FEATURE – Growing up in a small neighborhood on the outskirts of a small town allowed us to grow up in a bubble of sorts, oblivious to outside events. I still remember the national events that shaped our nation, i.e. the moon landing, Watergate, inflation and huge gas lines of the late ’70s, the Iran hostages, et cetera.
But where I grew up, it seemed that we were inoculated from crime. I don’t recall one bad person living in Pittsboro, Indiana. And my neighborhood was full of great families. The rogues in our neighborhood were the fun-loving boys that always got into some sort of mischief.
We were not ignorant of what was happening outside of Pittsboro, it was just rare that we were affected. Most of the “bad stuff” occurred 25 miles away in Indianapolis, the big city.
Life was free of worries.
That all changed for me when I was 11. It was Valentine’s Day. It was one of the few days I always looked forward to each year at school. The ritual was the same every year: I exchanged cards and candy with my classmates; and when I got home I probably checked my cards to see if there were any “special” messages for me.
In my 11th year, I was in Mr. Kincaid’s sixth grade class and I had a mad crush on Nora. She was the smartest girl in our class. I usually had a crush on the nicest girl who sat within the closest proximity of me. I am sure that I was not too devastated when I did not receive any special valentines – I never did, but the hope was always there.
When I got home I probably ate all of my candy before my mom arrived from her job. No kid likes to have their candy confiscated and meted out to him by a responsible parent.
Life was good.
The next day, the news hit. On Valentine’s Day four brothers had been killed in a small town called Hollandsburg in a neighboring county. Four men had entered the family’s trailer and lined up the mother and her four sons on the floor and then killed them with shotgun blasts to the heads. Only the mother survived. The shotgun blast had blown off her wig and singed her scalp.
For several days there was nothing but speculation. The killers must be from the city. Because of the age of the boys, many thought that the killings had to be drug-related. This kind of crime never happened in rural Indiana. The unknown motive behind the killings cast a tense net over rural Indiana.
“And now fear spread over the countryside. People no longer knew against whom to direct their impotent rage,” novelist Patrick Süskind wrote in his bestseller “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.”
It was the fear of that unknown that initially gripped rural Indiana. It would turn out that none of the previous speculation was true.
Even though the lights in the trailer had not been turned on, the mother was able to give very accurate descriptions of the four men to a sketch artist. One of the men gave himself up and the unthinkable was revealed. Four men from rural Indiana had picked a residence at random and decided to kill everyone inside for the “thrill of it.” They had entered the trailer through the unlocked front door. Unfortunately, though, the truth caused even more angst than the prior speculation.
Three of the men were still at large. One was arrested shortly afterwards in California but the other two — the ringleader and the youngest, a 17-year old – evaded capture for several weeks.
It was at that time that I noticed my mother began locking the doors and windows at night. It was a subtle change. And she never said anything about it.
At school I heard stories of my classmates’ fathers buying shotguns. My neighbor, Scotty Seymour, said his dad was keeping his gun by his nightstand. I did not know if my father took any such precautions. It was something he kept to himself if he did.
I would later learn that the state police who patrolled western Indiana had to double up during that time.
After three weeks, the last of the men was eventually caught when the youngest was found in Kentucky walking down some railroad tracks. All four men would get consecutive life sentences for their roles in the massacre.
After their captures tensions began to ease. Fathers put their guns away. People started complaining again about gas shortages, inflation or whatever else was going on at that time. But my mother never stopped locking the doors and windows at night.
All I know is my world, in my bubble, became a little less trusting. And even to this day, 40 years later, I am not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
Darren Cole is a developing columnist and otherwise sports writer for St. George News. Any opinions given are his own and not representative of St. George News.
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