Boy found in suitcase remains unidentified

A month after his discovery, the deceased body of a boy discovered in a wooded area in a remote part of southern Indiana has yet to be identified.  The child is described as black, approximately five years old and about four feet tall with a slight build and short hair.  He was discovered inside a suitcase discarded about 80 feet off the roadway in the 7000 block of East Holder Road in New Pekin, Indiana.  A man out hunting mushrooms on Saturday, April 16 came across the suitcase around 7:30 p.m.  The suitcase bears a graphic that reads “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada.”  Autopsy results could not determine the cause of death, but police believe the boy had been deceased less than a week.   

Despite widespread media attention in the days following the discovery, no one able to identify the child has come forward.

“For some reason, nobody’s noticing that he’s missing.  It could be someone not from this country.  Very possible.  We’re not precluding anything like that in the investigation,”  Indiana State Police Sgt. Carey Huls told WAVE.  “We have to ask ourselves, how can a young boy go missing and nobody know that he’s missing?  It’s very troubling and something our detectives are working around the clock to find answers for.”    

As time goes on and no one comes forward, it seems increasingly likely that the person responsible for caring for the child could also bear some responsibility for his death.

“He was in someone’s custody and care for his daily needs….Somebody was taking care of this little boy.” Huls stated at a press conference in April.  “Someone somewhere knows something.”

Whoever was responsible for caring for this child, it appears they have yet to report him missing to any law enforcement agency nationwide.

“If it’s a child on a missing children’s list anywhere in America, that’s already been looked into,” Huls stated in a recent case update.  “They’re not finding any matches there.”

Jeff Meredith, the mushroom hunter who discovered the body, took WHAS to the spot where he made the discovery.  “I decided to cross over (the road) and mushroom hunt on this side here.”  It was then that he spotted the brightly colored suitcase about 80 feet off the road.  

According to WHAS, Meredith “immediately thought to call the police. But, he hesitated. He thought if they came all the way out there and it turned out to just be a suitcase he’d feel like a fool.”

So he opened the suitcase and discovered the lifeless body of the boy inside.  “When I first saw that little feller, immediately, I felt that he was telling me ‘Help me, I need help.”

Whoever is responsible for placing the boy’s body in those woods, it seems strange they would drive out to this remote area near the dead end of a country road, walk a short distance into the woods and leave the brightly colored case where it is fairly easy to spot.  They could have buried it or covered it with brush.  They could have thrown it in a ravine somewhere or a body of water.  Why go to the trouble of driving out to the middle of nowhere and then leave the body where it could be easily discovered?  People live on that road.  Most likely, the case containing the body was out there only a few days before discovery.  

Investigators are frustrated that all of the 500 calls into their national tip line have resulted in dead ends.  Most of the calls alert the ISP to missing children they’re already aware of, or offer recommendations on how to investigate.  As Huls told WAVE, “We don’t want those tips about, ‘Have you thought about using this or trying this?  We want firsthand knowledge.  Somebody knows this young man, somebody has knowledge (if) he’s not home, he’s not where he’s supposed to be, he’s not in school, and that’s the information we’re really looking for.” 

“Time is something we don’t want to fight too long with obviously,” Huls recently told WLKY. “We would’ve liked to, and thought we would, have more answers.”

“Somebody out there has first-hand knowledge,” Huls said. “Not something they have looked up on the internet. We mean first-hand knowledge. Everyone wants answers. Everyone wants to bring justice and a voice to this little guy.”

The Indiana State Police have set up a national tip line to help identify the boy. The number people can call is 1-888-437-6432.

A figure on a bridge

Recent revelations from the Kegan Kline interrogation transcript obtained by the Murder Sheet podcast provide a glimpse into the sinister world of internet child predators.  The lengthy police interview reveals how Kline, operating under the online profile anthony_shots, was able to connect with victims, obtain their trust and convince them to provide images, identities and private details of their lives.  There is even a bizarre portion of the interview where interrogators and Kline discuss a situation where he and another profile seem to be catfishing one another.  However, Kline admits to the police interrogator that he was aware at the time that he was probably interacting with someone more like himself rather than an underrage girl.    

For much of the interview, interrogators confront Kline with evidence that he was almost certainly not the only person with access to the anthony_shots profile.  Investigators zero in on Kegan Kline’s father, Tony Kline, as another individual who could have been logging into the account.  Their interest in Tony Kline could make him a potential suspect in the Delphi murders as well as in a disturbing peeping tom incident referenced in the transcript.  In both instances, the anthony_shots profile was in communication with the girls and had knowledge of their whereabouts prior to the incidents.             

The networking of catfishers along with the potential for multiple individuals to have access to a single profile illustrates how these online predators share their revolting plunder with one another.  It also begs the question, how widely disseminated were the images and interactions obtained by the anthony_shots profile?  Could others, besides the Klines, have obtained information on the victims prior to the incidents discussed in the interrogation?  What is the likelihood that a group could be sharing their twisted fantasies with one another, resulting in someone in their midst manifesting their vile yearnings in the real world?

Around the time investigators announced they were seeking information on the anthony_shots profile, in another part of the State of Indiana, a man named Trent Walker of Spencer County was revealed to have been the mastermind of an online group that preyed upon children.  According to a November 17, 2021 Department of Justice press release, Walker “was sentenced to 210 years in federal prison for sexually exploiting two young children and sharing the images and videos he created.”

The description of Walker’s crimes is beyond horrifying.  “Trent Walker, 36, began sexually abusing one of the victims when she was a toddler. The abuse continued over a six-year period and was sadistic in nature. During the sentencing hearing, Judge Richard L. Young, who presided, noted that Walker’s abuse of the child could fairly be described as torture. Walker also abused a six-year-old child for a several-month period. Both victims were in Walker’s care when he abused them.

“Walker created hundreds of images and videos of his sexual abuse of both victims, which he shared with an online group he ran. The group was dedicated to sadistically exploiting small children, some as young as infants. Walker served as the group’s moderator. He encouraged others to share sadistic abuse material, trained others how to conceal their identities online to avoid detection, and coached members of the group on how to abuse young children psychologically, physically, and sexually,” the press release states.

While Spencer County is hundreds of miles from Delphi, the case is instructive because it exposes not only the lone monster inhabiting a dark corner of an unsuspecting community, but also reveals with terrifying clarity how an individual bent on depravity and destruction is able to connect with, instruct and train a whole network of like-minded predators via the internet.  The online group to which Trent Walker served as moderator was “dedicated to sadistically exploiting small children.”  Walker “coached members of the group on how to abuse young children psychologically, physically, and sexually.”  The idea of a lone individual offender engaging in this type of behavior is chilling enough.  The reality that entire groups exist to promote and spread this evil is disturbing beyond comprehension.  

It’s been five years since the Delphi murders.  Five years ago a figure appeared on a bridge.  His blurred likeness was captured on video for all to see, and his words were recorded for the world to hear.  Yet no one, as far as we know, has been able to recognize and identify the individual.  Adding to the mystery, no one knows definitively how he got out on that bridge or how he fled the scene once he had completed his cruel handiwork.  He disappeared as mysteriously as he materialized, becoming a spirit in the wind, a demonic force evading capture.  Five years ago, on an abandoned railroad bridge 70 feet above a frigid creek, two innocent children of the Delphi community crossed paths with a figure from nowhere.  A sinister force partially molded in the depraved and disgusting hovels of the internet, emerging into the physical world to enact his sadistic nightmares.  No doubt he’ll be found lurking there in his dark sanctuary, concealed in some dread corner of the web.

Another layer of darkness descends over Delphi case

Anyone who has paid much attention to the Delphi case the last five years knows the darkness runs pretty deep in parts of rural Indiana.  Every now and then some act of unspeakable depravity is brought into the light, causing Delphi investigation onlookers to speculate whether the latest perpetrator could be the one who murdered 13-year-old Abigail Williams and 14-year-old Liberty German on February 13, 2017.       

In April of last year, James Brian Chadwell lured a young girl into his home in Lafayette, brutalized her and almost certainly would have killed her if not for the swift action of family and law enforcement to locate the girl and save her from the vicious assault.  Chadwell was sentenced to 90 years in prison for child molesting and attempted murder of the nine-year-old girl.

At the time, Chadwell seemed like a pretty solid suspect for the Delphi murders.  After all, how many child murderers could there be living within a 20 mile radius of Delphi?  Perhaps more than one, as it seems Chadwell is probably not responsible for the Delphi killings.

Then, last December, another potential child predator was revealed by Indiana State Police.  Investigators issued a press release seeking any information regarding the online profile anthony_shots.  Within hours it was discovered that this profile belonged to a man named Kegan Anthony Kline of Peru, Indiana, another town near Delphi.  

The news again ignited speculation that this individual might have some involvement with the Delphi homicides.  Kline was questioned by investigators in the weeks following the murders and admitted to collecting pornograpic images of underage girls using the anthony_shots profile.  Arrested in 2020, Kline is currently sitting in jail awaiting trial on multiple counts of child exploitation, possession of child pornography, child soliscitation and obstruction of justice. 

Last week, the true crime podcast, The Murder Sheet, made available the transcript of a 2020 police interrogation of Kegan Anthony Kline.  While illuminating previously unknown facts and circumstances surrounding the crime, revelations from the interrogation simultaneously cast another layer of dread and darkness over a case that was already quite dark to begin with.  

The Kline police interview reveals an individual obsessed with obtaining and disseminating sexually explicit images of underrage victims.  Under the guise of anthony_shots, an often shirtless young male with model good looks, Kline was able to insert himself into the lives of Liberty German and some of her peers.  In one instance, Kline as anthony_shots is exchanging messages with Liberty German while she is attending a slumber party.  Ensconced in the confines of his disgusting hovel, Kline is virtually in the room with these middle school girls who believe him to be a cute boy with a Lamborghini. 

In another instance, anthony_shots was in communication with a girl whose family was acquainted with the Kline family.  This girl made arrangements to meet up with anthony_shots at her house after school before her parents arrived home from work.  On the appointed day, when the girl arrived home from school, she discovered a man in a ski mask peering inside her bedroom window.       

In one of the most damning revelations of the interrogation, investigators discovered that anthony_shots was in communication with Liberty German on the morning of the murders.  Later, the profile communicated with Liberty’s friend, saying that he was supposed to meet Liberty the day of the murders.  

Throughout the interview, investigators make it clear that they believe Kegan Kline is not the only individual with access to the anthony_shots profile.  They confront Kline with a lot of evidence showing that his father, Tony Kline, may have been accessing the account as well.  In fact, whether it was just an interrogation technique or detectives really believe it, interviewers admit to Kegan Kline that they don’t think he killed the two girls and seem to be pressing him to give up his dad. 

Tony Kline, as we learn in subsequent Murder Sheet podcasts, is an unpredictable and extremely sadistic character capable of extreme violence at the most benign trigger.  His own step-children relate stories of Tony brutalizing the family over innocent transgressions.  It is easy to see why investigators seem to be focusing on him, and who knows what other evidence they have that may point to the elder Kline.         

Still, though, Tony Kline has not been arrested, and you have to wonder if there are others who may have had access to the anthony_shots social media account.  Investigators have said that the arrest of Kegan Kline has led to the largest child porography investigation in the state’s history.  There is mention by interviewers that Kline had a Dropbox account that may have been accessible by some of his other deviant acquaintances on the internet.  Could there be others in this twisted milieu who had access to the images and messages obtained by the anthony_shots profile?  No doubt, investigators are exploring all these angles, and hopefully there will soon be an arrest.

In the meantime, it just seems like social media apps like Instagram and Snapchat are perfectly fitted for those strangers your parents warned you never to talk to.  These apps readily connect the innocent, trusting and unsuspecting to wolves hiding behind an attractive smiling face and a cool car, who then can invade a private space like a sleepover or a family home in a way that never could have been previously imagined.  And once the wolf is let inside, the damage is only limited by its appetite for depravity.  

Innocence attorney not interested in whereabouts of Pelley “non smoking” gun

Testimony concluded Thursday in the post-conviction relief hearing for Jeff Pelley, who in 1989 murdered his father Rev. Robert Pelley, 38, stepmother, Dawn, 32, and stepsisters, Janel, 8, and Jolene, 6.  During the four-day hearing, Francis Watson of the Indiana University Wrongful Conviction Clinic attempted to piece together an alternate murder plot that sounded more like it was lifted from a bad television show rather than a likely version of events.  If the long-running cop show Law and Order boasts that its stories are “ripped straight from the headlines,” then it appears Francis Watson and some of her questionable witnesses are ripping right back, offering testimony so contrived that if it were a Hollywood production it would end up on the cutting room floor.

Star witness for the defense, Toni Beehler, finally got her day in court and let loose a fantastic tale.  According to Beehler, she was hired by Bob Pelley’s church to take photographs for the church directory.  Beehler maintains that Bob resisted having his photograph taken because he “had another life prior to becoming a minister” and that “he didn’t want to be found.”  Perhaps wishing to further unburden himself to this person he had never met before, Bob allegedly ushered Beehler into the church, had her place her hand on a bible and dropped a bombshell on the unsuspecting Beehler.  “I moved money for the bad guys and I wanted out and I wanted a life and more family,” Beehler recalled Bob telling her.  “They’re (the bad guys) going to kill each member of my family, and I’m going to watch, and then they’re going to kill me…they’re sending people.  I don’t know when, but they’re going to go kill me and my family.”  Tuesday’s testimony differed only slightly from the videotaped statement she gave investigators back in 2003.  During that testimony, she added that the family dog was a target of the bad guys as well.

It is unclear why Beehler waited until 2003 to take her story to investigators.  The Pelley murders were a huge local news story in 1989 and the years that followed.  They were also frequently featured as the Crime Stoppers Crime of the Week in the South Bend Tribune and on local television.  Toni Beehler is a longtime South Bend area resident.  Tim Decker, the officer who interviewed Beehler in 2003, during his testimony questioned why Beehler didn’t come forward earlier.  He also stated that the FBI looked into Pelley’s life in Florida, and that for local investigators, “Florida was never part of the conversation.” 

Frances Watson also called Kathy Hawley to testify.  An interesting choice considering that Hawley’s husband, Phil, and other members of the Hawley family are at the top of Watson’s list as potential suspects in the murders.  Additionally, this family has a well documented history of forgery and fraud, ranking Kathy Hawley’s testimony among the most unreliable hearsay imaginable.

Then, of course, there’s the defendant himself.  Although Jeff Pelley didn’t testify, we know he has his own issues with the truth.  When interviewed by investigators back in 1989, he lied when he claimed he left the Pelley residence at 4:55 on April 29.  He also lied about which gas station he stopped at.  While it bears no relevance on the current proceedings, it is also a fact that back in the nineties Jeff Pelley committed an elaborate fraud that resulted in his pleading guilty to federal wire fraud charges.  So, was Jeff Pelley telling the truth when he told investigators that his father gave his guns, including the 20-gauge shotgun, to another man for safe-keeping prior to the murders?  

On the final day of the PCR hearing, the defense called Andre Gammage.  Gammage was Jeff Pelley’s Indiana-based attorney at the time of trial.  During questioning, the defense brought up a document containing information that Bob Pelley may have given his guns to Thomas Keb.  The defense wanted to hear from Gammage why Keb was never called as a witness during the trial.  Gammage said that he believed Keb was on the witness list, but either doesn’t know or couldn’t remember why Keb wasn’t called.  However, under state questioning, his recollection seemed to become a little clearer.  Regarding the guns being removed from the Pelley home angle, Gammage said he did not want to go down that path during trial, with the reason being that they might not have been able to account for all the guns. 

So there it is.  If Thomas Keb was given the shotgun prior to the murders as the defense claims, then producing Bob’s 20-gauge would surely exonerate Jeff Pelley.  Undoubtedly, investigators for both sides tried mightily to track down Bob’s shotgun.  If it was in someone else’s closet or basement at the time of the murders, then Jeff is innocent.  But, coincidentally, like the murder weapon, Bob’s 20-gauge could not be recovered either.  Perhaps because they are one and the same.  Of course, Jeff Pelley and his defense team were under no obligation to prove his innocence, but coming up with the non smoking gun would have been just the ticket to do so.  

Strangely, in Delia D’Ambra’s Counterfactual podcast, she steers clear of Bob’s missing 20-gauge, choosing instead to focus on Bob’s 22 pistol.  In an astounding feat of speculative gymnastics, D’Ambra asserts that because Bob’s 22 was unaccounted for for a few months in late 1988 and early 1989, then it must have been the weapon used in a Florida murder, later ending up back at Bob’s and possibly contributing to the reason for his murder.  In the vast universe of coincidences, which one seems more likely to point towards a murderer: Bob’s missing 20-gauge shotgun or Bob’s briefly unaccounted for 22 pistol?  One is completely in line with the facts of the case.  The other emerges out of an incoherent web of unsubstantiated speculative claims intertwined with wild and baseless conjecture.  Not a very sound narrative on which to build a case for innocence. 

Pelley innocence attorney claims mob involvement led to murders

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?

The Collectors

On Tuesday, October 9,1990, a meeting of the city council of Sedona, Arizona convened at 7:00 p.m.  After the meeting was called to order and the Pledge of Allegiance recited, a brief moment of silence was observed.  Next the roll was taken and the floor opened for public comment.  Second to approach the microphone was a clean-cut young gentleman who introduced himself as Ben Porterfield and informed the gathering that he had submitted an application for the position of City Magistrate.  According to the minutes of the meeting, Porterfield “advised he wanted to give the Council an opportunity to match a face with a resume and that he would be available after the meeting for questions.”

As Ben Porterfield took his seat for the duration of the meeting, it is not known if he questioned the decision to use an alias on his application.  Perhaps a man who aspires to administer the law for a municipality ought to do so under his real name.  This might hurt his chances of getting the job, he possibly thought, especially if they do a background check which was certain to be the case.  Also, he may have wondered if managing a trailer park counted as relevant experience for issuing warrants and reviewing matters of law.  No matter, Ben Porterfield, or whatever the young man’s name was, had a number of ongoing projects in various stages of development.  Whether or not he got the City Magistrate position was of little consequence.  

Unsurprisingly, Ben Porterfield was passed over for the position of City Magistrate of Sedona, Arizona.  Months later, however, some who attended the city council meeting that night may have wished they’d taken a greater interest in the man at the microphone with the face and the resume.  Because Ben Porterfield was eventually going to become the subject of an arrest warrant, possibly issued by the newly appointed Sedona City Magistrate, and the target of a manhunt for absconding with an indeterminate quantity of Sedona residents’ precious bodily fluids.

Just a few months after the meeting, as the year drew to a close, concerned parents began presenting their teenage offspring at local medical clinics for examinations.  At the same time, the Sedona Police Department started receiving reports of a mysterious couple who were offering area teenagers ten dollars to draw a vial of their blood.  It took authorities a few weeks, but eventually they were able to zero in on a mobile home at the Windsong Trailer Park, located along U.S. 89A in west Sedona.  The trailer belonged to Benjamin and Sarah Porterfield, managers of the park.

Sedona Police Chief Bob Irish was at a loss to explain why these two individuals were collecting the blood samples.  “The possibilities of it are only limited by your imagination.  At this point, it is one of the most bizarre situations I have ever seen.”  At the time, it was thought that at least a dozen teens had allowed some of their blood to be extracted for money.  According to accounts, the teens were taken into a bathroom where a syringe was used to extract a sample of their blood.  “It looked okay to me,” said a 15-year-old who lived next door to the couple.  “They would unwrap each needle and put a brace on your arm and have you fill out a questionnaire.  You had to be 14 or over, and you could only give three times.  But the questions were really weird, like, ‘Did you use Clearasil…Are you on drugs or alcohol?’”  The young woman went on to reveal that her boyfriend and his friends had sold their blood numerous times to the couple and that the pair had taken more than 100 samples from at least 30 teen-agers.  Interviews with additional teens revealed the couple posed as representatives of the government and that the blood was needed for the testing of lasers.

Blood wasn’t the only thing the strange couple was collecting.  According to authorities, the pair had been collecting rent checks from Windsong residents and depositing them into their personal account.  This led to an arrest warrant being issued for a Benjamin and Sarah Birdsong on charges of child abuse, embezzlement, impersonating medical personnel, aggravated assault and operating a clinical laboratory without a license.  Apparently the age requirement and the questionnaire subjects were asked to fill out were insufficient to secure licensing for the couple’s blood drawing enterprise.  Investigators were also not entirely clear regarding the true identity of the individuals.  Chief Irish thought the couple’s names were possibly aliases and that they were known to have used the names Millett and Stewart when they lived in the Phoenix area.

On Monday, January 7, 1991, Sedona Police and an official from the Arizona Department of Health Services served a search warrant at the Camp Verde home of Benjamin and Sarah Porterfield.  The couple were not present at the time of the raid and had been last seen at the residence the previous Friday.  Items taken from the home by police included two handguns, two shotguns, a Mac-10 submachine gun with silencer, an IBM computer, a printer and computer storage disks – the standard items necessary to get a teen blood-buying business up and running.  Also taken in the raid were a book of satanic rituals, the Satanic Bible by Anton Lavey, photocopies, posters and banners containing occult logos and satanic imagery.  Satanism quickly moved to the top of the list of possible motives for the strange couple’s blood-buying activities.  “It seems to be the forerunner as far as theories,” said Chief Irish.  The chief further speculated the blood might be used as part of an “occult-type” ceremony, admitting that, “The worst-case scenario would be drinking it (the blood).” 

Meanwhile the search for the pair continued in earnest.  The couple owned two vehicles, a 1968 Ford pickup and a 1974 Volvo station wagon, that were now missing from the couple’s Camp Verde home.  Acting on a tip, authorities closed in on a motel in Mesa, Arizona, but missed capturing the pair by two hours.  Later, authorities admitted they could not confirm that the motel occupants were the fugitive couple.  Investigators now believed the actual identity of the pair to be Charles E. Stewart, 32, and Sharon M. Smythe, 23, who went by the aliases Benjamin and Sarah Porterfield while living in Sedona.  A number of town residents had encountered the couple, describing them as friendly but very private.  None interviewed were able to provide any worthwhile leads.  An 11-year-old neighbor of the Porterfield’s described how he was well treated by the couple who would buy parts for his bicycle and take him on camping trips.  He did admit, however, that they had some strange habits.  “I never saw any of that devil stuff.  But there was always weird, loud music in the middle of the night.  All the time, they would go camping in Boynton Canyon and then we would hear about animals that were sacrificed up there.”

Investigators continued to pore through materials seized from the couple’s home.  A computer specialist was called in to examine the contents of the Porterfield’s home computer.  At one point, the expert thought the couple may have booby-trapped the device to erase its contents if tampered with.  Eventually, however, the computer revealed little useful information about the Porterfield’s or their secret government research into blood lasers.  Occult experts brought in to examine the satanic materials concluded they showed nothing to indicate active occult involvement.  The elusive couple, who seemed to become more mysterious with every bit of information discovered about them, had seemingly vanished with potentially over a hundred vials of blood extracted from the town’s teen-age population, all while abandoning a cache of weapons and a computer.  Perhaps Chief Irish was wishing he’d introduced himself to Ben Porterfield when he had a chance.  “I remember at a City Council meeting, he went up to the microphone and said, ‘I’m Benjamin Porterfield, and I’m available to meet with you.’  He looked like a clean-cut, all-American kid,” Irish recounted.         

It should be noted that many residents and visitors to Sedona claim the city rests on a large energy vortex composed of a number of smaller vortices, the most significant of which is the Boynton Canyon vortex.  These swirling concentrations of energy are linked with any number of strange phenomena.  Perhaps a mystery couple collecting blood samples from local teens is a fairly mundane occurrence in an area where unexplained healing powers, strange spirits, ghostly hauntings, UFO activity, and Interdimensional Portals are part and parcel of the landscape.  And if two mysterious travelers conducting highly sensitive scientific research should suddenly be called to deliver their collection of samples back to their obscure corner of space and time, and if the pair of strangers should suddenly vanish through the interdimensional doorway from which they possibly emerged, perhaps it should come as no great surprise.

Hot Rod Heaven

On the evening of Tuesday, October 21, 1951, a 19-year-old woman who displayed signs of intoxication was taken into custody from a location near her home by St. Joseph County Deputy Sheriff William J. Locks.  “She was higher than a kite, but it wasn’t from whisky, beer or wine,” Locks told reporters.  

During questioning, the woman revealed that she was under the influence of powerful narcotics obtained from her affiliation with a large sex, drug and theft gang.  The gang involved over a hundred area youths who met secretly in a wooded area northwest of the intersection of Grape Road and U.S. Highway 20 in St. Joseph County, Indiana.  Gang members referred to the meeting place as “Hot Rod Heaven” due to the large number of hot rods and motorcycles that assembled there.

The gatherings included youths ranging in age from 14 to 20 who engaged in heavy drinking, drug taking and “sexual indecencies”.  Additionally, investigators learned, “young hoodlums who frequented ‘the heaven’ whipped out pistols and engaged in wild shooting exhibitions.”  According to reports, “Many of the boys are armed and ‘shoot up’ the ‘heaven’ in the orgies.”  Indeed, when Deputy Locks investigated the scene, he found trees “riddled with bullets, torn pistol targets and empty beer cans pierced by gun shot.”  Some shocking headlines even reported a pair of “bullet riddled panties” had been discovered at the scene.  However, no homicides were known to have occurred at the location.  

Participants described how the gang’s leaders instructed the youths on how to steal and supplied information on “easy targets for theft in South Bend, Mishawaka and Niles.”  Additionally, the hoodlum gang leaders beat members who failed to successfully complete theft assignments and threatened to kill them if they ever “squawked”.  A female participant described “the whipping of youths who had failed on crime missions and told details of two burglaries later confirmed by authorities.  Any loot, she added, was ordered turned over to the gang’s leaders.”

Further questioning of the intoxicated 19-year-old female revealed that she had acquired the drugs from an usher at a South Bend movie theater.  Following up on the lead, investigators were able to track down the 16-year-old usher who corroborated much of the woman’s story and also provided additional details.  The usher admitted giving some capsules to the girl, but did not know what they contained.  The usher said he was instructed by a man named “Red” to give the capsules to a girl who would identify herself by giving him a signal.  The boy said he complied with Red’s orders because he was afraid of him.  

In addition to obtaining capsules from the usher, the 19-year-old woman admitted she had purchased capsules of drugs from Red himself and took them on at least eight occasions.  A separate girl claimed to have been injected with “dope” on two occasions, once by Red and another time by herself.   

Investigators learned that Red and at least a half dozen other men were responsible for trafficking the narcotics into the area.  The men reportedly acquired the drugs in Kentucky and smuggled them in the taillights of cars and motorcycles into the South Bend area.  Another 20-year-old man questioned by Locks, admitted that Red gave him money to transport youths in his car from a meeting place in Mishawaka out to the “heaven.”  Further testimony by the 19-year-old woman to Deputy Locks and St. Joseph County Prosecutor Graham McGowan revealed that “members of the Plymouth sex orgy gang recently broken by Marshall County authorities attended the sprees in ‘hot rod heaven.’”  More on the Plymouth sex orgy gang later.

While investigators were interviewing young people and trying to sort out the illegal activities taking place at Hot Rod Heaven, the state police in Kentucky apprehended a 29-year-old South Bend, Indiana man “on a charge of being under the influence of narcotics on a public highway.”  Kentucky State Patrol picked up Gilbert Yish on a highway five miles outside of Paducah, Kentucky after he’d thrown a rock through the window of a moving truck.  Yish told authorities he was under the influence of heroin.  Although investigators did not confirm Yish to be the man called Red, he was clearly a very troubled individual who may have been involved with the alleged illegal activity taking place at Hot Rod Heaven.  Just a few days after his arrest in Kentucky, and after he was turned over to the care of his father, Yish was again arrested, this time by South Bend Police at a local “trailer camp” for fighting with several guests.  Subsequent newspaper reports have Yish as a patient at an Indiana mental hospital. 

Two days after delivering a wild tale of debauchery involving a hundred youths at a secret clearing in the woods called “Hot Rod Heaven,” the 19-year-old woman arrested for being “higher than a kite” took it all back.  “Everything that I told the sheriff’s deputies is untrue,” she said.  “I stated that Red gave me some pills and that I did not know what they were for.  It was a lie.  He (Red) thought I was pregnant and he wanted to get rid of the baby, because I’m married now….I didn’t want my husband to know that I was out with Red.”  

The needle girl recanted her story as well.  “Everything I said was a lie.  My reason for doing this was I thought I would get out of trouble quicker….Red is from Mishawaka.  I don’t know his last name.  But there is such a person.  I haven’t known him very long.  I stated that Red was the first one that gave me the shot.  This is a lie.”

Among local investigators, reactions were mixed.  Some were satisfied that the girls were now telling the truth and nothing really happened, while others vowed to continue the investigation and to interview additional minors implicated in the story.  Law enforcement in surrounding cities and towns seemed eager to chalk it up as a hoax, satisfied that none of their community’s youths were involved in such scandalous behavior.

However, even as the two women in custody were now denying most of the events they previously described, they seemed to further affirm that Red was real and that he was indeed a narcotics dealer.  Also, one of the girls appeared to have knowledge of at least two burglaries known to police.  And what to make of the testimony of the usher and the driver Red recruited to shuttle teens out to Hot Rod Heaven?  The usher’s story mostly backs up the girl’s testimony about Red, and while the driver may have been inventing a role for himself in the lore surrounding Hot Rod Heaven, maybe there was some truth to what he and the other youths were describing.

Which brings us back to the aforementioned Plymouth sex orgy gang.  On September 20, 1951, just a month before the Hot Rod Heaven revelations surfaced, Ray Freed, 30, of Plymouth, Indiana was sentenced in Marshall County Juvenile Court to six months in the Indiana Penal Farm for contributing to the delinquency of minors.  Freed, the night watchman at a Plymouth creamery plant, had taken nude photographs of several teens aged 14-17 engaged in various acts of sexual indecency after hours at the plant.  While investigators told reporters other adults were involved, Freed was the only adult named and prosecuted.  In what seems a disturbing practice by today’s standards, rather than being treated as victims, 14 of the teens were punished for their participation in the “sex gang.”  Two girls were sent to the Indiana Girls’ School and three boys were sent to the Plainfield Boys’ School.  Other underage participants were placed on probation.

In addition to being a national story, the Hot Rod Heaven incident was one of many reports at the time of teen sex and drug gangs popping up all over the country.  There were so many stories in so many places that one might be inclined to think the nation was in the midst of a moral panic over behavior that was probably not all that uncommon.  Famed Indiana University sex researcher Dr. Alfred A. Kinsey was totally unfazed by the Hot Rod Heaven allegations, explaining there is “no evidence of an increase in juvenile sexual activity.  It has always existed.  The only increase is in the amount of publicity such cases have been getting lately.”  Additionally, Kinsey “estimated that there are 420,000 illicit sex experiences in Indiana each week.”  Kinsey would be in a position to know.  He most likely participated in no small number of those.

In the end, maybe there’s no such thing as a Hot Rod Heaven.  Maybe there never was.  True, young people have always been fond of finding an out of the way spot to park their cars and engage in illicit activity.  But if it was real, the secrets of Hot Rod Heaven were long ago swallowed up by its tall, smothering trees, drowned out by the angry revving of car engines, and carried away on dense clouds of hot rod exhaust.  Red and his crew, who may or may not have once strode into the chaos of the ‘heaven’ and commanded the fear and respect of the rowdy throng, and who possibly even ordered youths to steal and peddle narcotics for them, have long ago faded back into the darkness, possibly emerging somewhere else with even more sinister intent and devilish schemes.