Tuesday hearing is all about Martha Payne

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tuesday afternoon in Bedford, court proceedings are expected to dictate the future of convicted murderer William A. Minnick.

Putnam County Prosecutor Timothy Bookwalter, however, intends to make them about the past.

And more specifically, Bookwalter wants to make those proceedings about the victim -- 24-year-old Martha Rushing Payne, who was killed Oct. 26, 1981 in her 9 S. Locust St., Greencastle, home.

Martha Payne surveys the work in progress during the renovation of the Paynes' 9 S. Locust St. home just a couple of weeks before she was murdered there in October 1981.

"For 30 years this case has basically been about Bill Minnick," Bookwalter said of the now 48-year-old perpetrator who is getting a resentencing hearing.

"We have forgotten about her ... a 24-year-old life that was just taking off," the prosecutor said.

Certainly she really has never been forgotten. But the fact is, back in 1981, family members deflected any and all attention. They did not even provide a photograph of Martha to run with news stories or with her obituary.

"My father deliberately did not give the press a picture," Jim Payne said in an interview last week. "He made the decision for us because I was in a state of shock. He didn't want anyone to know who we were."

That has all changed now, 30 years later.

The court will hear about Martha, the 1976 Terre Haute South graduate, and a young Martha, whose father was killed in a private plane crash in Arkansas. And most of all, the court will learn about Martha Payne, the Greencastle housewife who knew no enemies.

"The 23rd (Tuesday) is going to be about Martha Payne," Bookwalter stressed. "We need to bring her back to life in that court. A pretty, young blond woman with a beautiful smile. We need to make this about Martha Payne."

Bookwalter is right, agrees Jim Payne, now 54 years old and reliving his worst nightmare of coming home to find his wife murdered and his life forever turned upside down.

"What was taken from her?" Payne asks, knowing full well the answer. "Everything."

She never had a chance to have children. The Paynes were still a couple years away from that.

She never had a chance to reach anything close to her potential. To be all that she could be. Martha Payne would be 53 now. She'd probably be a grandmother and most certainly would be immersed in helping people.

That latter characteristic ultimately may have been her downfall, Jim Payne believes.

"One of the problems," he said, "was that she trusted people too much. She wasn't cautious enough, and he was a predator, I guess."

Payne said that in researching all the old testimony and transcripts covering two trials and numerous other court appearances in the case, he has come to a new realization: Minnick had been stalking his wife before he killed Martha.

"When you read all that testimony, you know that he was seen in the area and was seen driving past the house two or three times earlier that day," Payne said. "He was waiting for me to leave (for work).

"He was stalking her."

Payne also wants to put to rest any notion Minnick was working for the couple as a handyman.

At the time, Payne had been in California for a month, helping Lone Star (now Buzzi Unicem) bring a new cement plant on line. All the while, he and Martha had been renovating the old house and had begun to realize the project was more than they could handle by themselves. They talked about getting someone to help with it.

While Payne was out west, he learned his wife had talked with a young man about possibly helping with the work. But when he heard the price the teenager was asking for the job, Payne knew Minnick didn't know what he was talking about and was likely unqualified for the work.

He told Martha not to use him. Yet Minnick still came to the Payne home twice that fateful day, authorities say.

Certainly the details of that day will never fade from Jim Payne's memory.

"I came home, and all the doors were open. All the lights were on and the car was gone," Payne recalled for the Banner Graphic, thinking his wife must have needed to get someplace in a hurry. (It turns out the car had nothing to do with the crime. Its battery had died two blocks away and Martha left the car there and walked home).

Jim headed toward the bathroom to take a shower and remembered crumpling up a wrapper in his hand and tossing it toward a trashcan in the corner of the bedroom.

He missed, and when he reached down to pick up that errant projectile, Payne saw a kitchen knife on the floor and picked it up. He recalled thinking he saw blood on it and wondering what in the world Martha was doing cutting up meat in the bedroom.

"I thought, 'Now that's weird,' and when I turned, I could see her head on the other side of the bed," he continued. "Her eyes were black. Later I learned from Del (Prosecutor Brewer) that was due to strangulation."

He knew she was dead, composed himself as best he could, and went to call police.

"I called and told them, 'My wife's dead and my car's gone.'"

There was no 911-dispatch center back in 1981, and whoever answered Payne's call initially thought it was a prank. After all, it had been 50 years since Greencastle had witnessed a murder.

"I sat at the kitchen table and waited," Payne remembered. "I was just catatonic.

"I was in a state of shock the whole first week. I couldn't eat for five days. I honestly could not swallow anything ... except for water. But I could smoke cigarettes, I remember that. I don't even smoke now.

"It was like someone holding a gun to your head," he continued. "It's got to be a similar feeling. My level of stress went up at that moment and stayed that way. You think something like that only happens to someone else."

For 10 years or more, Payne admits any time he heard the telephone ring, he immediately expected bad news.

Similarly, Payne said he still finds it difficult just to get out of bed mornings when it's cold and damp -- the way it was that October day -- without feeling like he is going to relive the horror.

Other circumstances also trigger the memory.

He recalled being panic stricken to come and find the doors of his new home open and the lights on and the car gone.

"I couldn't go inside the house," he said. "I was panicked. I couldn't go in there until I saw someone was inside moving around. I told my wife, 'Don't ever do that again!'"

Payne does admit his relationship with Martha's mother, Eleanor Royer, became strained in the aftermath of the murder.

"I think she thought I believed that I had it worse than she did," he said, noting that Martha and her mom were "really, really close."

However, the relationship turned around, Payne said, when he confided in Mrs. Royer that he knew she had lost a daughter and she could never really get over that, but while he had lost a wife, he would probably one day remarry and create a new life. And he has.

Martha's 81-year-old mother will be making the trip from Arkansas to attend the hearing Tuesday, along with the victim's sister Sharon and half-sister Stephanie from Texas.

Prosecutor Bookwalter, of course, plans to put Jim Payne on the stand for what looms as potentially the most dramatic portion of Tuesday's proceedings in Lawrence Circuit Court. It could well make the difference between Minnick going back to prison until he's 98 or getting out after serving 30 years of the 60-year sentence for murder.

"I've testified five times now, so it's not like this is anything new to me," Payne said.

After 30 years, he just wants it to finally be the last time.

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  • Once again, a bullet in the head 30 years ago and we wouldn't have to deal with this coward today.

    -- Posted by OldWhiteRepublican on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 6:36 AM
  • A 'bullet in the head' is too easy OWR

    -- Posted by mickhamblen on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 11:22 AM
  • Personally, I'm anti-death penalty. I just don't think you can know for sure enough in most cases to kill the person. However, I am also anti-ever lettin' the sick sonofabitch out. Don't have more hearings unless there's new evidence. Don't spend a lot of money housing him either. Four concrete walls with a tiny door, basic food like beans, bread, and vegetables, and basic cleanliness shouldn't cost what it does. I could house him in my pole barn for about $500 a year.

    -- Posted by Clovertucky on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 11:44 AM
  • Dear carebuttonbroke,

    I am following this case for a school project and wonder what parts of the story are incorrect. Please help.

    -- Posted by insidetrack on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 11:51 AM

    -- Posted by obeone on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 12:10 PM
  • My heart breaks all over again for this family. What a senseless crime. There's never any motive reported. He was just a weirdo? Evil:(

    -- Posted by letspulltogether on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 12:31 PM

    -- Posted by Michele1953 on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 1:27 PM
  • This scum-bag Minnick should have been put to death years ago. It makes me sick to see all the re-trials, hearings and other legal technicalities that have been used to keep this murderer alive for 30 years. He should never be let out of prison. It is sad that the Payne family has to re-live this over and over because of our stupid laws that favor the criminal. Stay on this Banner-Graphic.

    -- Posted by not gullible on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 1:36 PM
  • There was another person with bill, His name was Ace does anyone know his real name, or his whereabouts.

    -- Posted by homasassa on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 4:59 PM
  • I heard Ace is deceased.

    -- Posted by donalde on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 5:41 PM
  • insidetrack, i would like to help you but it seems like my comments get deleted. check out the where abouts of all people in the story, everyone not just minnicks, minnick was working as handyman, not just for the Paynes, Ace? who is Ace? if there was an Ace didnt he admit to people of killing in Chicago while up @ the arcade?

    like i said before alot of holes. 3 sides yours theres and the truth.

    -- Posted by carebuttonbroke on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 7:37 PM
  • Michele1953, that isnt the whole truth, back then wasnt there parking meters, i think that is where Minnick stole change and they didn't find it in the car.

    Minnick should spend his life in prison.

    -- Posted by carebuttonbroke on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 7:42 PM
  • Minnick was sentenced to 60 years. With the good time served he could be released tomorrow. Maybe in the eyes of the judge, he has paid his debt to society. It really doesn't matter what any of us think anyway. God will sort it all out in the end. I just hope that the Payne family can move on with their lives regardless of the outcome in Bedford.

    -- Posted by Vernie1 on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 7:43 PM
  • By the way, leaving the caps lock on does not make a more convincing statement. Just harder to read.

    -- Posted by Vernie1 on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 7:49 PM
  • Vernie1, you are 100%.

    Today it is Minnick, Yesterday it was Frisbee, there will alway be someone next. Put your faith in God and the Truth will come to you. If God thinks you can handle it.

    -- Posted by carebuttonbroke on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 7:59 PM
  • insidetrack, I would also like to help. There are so many stories about this murder, I even found it in a true crime magazine about 3-4 years after the trial. most who post on this story don't even know who all is involved, I do. This was very big back in 1981. I am always very passionate, because I believe someone else was there as well.I agree that Bill was at the home at the time of the murder. but someone else is responsibe.as well.It seems as if the police, and prosecutor, were only trying to (solve) this as quickly as possible, so that greencastle could rest easy. Yes there was an ACE, AND HE IS ALIVE AND WELL,living freely to go on with his life, while Bill takes all the punishment. Ace was incarcerated for many years for other crimes, and at one point was in pendelton,at the same time as Bill. I would love to see someone re-open all of this up,but I can see how devestating it would be for the Payne's. Bill has spent most of his life in prison and probably could not exist outside of prison. No one would accept any responsibilty for mistakes made in any investigation or the trial. Bill was just a kid from the wrong side of town. and this was easy to stick on him.Paper girl heard a scream, but lady upstairs heard nothing....and I think Mr Payne later married her........college student saw 2 young men leaving the house,but only one was tried....Bill's dna didn't match the seemen found...ACE was in the process of moving into the Minnick home.....the list goes on and on.I wish insidetrack the best of luck in getting all of the story, and maybe you too will question if justice was seved.

    -- Posted by momma7 on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 9:29 PM
  • momma7, there was only 1 set of fingerprinys on the knife..... i don't think minnick was smart enough to pull it off. rachel lewis aka ace in case anyone wanted to know.

    -- Posted by carebuttonbroke on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 9:42 PM
  • The name is Louis Rachel, and I agree Bill wasn't smart enough to do all the terrible things that were done to Mrs.Payne.

    -- Posted by momma7 on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 9:48 PM
  • sorry to Mr. Payne.but I do know the other 2 very well

    -- Posted by momma7 on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 9:51 PM
  • insidetrack, then you might know his side of the story. or at the part he wants to tell, im sure its painful

    -- Posted by carebuttonbroke on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 10:01 PM
  • correction did know them

    -- Posted by momma7 on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 10:14 PM
  • I am not defending anyone, I just know there is more to the story, and I have nothing but the deepest sympathy, and respect for Mr Payne and his family.

    -- Posted by momma7 on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 10:17 PM
  • i would like to know if anyone even knows were the change they are talking about, the car people say minnick had is, mr.paynes car which was so called stolen is, is this still around? should be easy questions? anyone?anyone?

    -- Posted by carebuttonbroke on Mon, Aug 22, 2011, at 10:25 PM