The devil’s trailer Part 5


In the weeks leading up to his trial, John Fryman did little to help himself, mostly ignoring his lawyer while scheming ways to manipulate the court.  At a competency hearing on September 10, 1987, Fryman revealed to the court a plan to fake insanity.  “I was going to fake insanity,” Fryman told Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge John R. Moser.  “I am well aware of sociology and psychology and know how to do that.  Now I believe the facts will show that I don’t have to do that.  I think I can stand on the facts of the case without having to push things around.”  Undoubtedly thinking they’d dodged a bullet, the prosecution must have been relieved that Fryman had shelved his plan to “push things around” and manipulate the court into accepting his insanity.  

Nevertheless, the competency hearing continued with conflicting testimony coming from a number of experts who examined Fryman.  Psychiatrist Charles A. Feuss interviewed Fryman for an hour at the Butler County Jail and found the young man to be well oriented and able to talk about his case in a “clear and concise fashion.”  According to Feuss’s testimony, Fryman blamed the killing of Monica Lemen and the shooting of Tammy Sue Rose on his accomplice Beverly Cox.  Fryman also told Feuss that his attorney wants him to plead insanity, but that he doesn’t want to and doesn’t think he’s insane.  Dr. Donna Winter of the Butler County Forensic Center spoke to Fryman on three occasions and also found him competent to stand trial.  

However, Dr. Robert H. Fisher, director of the Butler County Forensic Center, disagreed with his colleagues, finding Fryman extremely agitated during interviews, and unable to comprehend his relationship to the charges against him.  Fisher testified that Fryman suspected his attorney, F. Joseph Schiavone, was “part of a system of maneuvers against him designed to make Beverly Cox heroic and innocent while he is thrown to the wolves for crimes he denies committing.”  The alleged conspiracy also included listening devices in his cell, CIA involvement and an impostor posing as his attorney.  Responding to the injustices committed against him, Fryman told Dr. Fisher he (Fryman) would “lead the way to the electric chair.”  

Picking up on Dr. Fisher’s testimony, Fryman’s attorney argued, “The man is totally confused, judge.  When a man’s on trial for his life, he doesn’t spend seven months misleading his defense attorney and saying he will lead the way to the electric chair.  He is not competent.  He needs hospitalization.”  

In the end, Judge Moser was unconvinced by arguments for Fryman’s incompetence.  Ordering the trial to proceed, the Judge stated, “He may be different.  He may be strange.  He may be unusual.  But different, strange and unusual (do not) mean he’s not competent to stand trial.” 

The following day, a suppression of evidence hearing was held to determine if statements made by Fryman to authorities following his arrest would be admissible at trial.  While in Indiana State Police custody in Connersville, Fryman admitted to shooting Monica Lemen but claimed it was an accident.  Fairfield Police Sergeant Eddie Roberts testified Fryman told police that Monica Lemen entered the “sorcery room” located in the rear of his mobile home.  There she began reading an inscription Fryman had written on the closet door.  Fryman said he then picked up a .25 caliber handgun that was laying on the altar, and, as he inserted the clip, the gun discharged.  Cincinnati police specialist Carey Rowland testified that when Fryman was asked about the inscription, Fryman told Rowland “demons did it through him,” and Fryman admitted that he often saw demons.  At a later date, Fryman admitted to Cincinnati homicide detective Robert Hennekes, “I probably made a mistake telling you guys all this.  I should have acted crazy,” Hennekes told the court.  Additionally, Fryman also gave authorities a written statement implicating himself in the Fairfield gas station robbery and the shooting of Tammy Sue Rose.  

As in the competency hearing, Fryman’s attorney F.Joseph Schiavone made little headway with Judge Moser.  A motion to suppress Fryman’s statements to authorities was denied, and a motion for a 30-day continuance also ran into a brick wall.  Pleading for the continuance, Schiavone argued that his client had only begun to cooperate, and that he needed more time to prepare an adequate defense.  “This is a complex case with a lot of witnesses and hundreds of pieces of evidence.  We find ourselves on the eve of trial with only three days for this defendant to bring me up to date,” Schiavone argued.  However, an unyielding Judge Moser was not persuaded, asserting that Fryman’s refusal to cooperate with his lawyer was his choice.  “I don’t think the court can allow a defendant to control the trial docket by changing his strategy,” the judge said.  With that, Judge Moser set jury selection to begin the following Monday morning at 9:00 a.m.

The trial got underway Monday, September 14, with jury selection lasting a mere two hours, leaving enough time on the first day for the 12 jurors to tour the crime scene.  As it turns out, the trailer had three rooms painted all black.  Additionally, the living room was adorned with statues of a witch, a winged black cat and several black candles.  Pictures of unicorns added a lighter touch to the home’s mostly unforgiving dark interiors.  From the ‘sorcery room,’ where the murder was alleged to have taken place, an inverted cross, a silver chalice, a knife and a ram’s head had been confiscated by police along with the headstone ‘altar’ and the closet door that contained the inscription Monica Lemen had allegedly been reciting when she was shot. 

At the close of the first day, defense attorney F. Joseph Schiavone met with reporters outside the courtroom to make a preemptive case to the press on his client’s behalf.  In his remarks, Schiavone described Fryman’s earlier admissions of responsibility in the death of Monica Lemen as an effort to protect his then-girlfriend Beverly Cox.  According to Schiavone, when Fryman was arrested, he admitted to accidentally shooting Lemen to Indiana authorities because he believed Cox was pregnant and he hoped to get a light sentence so he could be quickly reunited with Cox and their baby.  Regarding a later statement to police where Fryman copped to premeditated murder, Schiavone said that Fryman believed Cox was being sexually abused in jail and he made the statement hoping she would be freed.  “He read the law on capital punishment and tailor-made his statement to fit it, all to protect Beverly,” Schiavone said.  With opening statements set for the following day, Schiavone seemed to be making a desperate attempt to gain sympathy for his client, promoting a “protect Beverly” rationale for the confessions while preparing to transition the following day to a “blame Beverly” defense. 

During opening statements on Tuesday, Butler County Prosecutor John Holcomb did not shy away from allegations of satanism and black magic as being factors in the slaying of Monica Lemen, even as detectives had previously tried to downplay the angle.  Addressing the court, Holcomb said John Lee Fryman was motivated by “a mixture of anger, the occult, black magic and satanism…John Fryman arrived at the conclusion in his mind that he would kill Monica Lemen, and lured her to his trailer…John Fryman took Monica Lemen to what he called his sorcery room…and had her read a satanic incantation that was painted on the door.  While she was doing that he shot her in the back of the head with a .25 automatic.”  Holcomb told the court the pair had been pen pals when Fryman was serving time for robbery in the Lebanon Correctional Facility.  On the day of the murder, Fryman lured Lemen to his trailer on the pretense of helping her cash some stolen checks.  Holcomb assured the court that when jurors hear the evidence, they’ll conclude Fryman “deserves only to die” in the electric chair.   

In his opening statement, Fryman attorney F. Joseph Schiavone launched headlong into a “blame Beverly” defense.  According to Schiavone’s version of events, on February 9 John Fryman left Lemen and Cox alone together at his mobile home while he went to Middletown to buy marijuana.  While away, Beverly Cox killed Lemen out of jealousy because both women loved Fryman.  When Fryman returned, he found Monica Lemen dead in his living room.  “Beverly Cox was hysterical.  All she kept saying was it was an accident.  Blood was on the floor,” Schiavone said.  Fryman responded by saying, “Don’t worry.  I’ll take care of everything.”

Interestingly, the prosecution and defense not only differ in regards to who pulled the trigger, but also as to where the actual killing took place.  The prosecution contends the shooting occurred in the “sorcery room,” while the defense seems to assert that Lemen was killed in the living room.  Descriptions of the mobile home indicate that these are two different rooms with the ‘sorcery room’ located in the rear of the trailer.  From newspaper accounts, there is no mention of the location of the killing being a point of contention at trial, and all accounts have investigators pointing to the “sorcery room” as the location of the actual shooting.  If the two rooms are the same room, then the point is irrelevant.  But if the defense is describing a different location for the commission of the murder from the generally accepted one, then it seems like a pretty bone-headed maneuver that could be easily discredited.

Nevertheless, Schiavone pressed ahead with the defense assertion that Beverly Cox was also responsible for the shooting of gas station attendant Tammy Sue Rose.  According to Schiavone, two days following the Lemen shooting, John Fryman was pumping gas at the Clark Service station when Beverly Cox entered the station.  Fryman said he heard two “pops,” and when Cox returned to the car she “had a smile on her face and money from the gas station.”  If we are to believe the defense account, it seems like everytime the hapless John Fryman lets his girlfriend out of his sight for even a few minutes, she goes off and shoots somebody.

While the defense mostly portrayed Fryman as an unwitting accomplice to the remorseless, trigger-happy psychopath, Beverly Cox, it did concede that Fryman sawed off Lemen’s legs the day following the shooting to make it easier to remove the body from the trailer.  Concluding his opening remarks, Schiavone related a touching account of Fryman’s boundless love and devotion to the murderous Cox.  Having received letters from Cox describing ongoing sexual abuse while in jail, Fryman decided to take the fall to protect the woman he loved.  “He said bring me a Quarter Pounder and a Coke and I’ll make a statement.  The Quarter Pounder was given to the woman he loved, it wasn’t for him.  And so was the confession,” Schiavone told the court.  One can only imagine the tears that were shed in the courtroom that day upon hearing this heartwarming tale.

Among the witnesses called that day was Lemen’s live-in boyfriend Dennis Whitt who testified that he last saw Lemen on February 9.  Whitt said Lemen received a phone call from Fryman who arranged to pick her up.  Whitt testified Lemen had become fearful of Fryman following a confrontation in December at Fryman’s trailer.  “She said he threatened to kill her and write her name in blood on the wall,” Whitt said.  Witnesses also testified that Fryman had helped Beverly Cox acquire a gun for $45 because she was fearful of her ex-husband.  It was the same gun found in Cox’s purse when the pair were arrested.

When day three of the trial got underway, the jury was presented with a courtroom reconstruction of the satanic altar discovered in the trailer of John Fryman.  Fairfield Police Officer Ed Roberts testified that the items were confiscated following a search of Fryman’s trailer.  The altar consisted of a tombstone that sat atop a wooden frame, topped by two black candles, a bell, a chalice, a book of black magic, a butcher knife and ram’s skull.  It was revealed the previous day that the tombstone came from the same Indiana churchyard where Monica Lemen’s severed legs were discovered.  The saw that was used to sever Lemen’s legs was placed underneath the altar.  Additionally, the sorcery room’s closet door from which Monica Lemen allegedly “read a satanic incantation” as John Fryman shot her was displayed for the court.  On the door in Runes language was written an “Invocation to Satan” which when translated read:  “In the name of Satan, the Ruler of the earth, the King of the world, I command the forces of Darkness.…Come forth and answer to your names by manifesting my desires!”  

A number of details emerged regarding the numerous confessions John Fryman made to authorities in the months following his arrest.  In a written statement to police, Fryman admitted killing Lemen because she insulted him by bringing another magician to his trailer to kill him.  Fryman further confessed that for two weeks he told Beverly Cox he intended to kill Lemen, adding that Cox hid in a closet when Lemen came to the trailer.  Fryman wrote that it was his idea to cut off Lemen’s legs and that Cox helped him.  “Bev cut the jeans away.  I cut her flesh with the butcher knife on the altar, and her bone with the wood saw under the altar.”  In his statement, Fryman also revealed that he placed Monica Lemen’s deceased body in a dumpster, and that he chose the Indiana churchyard to leave the legs because it was a place where he practiced “magic.”  “I drove to Indiana.  I went to the church, as it was a place I practiced magic.  By throwing the legs there, I increased the power of that spot,” Fryman stated.  Fryman’s written statement also included an admission that he shot Fairfield gas station attendant Tammy Sue Rose in the face and stole $175 from the cash register while Beverly Cox waited in their car.  

It was a damning statement, which may as well have been written in cold blood.  Defense attorney Schiavone’s attempts to deflect blame onto Beverly Cox were of little merit against his client’s own words.  As Prosecutor Holcomb told reporters after the court had recessed for the day, “(Fryman) confessed five or six different ways.  What more do we need?  I think all the elements are there.”  Fryman’s own statements were so damning that Holcomb felt no need to call Beverly Cox to the stand unless needed to rebut Fryman’s testimony.  But that wouldn’t happen, because the following day the defense rested without calling Fryman or any other witnesses.  “He has no obligation to take the stand and be abused by the prosecutor.  They haven’t proved anything against him,” Schiavone told reporters.  Despite defense efforts to argue that Fryman’s statement came about as a result of pressure applied by Cox through a series of letters written to Fryman in the months since their arrest, Fryman did concede that the part about cutting off Lemen’s legs was true and pleaded guilty to gross abuse of a corpse. 

Closing statements got underway on Friday, September 18, 1987.  Prosecutor Holcomb continued to hammer on Fryman’s multiple confessions as proof he committed the crimes and the budding sorcerer’s involvement with black magic as the motive.  “In his own words he said it’s a perfect statement to put him in the electric chair – and it is….Being an admitted so-called magician, he would have had to do the killing to increase his powers.  You see, it makes sense that he did it; it doesn’t make any sense that Cox did it.”  Holcomb also cast doubt on the defense claim that Fryman took the blame out of love for Beverly Cox.  “Why does he want to take the blame for her if she has immunity?  He should be putting the blame on her because she’s going to go free anyway.”  Finally, in an act of biblical drama worthy of the great Charlton Heston, Holcomb held up the Holy Bible and delivered his closing remarks:  “He went against that ancient law, ‘Thou shall have no other gods before me.’  Moderation in dealing with wickedness only adds foolishness to the crime.  Find him guilty as charged.”

It was pretty much curtains for the defense after that bit of theater.  According to Schiavone’s closing statements, the motive boiled down to two jealous females battling for the affections of a promising young magician who owned a pretty wicked trailer.  “The devil didn’t make this man do this.  What made this happen was Beverly Cox’s jealousy of Monica.  It was a female rivalry….  Beverly Cox sits 200 yards away from this witness stand laughing because she pulled it off–she pulled off her little trick….  (She) has made a fool of the state of Ohio.  Don’t let her make a fool of this jury.”

The jury deliberated 6½ hours before returning a verdict of guilty of aggravated murder while committing felony kidnapping.  That specification made Fryman eligible for the death penalty.  Additionally, Fryman was convicted for attempted murder and aggravated robbery, stemming from the gas station holdup and shooting of Tammy Sue Rose.  A sentencing hearing was set for the following Tuesday with Judge Moser presiding.  In remarks to reporters, defense attorney Schiavone did not take issue with the outcome.  “Naturally, we’re very disappointed.  It was an uphill battle.  Unfortunately, John insisted on confessing at almost every juncture in this case.”  For his part, prosecutor Holcomb voiced what many must have been thinking.  “I think the guy earned it, he deserved it and he got it.  This is a bizarre business.  The evidence shows this man worked at being evil.”  

That John Fryman worked at being evil, there could be little doubt.  The practitioner of black magic who maintained a sorcery room in his home was clearly trying to increase his stature in the world of the dark arts.  But there was also the earnest college student who was only a few credits short of completing his degree, and the attentive care home worker who received positive reviews from supervisors.  Could he have pursued a different path?  One former acquaintance of Fryman’s described him as someone who didn’t stand out in any way.  And maybe that was the problem.  Perhaps his embrace of black magic stemmed from a desire to be noticed, to be taken seriously, to increase his power and stature, and to be feared.  Playing it straight relegated him to a life of obscurity, but immersing himself in the world of dark spirits garnered him prestige and a small following, conferring on him the designation of Todva the Magician.


The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dayton Daily News

The Indianapolis Star

The Indianapolis News

The Star Press (Muncie, Indiana)

The Brookville Democrat

Franklin County Historical Society

The devil’s trailer Part 4


Even after the brutal slaying and dismemberment of Monica Lemen, it seemed John Fryman had not had enough of doing the devil’s business.  On February 11, 1987, only a few days after killing Lemen, Fryman and his accomplice, Beverly Cox, shot a gas station attendant during a stick-up of the Clark Oil Co., 3660 Dixie Highway, Fairfield.  Although the victim, Tammy Sue Rose of Fairfield, would survive the shooting, she would have no recollection of the attack and require months of physical therapy to recover.  John Fryman was on quite a roll.  The young man who had studied sociology and psychology while in prison, and was only three credits short of graduating college, had fully committed himself to a path of blood and mayhem.  “He was a person that does not stand out in any way.  A very quiet person,” said a spokesperson for the college he attended.  It now seemed the unassuming young man was making an effort to stand out.  The big question is why now and why choose such a grisly course of action? 

It would be some time before investigators would connect the gas station robbery with the severed legs discovery.  In the meantime, detectives learned that Fryman was issuing threats through intermediaries to his former associates.  According to Middletown Police Chief Russell Dwyer, John Fryman, Monica Lemen and two unidentified men had paid a visit to a Middletown, Ohio couple the previous month.  While the nature of that visit was not revealed, the couple did say that, after the discovery of the severed legs, they were threatened by one of the two unidentified men.  “The couple said the man told them he had been in contact with John Fryman and he indicated they should be afraid of him.  The man told them in the same conversation that Fryman had talked of the occult and black magic,” said Chief Dwyer.  

It isn’t difficult to imagine that an interest in the occult and demonology could have been what bound this group together.  Family members and friends of both Fryman and Lemen agreed that the two shared an interest in the occult.  That knowledge coupled with the revelation that Fryman circulated black magic threats to group members, could lead one to conclude that this was a group dabbling in dark occult practices. Did Fryman enjoy some kind of power or status within the group?  Did the quiet young man who went almost entirely unnoticed in the everyday world feel emboldened by the dark forces inhabiting his spiritual one? 

On Thursday, February 19, John Lee Fryman and Beverly V. Cox were arrested at around 4 p.m. along U.S. 40 outside of Richmond, Indiana.  Fryman was wanted for questioning in the disappearance of Monica Lemen, and Cox was carrying a .22 revolver in her purse for which she had no license.  The gun would later be identified as a match to the weapon used to shoot Tammy Sue Rose.  The pair were picked up by an Indiana Conservation Officer and a Wayne County (Indiana) Sheriff’s Deputy, who had been told to be on the lookout for Fryman’s 1980 Ford Pinto station wagon.  

Fryman and Cox were taken into custody and questioned by authorities in Indiana.  The morning after their arrest, Indiana State Police Detective Reginald Brewer testified in Wayne County Superior Court that the pair had admitted killing Monica Lemen during interviews with state police Thursday evening.  A source familiar with the hearing, none other than presiding Judge Harry H. Holtsclaw, told The Indianapolis Star, “They (Indiana State Police detectives) intimated they had confessions, and the car was used for transportation of the body parts.”  The judge granted the ISP request to search the Pinto, and Fryman was held on a charge of aggravated murder while Cox was charged with complicity to aggravated murder.  According to “an informed source,” Monica Lemen “was shot in the head at the mobile home in Fairfield.”  No word on whether the informed source was the honorable Judge Holtsclaw.  With that, the devil worshiping duo promptly waived extradition from Indiana and were transferred to the Butler County Jail in Hamilton, Ohio.  

Naturally, of pressing concern to investigators in Ohio was the location of the rest of the remains of Monica Lemen.  Based on information provided by the suspects, authorities undertook a massive search of a Colerain Township, Ohio landfill.  According to Fairfield Police Chief John Rednour, the legs were severed “as a matter of logistics.”  The corpse was too large to fit in John Fryman’s Ford Pinto station wagon, so the legs were removed and the torso deposited in a dumpster owned by Rumpke Waste Inc.  The dumpster had since been emptied, but authorities were able to determine that the refuse had been deposited in the landfill near Cincinnati.  With the aid of landfill employees, police were able to locate the area of the landfill where the dumpster’s contents had been deposited.  For days, police and refuse workers sifted through trash in search of the body.  Backhoes scooped up yards of waste to be spread out and examined.  Searchers periodically checked the dates on discarded newspapers to make sure they were searching through refuse that corresponded to the date the dumpster was emptied.  After three days of searching “daylight to dusk,” frustrated investigators halted their efforts.  “It was just too massive,” said Fairfield City Manager Robert Gerhardt, who added that all involved felt bad that they couldn’t locate Lemen’s remains for the sake of the family.

On Tuesday, February 24, Fryman and Cox were arraigned in Fairfield Municipal Court with Judge James E. Walsh presiding.  Fryman was charged with aggravated murder and Cox with complicity to aggravated murder.  In a document filed with the court, police said Fryman admitted killing Monica Lemen and Cox admitted helping him.  The judge ordered a preliminary hearing for the following Friday to determine whether the case would be bound over to a Butler County grand jury.  Investigators confirmed their belief that Monica Lemen died of a gunshot wound to the head, reiterating their contention that she was not killed as part of a satanic ritual.  

On Friday, February 27, Beverly Cox testified for three hours in front of a special session of the Butler County grand jury.  In exchange for that testimony, and contingent upon her testifying at Fryman’s trial, Cox was granted “transactional immunity,” according to her attorney Ronald Craft.  “What that means is that she will not be prosecuted on the offense of complicity to aggravated murder,” Craft said.  The following Monday an indictment was filed in the Butler County Common Pleas Court charging John Fryman with aggravated murder and gross abuse of a corpse.  The murder charge included specifications of kidnapping and use of a firearm, opening the door for a potential death penalty sentence should he face conviction.  The indictment charged that Fryman “with prior calculation and design” killed Lemen and “did treat the human corpse of Monica Lemen in a way that would outrage reasonable community sensibilities.”  

Prosecutor John Holcomb seemed satisfied with Beverly Cox’s cooperation, and in remarks to reporters stated she had no involvement in the actual murder.  “Her testimony against the defendant was vital.  Our study of the evidence showed that Beverly Cox was present when the events occurred, but wasn’t a party to it in that she was hiding in the closet.”  Nevertheless, Cox remained held in the Butler County jail in lieu of a $100,000 bond to ensure her testimony in the upcoming trial.  “What she was probably more guilty of than anything would be an obstruction of justice type charge,” Holcomb continued.  “We thought it was in the interest of justice to have her tell her story of what really happened.  It will all come out at the trial.”  Fishing for shocking details, reporters asked if allegations of devil worship had been discussed during Cox’s testimony.  Holding his satan cards close to his chest, the sly prosecutor simply smiled and said, “Does a bear live in the woods?”

Perhaps sensing he was being sold down the river Styx, a desperate John Fryman attempted to clear the air regarding the allegations that were piling up against him.  In a telephone interview with the Cincinnati Post, Fryman claimed Indiana police had coerced a confession out of him.  Describing the interrogation following his capture, Fryman said he “refused to talk to them until they jumped in my face and decided they wanted to bruise me up slightly.  Then I just kind of nodded my head to everything they said.”  Fryman also maintained that “extenuating circumstances” led to the death of Monica Lemen, and that the full story was not being told.  “There’s a lot of things that haven’t been said.  There’s a lot of things involved that nobody seems to be following up on.”  What those “things” were, Fryman didn’t elaborate.  However, Fryman did address the allegations of satanism.  “All the satanism thing they blew all up, all the evidence they supposedly have – they don’t have anything.”  

While maintaining that charges of satanism had been blown out of proportion, Fryman freely admitted to more than just a passing interest in the occult.  “I am involved with the occult.  I think everybody knows that.  You don’t have a room like that in your trailer if you’re not.  But I wasn’t involved in it to the extent they’re saying.”  Fryman also implicated Monica Lemen as a fellow occult practitioner, saying she had recently brought over friends interested in deviant forms of the occult and satanism.  Regardless of the extent of his occult dabblings, Fryman’s protestations accomplished little in shifting the blame away from himself.  Commenting on Fryman’s charges of police coercion and abuse, Fairfield Police Chief Gary Rednour referred to the allegations as a “bunch of baloney.”  


The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dayton Daily News

The Indianapolis Star

The Indianapolis News

The Star Press (Muncie, Indiana)

The Brookville Democrat

Franklin County Historical Society

Walmart to close two stores in Portland, putting 1500 shoplifters out of a job

Walmart has announced it will close its two remaining stores in Portland, Oregon, throwing 580 employees out of work and leaving over 1500 shoplifters scrambling to find another location to ply their trade.  The retailer’s decision coincides with a mass departure of businesses from the city over underperforming revenue due to theft and other factors.  

Reaction to the news was mixed with some shoplifters complaining that the large retail theft operations had made it nearly impossible for the smaller shoplifters to do business.  “You got these big-time operations that come in here with their smash and grab mob and their dozens of vehicles and just wipe out the store’s whole stock, leaving just a few scraps for the small ‘mom and pop’ shoplifters to fight over.  Now there ain’t going to be nothing.  They ruined it for everybody,” said one man, identified only as Sneaky Pete.

Others complain this has been a ‘mom and pop’ conspiracy from the start.  “Everybody knows that when these big-boxers moved in, they ran all the ‘mom and pop’ businesses out of the area.  Now ask yourself, who benefits from these big retailers shutting down?  That’s who’s been committing all these robberies.  It’s the revenge of mom and pop,” said one disgruntled patron. 

Meanwhile, at a nearby park a make-shift marketplace has sprung up specializing in “recovered retail.”  One independent retailer seems unbothered by the news of the Walmart departure.  “Come on by Five Finger Freddy’s.  We got the lowest prices in town – guaranteed,” the man boasts.

Two currents in Delphi investigation yet to merge

Two Indiana waterways, Deer Creek and the Wabash River, merge at a location southwest of downtown Delphi.  Each identifies a separate current of information known to the public about the police investigation into the murders of Abigail Williams and Liberty German of Delphi.  The Wabash flows through Peru within blocks of the home where Kegan Kline lived at the time of the murders.  Deer Creek is part of the crime scene, of course, and flows beneath the Monon High Bridge where, authorities contend, Richard Allen pursued and confronted the girls back in February of 2017.  Deer Creek empties into the Wabash River at Delphi, but will the two currents of the investigation ever merge?

According to WISH-TV, Richard Allen “told a state conservation officer he was in the area on the day of the killings, but his report may have been considered unfounded, a police source tells I-Team 8.

“Allen, a 50-year-old resident of Delphi, went to the conservation officer right after the teens’ murders on Feb. 13, 2017, and said he was on the Monon High Bridge that afternoon but didn’t see the two girls, the source says.

“Williams and German were dropped off near the bridge on the day of the murders. Their bodies were found the next day.

“Allen’s statement was forgotten until recently when Indiana State Police became frustrated with the status of the Delphi investigation and asked a group of investigators to look over files related to the case.

“Investigators believe Allen is the man on the bridge in the cellphone video and in sketches released by police, the source tells I-Team 8.”

This new revelation would seem to indicate that investigators stumbled upon the Richard Allen lead independent of any information they received from Kegan Kline.  Taken on its own without additional context, the information appears to indicate that Richard Allen acted alone.

However, the WISH-TV reporting goes on to verify another bit of speculative info related to the Wabash River branch of the investigation.

“The police source also confirms that the recent five-week state police search of the Wabash River in Peru was connected to the Delphi investigation.

“It was initiated after Kegan Kline told police they would find a cell phone and weapon in the river, the source tells I-Team 8.

“Kline, 28, a figure linked to the Delphi murders who has not been charged in the case, revealed that information while being questioned about the deaths of Libby and Abby.

“That evidence was never found and Kline is known for lying to investigators.”

While it is certainly possible that the Wabash River/Kegan Kline current of the investigation is entirely bogus, and Kline is just a big fat lying piece of excrement who has been misleading investigators for months, why then would we continue to see Kline’s trial postponed due to his ongoing negotiations with prosecutors?  Could it be that the current negotiations are related only to his child-porn-related charges?  

Perhaps, but there is another possibility which may hold the key to whether these two investigative streams will ever merge.  Regarding the sealing of the probable cause affidavit, Dr. Jody Maderia of the IU School of Law in Bloomington told WISH-TV, “There may be other individuals that they are seeking to apprehend and there could be details they don’t want getting out in the public to control the quality of that investigation.” 

Additionally, Allen was charged with what is commonly referred to as “felony murder,” indicating that he could be charged with other felony crimes, or he could have participated in the commission of a felony during which someone else committed the murders.  While bits of information emerge that on their own seem to point to Allen’s sole culpability, a wider context still allows for the possibility that Kegan Kline may somehow be involved.  Only when more of the pieces are in place will we learn if the two investigative currents merge like Deer Creek into the Wabash River, or diverge into a Kegan Kline initiated morass of bullshit and lies.

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.”


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.


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.


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.   


The Indianapolis Star

The Indianapolis News

The Daily Reporter (Greenfield, Indiana)

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

Predator in the park Part 2

After a year in which there seemed to be little movement in the Peggy Sue Altes murder investigation, suspicions came to rest squarely on the brother-in-law, Jerry Watkins.  Two days prior to Peggy Sue’s disappearance, Watkins was caught by his wife, Janice, molesting the girl in the couple’s living room as Peggy Sue watched cartoons.  According to his testimony at trial, it was the “second or third time” he had molested Peggy Sue, and he also admitted molesting another Altes sister on multiple occasions.  Janice moved out of their home that Saturday, but the couple reconciled the following day after Watkins made a public admission to the family that he had molested Peggy Sue.  That weekend, Watkins cut his hair and shaved his beard for the first time in several years.  He expressed an interest in attending church with Janice and appeared ready to turn his life around.  The next day, Peggy Sue went missing.  

Eventually, the timing of the Watkins’ disclosures just prior to Peggy Sue’s abduction, rape and murder would seem like too much of a coincidence to overlook for both the family and authorities.  However, other than the admissions of molestation, there was no evidence to link Watkins to Peggy Sue’s murder.  On August 14, 1985, Jerry Watkins pleaded guilty to molesting Peggy Sue.  Additional charges of assaulting a five-year-old boy were dropped as part of the plea agreement.  Watkins was sentenced to serve two years at the Indiana State Farm, but ended up serving only five months after a judge reviewed his case and released him early.

It wasn’t long after Watkins’ release from prison that he was arrested and charged with the murder of Peggy Sue.  Following the arrest, Hancock County Sheriff Nick Gulling revealed that Watkins had been the focus of authorities since “the initial stages of the investigation.”  Gulling went on to disclose that a search warrant had been served at the Watkins’ home shortly after Peggy Sue’s body was discovered.  Additionally, investigators searched Watkins’ car and drew his blood for testing and comparison. Results of testing came back negative or inconclusive.  Sheriff Gulling admitted the search netted “some evidence, but I’m not sure it was critical evidence.”  Indianapolis Police Department investigator Alda Kaiser echoed the notion that the investigation zeroed in on Jerry Watkins almost immediately.  “I’ve always felt the molesting disclosure had something to do with her murder,” Kaiser told reporters.   

Clearly, Watkins is someone investigators would want to take an intense look at due to his ongoing abuse of Peggy Sue and her sister.  But it seems like investigators went all in on Watkins to the near exclusion of other investigative leads, despite having no evidence against him.  According to Sgt. Louis J. Christ of the Indianapolis Police Department, “Our primary thought throughout the entire investigation was to try and locate physical evidence to connect the perpetrator to the crime.  From the very beginning we came to the realization that we had no real evidence to tie the perpetrator to the crime.  Anything we found we processed through the lab, but we had no identifying evidence.” 

So how were authorities able to execute an arrest on Jerry Watkins?  What was the crucial piece of evidence that dropped in their lap tying Watkins to the crime?  Enter jailhouse snitch Dennis Ackeret.  According to Ackeret, on August 14, 1985, he shared a cell with Jerry Watkins in the City-County building while Watkins awaited sentencing for his Marion County molestation conviction.  At that time, Watkins told Ackeret that he had killed a girl, slashed her throat and dumped her in some bushes in Hancock County.  This was the big break investigators had been waiting for.  They had their confession and didn’t seem to mind that it was made not to authorities, but to another inmate.

Watkins went on trial in September of 1986.  The prosecution’s case relied almost exclusively on the jailhouse confession and their ability to poke holes in Watkins’ alibi.  Dennis Ackeret was the star witness, describing for the jury a distraught Watkins so wracked with guilt that he felt compelled to unburden himself to a cellmate, Ackeret, whom he had just met.  The defense pointed out that Ackeret was a thief and a forger, and that he had previously worked as a paid police informant.  Other defense witnesses testified that Ackeret made up the story to get a reduced sentence, and that Ackeret boasted about how to become a state’s witness by researching crimes in the newspaper.

Forensic pathologist Dr. John Pless, who conducted the autopsy on Peggy Sue, testified that she died from 15-20 stab wounds to the left side of her neck.  Some of the wounds severed a jugular vein and a carotid artery.  The doctor testified that Peggy Sue had abrasions on her hands and neck, plus a bite mark on one of her breasts.  Additionally, there were other wounds that indicated a sexual assault had taken place.  Regarding time of death, Pless could be no more specific than sometime between the day of her disappearance and the day before discovery of her body.  While there was no murder weapon presented, prosecution witnesses testified that Watkins was sometimes seen carrying a knife at work and at church. 

Watkins himself took the stand.  His testimony focused mostly on denying the accusations made by other witnesses and establishing an alibi for the day of the abduction and the days that followed.  Watkins testified that he had worked from 7:00 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. on the day of Peggy Sue’s abduction.  His testimony was corroborated by his employer.  After work, he and his wife, Janice, moved furniture back into their house that had been removed during their brief separation.  This testimony was corroborated by Janice and Watkins’ mother.  At 7:00 p.m. the couple attended a church revival at Bethel Tabernacle 4232 S. Foltz St. Indianapolis until 10:00 p.m.  After the revival, the couple returned to Janice’s parent’s home to find out that Peggy Sue was missing and participated in the family search until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning.  Subsequent days were spent searching, working and attending church revival meetings in the evenings.

During closing statements, Hancock County Deputy Prosecutor Pete Shumacker attacked the veracity of Jerry and Janice Watkins’ testimony.  “If you’re going to be a liar, you better have a good memory.  Janice doesn’t have a good memory and neither does Jerry.”  For prosecutors, the fountain of truth and virtue was Dennis Ackeret who wanted nothing for himself, but willingly gave testimony “as any human being with a soul that had information would come forward with it,” said Prosecutor Larry Gossett.  Furthermore, prosecutors would assert, Ackeret’s testimony had to be credible because he gave details that went unreported in newspaper accounts.  According to Prosecutor Gossett, newspaper articles made no mention that Peggy Sue’s jugular vein had been cut as Ackeret had testified.  In fact, Judge Richard Payne allowed newspapers to be entered into evidence to allow jurors to verify that the information could not have been gleaned from news articles.  I’m no lawyer, but this seems like a highly prejudicial move.

Despite the scarcity of evidence, Watkins was convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison.  In the end, Watkins was an admitted child predator who had molested Peggy Sue and her older sister on numerous occasions, making him a wholly unsympathetic character in the eyes of the jury.  It is not hard to imagine how law enforcement, prosecutors and jurors would think he had to be the guy.  However, there are abundant reasons to believe that investigators should have known he wasn’t the guy.  First, during the investigation, he and Janice both passed a polygraph examination.  While not admissible in court, detectives used the exam to eliminate certain suspects.  Why wasn’t it used to clear Watkins?  Especially, since it lends credibility to what was a pretty solid alibi.  Second, tests on seminal fluid revealed that Peggy Sue’s attacker must have had type B blood.  Watkins was blood type O and Peggy Sue was type A.  How is this not evidence that the rape was commited by someone else?  Third, investigators had a witness that saw Peggy Sue get pulled into a black Camaro at Porter Park around 2:30 p.m. on November 12.  Not only did Jerry Watkins not own a black Camaro, his employer confirmed that he was at work at that time.  Apparently, this bit of evidence was not shared with the defense.  In the end, the exculpatory evidence is much weightier and far more credible than the evidence to convict.  On this knowledge alone, investigators should have known they were pursuing the wrong man and that the real killer or killers were still on the loose.  Although it would take several years and investigators would resist it tooth and nail, eventually DNA technology would set them straight, eliminating conclusively Jerry Watkins as Peggy Sue’s assailant and redirecting the focus onto a man named Joseph Mark McCormick. 


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.


The Indianapolis Star

The Indianapolis News

The Daily Reporter (Greenfield, Indiana)

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