While researching the I-65 Serial Killer, more specifically the murder of Victoria Harshman- I came across another sad yet bizarre case that seemed to be this perfect blueprint for disaster, and it pulled me right in. While I remembered the subsequent executed killer’s name, most likely from looking through newspapers related to my I-65 research, there was another major Indiana case unfolding at the same time, the murder of Rev. William Harvey Radcliffe. The media’s focus was on this individual and the death penalty. The entire ordeal itself, almost carried this same “countdown to disaster” feel to a specific air disaster.
Originally the concept for covering & presenting the murder of Bill Radcliffe was based on similarities resulting in bizarre sequence of events that resulted in a innocent man getting murdered. One of my favorite shows that I’ve binged on from time to time is Air Crash Investigations aka Mayday.
“Before the Devil: The Murder of Rev. William Radcliffe” was going to basically give a brief synopsis of the Tenerife Disaster in which a series of pilot & control tower errors, acts of nature, a terrorist bombing and “arrogant cockpit culture” all played a significant role in what ultimately cost the lives of 583 people. The story idea was a “blueprint” to disaster, everything that had to go right or wrong did- with lottery type odds. In stark contrast juxtaposed to the murder of Rev. William Harvey Radcliffe, was the “blueprint” for disaster, which a series of decisions and circumstances mixed with coincidence became the perfect storm. Once I delved into Radcliffe’s murder though, the story- it grew. Something happened and the tone had changed. I would find newspaper articles, sometimes contradictory and a novel chapter while short, inaccurately detailing Mr. Radcliffe’s murder. While none of errors were egregious, I was more disappointed it didn’t provide more information, but their sins could’ve been much worse and for others much later on- they were.
On the surface, this was very interesting and definitely more engaging than some of the other more infamous true crime stories you read about. Once I’m nearly complete with the story, polishing it up as best I can- just hours away from publishing, I spoke with someone involved in this case in it’s much later stages. It was only from there that the story went from beyond a murder investigation unfold and a subsequent trial, but a corrupted crusade that followed.
Certainly many of you just like me grew up watching shows like Unsolved Mysteries, 48 Hours, Dateline, which in my opinion is really the inspiration and blueprint for modern True Crime material produced today, starting from the writing style of the content for articles or for podcasts, then into the production- narration, intro music, format, case selection, coverage and obviously culture around the show.
Following that formula, what might have just been a quick 1200 to 2000 word story on the core subject matter with a simple formula, (crime + investigation = trial/sentence) or the more popular (crime + subjective investigation – objective theories= ???), evolved into a question of ethics, morality, accountability and personal responsibility. This is not just a simple crime story delving into minute “case facts” and details, but the later the exploitation and attempted martyrdom of a vicious killer, violent and defiant to the bitter end by two anti-death penalty advocates; a journalist and a Catholic priest.
I’m far from a professional, but I stayed the course. William Radcliffe deserved a lot better in life, but since he was robbed of that, he sure the hell deserved a lot better legacy in death than the man who killed him.
This wasn’t a blueprint for disaster or murder. This was a cold blooded murderer and the modern attempt by professionals inventing a tale of redemption & eventual attempt at martyrdom.
A career criminal, hustler. stick up artist and murderer both in life and death.
Before the Devil is a three part series covering the murder of William Radcliffe. The trial his murderers and the subsequent events that unfolded.
Ticking Time Bomb
Just after 8 p.m. on December 16, 1990, a man walks into Dave’s IGA (Independent Grocer’s Alliance) in Delphi, Indiana. He grabs a cart and spends a few minutes strolling around picking out some cheap snacks and goes to pay. Cashier rings up the rather modest transaction and the man decides to pay with his paycheck. She asks for an ID and takes down his Driver’s License number and completes the transaction by giving the man the remaining amount owed from the check, minus the fees and a receipt. He walks outside and disappears into the cold night.
What that cashier and man didn’t know, what just occurred would eventually blow open one of Indiana’s most controversial Death Row cases. One man’s humble & honest journey to serve his community was overshadowed by maniac, a pawn against a tormented justice system, and invented martyr. Rather than focusing on the lessons to be learned, one’s mans death became the foundation for a politically motivated weaponized fight to save a savage in total disregard of the surviving victims.
Once again like so many times before, there were no winners in the end.
Wednesday, January 16, 1991, fifteen minutes before the 9 p.m. closing time at the Tippecanoe Mall in Lafayette, Indiana, a manager and sales associate are on edge, listening intently to a small radio inside the Lazarus Department Store. The United States had just launched Operation Desert Storm- beginning an extensive aerial bombing campaign of Iraq just after 7 p.m. EST.
For Americans, the images, scars and horrors of Vietnam were still fresh in our minds.
A white male with dark medium length hair and thick mustache that Lazarus management believes had shoplifted several times before, walks in around close, like he had before. when he stole. The manager noticed him immediately and contacted P. Donald Edmundson, who is working mall security that evening. Since the mall went back to it’s regular hours after the Christmas shopping season and business had slowed, she keeps watch as he goes to a specific brand and style of men’s jeans, presumably looking for a pair his size. He then slings a pair over his arm, looks for another size, slings it over his arm and then another. Without breaking stride heads for the main exit as if he’s on a mission. Just as Edmundson enters from the mall section into the Lazarus Department Store, the manager points to the shoplifter and shouts in a loud, not-so-discreet whisper, “That guy!”
The shoplifter overhears her, then zig-zags through clothing racks towards the door. Edmundson gives chase.
The thief hits the door and into the vestibule with three pairs of jeans draped over his arm. Before each door shuts, Edmundson darts through gaining an extra step. A black foreign subcompact car is running with two men inside and the thief runs up to the driver’s side to get in. As Edmundson closes in, a white male emerges from the passenger side, then points a pistol at Edmundson and cocks back the hammer, stopping the guard dead in his tracks.
“Get your ass back in the store!”, the gun wielding passenger screams, acting as if he’s about to chase him back in.
Without hesitation or looking back, the Tippecanoe Mall security guard turns around and does exactly as told. For a brief second the three men could be heard laughing hysterically as they sped off into the cold, dark January night.
A night of escalating gunplay and senseless violence had just kicked off. It’s one of the most intense nights in American history. Americans watch as a war begins to unfold halfway around the globe. Little did they know that violence was unfolding right in their own backyards.
The Long Road Home
Wednesday, January 16, 1991, was thirty-nine year-old William Radcliffe’s last day as the minister of Badger Grove Community Baptist Church in Brookston, Indiana. After spending over seven years in the rural community, he was much more than the congregation’s spiritual leader- he was their brother and friend. Rev. Radcliffe or just ‘Bill’ as he insisted to be called, was leaving the church in good hands to take on his new calling, a new mission. He resigned on January 6 to become director at New Directions Court Referral Center, a court mandated drug and alcohol rehabilitation program in Lafayette, Indiana. He wanted to help those he truly felt were at greatest risk, those who are desperate- often at the lowest point in their lives due to the social stigma associated with drug addiction and alcoholism. He grew up in Cleveland, and was described by those who knew him as streetwise, “but someone you know you could trust just five minutes after meeting him”.
After marrying Karen Carlson in 1974, the couple would attend Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he eventually earned his Master degree. He was ordained in 1979 by the Cleveland Baptist Association of the American Baptist Church USA. Bill would then graduate in Camping Administration at the George Williams College in Downers Grove, Illinois. Part of his plan was to one day set up a camp or retreat, for those “at risk” or suffering from drug and alcohol addiction.
Helping addicts wasn’t an easy task, especially in the early eighties all through the nineties. There was virtually a zero tolerance attitude towards drug addicts by the courts and society in general. Drug addiction during the crack-cocaine epidemic was not viewed as a disease, but rather a “conscious collapse of morals”. Politicians, law enforcement and community leaders would paint addicts as predators and animals, dehumanizing them. Calls to combat addicts often involved words like “cull” and “heel”, as if they were rapidly overpopulating Mother Earth, eating her alive and these human beings needed to rapidly be “thinned” out. Draconian policies mostly targeting poor rural and poor urban minority populations began rolling out with one objective- to lock them up and throw away the key.
Rev. Radcliffe wasn’t just some blowhard preaching about the ills of drugs and believed Jesus would miracle away demons when exercised, he knew better. Bill was intelligent, he earned a degree in Telecommunications from Miami University at Oxford, Ohio, in 1973. William from a young age witnessed the negative effects of drugs on a community, people he loved, and knew first hand that users weren’t just morally corrupt indulging themselves in drugs gleefully, users are people who are suffering.
Researching New Directions, Inc. starting back in 1985, at the time was considered by mental health experts to be one of the few cutting edge alcohol treatment centers in Indiana. It was a mental health focused Alcoholics Anonymous rooted program that by 1990, had developed a pallet factory to not only help sustain the program financially, but put recovering addicts to work. Sadly, positive articles about New Directions would be shadowed by rhetoric spewed from politicians on both the right and left sides of the aisle, with input from religious leaders about the dangers of drug and alcohol addicts.
Debates about ‘death penalty’ for dealers and life sentences for any violent crimes associated with drugs were advocated. As a result, every year patients, advocates, community leaders, professionals, researchers, counselors, therapists and doctors had to fight tooth and nail to get money appropriated for public mental health services- including alcohol and drug treatment. The very little funding appropriated for mental health would often just barely pass county boards and the state legislature- despite mental illness being a reality for many Americans, nearly affecting every family at some point in time. These programs, however, were viewed during the political seasons as wrought with too much waste and fraud.
Perhaps Rev. William Harvey Radcliffe was just ahead of his time, which in the end is the irony of this story.
Wednesday, January 16, 1991, Bill’s last day at Badger Grove Community Baptist Church in Brookston was busy. He had spent the last couple weeks saying his goodbyes and getting the house in order. While his new mission definitely would demand his focus and time, he was one who always made time. Despite being his last day, he didn’t get out until late that evening. Weeks earlier he had made a commitment to stop and see a hospitalized parishioner recovering from a scheduled back surgery in Indianapolis. While many probably would have blown it off, this was his family for almost eight years. He wouldn’t do it. It was late and cold when he left the hospital that night in Indianapolis, over 75 miles away from his Brookston home.
Halfway home the leaky radiator in Bill’s 1985 Chevrolet was threatening to strand him, and being stuck on the interstate late at night going into the early morning isn’t a chance he’s willing to take. Without a doubt, he saw the blue, ‘Rest Area ahead 1½ miles’ sign as he traveled north on I-65. Seconds feel like minutes when the weight of anxiety is on your chest- with just enough rope lassoed tight around your stomach. Bill was probably not only grateful, but relieved to make it to the Rest Area at Mile Post 148 on I-65 north, just seven miles north of Lebanon. He parked, then popped the hood. He was careful taking the radiator cap off and rested it by the car battery. He was going to let the car cool down and then put water in the radiator. At 11:53 p.m. he called his wife Karen Radcliffe from the payphone in the rest area lobby.
A stroke past midnight on Thursday, January 17, 1991, thirty-four year-old Jack Fansler, a long haul truck driver, got out of his truck at the Rest Area at Mile Post 148 just of I-65 north suspecting he had a fuel leak. Just as he suspected and he wasn’t happy about it. As he entered the lobby of the Rest Area he recalled, “I heard a loud bang and thought nothing of it. Could’ve been anything really”.
His focus was getting the truck fixed and back on the road, as time off the road can cost him big money. He made a phone call, then hung up and walked toward the men’s restroom. As soon as he opened the door, a man bolted past him and ran out of the lobby.
The odor hit him.
Jack Fansler, later testified at Boone County Superior Court 1, “I was a corpsman[U.S. Navy Medic] for a long time. Once you smell blood, you never forget it”. Jack saw the man’s head in a pool of blood. His torso was stretched out of a bathroom stall with his legs and feet bunched up inside, as if he had been kneeling down and fell backwards.
The man tried to speak. He was still alive with a massive head wound, so Jack rushed to the payphone to summons help.
At 12:06 a.m. Indiana State Police dispatcher calls for a trooper and EMS to the Rest Area. Then the dispatcher asked Mr. Fansler who claimed to be the only one there aside from the wounded man, “to secure the Rest Area”. The dispatcher advised him to not to let anybody in until they arrive. Just moments later, two men tried to enter screaming profanity, but ran away before Jack could say anything or get a good look at them.
Photos of the Rest Area on I-65 North Mile Post 148- approximately 7 miles north of Lebanon. The photos were taken between 2007 and 2018, the Rest Area has not changed much since that fateful night or I should say morning of January 17, 1991
An Indiana State Police Trooper arrived followed by EMS to find the former corpsman trying keep the man barely clinging to life comfortable.
“It’s all I could do”, Jack Fansler would later recall to a jury.
Paramedics quickly got the man out of the bathroom and onto a stretcher. He had a massive head wound in the back of his head and another at the top towards the front. A few times he tried to speak during the 34 mile journey to Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, recalled paramedics. Just hanging by a thread while en route to the only hospital to treat such trauma, Boone County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Lt. Stan Large and Sheriff Ern Hudson would arrive at the scene of the now suspected shooting.
No identification was found on the man, so Sheriff Hudson ran the plate of an unoccupied 1985 full-size Chevy in the parking lot with it’s hood up and a warm engine. According to the dispatcher, the plate came back to a William Harvey Radcliffe of rural Brookston, all the way in White County, Indiana. At first they were going to have a dispatcher call his residence, but then started to have second thoughts.
If the car ends up belonging to that man, that’s no way to notify a wife, child or parent of a loved one. ISP decided to send a Trooper working in the local district to do what could be a possible notification.
Despite fighting every second and the best efforts to save his life, the victim died two hours later in the trauma center. The man had suffered a gunshot wound to back of his head and it appeared to exit on the top.
The victim was Reverend William Harvey Radcliffe, he was just 39 years-old.
Boone County Sheriff Ern Hudson decided he was going to actively work the homicide along with his deputy, Lt. Stan Large. One thing was for sure, they would be calling in the Indiana State Police for assistance. They just were not experienced with crimes of this nature. Sgt. Herb Clear investigator from the Lafayette post of the Indiana State Police would assist.
It wasn’t too long before the men realized they were just at one scene of a multi-county rampage.
The warning had come too late.
Above is a satellite view of the Rest Area and Lebanon, Indiana
As the sun rose the morning of January 17, 1991, the people of Indiana and the rest of the nation were glued to their TVs and radios, anxious about Operation Desert Storm. Little did any local know, Indiana State Police evidence technicians and the Boone County Sheriff’s Office were pouring over a Rest Area restroom in the heartland looking for evidence at what ended up being the final stop of a local rampage.
Bill’s wallet and car keys were missing, but his car was still in the lot. The jug Bill used to put water in the car’s radiator was on the floor by the sink- as if it were dropped. Fragments from what appeared to be a mid-sized caliber bullet, suspected to be a .38 was partially lodged in the title floor of the stall. Aside from a gunshot to the back of his head with an exit wound, there were no other wounds or marks. No evidence of a physical confrontation or struggle.
It appeared that William Radcliffe had fully cooperated.
“Something Right out of Fargo”
Waiting for an autopsy on Rev. Radcliffe and the preliminary evidence that crime scene technicians came up with, Sheriff Hudson and Deputy Large wasted no time starting their investigation. They turned their attention to an All-Points Bulletin that started before midnight on Wednesday June 16, 1991, and went on well into Thursday morning. Indiana State Police’s Lafayette Post had began issuing a statewide All-Points Bulletin over the radio and to municipal and county agencies via teletype; two white males wanted by Lafayette PD and Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Office for questioning in connection with an armed robbery.
First suspect- white male, approximately 30 to 35 years-old with a medium build. About 5 feet 11 inches, with gray-streaked black hair parted in the middle. Thick pyramid-shaped mustache and scruffy beard. Last seen wearing blue jeans and white tennis shoes. Suspect is armed with a dark, shiny revolver.
Second suspect- also a white male, about 25 to 30 years-old. About 5 feet 10 inches with a heavier build around 165 lbs. He has black or dark wavy neck-length hair. He also has a pyramid-style mustache, but said to have “bushy” style eyebrows. Last seen wearing a tan, artificial down coat and blue jeans.
Approach with caution, both are armed and considered extremely dangerous!
Earlier that evening, Greg Feeney a truck driver mentor training another driver, both stopped for the night at the Dollar Inn (now a Super 8) at 4601 South Street in Lafayette, Indiana. Once both men got into the room, they decided to leave the door ajar to get some fresh air.
Shortly after 10:30 p.m., both men had fallen fast asleep when two men burst into room with guns drawn and assaulted them. Then they put pillowcases over their heads. One of the robbers became irate when Greg didn’t move quick enough moments after he had a pillowcase over his head, so the robber fired his pistol into the floor, then struck Greg with the revolver and held it to his head while he made the other man strip to his underwear. Both men were bound with phone wire, electrical tape, gagged and then stuffed onto the bathroom floor. The agitated robber taunted and threatened the men repeatedly while the other tried to talk him down and convinced him they had to get out of there. The intruders stole both trucker’s overnight bags, described in police reports as “black duffel bags”.
At 2:30 a.m., merely two hours into the murder investigation of William Radcliffe, just as Indiana State Police and Boone County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) were piecing together evidence at the Rest Area and learning of the events at the Dollar Inn, they learned Lebanon PD and another BCSO detective were just called to a robbery seven miles south of the Rest Area; at the Holiday Inn ‘Holidome’ just off I-65.
A twenty-five year-old salesman for Exide Corp, Kevin Hritzkowen from Southfield, Michigan, was having a good time patronizing the Holidome portion of the Holiday Inn. Around 11:00 p.m., two men walked up to him as he was leaving the pool area of the hotel. Both men with guns drawn, accosted him and then forced him to lead them back to his hotel room. Once inside the room, the men became increasingly hostile. As soon as they entered the room, both men put their guns to his head, one to his forehead and one to the back of his head. They demanded his cash and credit cards, Hritzkowen complied. When one robber realized there was only $70 in cash and a bunch of credit cards he became agitated. They put a pillow case over his head, then forced him onto his hands and knees, then bound his hands and feet together with phone cord and electrical tape.
One of the robbers began roughing up Kevin Hritzkowen asked if he thought he was crazy? The men pulled him across the floor into the his room’s bathroom and used more phone cord and electrical tape to secure his hands to a rod in the bathtub. The two robbers began arguing on whether to kill him or not, then came in and demand to know what he drove, so he told them about his 1990 black Dodge Van which is a company van.
Suddenly there was a soft knock at the door, the robbers opened the door and someone asked, “What’s going on guys?” The third man came into the room. For a moment Kevin thought it may be security or the room next door checking on the noise, but to his horror realized it was an associate of his abductors.
“I’m going to scope out the rest of the motel”, one of the voices said in a southern Indiana drawl and then the hotel room door shut. Both of the men came back to the bathroom and resumed arguing on whether to kill him or not. One of the men put his gun against Kevin’s testicles, threatening to blow them off and demanded his ATM pin numbers. Again, he complied and then they gagged him.
They turned the TV up and left the room. It took Kevin until 2:30 a.m. over three hours to free himself of his bindings. He immediately called the Lebanon Police Department. The responding officer would report that the man was quite shaken. When Boone County Sheriff Ern Hudson heard of the incident that morning, he quickly turned his focus the robbery.
All three victims surprisingly were able to provide consistent descriptions of the two robbers. Indiana State Police summoned one of their top sketch artists to spend time with three victims and a potential witness in order to get composites out that evening across the state.
Apart from solid descriptions, they were recovering evidence from all crime scenes.
ISP Crime Scene Technicians confirmed they were able to recover what was almost certain to be fragments of a .38 bullet from the floor of the Rest Area, which they believed was the same bullet that killed Bill Radcliffe. They sent it to the state crime lab for confirmation. They were also able to recover a suspicious thumbprint off the sink counter.
Lafayette PD recovered nearly an intact discharged .38 bullet from between the beds at the Dollar Inn. Lebanon PD processed the scene at the Holiday Inn and was able to recover a fingerprint from the bathroom.
Certain both hotel robberies and the murder were connected, Boone County Sheriff Ern Hudson and Indiana State Police detective Herb Clear began piecing together the timeline.
The autopsy was performed first thing that morning by pathologist Dr. Richard Harruff at the Indiana University Medical School. Dr. Harruff contacted Sheriff Hudson to give him his preliminary findings. Just as suspected, Reverend William Radcliffe was executed. Burn wounds indicated he was shot point blank in the back of the head and exited- likely leaving the suspected .38 bullet fragments in the floor of the stall. Based on the entrance and exit wound trajectory, William Radcliffe would have been kneeling.
It was quite obvious that on the surface that this was a robbery, as Rev. Radcliffe had no wallet or identification. These guys committed two earlier robberies and likely stole from the Tippecanoe Mall. It just didn’t sit right with Sheriff Hudson. This seemed more predatory, but he would keep it to himself for now. He didn’t want to get tunnel vision just hours into an investigation, but what had occurred was beyond disturbing for guys looking for quick buck.
Early that Thursday afternoon, things would take a strange and sudden turn just twelve hours into the homicide investigation. Indiana State Police Sgt. Thomas Pearcy calls Sheriff Ern Hudson & Deputy Lt. Stan Large. They needed to get back to Rest Area immediately. A maintenance worker for the Indiana Department of Transportation was cleaning the men’s restroom at the rest area after the crime scene technicians where finished and released it. `Nick Gordon was disinfecting the restroom floor with a mop and a .22 caliber cartridge suddenly shot across the floor, skipping like a pebble. It was in pristine condition and had not been fired. They made sure to get his statement and pictures of the area he was mopping, about two stalls down from where Bill Radcliffe was shot. It’s a long shot now if there is any type of evidence on it, but they still bagged it to be sent to the crime lab.
Somehow, investigators missed the unspent cartridge and hoped that it wasn’t their only link to the killers, but they agreed with Sgt. Pearcy and Sgt. Clear to also withhold it from the press. They contacted one of the technicians again and confirmed that no spent casing was recovered at the scene.
Were they sure it wasn’t a .22 cartridge? Sheriff Hudson again was told they were confident; it was not a .22 and certain it was a .38 possibly a 9 mm just based on it’s size and characteristics alone, but until it gets to the crime lab… it’s just a guess between the two.
The men were pondering back and forth the countless possibilities as to why the .22 cartridge was there. Then at 4:30 p.m., investigators would get a break. Two-and-a-half miles north of the Holidome, Kevin Hritzkowen’s van was located during a patrol behind a small apartment building just off IN-39 in the Brendan Wood Subdivision of Lebanon. Sheriff Hudson immediately impounded Kevin’s company’s van to have processed thoroughly by state police technicians.
A short time later Sheriff Hudson, the Indiana State Police, Tippecanoe County Sheriff, both the Lafayette and Lebanon Police Departments were armed with composites based on the victim’s descriptions. They made sure every officer received it at roll call.
The next day, those same composites(below) circulated through various media sources:
Composites based on the descriptions provided by three victims and a possible witness. The artist work sat with each of them the day after the suspected crime spree. Sheriff Ern Hudson and Indiana State Police Sgt. Thomas Pearcy believed that getting artists to the victims and witnesses when their memories were still raw from the incidents, would provide the best descriptions possible giving investigators the best chances to identify the suspects to send over an APB and to the media
It was said that Sheriff Ern Hudson had looked back on the first few days following the Radcliffe murder after the Cohen Brother’s film, Fargo came out in 1996. While the former deputy couldn’t provide me with an exact quote, he said, “Sheriff Hudson walked in and is at his desk a minute, then asked if we all had seen it and said, ‘I’ll tell you something right out of Fargo, can’t make this one up. This was real. Crazy. Don’t need to see it once you’ve seen idiots that are pure evil.. It’s crazy. Scary. No telling what a cold-hearted son-of-a-bitch will do that’s also dumb ass'”.
Satellite view of where the crimes occurred. At the top of the map is the Tippecanoe Mall and the Dollar Inn (Super 8 by Wyndham Lafayette) in Lafayette. At the bottom is the approximate location of the Holiday Inn- Holidome in Lebanon. Just seven miles north of Lebanon is Interstate 65 Rest Area Northbound Mile Post 148.
Tale of Two IGAs
It’s late Saturday afternoon on January 19, 1991, Dewey McIlrath is cleaning around the dumpster and incinerator area of his business, Dewey and Sons IGA; a small town grocer in Rossville, Indiana, just sixteen miles straight down Indiana Route 26. On the ground next to the incinerator is an Amoco gas card belonging to a William Radcliffe, but Dewey just figures that it’s expired and someone didn’t cut it up. He looks around for anything else and tosses the gas card back into the dumpster.
After Dewey got home later that evening, he told his wife about the credit card. She asked if he had heard about the murder the day before last, but he had not paid any attention to it. He later explains to the Journal and Courier, “It was just a coincidence. I didn’t know about the murder, and she didn’t know about the card. I wondered why it wasn’t cut up or broken apart, but honestly thought it was expired and tossed it into the dumpster.”
After they ate dinner, both Dewey and his wife went back to the store with flashlights and start checking around the dumpster and incinerator. They found six more cards belonging to William Radcliffe ranging from a video store membership to credit cards.
Dewey called the Indiana State Police and reported what he found. An excellent lead, but there was some bad news; the garbage man had already emptied the dumpster into the truck. Fortunately, it had not been emptied at the landfill. The next day the contents of the garbage truck was dumped on the garage floor at the facility. Detectives spent three and-a-half hours that day going through it. They not only recovered Rev. Radcliffe’s driver’s license and a picture of Karen his wife, but ten additional pieces of identification belonging to him.
Despite all the manpower at their disposal, evidence recovered and rounding up all of their usual suspects, Boone County Sheriff Ern Hudson, Deputy Lt. Stan Large, Tippecanoe County Sheriff Deputy Tracy Brown and ISP Sgt. Herb Clear were back at square one.
Then for a month… nothing.
Wednesday February 20, Lafayette Police Department picked up Gerald Wayne Bivins 31, on an outstanding warrant out of Carroll County. Known as “Jerry” to both law enforcement and his associates. He had a warrant had been issued in Carroll County for forgery, so they pick him up and take him to jail. Jerry looks both anxious and nervous, he had just been paroled nine months earlier after spending eight years in prison.
Gerald “Jerry” Wayne Bivins was born December, 7, 1959 to Marilyn “Jeanne” and Everett “Gene” Bivins of Evansville, Indiana. According to friends, family and childhood associates, “Jerry” as they always called him, was an adventurous kid and loved the outdoors with his brother Richard “Rick”. The Bivins family lived in middle-class neighborhood in Evansville where Jerry would remain until shortly before the age of 18. Childhood friends would recall his love for the “Boy Scouts of America”, that he started out as “Cub Scout” and grew up in the ranks over the years.
Friends and family would also recall how Jerry had stuttering problem which would result children giving him a hard time and making fun of him. Due to the stuttering, he by his own admission became a “Momma’s Boy”. As he grew older though, he was able to mostly curb the stuttering problem and had remained in the Boy Scout program which everyone though he would attain the rank of Eagle Scout, but before that could happen- things started to change for Jerry.
Teachers described Jerry as a bright kid with potential, but in high school he started to drink and do drugs. Not long long after he turned 16 he would drop out of high school. He quickly got popular with an older crowd and immersed himself into the criminal element. His brother Rick joined the United States Air Force, hoping it would inspire Jerry to the same.
Jerry quickly got the reputation of a fast talking hustler, stealing and robbing houses hoping to fence new or still boxed merchandise to local businesses. The main goal was to get them to pay with a business checks and with the help of a few mentors, they would teach him how to forge them for more money as payroll checks. Oddly enough, most of the victims had a hard time pressing charges against Jerry. Some even refused. He was a likable guy, who they believed genuinely cared about people. He just got in with the wrong crowd and was mixed up with drugs and alcohol.
Not long after dropping out of school, Gerald Wayne Bivins was all of the police radar. While doing a brief stint in a reformatory school when he was 17, he had racked up additional charges and was on his way to prison for theft and forgery charges. In prison Jerry quickly gained the reputation of a con-artist and hustler, just like back at home.
On September 22, 1982, twenty-five year-old Donald Kay Wallace of Evansville, Indiana, was on trial for murdering the Gillian family on January 14, 1980. Wallace broke into a home and burglarized it, then claimed he got greedy and decided to break into the home next door. This time the home was occupied by the Gilligan family. Patrick and Theresa both 30, and their children Lisa 5, and Gregory 4. Rather than flee, Wallace confronted them with a gun and tied them up. Then executed them all “within ten seconds” according to his final confession after years on Death Row.
During his trial, Wallace and his defense team received an unexpected devastating blow from the prosecution the day before when Debra Ann Durham, Wallace’s then girlfriend and often accomplice, suddenly turned state’s evidence and testified to what occurred the evening of the quadruple homicide. During rebuttal, defense received tip from a prisoner from Evansville at Indiana Reformatory at Pendleton.
Gerald Wayne Bivins then 22, claimed he had been corresponding with Miss Durham through the mail and she had fallen in love with him. She kept telling him she was going to lie from the prosecution to get back at her boyfriend and Jerry… ‘well just couldn’t let this eat at his conscience”.
Wallace’s defense team was about to have their Perry Mason moment as Gerald Wayne Bivins strutted into the courtroom in shackles in front of Vigo Circuit Judge Hugh McQuillan. The only problem was, Bivins forgot the letters. Judge McQuillan ordered Indiana State Police Superintendent John Shettles to dispatch a helicopter to take Bivins back to the Indiana Reformatory in Pendleton to retrieve the letters. Court proceedings were suspended for six hours while Jerry searched his cell and the prison mail room for what the defense early called “exculpatory letters”. Bivins would inform Wallace’s attorney William Smock that someone must have mailed them.
Smock tried to get the trial put on hold until the letters arrive, but Judge McQuillan was having none of it. Wallace eventually was convicted on all the murder counts not only based on the testimony of Miss Durham, but overwhelming physical evidence and confessions Wallace had given. He was sentenced to death.
While Gerald Bivins was waiting at the Tippecanoe County Jail on February 20, 1991, to be picked up by Carroll County Deputies, Tippecanoe County Deputy Tracy Brown pulled him into an interrogation room. One of the strategies employed by investigators working the recent robberies and murder of Bill Radcliffe was to have detectives interrogate parolees, known criminals and drug dealers when they came across them both on the streets and in jail. He first has Jerry sign a form advising him of his Miranda Rights. Deputy Brown asks Jerry if he knew anything about the recent events surrounding the murder of Reverend Radcliffe. At first he is quiet, but deputy Brown can tell the man is troubled about something.
Not wanting to wait for Gerald Bivins to get transported to the Carroll County Jail that evening, a Delphi investigator arrives to ask Jerry about the paycheck reported stolen from a residence in Clinton County that he believes he forged and cashed at Dave’s IGA in Delphi around 8 p.m. December 16, 1990.
Jerry pauses and reflects on his life for a moment.
Two months earlier things were finally looking up for Jerry. After spending his entire adult life in prison aside from the nine months he’s currently been on parole and a few months between two separate sentences from nearly a decade ago, it appears his life has achievable dreams and direction. He married Patricia (Patty), a woman he swept off her feet. Even Jerry’s family would joke that he might not be much to look at and had not a dime to offer, but he could sure pick the women up. He promised Patty that this was it, she gave him everything he needed and that made him feel secure. When he got out, he was able to con his way into a substantially higher paying company than typical convicts can get.
First it started with just bowling on weekends, and then evolved into hanging out with other couples at Nick’s Nightclub a few nights a week. Then he started drinking and doing drugs all through the week, all day and even on the job. Then one day after missing so much work he was fired. Then came Christmas of 1990, the first one he would spend with family & friends as an adult- He a Patty were also served an eviction notice.
Jerry was right back to old habits. Writing bad checks, stealing and sticking up people for fast money to drink and get more cocaine. The thought of going back to prison was quite sobering, he wasn’t going to go back to prison and decided he was going to bargain with police. Why not take risks and play secret agent to his advantage? He then told the detective he was afraid for his life. He had something on two young stick up artists. These guys were dangerous though and he needed protection… and the forgery & theft charges from the check cashed at Dave’s IGA in Delphi to go away.
He insisted on speaking with Tippecanoe County Sheriff Deputy Tracy Brown if he was going to go into this any further. At 6:30 p.m. Jerry tells Deputy Brown he knows where the gun used in the Rev. Radcliffe murder was discarded. Then the precise locations of the hotel robberies and Lazarus shoplifting incident.
He refused to name who the men were that pulled off the robberies and murders.
That evening Gerald Bivins was taken to the Carroll County Jail.
First thing in the morning on Thursday February 21, investigators took Bivins to where the gun was supposed to be discarded but came up empty handed. Sheriff Hudson and Sgt. Herb Clear were certain Jerry might be playing games, and gave him one final chance to either come up with evidence, take a polygraph or give the names of the killers.
Friday February 22, at a closed probable cause hearing in front of a Boone County judge, Bivins testified and identified who was behind the robberies and the murder of William Radcliffe on January 16, 1991.
Sheriff Ern Hudson would personally inform Karen Radcliffe of the news.
They got an informant.
“I know that when it first happened the sheriff assured me that they were going to get these guys, and I wondered, what it would matter? It wasn’t going to bring my husband back”, Karen Radcliffe told the press, “But it wasn’t long before I realized that I wanted these guys caught….. I would certainly vote for the death penalty”.
Karen was pressed once by a reporter on reconciling the death penalty with her Christian faith, she explained “If you read the Old Testament, you’ll see that it is full of violence. I don’t think that we are taught to be only sweetness and light. God knows we must live in this world and is not asking us to sit back and accept all of the terrible things that happen in it”.
Gary Kevin Robertson and James M. Warren both 19, were arrested that weekend on charges of murder, robbery and theft. Warren also was charged with confinement. Both were lead suspects for the shoplifting at the Lazarus Department Store and the subsequent hotel robberies in Lafayette and Lebanon.
“We’ve always theorized that these crimes were all connected”, Boone County Sheriff Ern Hudson said in an official press statement.
Part 2: Coming Soon
3 thoughts on “Before the Devil, Part 1: The Murder of Rev. William H. Radcliffe”
I am Matt Radcliffe, I was the 11 year old son of William Radcliffe. I appreciate your article, and the honor you have showed to my dad! One piece to add to your article, my dad had at most $8 in his wallet. I believe this is why he was shot. I thank all the officers and detectives as well as the man who found his wallet! I am grateful.
Tomorrow will mark the 29th year that Bivrns stole my father away from my life.
Each year I read this. It helps me remember. I am 44 years old now. And this article brings tears to my eyes each time. Would the author like to do a 33 year follow up?