20 years since I-70 rock-throwing death

Saturday, August 27, 2011
Marsa Gipson

Today -- Saturday, Aug. 27 -- marks 20 years since a tragic incident on Interstate 70 claimed the life of a 28-year-old Arcadia woman whose only mistake was choosing to drive through Putnam County in the wee hours of the morning.

En route to Terre Haute with a male companion to pick up her young children (ages 9 and 10 in 1991), Marsa Gipson was driving westbound, approaching the 33-mile marker at about 1:15 a.m.

As they went under the Manhattan Road overpass, two large chunks of riprap rock (later estimated to weigh 21 or 22 pounds) were thrown down on the front of Gipson's Chevrolet Camaro.

One bounced off the car hood, missing the windshield on the passenger's side and causing her companion to react as if the hood had flipped up. The other jagged rock slammed through the driver's side of the windshield, fatally injuring Gipson, who moments later died at the scene from massive head trauma.

Twenty years of unanswered questions have lingered in the case. Two decades have gone by without any resolution, even after investigators and the victim's family returned to the scene three years ago for a thorough reconstruction of the incident.

But 20 years can't diminish the pain and anguish Marsa Gipson's family has dealt with. Every August is a reminder. Not only does the anniversary of her death occur during the month but her birthday comes around each August as well.

"Hopes and memories are all we have left," Jack Hacker, her father, said after the 2008 reconstruction event.

Putnam County Prosecutor Timothy Bookwalter has been wanting to take the evidence collected over the past 20 years to a Grand Jury. He said that in 2008 and he said it again this week. But he wants to make sure it is enough evidence to convict the perpetrators.

While visiting the site for a 2008 accident reconstruction, Marsa Gipson's father, Jack Hacker, rearranges flowers at the base of a cross that marks the area where his 28-year-old daughter was killed 20 years ago Saturday.

Charlie Bollinger, the investigator for the Prosecutor's Office, said he has interviewed more than 100 people in the case. They range from the proverbial "persons of interest" to interstate travelers that night to those who might have secondhand knowledge of what the usual suspects may have said or done on the bridge or in the aftermath of the incident.

"It's like most investigations," he told the Banner Graphic. "You interview one person and end up with five more to talk to when you're done with the first one."

Time and distance have conspired to lengthen the process. Some of those involved have moved away, some as far as Florida and California. At least one is in prison elsewhere.

"It's been so long," Bollinger said, "that everybody is scattered all over the country."

The veteran investigator said he expects another 10 individuals to be interviewed in the case.

The Prosecutor's Office has issued what are known in the legal profession as Baker's Warrants, Bookwalter and Bollinger revealed. The warrants allow authorities to detain persons of interest and obtain fingerprints and DNA samples to compare to evidence collected previously in the case.

All of that has been sent off to laboratories to be tested.

DNA also has been obtained off the rocks that were collected from the scene of the incident. It stands to be more significant now because "they didn't have the DNA technology then that we have today," Bollinger noted.

"Realistically we're two to three months out," he said. "Once we get the lab case back, we can organize the information and submit it to the prosecutor for review. Then he can decide to charge someone or to submit it to the Grand Jury."

However, the only charge still viable in the case is murder. The statute of limitations expired in 1998 (seven years after the Aug. 27, 1991 incident) on everything else. There is no statute of limitations for a murder charge.

"It's murder or it's nothing," Bookwalter stressed. "We've got to get this right."

And that realization has helped slow the process. No date has been set for impaneling a Grand Jury.

"We have persons of interest," Bookwalter assured, "that's where we're at with it. And the people who are not being cooperative, we're continuing to work on."

There are also multiple I-70 overpass incidents influencing the case, including eight in the period April-August 1991. Six of those involved the same Manhattan Road overpass where the fatality occurred, all in the early morning hours.

One of the lingering issues is that multiple individuals (five or six) were involved in several separate events but the cast of characters seems to change from incident to incident.

Witnesses reported seeing at least two or three people on the overpass that fateful night Marsa Gipson was killed.

"Everybody admits to being there on all or part of the other nights," Bookwalter said. "Nobody admits to being there that night."

The prosecutor agrees those individuals probably should have been charged in the other, non-fatal cases they admitted involvement in before the statute of limitations ran out. But it is too late now.

Bollinger has been working on the case with retired veteran State Police Detective Rick Lang, who was the chief investigator on the Jill Behrman case in Bloomington, along with Jeff Hearon, who is the Putnamville District investigator.

"I hope what the State Police and I have been doing will bring some closure to this case and to the victim's family," Bollinger said.

"Every time I hear of a case where something is thrown off an overpass, I can't help but think of Marsa," he said.

The senseless, random nature of the incident and its dire outcome make everyone who drives the interstate a little uneasy when they go under an overpass.

Like other investigators, Bollinger is at a loss for why someone who throw a heavy rock or anything else down on a car traveling at 60 or 65 mph.

"Any reasonable person would understand that such a thing could easily result in injury or death," he said. "I can't explain why somebody would want to do that."

Cheap thrills, boredom, intoxication ... those have usually been the prevailing notions related to any theory on it. But everyone concerned is long finished with theories. They want to solve Marsa Gipson's death.

"It's an all-or-nothing case," Bookwalter assessed. "We only get one shot at it now."

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  • Nothing good happens after midnight. Why was she out that late?

    -- Posted by roadcruise on Sat, Aug 27, 2011, at 2:01 AM
  • why does that matter?

    -- Posted by ZRXguy on Sat, Aug 27, 2011, at 7:02 AM
  • Exactly, why should that matter as to what time she was out?? She was on her way to Illinois to see her children, and a lot of people choose to travel at night when there is not so much semi traffic on the roads.. Such a sad case, and whomever did this will get there's what goes around comes around.. My prayers go out to her family, having to deal with this all of these 20 years with no justice..

    -- Posted by skater chic on Sat, Aug 27, 2011, at 7:34 AM
  • Wow! Seriously roadcruise...I hope nothing like this happens to anyone in your family and especially after midnight. Because if it does you would pretty much think they deserved it? Really...what a sad small minded way to feel. I am sorry her family has had to go through this. Sounds to me, off the top of my head, like maybe a gang initiation or something of that nature. So sad.

    -- Posted by not a native on Sat, Aug 27, 2011, at 10:23 AM
  • roadcruise is what is known on the internet as a "troll". Please ignore him and he will go away.

    As far as this case, hopefully the new DNA techniques will give the police some answers. The kids (at the time) who did this are all known, it's just a matter of putting the murder weapon in one person's hand and making the case.

    -- Posted by Clovertucky on Sat, Aug 27, 2011, at 11:19 AM
  • What ever time this happened it was WRONG. Someone knows who did this terrible thing and should come forward with any information.

    -- Posted by Trying hard on Sat, Aug 27, 2011, at 11:29 AM
  • She was coming to get my sister and I. We were starting school within the week and she wanted to surprise us by being there in the morning when we woke up. I truly appreciate the support and the good comments made. As far as the negative ... you're absolutely correct nothing "good" happens after midnight, that's why I no longer have my mother. Thank you so much for the reminder! If a mother (as I am now) wants to surprise her children then she should be able to without damnation, she wasn't doing anything inappropriate. I hope nothing ever happens to anyone like this, it's awful and it changes you forever.

    -- Posted by Camgip on Sat, Aug 27, 2011, at 3:45 PM
  • Camgip, I'm sorry you had to go through something like that. I can't say I know what you're going through because I don't, but I can send my thoughts and prayers with you and your family. I hope whomever did this is caught and put away for the rest of their life. Oh, and don't pay attention to the negative comments on here. It's just people with way too much time on their hands.

    -- Posted by Meadow31 on Sat, Aug 27, 2011, at 4:06 PM
  • Camgip,

    I agree with Meadow31 and it doesnt matter what time your mother was traveling, this should not have happened. I live about 5 miles from there so this could have easily been me or someone in my family.

    Im sorry you and your brother lost your mother to such a senseless act.

    My thoughts and prayers are with your family and I hope that the ppl responsible for this are convicted and pay for this stupid act.

    As far as those making negative comments, Im sure that there was a time in your life that you were traveling the roads after midnight. It wasnt as if she were walking the streets, she was driving a vehicle and but for the actions of others, she would still be alive today.

    -- Posted by dbltrbl on Sun, Aug 28, 2011, at 7:50 AM
  • This family suffers every single day, I hope one day they will figure out who did this. Love you Hackers!

    -- Posted by AshleyHarrison on Sun, Aug 28, 2011, at 9:00 AM
  • Someone out there knows what happened that night. They should come forward and help this family find peace.

    -- Posted by wrinklenose on Sun, Aug 28, 2011, at 4:22 PM
  • Maybe that ex state policeman Clark's persistence will finally help to resolve this case.

    -- Posted by farmer on Sun, Aug 28, 2011, at 11:09 PM
  • That doofus has done more harm than good. Pray for some closure for the family and success for the investigators.

    -- Posted by hardtobelieve on Mon, Aug 29, 2011, at 12:11 AM
  • Camgip I worked with your aunt in Plainfield and I remember this happening. Why it has taken this long to get these young people that did this is beyond me. They know who did this. Your mother was a wonderful person and loved you kids so much. God Bless you both and I do hope you get closier.

    -- Posted by oifmom on Mon, Aug 29, 2011, at 7:09 AM
  • Yes, this is Marsa's sister. I obviously have MUCH to say to many people, but let me start out with all our supporters: Louise, Ashley, Mandi and all of you I don't even know, but who obviously have good souls and can feel our pain. Eternal thanks and may God bless you. NOW,for you unintelligent persons who have no CLUE as to the night of Marsa's murder....butt out! If you don't know the facts, then stay out of it!!! She has 2 DAUGHTERS...no boys. Also, she was traveling to my parent's home in Prairie Creek, Indiana....NOT ILLINOIS! You people need to get the facts before you decide to chastise someone you don't even know and who cannot defend herself because she's dead! Marsa was a mother of two beautiful daughters. She had a somewhat challenged life, too, but was so very strong-willed, nothing would get to her! If you [cowards] hadn't taken her from my parents and I, our family could still be celebrating holidays, grandchildren, vacations....things YOU still get to do on a daily basis. Not us. Our lives are emply. Because of you cowards not taking responsibility after all these years is shameful. Is this how you want to live your lives??? Always on edge, waiting for the cops to break down your door in front of your family like on "Cops"???? How are YOUR siblings and parents? Children? Are they suffering and dying a little more each and every day because of what you did to Marsa? Can you imagine a stupid bored person throwing boulders at your loved ones and getting away with the MURDER of them? Our lives have an eternal hole that will NEVER be complete again because of you. Have you and your accomplices/family memebers who KNOW you did it have absolutely NO remourse or guilt for knowing about you taking a daughter, sister and mother away from her family just because you were bored and stupid? Thanks to YOU,my 71-year-old mother now has been fighting cancer and stress-related illnesses since August 27, 1991. My father is in deep mourning still (for you loser hillbillies, "mourning" means Deep, uncontrollable, empty, deep, heart-wrenching sadness. Have YOU ever felt this pain? Someday you will. Propbably not from MURDER, but I bet you sure have been beaten down by GUILT these past 20 years. Is it worth it? Losing your mind from all the years of lies and hiding? Rest assured...God will make you and all those who know and won't come forward will suffer....and suffer for eternity. Murder is God's commandment and now it's YOUR time. Give it up and help yourself and family feel free. Give us all sanity...for Marsa's sake.

    -- Posted by hackerpackerbacker2yahoo.com on Mon, Aug 29, 2011, at 6:50 PM
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