson, 44, and Kenneth Wayne Munson, 41, along with William L. Beever, 46, were charged March 14, 2004, with murder, felony murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Kenneth Munson, who had been cooperating with investigators, was already being held in Marion County on a theft charge. Hugh Munson, who was living in Florida at the time, waived extradition and was transferred to Hancock County. William Beever was a resident of Danville, Indiana. These three individuals were not unfamiliar to Hancock County investigators. According to reporting by Paul Bird of the Indianapolis Star, these men were on investigators’ radar back in 1984 as their names appeared in police notes from the time. Failure by prosecutors to disclose investigator’s suspicions of these individuals to Jerry Watkins’ defense attorneys was one of the reasons his conviction was overturned. According to U.S. District Judge David Hamilton’s decision, “The notes on the Munsons and Beevers reflect a confusing and sordid account of drug use, knives, violence, and adult men having sex with underage girls.”
Even as the three suspects sat in jail charged with murder, Hancock County Sheriff Nick Gulling continued to downplay how much information they had on these men at the time of the original investigation. “We had pieces of evidence from several different sources but no real link between many of the pieces,” Gulling told the Greenfield Daily Reporter. Gulling discounted the story of the 7-year-old boy at Porter Park who saw Peggy Sue forced into a black or dark blue Camaro at about 2:30 the afternoon she disappeared. “The description of the car that the 7-year-old witness gave us didn’t fit a vehicle that anyone knew anything about at the time, and the description of the man with whom she was seen didn’t sound like any of the guys we were being told about.” As for William Beever, Hugh Munson and Kenneth Munson, Gulling dismissed their significance as suspects. “None of them had any motive. They were just people that were mentioned who were in the park or lived in the neighborhood.”
That last quote bears repeating: “None of them had any motive. They were just people that were mentioned who were in the park or lived in the neighborhood.” Again, investigator’s notes on these three men reflected “a confusing and sordid account of drug use, knives, violence, and adult men having sex with underage girls.” I realize I’m Monday morning quarterbacking here, but I fail to see how Jerry Watkins had a stronger motive than these three losers. Peggy Sue was raped. How is the cover up of that crime not as strong a motive as the Jerry Watkins’ molestation motive? Yes, Jerry Watkins could be tied directly to Peggy Sue. But he could also be excluded as her rapist because his blood type did not match that of her attacker. Also he passed a polygraph and had a solid alibi. So, if it’s true that these men were known around the neighborhood, known to have frequented Porter Park, and known to have sex with underage girls, then why wouldn’t these guys rank near the top of the list of suspects? How does the word of witnesses and neighborhood residents count for less than a jailhouse snitch?
Joseph Mark McCormick testified at a bond hearing for the three accused men on Wednesday, June 4, 2003. His version of events matched what he’d told police and remained consistent under questioning from defense attorneys. According to McCormick, he began the day by driving a friend to work and then visited an old girlfriend’s house to use drugs. “We ran out of dope there, and I knew I had some at home, so I drove back,” McCormick told the court. When he arrived home, there was a light blue van parked near his house. McCormick testified that Kenneth Munson and William Beever were inside the van with Peggy Sue. “They said the van wouldn’t run and wanted to use my phone to get somebody over there that could get it running.” McCormick told the court the three men had sex with Peggy Sue at his home. They then made plans to purchase more beer and “go out to the country to party when we could get the van running.” After repairs were made, McCormick drove the van, which belonged to Kenneth Munson, and followed another car around the eastside of Indianapolis and into Hancock County. “It was a black or dark blue Camaro or Firebird. I really can’t remember, but I followed it all around the area,” McCormick testified. According to McCormick, in addition to himself, the occupants of the van included Peggy Sue, Kenneth Munson, and the brothers William and Kenneth Beever. At some point, the dark blue or black car disappeared and Kenneth Munson directed McCormick to a location along Jacobi Road in Hancock County. “It was after we got to the scene that Kenny told me that they were going to kill Peggy,” McCormick told the court. “They told me they were going to kill her because she had sex with us and was getting ready to go to court to talk about having sex with some other guy.” McCormick testified that the dark blue or black car driven by Hugh Munson arrived at the scene just before Peggy Sue was stabbed, first by Kenneth Munson, then by William Beever.
In many respects, the story told by Joseph McCormick matches the one told by Kenneth Munson. Both accounts mention the dark Camaro, which is corroborated by the 7-year-old Porter Park witness. Both accounts mention the van and driving around the eastside of Indianapolis before ending up in Hancock County. McCormick talks about buying more beer and Munson says they went to the liquor store. It’s hardly a surprise that Munson’s story leaves out the part where he participates in the rape and later the stabbing of Peggy Sue. However, Munson does implicate someone other than McCormick as the individual who delivered the fatal knife wounds. According to Judge Hamilton’s decision in the Jerry Watkins appeal, Ken Munson points the finger at William Beever as the one who fatally stabbed Peggy Sue. While Munson also gave contradictory accounts to the police, McCormick’s testimony corroborates Munson’s assertion that William Beever was the individual who committed the fatal stabbing.
This testimony is occurring nearly 20 years after the crime. Details are bound to become fuzzy and less relevant ones fade away altogether. It is not surprising that McCormick and Munson’s stories don’t cleanly align, and it’s even less surprising that Munson tries to downplay his culpability. But each of Munson’s retellings reveals more of his involvement and brings his story closer to the actual events of that day in 1984. Joseph McCormick’s testimony largely matches Munson’s, but places “Kenny” right at the center of events. It won’t be long, however, before Kenneth Munson puts himself there as well.
The Indianapolis Star
The Indianapolis News
The Daily Reporter (Greenfield, Indiana)
Watkins v. Miller, Southern District of Indiana (2000)