Normal Nevermore: The Prom Night Murders

When I first discovered this case, I had no idea what kind of rabbit hole I was descending into. Not one iota. Don’t get me wrong, I usually know that every case takes quite a bit of researching and digging- but holy macaroni! What initially started off as listening to one, singular podcast, has led me into listening- binging actually, all twenty episodes from CounterClock season 3 which gets IN DEPTH about this case, along with watching the 48 Hours episode dedicated to this case. So, needless to say, I have A LOT of information. My week has been completely devoted to learning about the events that led up to, and following the murders of four family members. This is the story of the Pelley Family Massacre. 

This is a well known case, especially in the state of Indiana. This case defined the “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” town of Lakeville, Indiana. This was a senseless crime of a pastor, his wife and her two young daughters who were brutally murdered inside their own home, for seemingly, no reason whatsoever. It took over a decade for an arrest to be made, then another four years til anyone was put into prison for the crime. Is it solved? Well… sure. But if you’re anything like me, then you’ll want ALL the facts. You’ll want both sides. Because there is after all, two sides to every story. Until recently, one side has never been told. But, thanks to CounterClock’s Delia D’Ambria, there’s a whole bunch of new information that has led me down a completely different path than the one I initially thought I was on. 

So let’s start off at the beginning. Bob Pelley met his wife, Ava “Joy” Armstrong while they were attending college together at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, sometime in the late 60’s. Bob was born and raised in Ohio, but Joy on the other hand was born and raised in Kentucky, and moved to Ohio for school. Bob and Joy’s love blossomed rather quickly, and it didn’t take long for the couple to go from in a relationship, to engaged. 

Bob and Joy were married on September 11th, 1970, and after the wedding the newlyweds moved down the street from Joy’s parents. It wasn’t an impressive home- it was just a trailer, but the couple were excited because it was their first home as a married couple. Now, despite taking classes in religious studies at college, Bob got a job working with computers at a company called Square-D Manufacturing. It was during this time that the computer industry was booming- so Bob took every opportunity to learn something new. He found his passion, and looked forward to making his family some money doing something he enjoyed. In December 1971, Joy welcomed a precious baby boy into the world, and the couple named him after his father. His full name- Robert Jeffrey Pelley, but was called Jeff for short. A year later, Bob and Joy had their second child- a girl this time, and they named her Jacque, short for Jacqueline. 

In April of 1980, the Pelley family moved from their modest Kentucky home to a bigger place in Cape Coral, Florida. This new home was a dream. It had a pool, lush lawn and gardens, and room for the whole family. Bob was able to pay for this sprawling new home because he had recently also changed jobs. He still worked with computers, but Bob was now the supervisor at Landmark Bank. It was a big deal, and the job more than paid for the family’s bills- plus some.

Bob instilled strong Christian morals and values into his young children. Although not abusive, Bob was strict and would come down hard on the children if they did anything wrong. Joy on the other hand, was more forgiving. All in all, it was a very normal life. 

But, by 1984, normal began to look a lot different for the Pelley family. And that was because Joy was diagnosed with skin cancer. Right off the bat she told her family that she didn’t want to undergo treatment, and would rely on God’s mercy and prayer to get her through. At first, Joy and the rest of the family thought that she beat the cancer, but a year later, the cancer came back and much more fiercely. Again, she denied chemo and other forms of treatment. Some of her family members were supportive of that decision, while others were not. On February 24th, 1985, Bob made the harrowing decision to remove his wife from life support- a decision that Joy’s family did not agree with, and a decision that caused Bob a lot of heartache as well as getting a lot of blowback. 

Bob relied on his pastor- Pastor Michael Ross during this difficult time. Pastor Ross remembers on one occasion Bob had confided in him about his money problems and how he was finding it almost impossible to give Joy a decent funeral. He even had trouble paying for a casket. The reason why I mention this is because of his good paying job. Why was he having such money problems? However, things seemed to have turned on a dime because the next time Pastor Ross spoke to Bob, Bob mentioned how he seemingly came up with more than enough money for the casket and funeral. Pastor Ross wondered if someone from the church helped Bob out, but also questioned if there was another way he obtained the money. He never asked Bob which way or the other. 

53 days before Joy Pelley died, 27-year-old Edward Huber was found deceased underneath his car in the backyard garage of his home. In his autopsy, the coroner determined that Edward was under the influence of alcohol at the time he died, and that the cause of death was accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Ed left behind his wife Dawn, and their three young daughters- Jessica, Jolene and Janel. Although young at the time, Jessica recounts that her parent’s marriage was problematic and remembers that her father was contemplating filing for divorce. Jessica claims that her father was familiar with cars, and knew better than to leave the car running while the doors and windows of the garage were closed. Because of that fact, Jessica is pretty adamant that her father’s death wasn’t accidental at all, and that there’s foul play involved. 

Shortly after her husband’s death, Dawn wanted to start a new life. Dawn reached out to her best friend, Katie, and made plans to visit her in Toledo, Ohio. Meanwhile, Katie had some family visiting from out of town. That family member- Bob Pelley. Katie’s relationship with Bob is unclear; Jacque doesn’t remember if Katie was Bob’s cousin or niece, but either way, she’s a family member nevertheless. It was during this trip to Toledo that Dawn met Bob, and by all accounts, their chemistry was instantaneous. Although Bob was six years older than Dawn, they seemed to have a lot in common. Dawn and Bob stayed in contact after Bob returned to Florida and to his children. Bob made it known pretty early on that he wanted to remarry, and Jessica suspects that her mother was quick to accept Bob’s proposal because she was a newly single mother of three with little financial stability. Jessica suspects her mother accepted Bob’s proposal out of survival. 

Ten months after Ed passed away from carbon monoxide poisoning, and just eight months after Joy lost her battle with cancer, Bob married Dawn on November 8th, 1985 in Ohio. I will note that neither Jeff or Jacque attended their father’s nuptials to Dawn- but it wasn’t because they didn’t agree with it. The children didn’t attend because they had school, and Bob simply didn’t see the need to pull them away from their studies. Jeff told his father that he was okay with his father’s remarriage, as was Jacque. Before Jessica knew it, her whole life was being uprooted. One minute her father was gone, and the next- her mother seemingly replaced him and in doing so, moved Jessica and her sisters far from everything they ever had known. Dawn and her three daughters joined Bob in Florida where they moved in with Jeff and Jacque. Jessica says that she wasn’t ready for all the new changes, and says that she never got the chance to grieve her father. Before she knew it, she was living the Brady Bunch life- blended family and all. 

Others in the community, especially Pastor Ross, were skeptical of the new couple. Pastor Ross, along with others, didn’t understand why the newly married couple wanted to hurry into a new marriage, but at the same time, understood that Bob and Dawn found each other and relied on each other- needed each other. Pastor Ross soon learned that Bob suddenly wanted to switch careers- even though he was making good money as a supervisor at Landmark Bank. Bob told Pastor Ross that he wanted to become an ordained pastor. 

Almost a year to the date of Bob’s wedding anniversary to Dawn, Bob accepted a position as head pastor at Olive Branch Church in Lakeville, Indiana. Once again, Jessica and her sisters’ were being uprooted. For all the Pelley children, the move to Indiana wasn’t ideal. For one thing, they moved from the sprawling home with a pool in sunny Florida, to a tiny home in a tiny town with corn fields surrounding the property. They had neighbors- don’t think that the family moved somewhere without anyone in sight, but it was still a dynamic change for the five children. The house was small and cramped. All three girls shared a bedroom in the basement while Jeff got his own room on the main floor- across from his father’s and Dawn’s bedroom. All the children shared one bathroom- and I can imagine that with children ranging in age of 6 to 17, there was bound to be fights about how long someone was using the bathroom, or who left behind hairs in the sink. The Pelley’s house was on the same property as the church. Because Lakeville is a spec of a thing, the church is fairly small- with more pews than people. It wasn’t highly attended. So it wasn’t a mega church by any means. However, the church had a parsonage for the pastor’s family, and that’s where the Pelley family called home. 

This story really begins on the morning of April 30th, 1989- exactly 32 years ago (of the day that I pen this blog.) Dave Hathaway was the Sunday school superintendent, as well as Bob’s right hand man, and normally showed up to church either right before, or as Bob Pelley arrived. However, on the morning of April 30th, Dave was running late, and was worried about what Bob would say about it. However, when Dave arrived, which was around 9:10am, he realized that Bob was also late, and hadn’t yet showed up. Dave knew that Bob’s tardiness was absolutely out of the normal, and immediately had the sneaking suspicion that something wasn’t right. Meanwhile, Stephanie Fagen- a friend of Jessica’s, would almost always stop over at the Pelley residence before church started for some of Dawn’s yummy cooking. It was a tradition she- and the Pelley girls had all gotten used to. However, when Stephanie knocked on the sliding glass door to enter the home through the dining room/kitchen area, she realized that the door was locked. Stephanie was stunned because it was completely out of the ordinary. When Stephanie tried the other back door and discovered that it too was locked, she simply walked over to the church as more parishioners were gathering. More and more people realized that something wasn’t quite right with the whole situation. Because the Pelley’s lived at the parsonage, they had an open door policy. So, when parishioners began showing up and noticed that all the doors and windows to the house were locked with all the curtains drawn, it raised some serious eyebrows. 

Because Bob still hadn’t shown up by the time the service was to start, Dave instructed another member of the church to lead the sermon while he considered his next option. All throughout the service, he contemplated what his next move would be, while silently hoping that Bob would emerge from the parsonage with a response to the chaos. Immediately after the service concluded, Dave began looking around the church for a spare key to gain entrance into the Pelley household. 

Luckily, a spare key was found in the church. Around 10:05am, Dave entered the home on the first floor, through the front door. By 10:10am, Dave had found Bob and his family- and the brutal scene. A few feet to the left of the front door laid Bob’s lifeless body. He was lying on his back in the very small hallway (his body practically took up the whole width of the hallway) with blood covering the walls. Bob had been shot twice- once in the chest, and once in the face. Although completely in shock, Dave looked around but didn’t see any other Pelley family members. Dave instructed other members of the church to dial 911, as he continued to search the home for the other family members. Eventually, Dave made his way to the basement of the house, and as he peeked down to see what- or who was down there, he saw the feet of children, and immediately knew the situation grew even more dire. He ordered everyone out of the house and waited for the police to show up. 

By 10:30am, the first police officers had arrived on scene and began an investigation. Downstairs in the basement, officers discovered the three bodies of Dawn, Jolene and Janel. All three girls were huddled together before each being shot close range. It didn’t take long for yellow crime scene tape to go up around the perimeter of the house while investigators asked themselves one major question. Where were the other three Pelley children? 

Jessica had been at a sleepover all weekend. She had left her home sometime early Friday evening, and was being driven back home by her friend’s mother when they pulled onto Osbourne Road and saw the crowd of onlookers and yellow tape waving in the wind. Jessica’s friend’s mother was approached by a police officer, and initially was asked why she was trying to get onto the property. When the mother replied she was trying to drop Jessica off at home, the police officer asked the woman to step out of the vehicle. Jessica watched from inside the car as the police officer told her friend’s mom about the scene inside her home. Jessica witnessed her friend’s mother break down, and at first, couldn’t understand why. Jessica claims that when her friend’s mom first pulled up near the house and saw the crime scene tape, her initial thoughts were that something bad happened to the family dog. Slowly though, a new reality began to set in for Jessica, and Jessica soon realized that she was the only surviving member of her family- seeing as how Jeff and Jacque still hadn’t yet been found, and they’re not her biological siblings. Upon being questioned by detectives, Jessica explained that Jeff had attended prom the night before, and was most likely with friends at Six Flags Great America for a post-prom planned trip, while Jacque had spent the weekend with a church camp at Huntington College. 

Between 9am and 10:05am, the only people that had been accounted for that had made entrance to the church/parsonage were: Dave Hathaway, church parishioners and paramedics, police officers and detectives. Now, I’ve detailed how small Lakeville is, so it’s odd to me when I learned that a forensic pathologist had arrived at the crime scene, on the day the bodies were found. It might be common for a forensic pathologist to approach a crime scene in a busy city- where you just would naturally have more hands on deck. But, for a small town such as Lakeville; it wasn’t protocol. Now, I will note though, that Dr Rick Hoover didn’t live far from the parsonage. In fact, the doctor lived less than a mile down the road. But, like… what are the chances that he was driving by and saw the commotion, and thought to survey the scene? The lead detective- John Botich, went on record and stated that the doctor was driving by after getting out of church and drove by the scene, and stopped. Later, Dr Hoover claimed that he took interest in the case because he wanted to learn more on how to interpret blood spatter. But, here’s the thing. Dr Rick Hoover was logged in twice as visiting the crime scene (from police logs). He was first logged in between 3pm-4pm, then again between 4:25pm-7pm. According to his own words, Rick Hoover stated that he arrived at the parsonage mid-afternoon. In his statement, Hoover says that he was joined by one of his colleagues. The first thing Hoover claims that he and his colleague did, was meet with the coroner- and learned of how many victims and who were all inside the home. The problem with that, is according to the police log, the coroner didn’t arrive at the Pelley crime scene until 6:15pm- three hours after Hoover first arrived. A handwritten police report from that day stated that at 5:45pm Hoover came out of the parsonage and told police to call the coroner to the scene, which the officer did. So, we already have a discrepancy. And I don’t think I need to tell you- discrepancies, even just one, spell bad news in crime scene investigations. What’s worse though? There are no documentations from the coroner’s office of the crime scene. No notes, no official coroners reports… nothing. On top of that, Hoover has stated in multiple depositions that he didn’t take any notes while at the crime scene. All we really have are the autopsy reports of the four victims- which were done one to two days after the bodies were discovered.

Speaking of the autopsy reports. Let’s get into them. Because I have some major issues. Around 7:30pm on April 30th, 1989 is when the coroner from Saint Joseph County removed the bodies of Bob, Dawn, Janel and Jolene from the parsonage. It took him 45 minutes from start to finish. The bodies were transported to the morgue via ambulance, then were refrigerated. 15 hours later- at 10am on May 1st, Dr Rick Hoover began the first of the four autopsies. He started with Bob. When Bob was killed, he was fully dressed- wearing his wedding ring, blue short sleeved shirt, white undershirt, grey slacks, underwear, belt, socks, and tennis shoes. In his pant pockets were nail clippers, a folding knife, some quarters, a hankerchief, and a black comb. It was clear to Hoover from what he witnessed at the actual crime scene, and throughout the autopsy, that Bob was shot twice by a shotgun- and was facing his shooter when he died. Hoover determined that 20-gage deer slugs had been used in his murder because the bullet holes in Bob’s upper right hand chest and near the right side of his mouth were round and distinct. Hoover determined that the first shot delivered to Bob was the one at his chest- and that shot severed his spinal cord. Bob dropped to the ground immediately. But, it’s possible that Bob could have still been alive. The second shot was made to Bob’s face and Hoover determined that whomever shot Bob was basically standing over his body when the second shot was given- based on the high velocity blood spatter. The second shot was the one that killed Bob. Hoover also determined that based on blood spatter covering the walls in the hallway, the shooter had to have been standing deep inside the house- near the back two bedrooms. Due to the lack of gunshot residue on Bob’s clothing, the shooter fired the first shot a few feet away, then fired the second one practically standing over him. The first shot’s trajectory indicated that the shooter might have been taller than Bob- or at least was holding the gun higher than Bob’s chest. Hoover indicated Bob’s stomach contents- a pale tan liquid, partially digested fruit, popcorn, and ground meat. No drugs or alcohol were present in his system. 

The next victim that Hoover looked at, was Dawn Pelley. Like Bob, she was also fully clothed when she died. She was wearing her wedding band, some hair clips, a pink long sleeved sweatshirt, a button down shirt, blue jeans, bra, underwear, and white socks. It was obvious to Hoover that Dawn had died by a single shot to her head. The bullet had entered at close range, near her right temple. The damage was so catastrophic that there was nothing left of the deer slug that entered her head. Dawn’s stomach contents showed a pale tan liquid and partially digested fruit. Her toxicology was negative for drugs and alcohol. The last thing that Hoover noted was that Dawn was missing two fingers on her right hand. This indicated to Hoover that Dawn put up her hand at the last second, before the shot had gone off, and Hoover believes that Dawn put up her hand in self-defense. 

Hoover also conducted 6-year-old Jolene, and 8-year-old Janel’s autopsies as well. But their autopsies occurred on May 2nd, a day after Bob and Dawn’s. Basically, the girls died in the same manner as their mother. Both had catastrophic injuries to their skulls from single gunshot wounds to the front of their faces. They were fully clothed in tank tops and shorts. The only difference was that Janel had on shoes while Jolene had on socks. Based on blood evidence and blood spatter on the bodies, it appeared Dawn died first, then Janel, then little Jolene. Jolene had visible soot deposits on her arms and shoulder- which indicated that the shooter had the muzzle of the shotgun within one to three feet away from her face as he pulled the trigger. Both girls had cuts and bruises on their hands, arms and knees. Hoover explained that the cuts and bruises were from the skull fragments flying so forcefully that they cut the victims. Janel and Jolene’s stomach contents were the same as Dawn’s- a pale tan liquid and partially digested fruit. Here’s why I’m all up in tizzy about these autopsies- although they’re great in identifying key evidence and laying out how the crimes occurred, the autopsies took place HOURS, even DAYS after the murders were discovered. Not only that, the bodies were refrigerated before the autopsies were conducted. And again, Hoover admitted that he took no notes at the crime scene as to what the body temps were when the Pelley’s were found, and took no notes on what stage of livor or rigor mortis the bodies were in prior to refrigeration. This is MAJOR, because livor/rigor mortis helps in determining the time of death. The lead detective- John Botich wasn’t too concerned about the time of death, but claims that in retrospect, the lack of notes determining the time of death was a big flounder. You’ve got to be kidding me… right!?

Just one to two hours after the bodies were discovered, John Botich and his team made the decision to videotape a walk-through of the crime scene, figuring that it would give answers into the motive and might even tell us who committed the murders. The walk through lasted 26 minutes, and by all accounts, it’s pretty dry. It wasn’t the best quality, and you could tell that the officers stopped the tape, then began it again multiple times. However, the walk through did a good job in explaining just how brutal the murders were. Blood was sprayed on the walls and carpet in the hallway where Bob was killed, while the basement was even more gruesome. Blood and brain matter were all over the basement walls and furniture. There was also a section of the wall by the staircase where it looked like the shooter either accidentally, or purposely let out a shot. However, although there was a ton of evidence, there was nothing super incriminating at the crime scene. For example, there was nothing in the Pelley home that pointed to the murder weapon. No gun, no shotgun shells. Meaning, whoever murdered the Pelley’s, picked up the shotgun shells and took them with him/her out of the home, along with the murder weapon. In addition to that, two different types of shotgun shell wadding were found inside the home- indicating that two different types of ammunition were used, or at least, two different manufacturers. You’re probably thinking, “Why is she telling me this?” I’ll get to that later.  

Police took items from the home that they thought would help aid in their investigation. I’m not gonna list out all the items taken because that could be a blog in and of itself, but I want to give you an idea. The police took Bob’s glasses, a disposable camera found on a table in the living room, a 35mm camera sitting in the kitchen, a piece of wood railing from the stairs going into the basement, small cutouts of the wall and floor from both floors of the house, a single unfired 16-gage shotgun shell found in Bob’s chest of drawers, furniture that contained bullet fragments, a few damp washcloths that were found hanging over the side of the tub in the upstairs bathroom, a set of keys found in a trash barrel outside the house along with a heart shaped locket containing a photo of a white man and a white woman. I’m not gonna get into the collected evidence just yet, but I promise that it’ll all make sense at the end. Maybe.

The Pelley’s had next door neighbors. Sheila and Harold “Irish” Saunders still live in the same home, which was next door to the Pelley’s. Although the couple didn’t attend Olive Branch Church, Bob had married them in their backyard about a year before the murders. Sheila and Irish are huge into racing, and during the weekend in which Bob, Dawn, Janel and Jolene were murdered, they were in Kalamazoo at the speedway. Before the murders occured, Sheila and Irish knew the Pelley family pretty well, and knew about some family issues that had been beginning to boil. Sheila mentioned that Jeff was resentful of his father, because he felt like Bob was making him call Dawn, “mom.” The reason why this was such a problem for Jeff, was because he was still mourning the death of his biological mother, Joy. However, the couple maintains that they never heard loud screaming, or glass breaking or anything that would warrant a warning as to what was to come. They state that the Pelley family were your typical “normal” family, with “normal” problems. Irish and Sheila do claim though, that Jeff was the outcast of the family- an oddball, but still acted like a normal, albeit hormonal, teenage boy. In the days leading up to the murders, Sheila and Irish claim that about six weeks before the murders, Bob learned that Jeff had broken into his own friend, Jon Herczeg’s home and stole some money and cd’s that he later used for his Spring Break trip to Florida. Bob was furious with his son, and wanted to teach him a lesson. Bob’s strict personality reared its head, and Bob grounded Jeff. At the same time, Bob had reached out to a friend on the police force for help, and together, along with Jon Herczeg decided not to press charges. But just because Jeff managed to get away with crime scott-free, Bob wanted him to really learn from this mistake. He told Jeff that he could no longer drive his mustang- that Bob would drive him to and from work, that just because the prom was coming up didn’t mean he could hang with his friends. He couldn’t get ready at a friend’s house and go to dinner before the prom, and he couldn’t go on the Six Flags theme park trip afterwards. Bob explained that he’d drive Jeff and his date to and from the prom, but that was it. Obviously, Jeff grew furious because he knew that being dropped off to the prom by Daddy was going to be a HUGE embarrassment. So, Jeff had an idea. He approached Sheila and Irish, and asked them if they would let him borrow their car, so he could use it for prom. Sheila says that she didn’t have any reservations about it, but told Jeff to ask his father for permission first. Unfortunately for Jeff, Bob approached his neighbors on Saturday morning- the day of prom, and told them the situation Jeff was in, and how Bob was absolutely adamant about holding Jeff responsible for his actions. Bob explained that he was so serious about the situation, that he took a part out of Jeff’s car, along with canceling the insurance on it. So even if Jeff managed to get his hands on his car keys- he couldn’t go anywhere. This Saturday morning conversation with Bob was the last one Sheila and Irish were to have with him, although they did see Bob briefly around 12:30pm outside of his home as they left for the speedway. 

Sheila and Irish returned home late on Saturday evening. Sheila says it was around 9:15pm when she got home and used the bathroom. The bathroom window looked out to the Pelley parsonage, and it was then that Sheila noticed that the basement light was on. She took note of it because she knew the girls’ bedroom was downstairs, and also knew that the girls were usually in bed by 8-8:30pm. But, she figured that maybe Bob and Dawn allowed the girls to stay up a little later. Sheila and Irish went right to bed that night, because they were planning on going back to the speedway early the following morning. But, around 2am on Sunday, April 30th, Sheila says that she needed to use the bathroom again. Sheila remembers this fact vividly because as she was in the bathroom, she noticed the Pelley basement light was still on. She knew for a fact that Bob and Dawn wouldn’t let the girls stay up until 2am, but figured that maybe they let them sleep upstairs in the living room, thus, forgetting about the basement light. Sheila also noticed around this time that Jeff’s mustang was gone from the driveway. At first she was put off, remembering the conversation she had with Bob earlier in the day. But, she came to the conclusion that Jeff talked Bob into letting him go, and that Jeff perhaps, got his way- as teenagers seem to do. 

Sheila and Irish were up early Sunday morning so they could get back to Kalamazoo. But Irish remembered that he never asked Bob if he could come over and let out his dog while they were gone. He knew he could call Bob and ask him, because it’s something Bob had done in the past. Around 7:30am, Sheila and Irish phoned the Pelley household, knowing full well that they would be up, getting ready for church. However, no one answered the phone. Sheila and Irish say that they never approached the Pelley parsonage, figuring that the family was up late and decided to sleep in. But, as they were leaving, Sheila noticed that the Pelley’s dog was in his kennel, on his chain. She made a comment to Irish saying something like, “See, at least one of the Pelley’s is up! They let Major out.” Sheila does say that she doesn’t remember seeing Major in his kennel at all the night before, but says that she wasn’t looking for him either, mostly because the family didn’t normally keep Major in his kennel for long. Either way, Sheila and Irish made note of it, but then left for the speedway. 

While the couple were at the speedway, Irish received a phone call, telling him that although nothing happened at his house, there had been a murder at his neighbor’s house. Irish quickly got off the telephone, and told Sheila they had to hurry home. Once they returned and saw first hand the crime scene tape and investigators, Sheila and Irish were immediately told that they weren’t suspects. Although relieved to hear the police tell them that, the police didn’t ask them any questions about the night before- like what Sheila saw in regards to the light; they were basically told to go about their day. However, within 24 hours of the murders, an investigator did tell Sheila and Irish that they already had a suspect… and his name? Jeff Pelley. 

The police came to the determination that Bob, Dawn, Janel, and Jolene were killed by someone they intimately knew. At first, officers believed that it could have been a murder-suicide, but when no murder weapon was recovered at the scene, they knew it was a murder- a quadruple one at that. The reasoning of their determination?… There was no forced entry into the house, so the family definitely knew the person. And nothing of value was taken. Tv’s, radios, money, anything you could swindle were still at the house. The house wasn’t ransacked, so whoever murdered the Pelley’s, literally had one job on the brain. Police officers state that Janel and Jolene would have recognized their killer, which might have been the reason why they were murdered. 

Jessica had told investigators where to find Jeff. And sure enough, detectives found his mustang- parked next to his girlfriend, Darla’s car, in the parking lot of Six Flags Great America theme park, in Illinois. Detectives staked out the car, and were looking for Jeff. Officers managed to get Jeff’s car, and Darla’s car impounded so they could later search it for evidence. But as officers were mulling over the mustang, Jeff’s friends- Linette Grier and Mark Burger walked up and asked what was going on. Officers immediately pulled them aside and began asking them questions about Jeff. 45 minutes later, officers located Jeff and Darla in a gift shop within the theme park and managed to pull them inside a park office. Because he had no idea as to what was going on, Jeff asked three separate times if he was in trouble, and what was going on. Investigators told him that Bob and Dawn were found murdered, but withheld the information about Janel and Jolene because the coroner’s office hadn’t yet positively identified the bodies. Police officers claim that he quietly sobbed as Darla began to console him. Meanwhile, Linette and Mark told police that they’ve basically been with Jeff all night, and that he was in good spirits the whole time. Jeff was happy-go-lucky, and had your typical after-prom-glow. On the car ride to the police station, Jeff asked what happened- and how it happened. Officers wouldn’t tell him anything. Frustrated, he asked officers about Jacque- telling them that she would need to be picked up from the college and brought back to Lakeville. When asked who he thought was responsible for killing his father and step-mother, Jeff said that he had no idea. Jeff did ask if his father was really dead. (I don’t know about you, but Jeff’s questions to the police seem like typical questions to ask when you find out that your parents have been murdered.) Upon arriving at the police station, Jeff asked to call his maternal grandparents. Officers refused. So for the next few hours, Jeff and Darla simply sat at the police station in silence. It’s important to note- Jeff was at the police station on his own accord- he could have left anytime he wanted to. (I think a lot of people believe he was in police custody at this time, but he was not.) While Jeff and Darla waited at the station, detectives searched Jeff’s mustang, along with Darla’s car. However, nothing of evidentiary value was found. Around 9pm, detectives spoke separately to Jeff and Darla- for two and half hours. Because Six Flags was in Illinois, detectives took Jeff and Darla back to Indiana to conduct further interviews.

Once they arrived back to Lakeville, it was around 2am in the morning on May 1st. Darla’s parent’s told Darla to be truthful and honest during her interviews. She complied. Afterwards, she was released. Jeff on the other hand, was not released. By 4am, Jeff’s grandparents had arrived from Kentucky and signed guardian consent forms, allowing John Botich to officially interview Jeff. During this official interview, (the only taped interview of Jeff) John Botich told Jeff about Janel and Jolene. Botich was trying to use the interview to figure out if Jeff had any knowledge of, or was involved in the murders. At the beginning of the hour and half long interrogation, Botich asked Jeff about what life was like at the Pelley household. He asked him what his plans were during the day and the hours leading up to before he left for prom. Jeff explained that he went to work at 5am that morning, and got out of work at 11am. His father picked him up because he was grounded and couldn’t drive his car. Afterwards, Jeff had lunch with his father, Janel and Jolene at around 12, or 12:30pm. After lunch, Jeff managed to convince his little step-sisters to help him wash his car. After lunch, Bob had left the parsonage and went to make visits to some of his parishioners. While his father was gone, and after the car was clean, Jeff put on the Dodgers and Cardinals game. (Just for those that need to know- the Cardinals won that game.) When asked where Dawn was, Jeff said that she had gone to a girl scout meeting earlier in the day, but returned home around 3:30pm, shortly before Bob returned from making his visits. Around 4:30pm, a group of Jeff’s friends came by to the parsonage to take some prom pictures- Jeff was not yet ready. It’s believed that teens were coming to the Pelley’s to get their pictures taken because Bob was an amateur photographer. At 4:45ish, Matt Miller, another friend of Jeff’s came by for pictures, but quickly realized he left his date’s corsage at home. He left to get it. Jeff says that about 4 or 5 minutes after Matt and the other kids had left, he put his tux and radio in his mustang. Jeff tells John Botich that the plan was to meet Darla at Linette Grier’s house and get ready, take photos, then all head to dinner together- they had dinner reservations for 6:30pm. Before leaving the parsonage, Jeff thought that he was going to need a change of clothes to change into after prom because he was sleeping at a friend’s house that evening. So he packed a bag of clothes, then left the parsonage between 4:50-5pm. 

On his way to Linette’s, Jeff noticed that something wasn’t right with his car. He stopped at a gas station at the end of his road. John Botich took this nugget of info and questioned Jeff harder about Bob having grounded him- and how Bob forbade him to drive the mustang, or… to be out at all. Jeff quickly answered Botich’s question- Bob had changed his mind, and let Jeff take his car, go to dinner and go on the trip after prom. Jeff knows that his father seemed like he was adamantly sticking to his rules, but claims the two had talked it out and worked out an agreement. Jeff goes into detail about how Bob doesn’t normally stick to his demands and usually relents, just as long as you do what he says. Jeff had told Darla on Wednesday evening that he thought there was a good chance that he’d be able to go, and Jeff says that by Friday evening he knew he was definitely going to be able to use his car and go on the trip. John Botich thought it was all too convenient. Jacque has said that it might look like Bob was still upset about Jeff’s late night break-in a few weeks back, but claims that behind closed doors, Bob and Jeff were working on their father-son relationship. She backs up Jeff’s claim about thier father’s grounding techniques, and how frequently he wouldn’t stick to his word. She goes further and says that technically, Jeff could have left whenever he wanted to. Nothing was keeping him in Lakeville at that point. He was just waiting to graduate, but he was done with school. 

Officers continued to probe Jeff and asked him about his relationship with Dawn. Jeff admitted that Bob was really pushing for him to refer to her as “mom”, which he had a problem with because to him, he already had a mom. John Botich wasn’t believing anything Jeff was saying and thought that he was lying through his front teeth. Botich believed Jeff’s motive was anger. John thought that Bob never relented about prom, and refused to allow Jeff to attend pre and post prom activities along with no car privileges. John thinks that Jeff snapped the evening of prom, simply annihilating his family just to get what he wanted.

During that May 1st interview, John and other investigators were put off with Jeff’s cavalier, or surly personality. But to me, what teenage boy who’s already graduated from high school isn’t like that? Although Jeff knew that the police were looking at him as their main suspect, he had no idea that the detectives were turning and twisting his answers. John Botich and other detectives were basing their timeline of the murders on what Jeff was telling them, along with Darla’s statements. After all, she had been with him Saturday night and up until they were brought back from the Six Flags theme park on Monday night. Darla vouched for Jeff’s whereabouts from 5:30pm on Saturday through Monday morning. Darla told detectives that Jeff acted normal the entire night of prom, and there was never a time that he wasn’t unaccounted for. She went on to say that while they were at the theme park, he was never out of her sight. The only thing that stuck out to her as odd, was something Jeff had said to her while they were inside Great America. Darla said that around 11am on Sunday, Jeff suddenly became sad while they were waiting in line for a ride. She said that he told her that he felt “something wasn’t right.” He told her that he couldn’t put his finger on it, but that something was just… not okay. John Botich took that statement and thought about what that meant. To Botich, Jeff knew that it was around the time that the bodies at the parsonage were being discovered, and he took the “something isn’t right” comment as Jeff’s guilt starting to set in. 

Other circumstantial evidence that John and his team believed pointed to Jeff, was that the Pelley family owned a 20-gage shotgun. That gun wasn’t in the parsonage after the murders, and neither was 20-gage shotgun ammunition. Bob had bought a 20-gage shotgun on December 23rd, 1987, and it was to be a gift for Jeff. Bob had bought the 20-gage shotgun from a man- Steve Diller, and the purchase was on the up and up. Bob paid for the 20-gage shotgun by trading in a 44 caliber handgun that he had purchased off of someone else earlier that year. When Steve learned of the murders, Steve contacted the police and told them that the 20-gage shotgun might have been the murder weapon and gave them all the information they would have needed about the transaction. Here is why the 20-gage shotgun is so important. According to Jeff and Jacque, Bob had removed the shotgun from the home in 1988, and gave it to someone. However, according to Jessica, she saw the shotgun hanging on the rack in the back bedroom on Friday, April 28th, right before she left the parsonage for her sleepover. She’s absolutely positive it was there, and the police believed her. 

Apparently, if you shoot off a 20-gage shotgun, you’re gonna be left with some bruises. I’ve never shot off a gun in my life, so I wouldn’t know, but according to reports, the police were curious to see if Jeff Pelley had any bruising on his body- from possibly shooting the shotgun. On May 3rd, 1989, the police checked Jeff’s body for bruising by making him strip down to his underwear while they took pictures of him for documentation. They were able to do this because they were able to obtain a search warrant. But, unfortunately for the police, the search warrant was useless because there had been no bruising on Jeff’s body- like, at all. And here’s another kicker that absolutely infuriates me… they never checked Jeff’s hands for gunshot residue! At this point in time, it had been three to four days since the murder, so police just figured that too much time had elapsed since the murders, and they were afraid that searching for the residue would be moot. The reason why I’m just shaking my head at this, is because the police put so much emphasis on checking for bruising, but not gunshot residue. It just doesn’t make sense to me, and it never will. Any seasoned veteran investigator should know better. 

The next step for detectives was evaluating some other items from the crime scene. A big red flag for detectives was a book found on Jeff’s bed. This book was a photo album titled, “Our Baby’s First Seven Years,” and it was lying out in the open on Jeff’s comforter. Police theorize that Jeff put this photo album on his bed prior to committing the murders, and believe that he had looked through the pictures and memories of his childhood and times spent with his biological mother. Police believe that he took one last look before turning around and brutally murdering his father, step-mother and two youngest step-sisters. 

Because Jeff had appeared and acted normal at prom, police think that after annihilating his family, he took a shower and washed up. Police are adamant that Jeff did this based on the three damp washcloths that were found hanging over the bathtub. There had also been one single water droplet in the bathtub. Police believe that because it was such a brutal scene, the shooter must have been covered in blood. Here’s another factual tidbit that drove me crazy- no clothes were found at the crime scene, and it wasn’t until May 16th- 17 days after the murders that anyone thought to ask where any bloody clothes were, or might have been. That just baffles me! Someone from Botich’s team sent a letter to the FBI asking them to test items of clothing for blood and brain matter, because of a claim that clothes had been found in the washing machine. (Yes… now all of a sudden we have clothes that have showed up.) Police believed the clothing belonged to Jeff, and believed that the clothing had been through one wash cycle. However, there were no crime scene photos taken for documentation, no videotape surveillance- nothing. Excuse my language, but that’s such bullshit in my opinion. How are we to know that these clothes even came from the Pelley home? When were they found? By who? How do we know that they’re Jeff’s? The clothes supposedly recovered from the washing machine were two white socks, and one black and pinkish striped shirt. The letter to the FBI further explained that a black hawiian shirt was recovered in the trunk of Jeff’s mustang when he was apprehended, and that too, would need to be tested. The hawiian shirt comment contradicts earlier police statements, because like I previously stated, when detectives searched Jeff’s car on the date he was brought in for questioning, they found nothing of evidentiary value. So, why all of a sudden is this hawiian shirt so important and needed to be tested? On May 1st during Jeff’s taped interview, Jeff told police what he was wearing on Saturday. Which, lined up with what detectives sent in for testing. During that interview, Jeff told Botich that he wore dirty black McDonald’s pants with pink sweatpants over them while he was outside washing his car. He also wore a flannel shirt. By 3pm, Jeff showered and changed his outfit and put on a pair of black pants and a pink and grey checkered shirt. He claimed that it was a lounging outfit and it was comfortable. He changed again right before he was to leave for Linette’s and put on a pair of blue jeans, and the black hawiian shirt.

So…the blue jeans that Jeff wore out of the parsonage couldn’t be what detectives claim were pulled out of the washing machine. But because police didn’t believe anything that Jeff was saying; they figured that whatever was in the washing machine was what Jeff wore when he murdered his family members. What I’m trying to get at here is that nowhere does it say in any police documents when, where and how Jeff’s blue jeans were collected… but they were. It’s like they magically showed up too. Sounds fishy, right? With all this clothing evidence to chew on, police were adamant that Jeff took his father’s shotgun, murdered his family, showered and changed, threw his clothes in the wash, then took off to go to prom. However, there still wasn’t enough evidence to charge Jeff with the murders. So, the police went back to the drawing board, and continued to look. They went back into the parsonage and looked around the washing machine and inside of it to hopefully find blood evidence to support their theory. But, nothing was found. 

Detectives staked out the funeral, and graveside memorial and watched Jeff’s every move. More than 100 people attended both services, including the Pelley’s former pastor from Florida, Pastor Ross. Jessica’s cousin, Jaime Collins also attended the funeral and remembers quite vividly the whole scene. Although it was a small church, Jaime claims that it felt massive that day due to the amount of people who attended. She says that the caskets were at the front, and remembers how the two little white ones were especially heartbreaking to see. Alongside the caskets were pictures of Bob, Dawn, Janel and Jolene on easels. She sat directly behind Jacque and Jeff. Jamie remembers Jacque being visibly upset and crying. But, when she looked at Jeff, she noticed that he wasn’t getting upset. She felt like everyone there knew that something was seriously wrong with Jeff. (I’m sure it was obvious that police were looking into him as a viable suspect.) Jacque says that police focused on her older brother as their prime suspect because she thinks the detectives didn’t think he reacted right to the news of the murders. She says that because Bob had taught them not to be overly emotional, Jeff didn’t know exactly how to grieve. But, she says he did. In private, behind closed doors. She says it’s what Bob taught them to do. John Botich felt validated though, because as he staked out the funeral and graveside services and amongst all the camera images he took of Jeff, he didn’t notice Jeff crying or being emotional at all. And to him, that alone was a sign of guilt. John was sure that Jeff was a cold and calculated killer… but just needed to prove it. 

Irish Saunders didn’t attend the Pelley family funeral, but did bump into Jeff in the backyard later that day. Irish remembers that it was packed that day with all the family members and friends coming and going to offer condolences and prayers. He headed over to feed Major, since that had become his job. As Irish was with Major, he witnessed Jeff jump over the railing and run across the street to him. Jeff asked Irish a peculiar question. He asked if they (Sheila and Irish) had been home Saturday night. When Irish responded that no, not really, Jeff stated that “they (cops) are trying to pin this on me, saying that I did it…” A detective approached and Jeff immediately stopped talking. Irish states that was the last time he spoke to Jeff. Irish wishes that he could go back to that conversation and straight up ask Jeff if he had anything to do with the murders. In fact, no one actually really ever asked Jeff straight out if he committed the murders. People in the community either believed he did it without a shadow of a doubt, or believed that he was completely innocent. Every eye witness told police that they actively avoided asking Jeff that question, which is just so strange to me. 

Because of the lack of physical evidence, Botich and his team needed to find another way to get Jeff for the quadruple murder. So, they turned to eyewitnesses and community members to nail down Jeff’s timeline. I gotta say it right here. We’re talking about an extreme narrow timeline if what the police believe happened, actually happened. Not only is it narrow, but it’s a rough timeline. Based on what Sheila and Irish had seen on Saturday in the early afternoon, Bob left the parsonage to pick up Jeff from work sometime before noon. Steve Diller (who sold Bob the 20-gage shotgun) told police that Bob came into his store around mid-morning, alone. Steve said that Bob was looking for a handgun for Dawn. Steve told police that Bob didn’t buy a gun that day. By 11:30am, Jeff’s manager saw Bob pull into the parking lot as he waited for Jeff to clock out. Like previously stated, between 1-4pm, Bob visited parishioners of the church, and they all accounted for him. A girl named Kim Oldenburg and her date, David stopped by the parsonage around 4:45pm to show Bob her prom dress and to take pictures. Kim explained to police that Bob took the pictures on his 35mm camera, and while that was happening, Jeff was there too- somewhere in the background. She notes that he wasn’t yet dressed for the prom. While Kim’s group was inside the home, Matt Miller stopped by and he was planning on joining Kim’s group of prom goers. But after a few minutes, Matt realized he forgot the corsage for his date back at his house, and left the parsonage to go and get it, telling his group he’d meet back up with them later. Kim told police that as she and David were leaving the parsonage, Bob and Dawn had told them that they were planning on going over to Crystal Easterday’s house between 5:30-6pm so they could take her, and her date’s prom pictures. Kim says that she last saw the Pelley’s alive and well between 4:40-5pm, but no later than 5pm.

Matt Miller agrees with Kim’s version of events, but goes into greater detail. He told officers that when he arrived at the parsonage around 4:45pm on Saturday, Jeff greeted him in the garage and invited him inside the house. Matt claimed he stayed for 5 minutes before remembering about the forgotten corsage. He left and drove the 15-20min back home. When he was driving back on Osbourne Road, he passed the parsonage around 5:15-5:20pm. He noticed that Kim and David’s cars were gone, but Jeff’s mustang was still parked by the house. Matt didn’t stop this time and continued on to his date’s house so he could finally give her the corsage and begin the events of the night. 15 minutes later, at approximately 5:30pm, Kim, David, Matt and his date passed by the parsonage again, and all of them stated that Jeff’s mustang was gone. 

Crystal Easterday was the next witness interviewed by detectives. She was expecting Bob, Dawn and the girls to come to her house so they could take pictures around 5:30pm. But… Bob, Dawn and the girls never showed up. Crystal and her date waited until 5:45pm, but the Pelley’s were a complete no-show. Undeterred, Crystal and her date decided to drive to the Pelley’s, thinking that maybe they had gotten caught up with other visitors and didn’t have time to call. Crystal says she knocked on the Pelley’s garage door, then the sliding glass door at the back of the house at 5:50pm. No one answered. When Crystal and her date left, they noticed Bob’s and Dawn’s cars in the driveway, but Jeff’s mustang was gone. 

The next person to account for Jeff and the mustang was Jeff’s best friend, Kurt Schafer. Jeff and Kurt were the same age, and had known each other for the past two years. In 1989, Kurt lived two houses over from the parsonage. Kurt, and his cousin Ken, saw Jeff driving his mustang away from the parsonage- on Mulberry Road, a neighboring road to Osbourne Road. He couldn’t remember the exact time, but knew it was sometime between 4:45-5pm. Kurt was sure it was Jeff’s car, with Jeff driving. Within minutes of being spotted by Kurt and Ken, Jeff is seen again by yet another eye witness- a gas station clerk, Dennis Nicodemus. 

Dennis was a teenager who worked at the Amoco gas station, which was six minutes away from the parsonage, in the direction of Linette Grier’s house. Dennis told police that at 5:17pm, he saw Jeff outside, underneath the hood of his mustang. The reason why he knows the time is because he was supposed to get off of work at 5pm, but his coworker was running late, so he kept looking at his watch. Dennis says that when he saw Jeff, Jeff was wearing blue jeans and a black hawiian t-shirt. Around 5:20pm, Jeff came into the store and told Dennis that his mustang was acting up, and needed to use the store’s phone so he could call Darla and let her know that he was going to be late. Dennis remembers that after Jeff made the phone call, he went back outside and returned to working on his car. During this point, Dennis’ coworker finally showed up, but first helped Jeff before clocking in for his shift. By 5:37pm, Jeff had left the gas station and Dennis was clocking out. 

So, based on all the eyewitnesses who saw Jeff, and if the timeline is correct, Jeff would have only had 10-15 minutes to shoot four family members in cold blood, shower and change, start a load of laundry and collect the shell casings, grab his tux and get into his car, ditch the shotgun and shell casings somewhere police couldn’t find them- and it would have had to have been in the vicinity around the parsonage, then drive to the gas station, in time to be seen around 5:17pm. Investigators knew that accomplishing all of that in 10-15 minutes was unlikely, but still doable. They believe that in order for Jeff to have pulled it off, he would have had to pre planned the whole thing- down to seconds. Officers, investigators and crime scene tech’s searched the area all around the parsonage for the murder weapon and spent shell casings. They checked roads, ditches, and even sent divers looking into ponds and lakes. But, nothing was found. In light of not finding the murder weapon or any shell casings on his driving route from the parsonage to the gas station, detectives believed that Jeff dumped the evidence somewhere from the gas station to Linette Grier’s house- where he met up with Darla and other friends. When investigators asked eyewitnesses why Jeff and Darla were late getting to Linette’s house, Jeff’s friends backed up his story- that he had car trouble and was late picking up Darla, thus he was late getting to Linette’s. Those witnesses corroborated Jeff’s timeline, which caused a lot of head scratching to investigators. Eyewitnesses told investigators that Jeff was in good spirits, but did seem slightly frazzled. Investigators pounced, digging deeper. Friends claimed that he seemed a little worked up because his car was acting strange, and they said that it was a normal reaction, for anybody with car problems. Friends stated that other than the car overheating, Jeff didn’t seem worried at all. He seemed excited, and ready to get the prom night activities started. 

Another eyewitness- Lois Stansbury called police two days after the murders because she thought she had viable information for detectives. Lois lived down the street from the parsonage. On Saturday, April 29th, Lois was coming home from Kmart and claims that she saw Bob Pelley in his driveway at 5pm. She says that she’s sure of the timing based off of a Kmart receipt showing her check out time, and the drive time from Kmart. She made two short pit stops then headed back home- and that’s when she saw Bob. Lois went further, telling investigators that Bob was holding a shovel, and was talking to someone inside a black pickup truck. She didn’t recognize the truck, and didn’t get a look at the driver. She remembered that she honked her horn and waved to Bob, and although he waved back, he seemed distracted. Lois chucked up Bob’s visible distraction to the conversation he was having with the driver in the pickup truck. Lois was so sure about her interaction with Bob that she handed over the Kmart receipt to investigators and told them to drive her route so that her time could be verified. However… that Kmart receipt IS MISSING. You Guys! I just about lost my shit when I found out about the lost receipt. I just feel like any evidence that proves that Jeff didn’t kill his family members keeps getting lost, or investigators claim that it cannot be corroborated. 

The final eyewitnesses that I’ll mention was first a church parishioner who visited Olive Branch Church at 6pm on Saturday evening to pray. No one else was inside the church at this time, and she didn’t see any activity at the parsonage. But the woman says around 6:30pm, as she was kneeling in the sanctuary, praying, she heard a sound like someone was opening up the church front doors. When she turned around to see who was there, she discovered that no one was there. Spooked, the woman left the church. A neighbor on the church’s side was mowing his grass at 6pm, and corroborated what the woman from the church claimed, although he didn’t see anyone come or go from the church other than the praying woman. 

The prosecutor at the time refused to file charges against Jeff due to the lack of physical evidence. Although detectives were adamant that Jeff committed the murders, they still had nothing to back up their claims, and the prosecutor at the time knew that if he went to trial, he would lose. So, the prosecutor told detectives to keep searching for evidence, however, by the end of the summer in 1989, the quadruple homicide was going cold. By fall of 1989 Jacque moved to Kentucky with her maternal grandparents while Jeff enrolled in college. Jessica went to live with Dawn’s parents in Michigan. 

But…a year and a half after the murders, things went downhill for the surviving Pelley children. Although Jeff and his girlfriend Darla went to the same college, things began to unravel, and eventually they broke up. Jeff moved back to Lakeville and into an apartment. Apparently during this time, John Botich said that Jeff would visit him, at his home periodically, keeping him up to date with everything in his life. Although Botich liked the fact that Jeff was still so willing to talk, he knew that it was anything but normal for a murder suspect to be visiting the lead detective in the case- especially at his house. Even though Jeff would speak about his life periodically to John, John claims that Jeff never asked who killed his family. To John, that meant that Jeff knew exactly who did it. The scrutiny of being a murder suspect in such a small town quickly got to Jeff though, so he moved back to Fort Meyers, Florida- where he lived before the family ever moved to Indiana. Jessica struggled to cope with the loss of her mother and two younger sisters, and began to act out. She eventually ended up in foster care. Jacque seemed to be the only one who was able to coast after the murders. 

When Jeff Pelley moved back to Fort Myers, Florida, he got in touch with one of his dad’s old buddies, and fellow church friend- prominent business tycoon, Phillip Hawley. Phil had five sons- Pierre, Danny, Paul, David and Martin- whom all were roughly around Jeff’s age. When the Pelley family initially moved from Florida to Indiana, Jeff stayed in touch with the Hawley boys, most notable, Martin. In May 1989, Martin was interviewed by a newspaper about the Pelley murders. Martin was 16 at the time, and mentioned how the murders didn’t seem real, but knew that the Pelley family home life wasn’t going very well. Martin mentioned to the newspaper that he was in Chicago the weekend the murders occured, and was heartbroken for Jeff and Jacque. In the wake of the murders, and Jeff’s return to Florida, the Hawley family didn’t just give Jeff a job. They took him under their wing, and Jeff thrived working for Phil’s business- chasing payments for delinquent accounts while collecting commissions. During this time, Jeff became an honorary Hawley, eventually marrying one of Phil’s nieces named Kim. Things were looking up, till all of a sudden, they weren’t.  

In the early 1990’s, Jeff was being investigated on suspicion of committing medical insurance fraud. You see, it all stemmed from Jeff trying to get early access to his inheritance. In 1991, Ed Hayes (Dawn’s father) who was the executor of Bob’s and Dawn’s assets, noticed that Jeff was up to something. At the time, Ed was responsible for allocating and investing life insurance money for Jeff, Jacque and Jessica. The girls were left with roughly $65,000 each, while Jeff was to inherit $48,000. Some of his money had already been used to pay for one year of college. None of the children were allowed to access any of the funds until they turned 23 years old. According to Ed, not long after moving to Florida, Jeff repeatedly asked for funds from his trust fund, but Ed continually told him no. Fast forward to July 1991, when Ed received a somber phone call from Jeff. Jeff told Ed that he had skin cancer- the same diagnosis as his biological mother, Joy. He explains to Ed that he had surgery to remove a growth, but claimed that he was left with a $20,000 hospital bill that he couldn’t afford to pay. Ed grew wary that Jeff was trying to scam him (for his own inheritance), so Ed asked for the hospital bill to verify the story. Jeff forwarded the bill, and it seemed legit. But, when Ed called the phone number on the bill, a woman on the other end of the line wasn’t very helpful, and seemed like she had no idea what she was doing, or what Ed was talking about. She also refused to transfer Ed to her supervisor. With no luck, he tried to contact and verify the doctors that had been listed on the bill. But, come to find out, the doctors weren’t listed as hospital staff. At this point, Ed knew for a fact that Jeff was trying to pull a fast one on him and sent the bill to Florida authorities. For a few years the police and FBI agents looked into the case, and by 1994, the FBI, John Botich and other detectives were all working together to bring Jeff down. They wanted to see if Jeff facing a federal indictment would push him over the edge, and he would in turn, confess to everything- the murders and the medical insurance fraud. Jeff’s scheme unraveled, and it turned out that Jeff had in fact, committed medical insurance fraud. He even got his mother-in-law involved- she was the woman that Ed talked to, the one who didn’t seem to know what she was doing. In the end, the hospital declined to press charges because Jeff’s mother-in-law worked for them, and the company just wanted to move on, and as I take it… keep it hush, hush. Ed on the other hand, wanted Jeff to be punished for his deception. Ultimately, in July 1994, Jeff pleaded guilty to a lesser count of wire fraud and was sentenced to probation. Jacque understands her brother’s intentions, but has publicly said she doesn’t condone her brother’s deceit. She says that because he wasn’t trying to steal her inheritance or Jessica’s inheritance, she gets why he felt compelled to do what he did and can forgive him. She knows first hand how difficult it’s been to get ahold of the money as per the will and claims that the executors of the will haven’t made it easy for any of them. So again, she understands why Jeff did what he did, albeit how wrong it was. After pleading guilty in 1994 for the fraud, Jeff’s life took a turn for the better. He stepped in his father’s shoes and got a job with computers, and eventually landed a lucrative job traveling internationally as a consultant. Jeff and his wife had a son and moved from Fort Myers to Dade City, where they bought a half million dollar home. In 1997, Jeff’s marriage turned rocky, and they filed for divorce- only to reconcile later. Jeff and Kim’s split-turned-reunion ushered them into the early 2000’s with optimism. The same could not be said for John Botich and his team, who were still adamant that Jeff was responsible for the prom night murders in 1989. 

In 2000, Saint Joseph County (where the murders took place) went through a series of political changes, most notably the election of a new county prosecutor. John Botich used this change of guard to convince the new prosecutor to bring forth charges in the Pelley murders. And… it worked. The new prosecutor promised the community that he was going to bring the person responsible for the heinous quadruple homicide to justice. The prosecutor formed a new investigative division dedicated to solving cold cases. The Pelley murders were at the top of that list. Now, a new investigator- eager to make a name of himself picked up the Pelley case file, and just like that, the investigation started all over again. 

Enter Craig Whitfield. When he first got his hands on the Pelley case file, he didn’t know much about it. He was aware of the rumors and how the case was surrounded in speculations. He took the time and read all the reports- he copied and highlighted key facts, pulled evidence and followed up on witness statements. He contacted the same cast of characters- Darla, Linette Grier, Matt Miller, Sheila and Irish Saunders, and Kim Oldenburg. He even spoke to Jon Herczeg- the guy that Jeff had stolen from prior to the murders. Craig spoke with him twice in one week, just to make sure that he wasn’t hiding any information back because he was hearing claims that Jon could have been an accomplice to Jeff. Jon admits to Craig that he mended fences with Jeff before the murders occurred, but had nothing to hide. In the years since the murders, reports had trickled into the police department claiming that Jon had gotten rid of a bag of bloody clothing for Jeff after the murders. Jon again, claimed that he had no knowledge pertaining to the murders, and claims that the rumors are untrue. Jon died in February 2020 and was never charged in connection to the Pelley murders. Craig says that he followed all the evidence, and the evidence just kept leading back to one person, Jeff Pelley. 

Craig reached out to Jessica to get her statement. Craig learned that Jessica had lived a pretty hard life after the murders- bouncing from foster homes and struggling with substance abuse issues. When Craig had located Jessica, she was living far from Indiana and was a mother of two children, and hadn’t spoken to Jacque or Jeff in years. She had no idea that law enforcement suspected her step-brother of being the prime suspect. In fact, Jessica had no idea that her family’s case was a homicide case. For years, Jessica had been told that Bob was the responsible. (Remember that whole murder-suicide theory I had mentioned earlier?) Jessica states that she was well into her 20’s when she learned the truth about Bob, Dawn, Janel and Jolene’s murders. Jessica says that the minute that she learned that the murder-suicide theory held no water, she immediately suspected Jeff. With Craig sitting in Jessica’s living room- more than a decade after the murders, Jessica thought about a really strange interaction she had with Jeff, six years after the murders. She relayed this interaction to Craig. When Jessica was 15, she received an out of the blue phone call from Jeff. She had no idea how he knew her number, or where she was living, but he called his surviving step-sister and asked her if she wanted to visit him in Florida. At the time, Jessica was struggling, and saw this trip to Florida as an escape from the hell that she was living. Jessica saw this as an opportunity to reconnect with her lost step-brother, and a chance to get to know his wife and family. Jessica accepted, and flew to Florida, where Jeff picked her up from the airport. Jessica states that she stayed with Jeff for two weeks. Upon arriving at Jeff’s house, Jeff showed Jessica the layout of his home and the bedroom she would be staying in. Inside the bedroom, as Jessica was putting her bags down and beginning to get comfortable, Jeff asked a very strange question. “Who do you think did it?” Stunned, Jessica hesitantly told Jeff that Bob was the shooter. Jeff replied with an, “Ah, okay,” and Jessica says that Jeff immediately dropped the subject. She says that at the time, she didn’t think much of it, other than the fact that it was weird, mostly because no one in her life up until that point brought up the Pelley family murders. Looking back, Jessica thinks that Jeff was “fishing.” She believes that Jeff already knew the answer to his own question, but wanted to know what Jessica had thought and what she believed. She gives this reasoning based on the fact that he only asked that one specific question, mixed with not telling her the truth about the crime scene and how Bob was shot twice, not just once. Thinking back, Jessica thinks that Jeff wanted to know if she had ever thought that he was responsible.

Craig also got in touch with Jacque- who by 2002 had also moved far from Indiana, was married and also had children. Jacque definitely took a more… aggressive approach when it came to cooperating with Craig and his investigation. When the two finally sat down to talk, Jacque brought a lawyer. Jacque was sick and tired of every time she was ever questioned, her responses kept getting twisted and contorted around, and by bringing a lawyer she made sure that this time, Craig was gonna hear what really happened. Besides bringing a lawyer, Jacque had the interview recorded- which was more for her own peace of mind. Craig presented it as a cold case, and that he was re-investigating, but had several suspects to interview. When Craig left, Jacque’s lawyer immediately told her that Craig was onto Jeff, and that Craig was not looking at any other suspects. 

Craig found some letters, stuffed in some evidence boxes. These letters were addressed to Jeff and they were handwritten by Bob Pelley. Bob had penned these letters in the years before his death. One letter dated October 10th, 1985, showed how Bob had pleaded with Jeff to correct his attitude and behavior. Bob knew that he wasn’t always right, but tried to be the best father and knowing that he had made mistakes. He loved Jeff, no matter what and knew that Jeff was struggling with his mother’s passing. He laid out what his expectations were of Jeff, but reiterated that nothing Jeff did would make him love his only son any less. 

In July 2002, Craig wrote up an investigative summary of the physical evidence in the Pelley case. By that point he had gone through all the police reports from 1989, and in his opinion felt the evidence established that a load of laundry was washed on April 29th, 1989. In the boxes of evidence, Craig had found items of Jeff’s clothing packaged in a brown paper bag with a Lakeville local grocery store logo on the side of it. The name of the store was Anni’s Grocery. FBI agents reviewed the bag and it’s contents in 1989 and had made black markings on it indicating a chain of custody. Craig determined the clothing in the bag had to be the items officers reportedly removed from the parsonage’s washing machine, although that was never noted explicitly in any reports. Craig believed the clothing found in the paper bag was the clothing Jeff wore when he murdered his family. The articles (of clothing) were a black and pink striped shirt, a pair of blue jeans, and two white socks. The FBI had found 34 coins and a dollar bill, totaling $4.50 in a pocket of the jeans. Alongside the money was a paper receipt from Anni’s Grocery. Craig argued that the blue jeans being in the washer was incriminating, and enough probable cause for Jeff’s arrest. Craig believes that the money and store receipt were left in the pocket because Jeff wore them while murdering his family, then was in such a hurry to take them off and wash them, that he forgot to clean out his pockets. But, when I really thought about that logic harder, the more I realized that none of that made sense. Remember, not a single police report from 1989 stated that the blue jeans had ever been pulled from the washing machine. Adding to my doubt that the blue jeans were ever in the washer, is that no police report ever mentions that an Anni’s Grocery Store bag was ever used to store evidence from the crime scene. If Craig is so convinced that Jeff wore blue jeans while committing the murders then threw them in the washing machine, then how did Darla, Dennis Nicodemus, Mark Burger and Linette Grier all see Jeff wearing blue jeans when he arrived to change into his white tuxedo for prom? Not only that, but remember, Jeff told investigators during the taped interview that he wore a pair of blue jeans and an hawiian shirt to Linette Grier’s house. But, Craig says you can’t believe Jeff, and that he could have lied. Craig is convinced that the eyewitness accounts aren’t accurate, or that it could have possibly been a different pair of pants Jeff was wearing. The problem with that theory though, is that there wasn’t, nor has there been another pair of pants integral to this case. And here’s yet another problem I have about the blue jeans being allegedly found in the washer- how the hell did the coins stay inside the pocket, and how is the paper receipt still readable??? And even more glaring, why would have officers at the crime scene packaged crime scene evidence inside a paper grocery store bag? Craig, of course said that it’s possible for the coins to have stayed in the pocket because it could have gotten twisted just right, and that the ink on the receipt could have been special ink that could withstand heavy washing. I mean… as I write that sentence, I’m laughing out loud while shaking my head that an INVESTIGATOR actually believes that logic. It’s completely baffling to me. When it comes to the clothing being kept in a paper bag, Craig says that sometimes biological evidence could not be stored in plastic, and that it’s possible that the officer simply found the paper bag and used that. Again, I’m baffled at Craig’s answers. Officers in 1989 never went to the grocery store to ask any questions to corroborate if Jeff had been there… or not. Craig made a mistake regarding the blue jeans; what I think is this- Linette Grier’s mother helped the teens get ready at her house, but she also worked at Anni’s grocery. She very likely had an Anni’s Grocery store bag (with the receipt stuck inside) in her home when Jeff Pelley was there to change. I think she gave him that paper bag to store his street clothes in, and the receipt got mixed up with the coins, which most likely fell out of the pockets. I also believe that when officers searched Jeff’s mustang in 1989, they took the clothes in the trunk as evidence. So when Craig went through the physical evidence and searched through the paper bag, he immediately assumed that the contents inside of it were the contents from the washing machine, because again… investigators in 1989 majorly, I mean, severely, dropped the ball in documenting evidence PROPERLY. Oh! And let me just add this little nugget of beautiful info down… DNA testing detected that no blood was found on the blue jeans. Craig stands by his findings, and blames the doubt people have on the investigation he did on officers from 1989 and their bad record keeping. Craig submitted an arrest warrant for Jeff Pelley to the prosecutor, who ultimately approved, most likely based on Craig’s supposed new blue jean information. Jeff Pelley was arrested in the LAX airport on August 10th, 2002 on four counts of first degree murder, 13 years after the crime. 

Have you ever heard anything about a right to a speedy trial? Cause… lemme tell you! Jeff Pelley had to wait four… F-O-U-R years until a jury heard his case. The long wait was apparently due to an election of a prosecutor, the departure of that prosecutor, another election of a prosecutor, and a massive delay prompted by the state. Prosecutors were chastised for delaying Jeff’s trial because they simply wanted family counseling records of the Pelley family. You see, the state believed prior to 1989, Jeff had said things to his family counselor about his relationship with Bob and Dawn that could incriminate him in a negative light to the jury. But… that ended up not being the case. When the state finally received the records, they never even used them. Jeff’s defense attorney, Alan Baum, argued pretty early on that Jeff’s trial should be dismissed on the grounds that Jeff was denied a speedy trial, however, Alan’s arguments failed. Alan was able to get Jeff out of jail on bond for almost all of 2005, but by 2006 Jeff was back in court and it was time to get the trial underway.

The trial took place in South Bend, and Frank Schaffer was the lead prosecutor for the state of Indiana. He delivered the state’s opening statement and he went for the jugular right outta the gate. Frank described in great detail the gruesome crime scene and the catastrophic injuries that Bob, Dawn, Janel and Jolene had sustained. He carefully narrated Jeff’s touchy relationship with Bob and Dawn, while admitting to jurors that there was little- to no physical evidence tying Jeff to the crime. He said that the timeline of the case would prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jeff was the only person capable of committing the murders. On the other side of the aisle, you had Alan Baum who attacked the state’s lack of physical evidence. He also accused the police officers of having tunnel vision, and argued that Dr Rick Hoover should have noted time of death. He also wanted the jury to question why no other suspects have never been brought up- or questioned. A lot of the witnesses that I’ve mentioned previously testified at trial. But, new nuggets of information did come from Jeff’s surviving sisters- Jacque and Jessica. Under oath, Jessica maintained that she saw the family’s 20-gage shotgun hanging on the rack in Bob and Dawn’s bedroom before she left for her sleepover. Jacque on the other hand, testified that the 20-gage wasn’t in the parsonage on April 28th of 1989. She states that Bob removed it, along with a few other guns long before the murders- due to Jeff’s suicide attempt in 1988. The news about Bob removing the guns wasn’t news to the investigators because Jeff and Jacque had told police about it in 1989. In fact, Jeff mentioned it in his one-and-only taped interview. He mentioned that he wasn’t sure if Bob gave the shotgun to someone to keep, but that he also had access to a .22 pistol that was given to Bob from a friend of the family who in turn gave to his wife Joy. After Joy’s death, Bob gave the pistol to Jeff as an heirloom. Jeff took this .22 pistol and tried to use it to commit suicide in 1988. Immediately after that experience, Dawn ordered Bob to get rid of all the guns in the house, which he did. But, allegedly, Bob decided to give someone a gun to keep until Jeff turned of age and learned how and when to use the guns properly. During the trial, Jacque confirmed the same story. The man that Bob gave all his guns to was Thomas Kebb. Craig had interviewed Thomas during his investigation in 2002, and Alan Baum managed to get a deposition from Thomas in 2003. In both interviews, Thomas stated that several months before the murders Bob had asked Thomas to come to the parsonage to pick up a few guns because the family was having issues and it was for everyone’s safety. Thomas said Bob put a shotgun, a rifle and a pistol into the trunk of Thomas’ car, then Thomas drove to his in-law’s house and stored the bag of guns in their basement. Thomas kept the guns there, even after news of the murders surfaced. Not once did a Saint Joseph’s County police officer ever document that they interviewed Thomas in 1989 or that they searched his in-law’s basement for the bag of guns. When Thomas was questioned by Alan Baum in 2003, Thomas was sure that a shotgun was in that bag. But, his memory over the years has begun to fade and he could no longer be absolutely sure about the caliber of the shotgun, or how many guns were in the bag. What’s unbelievable to me is that no investigator or police officer checked into Thomas’ claims. Not even Craig. If the Pelley’s 20-gage shotgun was in fact in the bag, which was in Thomas’ in-law’s basement at the time of the murders, then Jeff cannot be the murderer. Thomas’ claim about the bag of guns in the basement alone could totally dismantle the state’s claims, which is why they never called Thomas as a witness at trial. Alan on the other hand, didn’t call Thomas as a witness at trial because he didn’t want the jury to hear about why Thomas had gotten a hold of the guns to begin with. To Alan, the jury would think that Jeff was possibly unhinged and would have questioned his mental state at the time of the murders. Basically, Thomas’ claims would have caused enough reasonable doubt on both sides, so neither the prosecution, or the defense called for him. 

One thing the jurors did get to see, was the May 1st 1989 taped interview of Jeff Pelley with investigators. The prosecution believed that the tape proved that Jeff seemed too cavalier while he talked about his family’s murders. Alan believed Jeff’s personality in the interview was like any other normal teenager who couldn’t articulate his words right and who’s emotions were all over the place because he had just learned about Janel and Jolene’s deaths. 

During the first few days of the trial, the prosecution called for witnesses that spoke about how Jeff and Bob didn’t get along. They mentioned how Jeff was banned from using his car, how Bob cancelled the car insurance on the mustang and how Jeff drove it anyway. The prosecution believed the cancelled car insurance was proof that Bob was serious about Jeff not being able to attend pre and post prom activities, thus being a motive for murder. But here’s the thing about the prosecution’s theory… When Jessica testified under oath, she mentioned that she knew before leaving for her sleepover that Jeff was going to go to the Six Flags theme park after prom because Dawn had told her. This is proof that Bob and Jeff had smoothed things over, and it cancels out that motive police had come up with. HELLO, REASONABLE DOUBT. 

The trial lasted for over a week and Jacque was super hopeful of an acquittal because she knew the state’s case was purely circumstantial. Alan Baum chipped away at the state’s narrow timeline and the circumstantial evidence. He hammered home the fact that nowhere did it state on any police report the time of death, and he mixed that with the fact that Jeff was seen almost the entire day, aside from those 10-15 minutes. 

To help bump the state’s timeline, was a discrepancy in Dave Hathaway’s testimony. Remember, he’s the guy that found the bodies in the parsonage. In 1989, Dave told police that he saw pools of blood on the carpet around Bob and Dawn’s bodies- and that the blood looked wet or fresh. However, when he took the stand in 2006, Dave said the pools of blood were dry. To anyone else this might seem like a simple mis-remembering, however, Dave was a war veteran and knew the difference between wet and dry blood. The difference between his two different statements about the blood sticks out to me because this discrepancy could throw the entire timeline off. If what Dave said in 1989 about the blood being wet is true, then the murders occurred shortly before parishioners arrived at church, instead of the previous evening. Again, to Alan Baum this discrepancy caused enough reasonable doubt. Oh! And remember how in 1989 Dave told investigators that the basement light was off when he found the bodies on Sunday morning? But, do you also remember how Sheila noticed the basement light was on, not once, but twice during the evening of April 29th and very early morning of April 30th? Again, all these differences of testimony lead the defense- and Jacque to believe that there was more than enough reasonable doubt, thus causing the jury to acquit. 

Alan Baum called an expert witness to analyze the washcloths found hanging over the side of the bathtub. Although the state believes that Jeff used them to clean up after the murders, Alan thinks the exact opposite. This is because the specialist stated that if Jeff had used them during the late afternoon of April 29th, then when the investigators found them on April 30th, the washcloths would have been completely dry, and not wet. This means that because the washcloths were partially wet when collected as evidence, Alan believes that there had been another person inside the parsonage. The prosecutor claimed that the specialist conducted his tests in a different environment than what it was like at the time of the murders, thus barring the experiment null and void. 

Alan Baum never questioned the discrepancies about the blue jeans during trial, and regrets that he never brought up the inconsistencies. Ya know how it goes- hindsight is 20/20. Alan claims that he was more focused on Dr Rick Hoover and his failure of not taking full notes (or any notes at all!) at the crime scene, and for placing the bodies of the victims in a refrigerator before determining a time of death. Alan asked, “How many times has this happened before?” Between the years of 1987-1989, Dr Rick Hoover conducted around 11 autopsies, meaning that he should have known better. Remember how Dr Rick Hoover found popcorn in Bob’s stomach during his autopsy? Well, Jacque stated that Bob always ate popcorn AT NIGHT, usually around 7:30-8pm, normally after the younger girls had gone to bed. The defense pounced, and stated that the popcorn alone should blow the timeline into smithereens because again, the state believed the murders occurred sometime between 5-5:15pm. 

Alan Baum got everyone’s attention when he stated that there were potentially two shooters using two different guns. Alan based this claim on the number of shots fired, and the fact that there were two different types of shotgun shell wadding found at the crime scene. His argument was that because the prosecution couldn’t prove that only one gun was used, then that was reasonable doubt. To this day, Alan believes that two shooters murdered the Pelley family using two different kinds of ammunition. 

The last witness Alan Baum called to the stand was Lois Stansbury, to cast more reasonable doubt on the state’s case. Remember, she was the one that saw Bob Pelley standing in the parsonage’s driveway, talking to someone in a pickup truck at 5pm. Alan felt that Lois’ testimony proved that Jeff was innocent. Alan knows that Lois could have been wrong in her estimate as to exactly what time she drove past the parsonage, but Alan didn’t think that was the case, and that’s because she had proof- that Kmart receipt. But, because the police had lost it, it was harder to prove exactly what time she passed the parsonage. Lois stated under oath that she had no knowledge of the tight time frame- meaning that she was an independent witness and didn’t have an ax to grind with either the state or the defense. 

Jeff never testified because Alan was afraid that Jeff’s nonchalant personality would have caused the jury to question him more. Alan believed that they brought up enough points to cause reasonable doubt in this case, and although the defense was cautiously optimistic, Alan knew that he had done all he could. 

The case was handed over to the jury on July 19th, 2006. 3 days later, the jury came back with a verdict. GUILTY ON ALL COUNTS. On November 17th, 2006, a judge sentenced Jeff Pelley to 160 years in prison. (Because he was under 18 at the time of the murders, he was uneligable for the death penalty.) Jessica says that while Jeff was being sentenced, he never looked her way or acknowledged her. She says this fact alone proves that he’s guilty. Craig says that Jeff is a sociopath, and remembers seeing his dark eyes and how it looked like he was emotionless. As for Jacque, she was hurt but also really surprised by the outcome. She says that it’s a miscarriage of justice. At sentencing, Dawn’s brother and Bob’s sister both told the court they hated Jeff for what he’s done, but they also have been able to forgive him. Kim, Jeff’s wife, told the court she is adamant that her husband is innocent, and has vowed to assist her uncle- Phil Hawley in proving Jeff’s innocence. Phil Hawley (the man that took Jeff in while he was in Florida) also agreed that there’s no way Jeff could have committed the murders. Phil too, took the podium at Jeff’s sentencing and read two letters. One letter was written by Phil’s son Danny, who was a friend of Jeff’s. In the letter, Danny claims that the Hawley family stayed in touch with the Pelley’s. Danny said in the letter that there’s no way Jeff committed the murders. Phil said to the court that he’s known Jeff for his whole life, and has looked at him as his own son. Phil spoke about his close friendship with Bob. At the end of his speech, he told the court that he’s begun his own investigation into the murders and had come across proof that proved Jeff 100% was innocent. Phil didn’t reveal that proof though. 

After the conviction, Jeff’s lawyers immediately began the process of getting an appeal. On April 8th, 2008, Jeff and his lawyers received some great news! His conviction had been overturned by an Indiana appeals court. However, the good news was short lived because in February 2009 the case headed to Indiana’s Supreme Court where the original conviction was reinstated and Jeff’s hearing was denied. It didn’t look like Jeff was going to be leaving prison anytime soon. He bounced around a few prisons in Indiana and eventually landed at Indiana State Maximum Security prison in Michigan City, Indiana. That is where he is incarcerated today. 

From this point forward, I want to just say up front that I don’t know, nor do I really have an invested interest in whether Jeff Pelley is guilty or innocent. (Okay, maybe that’s not exactly true. I do care, but only on the basis that if he is innocent then he shouldn’t be sitting in prison for a crime that he did not commit.) And I guess that’s why I even decided to invest so much into this case to begin with. I want to know the truth. I’ll say this though. If Jeff did murder his father, step-mother and two youngest step-sisters, then he’s the scum of the earth and should rot in hell. However, if Jeff Pelley did not murder his family, then who the hell did? 

I think this is a perfect place to stop, because this blog is already way longer than I intended. Because there is still so much to cover, I decided to split this into two parts. You now know all about the Pelley family- their beginnings, their fatal end, the trial and the outcome. But, there’s something that I’ve recently learned, that could potentially blow the Pelley case wide open. Stay tuned for the fascinating conclusion to this story about the Prom Night Murders.

Ava “Joy” Pelley, Bob’s first wife who died of skin cancer in 1985, four years before the murders occurred.
Bob Pelley
Dawn Pelley
Dawn and Bob with Dawn’s three daughter’s on Dawn & Bob’s wedding day. The family is pictured with a family member, presumably Dawn’s mother, although I’m not 100% sure.
Jolene Pelley
Janel Pelley
Olive Branch Church, the parsonage is to the left, off camera.
The parsonage. I have to say though, once I found a picture of the home, it was a lot bigger than I had envisioned.
The back of the parsonage.
Interior depiction of the first floor of the parsonage.
Interior depiction of the second floor of the parsonage.
Crime scene photograph of Bob’s glasses- they were found near his body in the first floor hallway.
Crime scene photograph depicting blood spatter in one of the rooms (I’m assuming this was taken in the basement)
Crime scene photograph of a shell casing found in a book from the parsonage.
The gun rack (from Bob & Dawn’s bedroom) that was a point of contention at the trial. Jeff & Jacque claim the shotgun was taken out of the home in 1988 while Jessica claims the shotgun was underneath the bow when she left for her sleepover on Friday, April 28th.
Crime scene photograph of the photo album on Jeff’s bed. Police theorize Jeff looked through the book before brutally murdering his family.
A picture of Jeff Pelley, taken at his prom. He’s in the white tuxedo.
Page one of the crime scene log book that documented everyone who was coming and going from the crime scene.
Page two of the crime scene log book.
Page three of the crime scene log book.
Page one of the items listed that were taken from the parsonage as evidence.
Page two of the items that were taken from the parsonage as evidence.
Camera still of the videotaped interview Jeff gave to police on May 1st, 1989. He is flanked by his maternal grandparents who signed the consent forms, allowing Jeff to talk with investigators.
One of the images taken by investigators when they were looking for bruising that would have been caused by the shotgun recoiling back. No bruising was found on Jeff’s body.
Sheila and Irish Saunders, the Pelley’s next door neighbors.
Image taken from the Saunders’ bathroom window that overlooks the parsonage. This was Sheila’s viewpoint when she claims she saw the basement light on the late evening of April 29th/very early morning of April 30th.
Jeff’s mugshot when he was arrested for the medical insurance fraud.
Craig Whitfield, the investigator who took the case over in 2002, and who ultimately convinced the prosecutor to file murder charges against Jeff Pelley.
The paper grocery bag that was used to store clothes that investigators believe Jeff wore when he murdered his family.
The blue jean evidence that has caused so much contention in both the investigation and the trial.
The change that was found in the pockets of the blue jeans.
Alan Baum, Jeff’s defense attorney during his murder trial.
Jeff Pelley during his murder trial.
Jacque Pelley (woman in red shirt) walking in front her her brother, Jeff Pelley after a day of testimony.
The image to the right is Jessica Pelley, around the time the murders occurred. The image to the left is Jessica now, who now goes by Jessi Toronjo.
The cemetery where the murdered Pelley family members lie in eternal rest.
From left: Bob and Dawn’s shared gravestone with Jolene’s in the middle and Janel’s on the end.

Published by caitiejobug

I’m a SAHM of one, a loving wife, daughter, and sister. Reading and writing are my favorite hobbies, along with watching true crime documentaries.

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