Predator in the park Part 6

The day before Kenneth Munson was scheduled to go on trial on June 17, 2003, prosecutors met to discuss a potential plea agreement.  Munson, who had already admitted involvement in the crime, had waived his request for a speedy trial and began working with prosecutors on a deal.  In the meantime, Hugh Munson, who Joseph McCormick identified as the driver of the dark blue or black Camaro tied to Peggy Sue’s kidnapping and slaying, was released by investigators after he passed a polygraph examination.  “We thought there wasn’t enough evidence to keep him,” said Hancock County Sheriff Nick Gulling.  “At this point, we don’t feel that witness testimony was credible.”  

As just a simple country blogger here with no legal expertise, I’m baffled as to why the sheriff would publicly undermine the credibility of potential witnesses that could be called upon to aid in the prosecution of someone for the murder of Peggy Sue Altes.  They’ve already made a deal with McCormick for his testimony.  Even if Gulling thought McCormick’s story lacked credibility, why wouldn’t he just keep his mouth shut about it?  Why is he providing ammunition for a possible defense and sewing seeds of doubt for a future jury to chew on?  And, if McCormick’s story lacked credibility, why then did prosecutors give him such a sweet deal, especially when they had him dead to rights with the DNA?

Remarkably, as prosecutors prepared for trial, Joseph Mark McCormick was serving the final months of his sentence for child molestation.  Due to good behavior, McCormick only had to serve three years of his six year sentence, and he had already been given time served for his pretrial stretch in the Hancock County Jail.  That meant, at the time of his sentencing, he had only a little over a year left to serve.  The man whose DNA proved he raped an 11-year-old girl, along with his own testimony tying him to a kidnapping and a murder, served a mere three years in prison.   

On August 21, 2003, Kenneth Wayne Munson testified at a bond hearing for William T. Beever.  Beever’s attorney, Larry Amick, confronted Munson with an array of statements and testimony Munson had given to investigators and the courts over the years.  Munson had variously given statements omitting mention of William Beever and testimony identifying Beever as the assailant of Peggy Sue.  Munson also testified in McCormick’s bond hearing that his brother, Hugh Munson, was involved in the crime, but at this bond hearing denied his brother’s involvement.  Despite Munson’s conflicting testimonies, Joseph McCormick’s testimony corroborated the account that William Beever delivered Peggy Sue’s fatal stab wounds, and that Hugh Munson was involved with the crime, whether or not he was present at the time of the murder.  Ken Munson’s story that Beever committed the murder is cited also by Judge Hamilton in his decision freeing Jerry Watkins.  This is not a new version of events, invented to garner a plea deal, but one that had been mostly consistent over the years, and McCormick’s testimony confirmed it.       

On Thursday, September 18, 2003, Kenneth Wayne Munson agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit criminal confinement resulting in serious bodily injury of a child.  Although he faced a potential 20 year sentence, Munson got six years.  With good behavior and time served, he would be out in as little as three years.  This is a man who admitted in court to pushing Peggy Sue to the ground and stabbing her.  But, of course, Hancock County prosecutors were playing the long game, right?  They were strategically building a case against William Beever, the man who actually delivered the fatal stab wounds, and they were going to use the testimony of McCormick and Munson to secure that conviction.  

In February of 2004, prosecutors sought a delay in the trial of William Beever because new evidence had surfaced strengthening their contention that William Beever delivered the fatal stab wounds that lead to the death of Peggy Sue Altes.  “We had some things that came out of statements (from Beever’s defense),” Hancock County Prosecutor Larry Gossett told the Daily Reporter.  “You think a case this old would be done, but new things keep coming up.”  At the time, this seemed like a very positive development.  The prosecution had two witnesses who confessed to their own involvement in the crime, and were serving prison sentences, ready to testify to Beever’s participation.  Now they had this new information.  After twenty years, the table was set to finally convict the actual perpetrator for the brutal murder of Peggy Sue Altes.  Next to the scarcity of evidence and lack of reliable witness testimony in the Jerry Watkins case, this prosecution must have seemed bullet proof. 

In April of 2004, a week before the trial of William T. Beever was scheduled to begin, the Hancock County Prosecutor Larry Gossett moved to drop the charges.  Prosecutors cited the need for more time to investigate.  Additionally, prosecutors were up against an April 28 deadline to bring the case to trial or the charges would be permanently dismissed.  The move to drop charges now bought them another year to investigate and refile at a later date.  Of course, prosecutors would never bring William Beever to trial for his involvement in the slaying of Peggy Sue Altes.  He would, however, be convicted for raping an 11-year-old Marion County boy and be sentenced to a 70 year prison term where he would eventually die while incarcerated.  Reportedly, Beever had threatened to kill the boy if he ever told.  But the boy, knowing Beever was securely behind bars in the Altes case, gathered up the courage to tell his story.  In the end, this brave boy did what prosecutors in Hancock County were either incapable or unwilling to do.  His courage put a very dangerous man behind bars and brought about a small measure of justice for Peggy Sue and her family over Peggy Sue’s murder.

On Veterans Day, November 12, 1984, a little girl had the day off school and desired only to spend it playing with friends.  She went to Porter Park and played with some young boys she met there.  Most likely, they talked about school and kids they each knew and teachers they disliked.  They flew high on the swings, watching their feet stretch towards the sky.  No doubt, they occasionally released their grip on the chain and felt themselves float free of their seat on the swing.  There Margaret “Peggy Sue” Altes let go and drifted weightless in the air above Porter Park, laughing, gleefully shrieking, and hovering over a bare patch in the grass where she would eventually, in due time, come to land.

“There are days when it is all I can do to hold it all together,” Myrlene Altes told the Daily Reporter in November of 2004.  “You don’t forget a child or something like this.  They say that God knows what happened.  They will have to stand before God and take his punishment.”

Sources:

The Indianapolis Star

The Indianapolis News

The Daily Reporter (Greenfield, Indiana)

Watkins v. Miller, Southern District of Indiana (2000)

Predator in the park Part 5

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.

Sources:

The Indianapolis Star

The Indianapolis News

The Daily Reporter (Greenfield, Indiana)

Watkins v. Miller, Southern District of Indiana (2000)

Predator in the park Part 4

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.

Sources:

The Indianapolis Star

The Indianapolis News

The Daily Reporter (Greenfield, Indiana)

Watkins v. Miller, Southern District of Indiana (2000)

Predator in the park Part 3

With Jerry Watkins securely behind bars, the actual killers of Peggy Sue Altes were now free to pursue their depraved criminality without fear of having to answer for their bloody deeds.  For 16 years after committing this unspeakable act of evil, the murderous jackals continued to stalk the innocent while Peggy Sue’s blood stained their clothes and the sound of her cries and pleadings reverberated in their drug and alcohol soaked memory.  And despite the knowledge that Jerry Watkins could not have been Peggy Sue’s assailant, which included star witness, Dennis Ackeratt, recanting his testimony, Hancock County officials fought like hell to keep the wrong man behind bars.  

Eventually, on April 25, 2000, U.S. District Judge David E. Hamilton overturned Watkins’ 1986 conviction, citing DNA and additional evidence investigators and prosecutors failed to disclose to the defense at the time of Watkins’ trial.  In addition to the DNA evidence eliminating Watkins as Peggy Sue’s rapist, Judge Hamilton’s decision cited the eyewitness to Peggy Sue’s abduction at Porter Park, another suspect who had failed a polygraph, men who had admitted involvement in the crime to others and a man who was seen wearing bloody clothes the night of the murder all as evidence “that no reasonable jury would find Watkins guilty of murdering Peggy Sue Altes.”

Naturally, Myrlene Altes, Peggy Sue’s mother, was devastated.  “If you want a pervert out on the street, that’s what you’re going to get.  I’m very angry because this guy is dangerous,” Mrs. Altes told reporters.  It is certainly true that they were letting a pervert out onto the street.  Jerry Watkins had inflicted immeasurable and lasting damage on the Altes family, but he could not have been Peggy Sue’s killer.  Those degenerate monsters were still at large, slinking in the shadows between brief stretches behind bars for other criminal offenses.  

In August of 2001, the same DNA evidence that led to the release of Jerry Watkins shone a spotlight on one of the shadowy predators.  Joseph Mark McCormick was found to be a match to the crime scene DNA to a certainty of one person in 1.5 billion.  “We put the evidence through an analyzer and it mapped everything,” Indiana State Police DNA database supervisor Paul Misner told The Daily Reporter.  “All we did was use the computer to match the sample we had with anyone in the database.  Everyone arrested in Indiana on crimes against persons or serious offenses is required to provide a DNA sample that is kept on record.  We just did a cross match and found a match.”

McCormick, who investigators learned was living across the street from Porter Park at the time of Peggy Sue’s abduction, was “in the wind” at the time of his identification.  “He is on probation for a theft and burglary conviction in Marion County but has skipped out on his probation officer,” Hancock County Sheriff’s Department Captain Jim Bradbury told reporters.  After embarking on a reinvestigation of the case following the Watkins exoneration, Bradbury uncovered another interesting lead that was showing some promise.  “I had been talking with a confidential informant that was questioned when the original investigation was going on.  I talked with him and he began to tell me little bits about what he knew about the girl’s killing,” Bradbury said.  The informant was able to show investigators the precise location where Peggy Sue’s body was found, and according to Bradbury, “He told me things that only someone who was involved in the case would have known.”  Bradbury also revealed that the confidential informant was safely behind bars under protective custody.

Detectives also interviewed the young men who were then the young boys seen playing with Peggy Sue at Porter Park prior to her abduction.  “The original witnesses to the abduction, who were like 7 years old or 8 years old at the time, said there was more than one (abductor),” Hancock County Sheriff Nicholas Gulling told the Indianapolis Star.  “And the information we received subsequently indicates there was more than one.”  Here Gulling could be indicating that the confidential informant confirmed this piece of information.  Setting aside the DNA match, if all of these witnesses were questioned at the time of the original investigation, why weren’t they taken more seriously then?  Even if investigators felt that Watkins was involved, they had ample reason to believe that others participated as well.  Yet they discounted and even suppressed that information.  Nevertheless, authorities got a tip on Sunday, August 5, that McCormick was in attendance at a party in Morgan County.  Investigators rushed to the scene of the festivities, but a slippery McCormick had left the party by the time they got there.  They missed him by that much.

On Tuesday, August 7, 2001, 39-year-old Joseph Mark McCormick of Indianapolis walked into the Greenfield police station shortly before noon to turn himself in.  His long hair and bushy beard gave him the look of a survivalist or a former Manson family member.  He told police he did not have a permanent address and had been living in motels.  After learning that he was being sought by authorities, McCormick got a ride from a friend to the police station.  The friend, however, didn’t stick around to answer questions.  Despite turning himself in to the wrong law enforcement agency, the Greenfield Police held the bedraggled drifter until Hancock County Sheriff’s officials could arrive.

At an initial hearing, McCormick was charged with murder, felony murder and two counts of child abuse to which he pleaded not guilty.  Despite new suspects and solid evidence connecting Joseph McCormick to the crime, Hancock County still wasn’t finished trying to put Jerry Watkins back behind bars.  “We have seen a lot of twists and turns in the case.  The tests show that Jerry Watkins didn’t have anything to do with the sexual assault.  That doesn’t mean he didn’t kill her but it does point to McCormick,” said Hancock County Prosecutor Terry Snow, seemingly unable to decide whether to state his case emphatically or undermine it by not letting go of Watkins as a suspect.  While indicating that other arrests were possible, Captain Jim Bradbury agreed with Snow that the investigation still included Jerry Watkins.  “We are still not done yet,” Bradbury told reporters.

Indeed, they weren’t done, not by a long shot, and not letting go of Jerry Watkins as a suspect was just the beginning.  Investigators and prosecutors were just getting started on their clumsy efforts to sabotage their own case, practically ensuring that none of the men responsible for the rape and brutal stabbing of Peggy Sue Altes would do time for her murder.   

Sources:

The Indianapolis Star

The Indianapolis News

The Daily Reporter (Greenfield, Indiana)

Watkins v. Miller, Southern District of Indiana (2000)

Predator in the park Part 1

Hidden behind working-class homes on the eastside of Indianapolis, Porter Park isn’t visible from the city streets that surround it.  If you’re driving on English Avenue by the Greater Shepherd Baptist Church, you might catch a glimpse of the park behind the church’s parking lot.  Otherwise, you could pass it everyday and never know it exists.  Maybe the city prefers it that way, because the park looks more like a municipal afterthought than a destination for fun and excitement.  Surrounded by a crooked chain link fence, the park boasts some swings, a basketball court, a jungle gym and a large open field.  The only way to access Porter Park is via the aforementioned church parking lot or the nearly hidden alleyways that split off of Hamilton Avenue or St. Paul Street.  Undoubtedly, it is a source of amusement for the neighborhood children, but it lacks a parking area, and there is little chance any area family loads up the minivan and heads out for an afternoon of laughter and thrills at Porter Park.   

But Porter Park is where 11-year-old Margaret “Peggy Sue” Altes found herself on the afternoon of Monday, November 12, 1984.  It was Veterans Day and a school holiday.  Peggy Sue had left her home at 442 St. Peter Street around 1:00 p.m. to meet a friend at a neighboring residence where the friend’s grandmother resided, while Peggy Sue’s mother and sister attended a church revival.  However, when no one answered the door at the residence, Peggy Sue did what a lot of kids did in those days, she went to the local playground to pass the time and connect with neighborhood friends.  Around 2:30 that afternoon, Peggy Sue was seen playing in the park with a couple of neighborhood boys.  Peggy Sue was a fifth-grader at School 48.  She was five foot tall with blondish brown hair.  She wore a white furry jacket, burgundy corduroys and blue tennis shoes.  A witness saw her playing on the swings.  By all accounts she was taking full advantage of time away from teachers and parents to have a carefree day of play and fun.

However, there were others in this neighborhood who were also taking the day off.  Not because they were honoring those who had nobly served their country, but because for these men of low character most days were an exercise in scoring dope and getting high, or swigging whisky and getting wasted on a weekday afternoon.  And if that is all they did and they confined their activities to the dark places, the seedy bars and grubby apartments that concealed their shabby and disordered lives, then maybe their weakness of character could be forgiven.  But men like these are not content to stay in the shadows.  They are jackals hunting the weakest prey, stalking innocent lives for their own vile and twisted pleasure.

One of these jackals was creeping through the streets surrounding Porter Park in a black Chevy Camaro.  A witness described seeing Peggy Sue enter the passenger side of the vehicle.  The witness, a delivery driver whose schedule routinely brought him to the area, said Peggy Sue was forced to get into the car.  He told authorities, “she didn’t want to get in, he grabbed her by the sleeve.”  The witness described the black Camaro as having gray stripes that ran the length of the car along the door handles.  The car had rust over the rear wheel well, a blue interior, and a piece missing from a wing on the back of the car.  The witness described the driver of the Camaro as having a mustache and black curly hair that puffed out in the back.

The parents of Peggy Sue Altes did not realize their daughter was missing until 7:00 p.m. when they received a phone call from the family of the friend she was supposed to have met that afternoon.  Peggy Sue’s family immediately began searching the area and reported Peggy Sue missing to police around 11:15 that night.  In the days that followed, the search continued with family, friends and church members joining in to search neighborhood streets and abandoned buildings.  A flier bearing Peggy Sue’s name, age and description was distributed to neighborhood businesses imploring anyone who had seen her to contact “missing persons.”  However, family members charged that the police response was nearly non-existent with Peggy’s brother James telling the Indianapolis Star, “they haven’t done all they could do.”  IPD detectives didn’t exactly dispute James’ claim, responding that they had entered Peggy Sue’s name and description into a state and a national database, which apparently constituted the extent of investigative effort for locating missing eleven-year-olds at the time.   

Peggy Sue’s nude body was discovered by hunters in a Hancock County field around 10:00 a.m. the following Saturday, November 17, 1984.  Although reports initially claimed she had been shot, it was later confirmed that she had been stabbed in the neck.  Her body was located about 100 yards off Jacobi Road just north of County Road 300S in Hancock County.  A group of hunters had parked their truck just off the road and we’re following a path on foot back to a wooded area.  About a hundred yards in they discovered the body of Peggy Sue lying face up along the path.  The four men quickly returned to their truck and drove to a nearby house where the owner immediately contacted Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy Jim Bradbury who was a resident of the area.  

Hancock County investigators were on the scene by 11:00 a.m.  There they discovered that the path leading back to the scene was deeply rutted with tire tracks.  In some places, the ruts were more than 12 inches deep, indicating a vehicle may have become stuck in the mud at some point.  Investigators made plaster casts of the tire tracks.  They also photographed the scene extensively and recovered several items, including a thin gold bracelet.  Present at the scene were Hancock County Prosecutor Larry Gossett and Deputy Coroner Fred Counter.  Sheriff Detective Technician Bill Applegate and Captain Malcolm Grass supervised the evidence gathering.  Around 3:00 that afternoon, Counter and Applegate assisted as Peggy Sue’s body was carefully sealed in sterile wrappings and transported to Wishard Hospital in Indianapolis for autopsy.  Investigators concluded that Peggy Sue had been murdered at the scene because her hand was found to be clutching grass and weeds, and initially they thought her death had been quite recent.  While awaiting autopsy results, Hancock County Sheriff Nick Gulling told reporters, “Until we get those results, we’re operating under the assumption that we had Saturday, and that is that she died sometime Friday night or Saturday morning.”

That she may have been killed the morning of her body’s discovery seems like a pretty startling assertion.  Based on their assessment of the crime scene and the condition of the body, homicide investigators, a crime scene tech and the county coroner were of the opinion that she likely died within the previous 24 hours, maybe even a mere few hours prior to discovery.  That would mean that she had to have been held somewhere in the intervening days since her abduction Monday afternoon.  

The autopsy report would tell a different story, although it would fail to nail down conclusively when Peggy Sue Altes was slain.  Forensic pathologist Dr. John Pless would conclude that she died of knife wounds to the left side of her neck that severed a jugular vein and carotid artery.  No other wounds were indicated other than some superficial cuts.  There was evidence of rape which included the presence of semen in her vagina and a tear caused by penetration.  The time of death was estimated to be at least 48 hours prior to the discovery of her body.  

Perhaps investigators could be forgiven for being a few days off on the time of death.  After all, it was November, so cold temperatures probably made it difficult to determine with any degree of certainty.  But, in retrospect, crime scene investigators’ failure to distinguish a stab wound from a gunshot wound may have revealed a lack of experience, if not a lack of competence, and that misstep may have proven to be a rather ominous sign of investigative failures to come.  Because this is a case where poor decisions on the part of investigators and prosecutors sent an innocent man to jail and allowed guilty men to walk free, all while two grieving parents eventually went to their graves having never seen justice for their slain daughter.

Sources:

The Indianapolis Star

The Indianapolis News

The Daily Reporter (Greenfield, Indiana)

Watkins v. Miller, Southern District of Indiana (2000)