DAZE WORK: Valentine’s Day has horrific Hoosier past
Maybe it’s being from Chicago and living all your life with the specter of Al Capone and the “St. Valentine’s Day massacre” hanging over the holiday that has made me more than a little ambivalent about the annual event.
Don’t get me wrong, I have fond memories of Valentine’s Day. Proposing marriage one year, foolishly going on a first date years later. Shoeboxes full of valentines collected as a school kid.
But Valentine’s Day will always have its place in my mind, as a newspaperman, for two of the most heinous murders in Indiana history.
The Valentine’s Day killings of four young men at Hollandsburg -- just a stone’s throw into Parke County from U.S. 36, although I had never heard of it until that infamous day -- occurred on a snowy Feb. 14, 1977.
But for icy roads locally that kept my then-wife from navigating the old West Walnut Street Road bridge (before the Irwin Bridge was built) in my Ford Mustang, I would probably have been on my way to Hollandsburg soon after seeing the first AP dispatches come in about 6 a.m. instead of running to her rescue in days long before cell phones. Later I drove up to Hollandsburg to get exterior shots of the home with crime scene tape cordoning it off, so I never did actually experience the horrific nature of that crime scene.
Forty years later came the terrible killings of two young women at Delphi, a place previously known only to me in my sportswriting days for the high school team’s oh-so-apropos nickname: The Oracles of Delphi.
That slaying, now four years ago, remains unsolved, despite there being widely distributed grainy video and a burst of audio of the presumed prime suspect.
In the Delphi case, Abigail Williams, 13, and Libby German, 14, went missing while walking on a trail near the Monon High Bridge in the town. On Feb. 14, 2017, their bodies were discovered in a scene that can only be described as every parent-of-a-teenager’s worst nightmare.
The Delphi murders case has generated some major publicity over the years, but perhaps its biggest break will come this Sunday, Feb. 14 and Monday, Feb. 15 at 10 p.m. -- when the cable channel HLN (aka Headline News) airs the two-night special, “Down the Hill: The Delphi Murders.”
“Down the Hill” makes reference to the suspect’s order to the girls to go “down the hill” that was captured on one of their cell phones. I’ve always thought there had to be more to that video and audio tape but none of it has ever been made public to this point. We’re all left to wonder what else he might have said.
The so-called “bridge guy” has been described as a white male, age 18-40 years, 5-foot-6 in height, 180-200 pounds with reddish brown hair. In the video he is wearing the generic combination of blue jeans with a blue jacket and a hoodie.
About two years ago I spent an afternoon in Delphi after a friend supposedly recognized the bridge man as someone he had known. We talked to State Police but nothing ever came of that tip.
After some 50,000 tips later, with a “complicated crime scene” compounding the investigation, authorities believe the killer could be “hiding in plain sight.”
In the Hollandsburg case, within weeks, authorities had captured the four thrill-kill murderers -- ringleader Roger Drollinger, then 23, and his three accomplices -- Daniel Stonebraker, 20, Michael Wright, 21, and David Smith, 17.
Drollinger died in prison at Carlisle in January 2014, while Stonebraker, Wright and Smith continue to serve life sentences at the Pendleton Correctional Facility for their roles in the execution-style homicides at the Spencers’ rural Parke County home.
Drollinger was serving four life sentences for the slayings of Ralph, 14, Reeve, 16, and Raymond Spencer, 17, and their stepbrother, Gregory Brooks, 22, during an early morning home invasion that also severely wounded the boys’ mother, Betty Jane Spencer, the only survivor of the so-called Hollandsburg Valentine’s Day Massacre.
The victims were lined up, face down on the floor of the mobile home, and the killers took turns firing 11 shotgun blasts at them as Drollinger reportedly ordered each of the four assailants to take part in the shootings.
Spencer, who died in 2004, survived by playing dead after a shotgun blast at close range blew off her wig, leading the assailants to believe she had been killed. She lived to provide the key testimony against Drollinger and his accomplices.
Authorities haven’t had a major break in the Delphi case, so maybe the TV exposure Sunday and Monday and thereafter will lead to something useful.
Law enforcement continues to utilize local, state and federal resources to search for the killer. A dedicated, multi-jurisdictional team -- which includes two Carroll County detectives, two Indiana State Police detectives and other law enforcement officers -- still works on the Delphi case every day. They continue to actively investigate all tips and leads received by phone and email.
Anyone with information about the crime is encouraged to utilize the Tip Hotline: firstname.lastname@example.org or 844-459-5786. It is suggested persons provide as much information as possible. For example, the name of the person of interest, their date of birth or approximate age, physical description, address, vehicle information, why they could be involved and if they have a connection to Delphi.
We can’t let another Valentine’s Day pass without helping solve this heinous crime.