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.”

Sources:

The Indianapolis Star

The Indianapolis News

The Daily Reporter (Greenfield, Indiana)

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

Nearly two weeks separates search of Delphi suspect’s home and arrest

According to Fox59, “50-year-old Richard Allen was arrested and taken into custody at the Indiana State Police’s post in West Lafayette on Wednesday, October 26. He was formally charged with two counts of murder two days later on October 28.”

On Monday night, HLN’s Barbara MacDonald reported that Delphi suspect Richard Matthew Allen’s home and property was searched by investigators on Thursday, October 13.  

What prompted investigators to knock on Richard Allen’s door that mid-October day, and can the nearly two week gap between the search and his arrest shed any light on how Allen ended up on their radar?  If the account MacDonald gleaned from Allen’s neighbors is accurate, it would appear that Richard Allen may have only become a suspect that morning, and investigators, most likely, had not yet acquired much evidence against him prior to arriving at his home that day.  

MacDonald reported neighbors “noticed a lot of activity outside his house, a lot of cars that appeared to them to be unmarked law enforcement vehicles, a lot of men not in law enforcement uniforms, but in suits and khaki pants, all arriving at the house just before noon.  They asked Richard and his wife to exit the home and to remain outside of the home throughout the day.  They weren’t allowed back into the home until around 11:00 p.m. that night.  During that time, Richard stood outside.  His wife sat in a van.  He stood outside that van for several hours.  One of the photos shows that, that we’ve exclusively obtained.  Another photo shows him sitting in the van with his wife, with the passenger door open for another several hours.  At some point, as it was starting to get dark out, these neighbors noticed that the Carroll County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Tony Liggett arrived.  He had a piece of paper with him.  He showed it to Richard Allen.  At that point a tow truck arrived and started taking the car away…one that he (Allen) routinely used.  They began a search inside the house and also in the yard using some sort of a device, perhaps like a metal detector or something like that, to search a flower bed and an area around a shed.  They did dig around the shed and some small areas.  They took a lot of photos in the shed….Officers came out of the house carrying several bundles of cloth, dark cloth, perhaps clothing, a Macy’s shopping bag, a shoe box, and a stack of books.  At this point we don’t know what any of that means for the investigation.”  

If the above account is accurate, and investigators are removing the Allen’s from their home while a search warrant is being obtained, it would seem likely that Richard Allen only became a suspect that very morning.  Why would they not have arrived there with a warrant in hand unless this was a spontaneous event?  Also, if they’d had conclusive evidence pointing to Allen, why would they not have arrested him the day of the search?  Whatever evidence or information led to his arrest, it likely was obtained during the search and required an additional thirteen days of examination before authorities felt confident enough to arrest Allen.

It seems doubtful that DNA led to Richard Matthew Allen.  If this was the case, then they probably would have arrived at his home with a search warrant and possibly an arrest warrant in hand.  It seems more likely that some tip or cyber discovery resulted in the identification or location of his home.  While there is yet no known linkage between Allen and Kegan Kline, does anyone honestly believe that this guy was not a consumer of online pornography?  If the killings were the realization of some fantasy, like many experts speculate, then it would be almost a cosmic certainty that the suspect Richard Allen was immersed in a world of online child sexual abuse material.  And if that’s true, could Richard Allen, or his online profile, have ended up in the orbit of Kegan Kline?  Was Richard Allen just a profile or an anonymous acquaintance of Kegan Kline’s before he became known by name to authorities on October 13?

Whatever prompted investigators to rush to the suspect’s home on October 13, it would be the granddaddy of all coincidences if one of the victims was in social media communication with a child predator in the morning and then was pursued and ultimately murdered by another child predator in an unrelated incident that afternoon.  It is heartening to see law enforcement continuing to investigate until they are certain that all involved are apprehended and justice can prevail for Libby, Abby, and their families.

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 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. 

Sources:

The Indianapolis Star

The Indianapolis News

The Daily Reporter (Greenfield, Indiana)

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

Boy found in suitcase remains unidentified

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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