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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Two decades after sentencing, killer remembered

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

In October 1986, Putnam County residents learned the fate of one of their own.

Although Larry Eyler was not born in Putnam County, he grew up near Reelsville.

It's been 20 years since the former Putnam County resident was sentenced to die by lethal injection after being convicted of killing 23 men in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Eyler was convicted of murdering a 15-year-old in Chicago. Ironically, it was a janitor's dog that helped law enforcement zero in on Eyler, who had been under surveillance for quite some time.

The dog led the man -- who served as a janitor in the building where Eyler lived -- to a garbage pile, which included the remains of the 15-year-old boy, who had been dismembered.

Officials connected the murder of the boy with that of a man found near Kenosha, Wis., in 1983, and charged Eyler with the murder.

He was convicted of killing 15-year-old Danny Bridges in Chicago in July 1986 and sentenced to die by lethal injection.

However, while on death row, Eyler died of AIDS-related complications on March 6, 1994. While on his deathbed, he confessed to 20 murders and claimed he received help from an accomplice, according to the website of his former attorney, Kathleen Zellner.

Twenty years later, Putnam County resident Debbie Frost remembered Eyler as being a much different person. Frost -- who attended South Putnam High School with Eyler -- said she remembered Eyler as a "happy go-lucky" person.

"The memories I have of him are good," Frost said. "He intended to become a priest."

Frost said Eyler left high school prior to his senior year, but eventually earned his GED.

"He was just a good kid," Frost said.

Frost said while in junior high, her family would pick Eyler up and drive him to athletic events.

Frost worked as a typist at the BannerGraphic when Eyler was arrested.

She said at first, she did not recognize the name because it was misspelled. But after reading through a story, she knew it was the Eyler she knew.

"I saw the name was misspelled," Frost said. "I was really shocked. I couldn't believe it. I just about fell over."

Former Indiana State Police Detective Jack Hanlon worked the case at the time. Twenty years later, he remembers how several of the murders tied to Eyler were gay-related.

"It all tied in to homosexuals, either walking the streets in Indianapolis waiting to be picked up or they were prostitutes," Hanlon said.

Hanlon recalled officials finding the body of 21-year-old John Roach near Putnamville, one of several bodies found that had similar patterns of mutilation, including the victims having their pants pulled down.

"He was very sadistic," Hanlon said. "But we couldn't tie him to anything. But our suspicion was great."

Hanlon said he remembered Eyler being stopped by law enforcement in the northern portion of the state shortly before his arrest. Hanlon said police believed they stopped the person responsible for several possible murders.

"We were pretty sure he was the one," Hanlon said.

Former BannerGraphic Editor Eric Bernsee said news of Eyler being arrested for the grisly crimes was quite a shock to the community.

"It was kind of a cultural shock," he said. "It brought big time crime like you see in the movies to our doorstep."

Hanlon recalled officials had Eyler under surveillance while he worked at Andy's Liquors. He said Eyler frequented gay nightclubs in Indianapolis.

Bernsee said he remembered a time when Putnam County Detectives followed Eyler to Indianapolis on a stakeout -- only to lose him when they got to the city.

The first known murder took place in early 1982, when law enforcement found Jay Reynolds stabbed to death near Lexington, Ky.

Nine months later, officials discovered the body of 14-year-old Delvoyd Baker north of Indianapolis and only weeks later, the body of Steven Crockett, 19, was found stabbed 32 times near Lowell.

The murders continued throughout the year and just after Christmas in 1982, officials discovered the bodies of Roach and Steven Agan near Newport.

In 1983, law enforcement continued to find victims, but in September, state police saw a pickup truck parked on I-65 and spotted two men moving near a wooded area away from the vehicle. One of the men was bound.

Police identified the truck belonging to Eyler and while searching the vehicle, police found surgical tape, clothesline, and a blood-stained hunting knife.

Even with the discovery, Eyler was not arrested, and the murders continued throughout the Midwest.

Two survivors, however, identified Eyler through photographs, and yet he was still not arrested.

Eyler was constantly under surveillance in Chicago at this time and filed a civil suit against the Lake County Sheriff's office for harassment.

However, following a denial of the suit in court, Eyler was arrested for murder.

But he was released on bail after collected evidence was excluded from a pretrial hearing in early 1984.

"It became a connect-the-dots kind of thing," Bernsee said. "It was very intriguing."

The body count continued to mount until August 1984 when Eyler was arrested for the murder of Bridges after his body was found mutilated and placed in garbage bags near where Eyler was staying in Chicago.

After being convicted and sentenced to die by lethal injection, the story seemed to end, until Eyler's death in 1994.

"I was shocked when I saw it come in on the wire," Bernsee said. "But it was kind of the end of the story."

Eyler was later the subject of "Freed to Kill," authored by Gera-Lind Kolarik with Wayne Klatt.

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