Exposure to '77 Hollandsburg murders led to author's book

Friday, July 4, 2014

Mike McCarty, founder and CEO of Safe Hiring Solutions, was nine years old when four men burst into a home on Valentine's Day 1977 in the sleepy Parke County town of Hollandsburg, lined up a mother and her four boys up on the floor and began executing them with shotguns.

The mother survived when her wig was blown off and the killers believed it was her head.

The random thrill killing mission shocked the nation and forever changed a community in west-central Indiana. Doors that were always unlocked were now locked. Strangers that were welcomed with open arms were now unwelcome. Unloaded shotguns were loaded and placed under beds.

McCarty began cutting out the newspaper articles and saving them while his father, an Indiana State Police officer, was involved in the investigation and spent every night guarding the surviving mother until the killers were identified and captured.

Little did McCarty know at the time, but the killers had driven past his house that night and the ring leader, Roger Drollinger, joked about stopping and "killing a pig and his family" before driving four more miles and selecting the Keith and Betty Spencer home.

The crime had such a profound impact on McCarty that it led him to become a violent crime detective in Nashville, Tenn., after graduating from Wabash College. Eventually moving back to Indiana, he launched Safe Hiring Solutions, a global background screening firm with more than 3,100 clients. His life focus is protecting people from harm.

The crime continued to haunt him as a detective so he sat down and wrote letters to each of the four killers. Then he started visiting the surviving mother who was a close friend of the family. She agreed to help with the book and provided a personal journal of private goodbye letters she had written to the boys.

Eventually, one of the killers, Daniel Stonebraker, agreed to help with the book and eventually wrote the forward.

Drollinger, the ring leader, died in prison this past January on the eve of an Investigative Discovery Channel release of a documentary based on McCarty's just-released book, "Choking in Fear: A Memoir of the Hollandsburg Murders."

The book captures growing up in a small Midwestern town, with all the eccentric characters and feelings of security in the 1970s, along with the shattering of that innocence and a life-long pursuit of understanding so it might never happen again.

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