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)

Predator in the park Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

The Indianapolis Star

The Indianapolis News

The Daily Reporter (Greenfield, Indiana)

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

Are Delphi investigators closing in?

During the past week, a great deal of new information has emerged regarding the Delphi murder investigation.  We learned that the Indiana State Police briefly took custody of Kegan Kline, for what purpose we do not know.  However, around the time this was occurring, a search of the Wabash River ensued in an area of Peru near where Kegan Kline lived with his father at the time of the murders.  We also found out that Kline is currently in negotiations with prosecutors regarding the numerous charges that are currently leveled against him.  All of this leads many to speculate that he may be cooperating with authorities in the Delphi investigation.  

However, the first piece of information to drop, the big steaming matzah ball served up for public consumption by the Murder Sheet podcast that kicked off this latest round of discussion, revealed that “Kegan Kline had searched for the location of the Marathon Gas station in Delphi on the day of the murders.”  This information set off a frenzy of speculation regarding what significance the Marathon Gas station might hold in the investigation.  Of course, it is impossible to know and any guess is bound to be way off base, but there are a few things we can deduce.  We know that Kegan Kline’s phone was in Peru at a location on Country Club Road around the time of the murders.  In the interrogation transcript, investigators indicate that they do not believe that Kline committed the murders.  Sure, they could have been blowing smoke up his fat, lying ass, but it is generally assumed that, while he possesses some knowledge of the crime, he is not the perpetrator.  

It seems reasonable to speculate that someone planning to commit an act like this would probably not carry with him a device that could potentially be tracked at a later date.  A cellphone with Google Maps would likely be left behind by the perpetrator.  He probably wouldn’t even want to drive a newer vehicle with some sophisticated onboard computer.  The perp has knowledge that the girls are going to be at the bridge, because he has obtained the information through either Kegan Kline or Kegan Kline’s device.  The predator drives to Delphi without a smart device.  It’s easy to find, he knows how to get there.  Maybe he’s been there before.  However, once in Delphi, he is unsure of the location of the Monon High Bridge, or he has questions.  Obviously, he’s not going to ask any locals for information or directions, because he knows what he is about to do, and he doesn’t want to present himself to a local resident as the stranger in town looking for what is about to become the site of a heinous crime.  He needs to talk to Kegan.  He looks for a payphone.  He finds one at a gas station nearby.  He places a call to Kegan and gives his location, prompting Kegan’s search for the Marathon Gas station.  Kegan then gives him directions to the Monon High Bridge.   

Obviously, there are countless possibilities why Kegan Kline searched for the location of the Marathon Gas station on the day of the murders.  The one just presented, while plausible, is almost certainly not the correct one.  Additionally, the news that the FBI failed to obtain security footage from the gas station is extremely disappointing, but seems about right for this case.  An unseen predator walks in and out of the crime scene area and no reliable description or likeness can be obtained.  The monster is caught on video, but the image is so grainy that still very little can be known for sure about his appearance.  And now it’s possible he may have been at a location where he could have been captured on security video, but instead he again eludes investigators.  At times this predator seems like a shifting spirit of evil formed in the darkest corners of the internet, manifesting as a figure of terror on a bridge.  However, the picture seems to be getting clearer and investigators appear to be closing in.  Hopefully soon, there will be resolution and justice for the families of those two innocent children of Delphi.

Interview Room panel sheds light on Delphi predator

Sunday evening’s episode of The Interview Room with Chris McDonough featured a panel of experts from the Cold Case Foundation who provided a number of valuable insights into a possible profile of the assailant of Abigail Williams, 13, and Liberty German, 14, of Delphi, Indiana.  The panel included McDonough, Gregory Cooper and Dean Jackson, all of the Cold Case Foundation.  Also joining the group was Tom McHoes, an investigative journalist who co-authored with Cooper the book Predators: Who They Are and How to Stop Them.

A bulk of the insights into the Delphi predator came from Cooper, who is executive director of the Cold Case Foundation and a former FBI profiler.  Because little is known about the crime scene, Cooper relied mostly on the perpetrator’s approach to the crime to discern possible traits and motivations of the killer.

“What type of person would select two young girls in an isolated area, would make that approach with sufficient intimidation to manipulate them, to garner their compliance and submission?  Just the approach alone, what does that tell us about this individual without talking about the crime scene?”  

“What’s he out there for?  He’s prepared to commit a crime.…He has weapons on him….(He is) able to to take a look at those victims and assess their vulnerability right away….He makes this approach, addresses them, refers to them as guys and directs them down the hill.  And, evidently, they comply.  So, at some point, he has the ability, early on, and is confident enough that if he makes this approach, that he’s going to get them to respond the way he wants (them) to.”

“He’s prepared to do this.  He’s been thinking about this.  And he didn’t just wake up that morning thinking about it.  This isn’t the first time he thought about committing a crime like this.  He’s looking for the right victims at the right time, the right environment, situation and circumstances, that to his planning and fantasy that he’s been engaged in for a significant period of time is going to match.  The stars are going to line up for him.  And they did.”

Cooper’s description of the assailant here is chilling.  According to Cooper, the Delphi predator, more commonly referred to as Bridge Guy, is at the Monon High Bridge that day fully prepared and intending to commit a crime.  Whether he knew Abigail and Liberty would be there or not, he was seeking a victim.  Cooper repeatedly makes clear that this was not an impulsive act.  The crime that occurred that day was not the result of another criminal act that escalated or spun out of control.  The predator had been fantasizing, planning and preparing for this moment “for a significant period of time.”

Crucial to the Delphi predator’s “approach” is the victim type.  Cooper examines in detail why Bridge Guy made the choices he made concerning the victims.  At the top of the list would be choosing a victim that would ensure success carrying out his fantasy.

“I would theorize that he’s not looking for adult victims.  He knows that the more vulnerable, the least resistant, the more compliant, it reduces his risk level.  Number one of being caught and identified, and it increases his level of being successful….He’s determined before the type of victim, even the age range.  He has an interest in younger females that he’s been fantasizing about what he’d like to do….They weren’t targeted because they were known, but they were targeted because they fit the profile of his fantasy.  It would increase the success of his crime, plus it would satisfy his inclinations and urges.”

“What level of confidence would they have with an adult female who is mature and confident?  What type of behavioral characteristics in this type of offender?…This is not a guy to drive a sports car, to go out with an attractive woman who can carry on an intelligent conversation.  This is a guy who feel’s more comfortable around children because they’re easier to influence….Consequently, he has developed a sexual interest in them as well….This guy lacks confidence in social circles.  He withdraws from normal social circles.  He’s not confident carrying on an intelligent conversation, mutual conversations with an intelligent adult female.”

From Cooper’s description, it seems likely that the Delphi predator did not feel confident that he could manipulate and control an adult female victim, and likely lacks confidence around adult females in general.  Bridge Guy chose his victims and his approach because it gave him a sense of confidence and assurance that he could be successful in fulfilling his fantasy.  But where did that confidence come from?  Why was he so sure he could manipulate younger victims and “garner their compliance and submission?”  According to Cooper, “I don’t think it was his first time.  I think there were other incidents.”  

More of Cooper’s thoughts and observations will be examined in a subsequent blog post.

Following Kegan Kline disclosures, predators continue to utilize Snapchat to claim victims

Following the release in March of a police interview transcript obtained by The Murder Sheet podcast that revealed Kegan Kline of Peru, Indiana, allegedly utilized the social media platform Snapchat to obtain sexually explicit photos of underage girls, multiple offenders in the intervening months have been convicted in Indiana of using Snapchat and Facebook to prey upon underage victims.  

According to WTHR, Kegan Kline currently sits in jail facing 30 charges involving child pornography and child exploitation after admitting “to creating the social media profile ‘anthony_shots’ to meet underage girls and receive sexually explicit photos.”  Kline is also alleged to have been one of the last to communicate with Liberty German prior to her murder on February 13, 2017.

Since these revelations, multiple offenders have been prosecuted and convicted in Indiana for soliciting sexual abuse material from underage victims.  However, even more disturbing, some offenders have used these platforms to meet with victims for the purpose of committing acts of abuse.  According to a May 5, 2022 Department of Justice, Southern District of Indiana press release:

“Gerald Hoye, 43, of Indianapolis, was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison following his guilty plea to sexual exploitation of a child.

“According to court documents, agents with the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) received information from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) that sexually explicit images of a child had been sent from a child’s Facebook account to an adult’s Facebook account. Further information received from NCMEC showed sexually explicit conversations were taking place through Facebook Messenger between the child and the adult.

“Law enforcement officers determined the adult was Hoye, a then-41-year-old truck driver living in Indianapolis. The child victim lived in another state and was under 16 years old. Hoye coerced and manipulated the child by offering her money in exchange for sexually explicit photos and videos. In September of 2019, Hoye traveled to the victim’s home and transported her to another state, where he engaged in illegal sexual conduct with the child.”

For all its sophisticated algorithms, Facebook relies on the NCMEC to detect and identify the exploitation of a child over its own messaging app.  These interactions escalated to the point where “Hoye traveled to the victim’s home and transported her to another state, where he engaged in illegal sexual conduct with the child.”  That is extremely terrifying.  How is it the case that Facebook can detect alleged misinformation on its platform and shut that down, but is apparently clueless when a felony is taking place?    

Around the time the public was learning of Kegan Kline’s horrific exploits, another man was convicted in the Southern District of Indiana for committing similar offenses via Snapchat.  According to a March 17, 2022 DOJ press release: 

“Matthew O. Walker, 28, of Augusta, Georgia, was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to the sexual exploitation of a child.

“According to court documents, Walker sexually exploited 3 Indiana children and 2 children from South Carolina. Walker first came to the attention of federal authorities in the fall of 2019, when Walker had engaged in sexually explicit Snapchat communications with two minor boys in the Southern District of Indiana. Walker misrepresented himself on Snapchat as a teenage girl, persuading minors to create and send him images and videos of themselves engaging in sexually explicit conduct. Walker threatened the minors that he would distribute these images and videos of these minors to their respective families if they did not do as he instructed.

“Federal investigators discovered that Walker was living in Georgia. With assistance from law enforcement there, a search warrant was executed at Walker’s residence. Evidence was seized and Walker admitted to communication with multiple underage boys online. Walker also admitted to receiving child sexual abuse material through Snapchat and other social media platforms. Walker pled guilty to sexual exploitation of a child in a plea that incorporated his criminal conduct against three Indiana children and others.”

Snapchat was also the social media platform of choice for a Bartholomew County, Indiana man who pled guilty to sexually exploiting children in Indiana and California and received over 27 years in federal prison.  According to a February 18, 2022 DOJ press release:

“According to court documents, Jordan Fields, 21, of Columbus, Indiana, sexually exploited children in Indiana and California, and admitted to other acts of exploitation against unknown minors. Fields first came to the attention of federal authorities in the fall of 2020, when law enforcement in California notified authorities in Indiana that Fields had engaged in sexually explicit Snapchat communications with a 13-year-old boy in California.

“The Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Office began an investigation and executed a search warrant at Fields’ home on Nov. 13, 2020. Fields was initially arrested on state charges of child solicitation and possession of child pornography. A team from the Indiana State Police, the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Office, and the FBI reviewed evidence seized from Fields’ home, and Fields was arrested on federal sexual exploitation charges in March of 2021. 

“Fields admitted to communication with multiple underage boys online and admitted to receiving child sexual abuse material through Snapchat and Omegle. Fields pled guilty to three counts of sexual exploitation of a child for his victimization of three southern Indiana children.”

Another Indianapolis man was convicted in May after it was discovered that he had used Facebook to sexually exploit a child.  Per the Department of Justice:

“Ryan Niendorf, 39, of Indianapolis, was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison following his guilty plea to sexual exploitation of a child and attempted sexual exploitation of a child.

“According to court documents, in May 2021, agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) received information from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) that an adult’s Facebook account had been used to engage in sexually explicit communication with a child’s Facebook account. Law enforcement officers determined the adult was Niendorf, a semi-truck driver living in Indianapolis, and police were able to locate the child. Based on forensic evidence found in Niendorf’s account, police arrested Niendorf. Further investigation showed Niendorf persuaded two minors, both less than 16 years of age, to produce sexually explicit videos.”

Based on the information that has surfaced regarding the activities of Kegan Kline aka anthony-shots on the social media platform Snapchat, it is disturbing to see so many additional cases where Snapchat and Facebook were used to intimidate and exploit children, obtain child sexual abuse material, and to even facilitate meetings for the purposes of committing acts of abuse against children.  The preceding cases represent just a few of the convictions obtained within the past few months and are limited to the Southern District of Indiana jurisdiction.  There are other Indiana cases where the internet and/or social media was involved, but specific platforms were not named in the press releases.  Obviously, if one were to expand out to a wider time frame, or to include other jurisdictions than just one in Indiana, the scope of the horror would increase significantly. 

One would hope that eliminating this type of predatory behavior would be a top priority of these social media companies.  But here we are, five years removed from the murders of Abigail Williams and Liberty German, and Snapchat and Facebook continue to be platforms where predators go to victimize children.  We may one day learn that Liberty’s Snapchat activity played no role in the Delphi homicides, but the Kegan Kline interview illustrates in disturbing clarity how vulnerable children are to abuse on these platforms.  While the NCMEC is to be commended for their efforts to monitor these platforms and expose child predators, why aren’t the tech companies themselves doing more to clean up these spaces?

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.

The Collectors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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