The Hendricks Family Murders

A few weeks ago I did the story of Jamie Snow, a resident of Bloomington Illinois whose case has been taken up by the Illinois Innocence Project.  Like many of the cases that I post about here, the Snow case had many twists and turns and has left many with many more questions than answers it seems.  Someone commented on that blog and told me of some other cases from the Bloomington Illinois area that I promised to look into.  Then just a few days after that on November 7th, I saw what I call a blurb about a family murder that took place in 1983 in Bloomington Illinois.  To be fair the person who commented on the Snow blog had mentioned this case also.  

Many in the Jamie Snow case claim police corruption and prosecutor misconduct. While researching the case of the Hendricks Family Murders, as they have become known, I often thought back to the Snow case and some of the things said and done that were comparative to this case.  One of the things I found the most interesting about the comparison of the two cases is the fact that David Hendricks was acquitted (in his second trial) for the murders of his family on March 28, 1991 and the crime in which Jamie Snow sits in prison for today was committed on March 31, 1991.  In fairness, Jamie Snow was not put on trial for another ten years, in 2001.  You will likely see more comparisons made between the two cases as I tell you this new story.  It is a story that, like Jamie Snows case, you may find yourself questioning if the accused is guilty but I doubt few of you will argue about the evidence the state had.  This is a case in which it appears no matter how you cut it the prosecutors believed they had their "man" and they were going to get him under any means necessary.

Before I go into the story I want to point out a few things.  I found several discrepancies in my research on this case.  One of the big ones concerned just what date David Hendricks left for a business trip.  There are several sites I found in which the date was said to be November 4th, while others stated it was the 7th.  I have chose to use the 7th as the correct date as this is the one I found in the 1990 Appeals Court decision.  A few sites even had his conviction date incorrect.  But, the one thing that bothered me the most were the sites that have not told the entire story and leave it as if it ended in 1984 when David Hendricks was convicted of murdering his wife and his three children and sentenced to four life terms in prison.  This of course did happen to David Hendricks in 1984 as the site say, but they leave out that the conviction was overturned and at his second trial he was acquitted.  I could understand if this was a case in which these latest developments had happened in the last few years but David Hendricks was acquitted over twenty five years ago and yet it appears by these accounts that he is still in prison, which is obviously not the case.  At any rate, it is time to get on with the story.


On the evening of November 8, 1983 Bloomington Illinois police entered the home owned by David and Susan Hendricks after receiving calls from her husband and other family members concerned about the welfare of Susan and her three children, Rebekah, age 9, Grace, age 7 and Benjamin, age 5.  When they entered the home all appeared to be normal until they reach the bedrooms.  Inside the rooms they found the bodies of Susan and her children.  They had all been murdered.  Near the children a knife and an ax had been found.  The weapons appeared to have been clean and placed in the area.  These would be the weapons that prosecutors would later claim were in fact used to cause the injuries to the victims.  While the home was taped off as a crime scene for investigators, David Hendricks had returned home.  He would later state that after becoming concerned that his wife had not answered his calls, and finding out that she had not gone to a planned family dinner he had left Wisconsin where he had gone for business and had headed back home.  

As is the case in any murder, even those that took place back in 1983, investigators knew to first start with those closest to the family and of course in this case that person was David Hendricks, the husband and father of the victims.  David had told investigators that on the previous night, November 7th, while his wife had attended a baby shower he had taken the children out to eat for pizza at the local Chuck E. Cheese.  He would claim that they had began to eat around 7 pm and after allowing the children to play both before and after dinner they had left to return home to get some library books.  He stated he then took the children, with their books to a library "book mobile" and returned home at about 8:30.  He stated the children were in bed between 9 and 9:30 pm.  According to David, Susan had returned from her baby shower somewhere between 10:30 and 10:45. He claims that they spent some time talking, even discussing a possible adoption of a child, and that sometime between 11 pm and midnight he left, headed towards Wisconsin for his business trip.  At his 1984 trial (and possibly his 1991 trial also), David's office manager confirmed not only that the trip had been planned at least a week in advance but she and others stated that it was not unusual for David to leave late in the night or even during the night when going on trips.

By all accounts it seems that David's alibi had been confirmed and he had said and done, at least all of the things that were possible to confirm.  At this point there was nothing pointing to David being involved. Most accounts proclaim that until autopsies and results were returned David did not look like a good suspect.  All of that changed when the medical examiner claimed that he found remains in the stomachs of the children from their pizza dinner.  The ME would claim that the deaths had to occur around the time of 9:30, while David was still in the home.  By all accounts, the digestion of the food in the stomach of the children would be a contention through both of David's trials and would be in essence the only "scientific" evidence the prosecution could claim.

I was quite interested in this idea that that the ME had determined time of death to be within two hours of the children's last meal and attempted to do a little research.  I also tried to keep in mind several things.  First, this crime occurred in 1983 so the forensics in this area may not be what they are today as we know that "scientific" information often changes over time.  Secondly, although I found much information as to the fact that remains of the pizza dinner were found, I was unable to determine just how much was found.  Thirdly, just as with just about any case you have in which experts testify you have differing of opinions.  And lastly, as mentioned I was unable to determine just how much remains were found in the children's stomach's, but also considering there were three victims who ate the same food around the same time, and presumably killed near the same time if the remains in their stomachs were consistent with each other.  The defense would argue that the exercise the children had at the restaurant just prior, but more importantly after they ate their dinner had the ability to slow their digestion down, making their time of death solely based on the contents of their stomach inaccurate.  My quick attempt at researching this area was largely unsuccessful as I found little pertaining to children or even clear cut lines as to what can or cannot affect the digestive system.  

However, again, despite two trials this issue of undigested food seemed to be the only thing the prosecution had to attempt to show it was possible that David Hendricks was home at the time his family had been murdered.  Keep in mind that the bodies were found at approximately 10:30 pm on the night of November 8, 1983.  This would have been approximately twenty four hours after the time the prosecutors would claim that David Hendricks killed his family.  I found no references to any other factors considered in the time of death, or even any real "window" of time given.  It would be reasonable to assume that things like the temperature of the bodies and the presence or absence of rigor mortis would have been considered but I found nothing to indicate this was mentioned and it was only the undigested food that was considered. This would become highly important in David Hendricks' second trial because in essence everything else the prosecutors had used in the first trial was thrown out through his appeal.  

So, what did they have that secured a conviction in 1984?  Very little obviously.  Let me clear in saying that in nothing that I found did I ever find if there had ever been any forensic testing (i.e. fingerprints) taken from the weapons that were found near the bodies of the children.  I also never heard if the prosecutors had a claim where they came from, other than they obviously believed that David Hendricks had used them and had cleaned the after.  I am unsure if this "cleaning" was forensically tested or if this was just believed because the weapons did not have any visible blood on them, which they would have had they been used in the murders.  

The prosecution would claim there was no forced entry into the home.  However, it would be determined that the back door to the home was unlocked.  This was apparently a time and era at this time, and particularly in this community where the locking of doors was not something that was done on a regular basis.  In fact, it was reported that after the crime there was a rush of sales for locks and that the community at large began to lock their doors more regularly.  There was a claim that there were no defensive wounds on any of the victims, indicating they were all asleep when the murders occurred.  The prosecutors could claim that the children were murdered near the time David claimed to put them to bed and before he left between 11 and midnight, but I take issue with this. Apparently from my understanding Susan too was found in her bed and without defensive wounds.  It was apparently confirmed by others at the baby shower she attended that evening as to the time she left, having her arrive home between 10:30 and 10:45.  Since the prosecutors still apparently maintain that David left the home between 11 and midnight this would indicate that he would have had to have surely murdered his wife just after her arrival home and that she had gone to bed without first checking in to even look at any of her three children.  Had they been murdered at around 9:30 as the prosecutors would argue, then they were obviously dead before she ever walked into the home. She would have then gone to bed, without looking in on them and been asleep enough that she took was taken off guard as she was stabbed with a knife, and or an ax.  In my opinion the prosecutors could not break David's alibi as to when he left the home and when he was last seen with the children between 8 and 8:30 pm and harmed themselves when they did not seem to give a range as far as the time of death because it is likely in their opinion they had to prove it happened in that small window of time that David admitted to being home.  

In his 1990 appeal, the court stated that the prosecution in David's 1984 trial had called what they had "motive evidence."  This was "evidence" that supported their motive as to why David Hendricks would have murdered his family.  They based this on three things.... his strict religious beliefs, his change of appearance over the year and a half prior to the murders, and testimony from models who had encounters with David Hendricks for a catalog or brochures that he created for business.  So let's look at those things.

David had been raised in the religion known as the Plymouth Brethren.  It has been described as an overly conservative, fundamentalist religion.  It can be compared to the Mormon religion in many ways, especially when it comes to their rules and beliefs.  But of course not every religion is the same so there are some differences obviously.  Prosecutors would harp on the issue that his religion forbid or looked down upon not just divorce but also adultery and had what they called "harsh" punishments for that behavior.  David and Susan had met as teenagers through their religion as she too was a woman who was deep in her faith.  It was the prosecution theory that his religion gave David the motive to kill his family so that he could obtain a new life and yet still have good standing with the church.

So how did they come to the conclusion that David wanted out of his marriage?  They based that on two things.  First prosecutors would say that between 1981 and the murders David Hendricks had lost several pounds, began dressing differently and grooming himself better. This was true, and was never disputed.  The theory given for this by the prosecution was all but saying that David was bored with his wife, and his life and this was the first sign of changes he was making.  However, the problem with this is that they left out any other reasons that these changes could have occurred.

Up until now I have only mentioned that David was on a business trip during the time of the murders and have not mentioned what his business was.  David seemed to be some sort of entrepreneur of sorts.  Apparently he had patented several different items over time from my understanding but at the time of the murders he was working on one of his latest, a back brace of some sort.  He had started a business of his own and apparently it was going pretty good for him.  A description that I read about the area of their home at the time of the murders was more in the upper middle class at the time.  It was pointed out that now, in 2016, the home he owned would be considered a starter home in the area but in 1983 it was one of the better homes, in one of the better areas of town.  As an "inventor" of sorts he had to market his product, and that would have included going out and selling the product, in which he did, and did often.  One could assume that rather than looking to get rid of the life and family he had David was simply cleaning himself up (as well as likely maturing) to fit the image he needed in order to expand his product. 

The second thing the prosecution used to paint an image of David being bored with his family was to put thirteen women who had encounters with David over the years to be models for his product.  The prosecution maintained that David was sexually aggressive towards the woman and forced them to do things that were not needed.  They also claimed that as time had gone on, leading up to the murder, his behavior with said models escalated.  The judge at the trial, well both trials, Richard Baner, told the prosecution that in order for him to allow this testimony they had to show how that behavior had in fact escalated as they had stated.  The judge also said that the prosecution would be required to show then how this was something David would have struggled with in relation to his religion.  As I said earlier, his fundamentalist Christian religion looked harshly at adultery and the like.   The prosecution of course thought they could do this in the fashion required by the judge and paraded thirteen different women to the stand to testify as to their encounters with David Hendricks while attempting to be a model for his invention.

The 1990 appeal speaks of this in great detail and points out that while the prosecution put the women on the stand in a way in which it appeared that David had become more sexually aggressive that the fact that they put them on the stand in a vastly different order than in which they had met David was not correct.  In front of the jury the prosecution started the models on the stand with a woman who had met with David and had never been asked to remove her clothing, they ended the parade of women with one who had been naked the entire session, although she had used a towel to cover herself. Of course on the surface this sounds like an acceleration of behavior. The problem with this is that the first woman put on the stand had been the third or fourth woman that David had met up with (at least in the line of women testifying) and the last woman had been closer to one of the first women.  Nearly all of the women, including the first, were asked to disrobe at least from the waist up.  It was unclear whether they were asked to remove their bras, although the prosecution indicated this was done.  The appeals court determined that at least a few of the women had gone to the "fitting" (which was basically a "audition" of sorts to see about modeling for his brochure) wearing a swimsuit or a leotard and indicated that they had not worn a bra.  All of the women would testify that David Hendricks had "marked" them in some way near the area in which the brace would be fit.  Some of the women testified that there was a hospital gown of sorts available in which they would switch it around from front to back depending on where David was marking for the fitting.  At least two of the women claim that David had given them spinal rubs after there was indication of issues ranging from one woman having a curve in her spine, to another saying she had previously had a rib removed.  One woman testified that while making the markings David had touched her breast but was quick it seems to indicate that she did not think this was intentional.  One woman said the fitting had taken place in her home, and that David had rubbed her back while she laid on her bed fully dressed.  She would indicate that she felt that he was about to kiss her but she stopped him and he simply stopped and left.  Another lady indicated that after a fitting done in another city she had taken David on a "sight seeing" tour and he attempted to kiss her on the cheek at the end of the night. She too said she stopped him and again, like the other woman, things seemed fine and he left.  

One of the ladies that testified at David's trial stated that she had shown up at his office, for a scheduled appointment and had brought her husband.  She indicated to the court, through the prosecutors that David had a "jaw dropping moment" when he opened the door to her and prosecutors pushed that this was because she had brought her husband along, something they claim David had not wanted.  However, the woman indicated that the meeting went as scheduled, with nothing necessarily unusual.  At the end of the meeting he indicated that the woman's height, 5 foot 11, would make it nearly impossible to fit properly and so she would not be used.  Prosecutors would claim again that this decision was based on the woman bringing her husband because one of the other women who testified was 5 foot 11.  However, they failed to mention or point out that the other woman who had been that tall had taken the pictures and modeled the device but that they had not been used professionally, so his indication could have actually been correct. Seeing as this was a new product it is reasonable to believe that these women who were coming in for these "fittings" and to possibly model the device both in his brochure as well as at conventions were also "guinea pigs" of sorts.  There's no way of knowing if the first taller woman, who's pictures were not ultimately used, was his first experience that maybe height makes a difference in the product he designed.  The prosecution also made a big deal when the woman who had brought her husband along for the ride, indicated that David "smelled good" and seemed freshly dressed.  The appeals court would point out that David had indicated he had freshly showered before the meeting after being out jogging.  I personally was really taken aback at this comment not just being allowed in the court, but thought it showed that the prosecution was grasping at straws.  This was a man who had a business meeting and we're going to discuss the fact that he smelled good and indicate that it was a sign that he was a sexual aggressor?  So bad smelling men are safe??

That all being said, at the trial in 1984 all of this had been allowed in and after deliberating for about five and a half hours the jury returned with a guilty verdict. In 2011 the death penalty was abolished in Illinois, but in 1984 it was still available and this was a possible sentence for David Hendricks.  However, according to state law, after the conviction the defendant had the right to choose between allowing the jury or the sitting judge decide his sentence.  David Hendricks chose the judge.  It is likely that most thought this was not the smartest move that he could make but maybe the defense saw something others did not.  Judge Richard Baner not only gave him four life sentences (it was either that or death), he stated in his closing that he was not personally convinced based on the evidence presented that he had been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and could not or would not give him the death penalty.  Judge Baner would state after David's second trial in 1991 that he would have never convicted him in 1984 had he been on the jury.  

As is customary, David filed for his appeal but it seems as if it was initially all upheld until it was again appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.  It was there in July of 1990 that they overturned the convictions stating not only the prosecution should not have been allowed to bring the models into the courtroom, but that their progression of the women had been prejudice based on the order in which they placed them on the stand.  They also reversed based on the fact that so much was relied upon David's religion and what the prosecution believed were his thoughts.  Apparently the state attempted to have the court reverse themselves but they denied that in October of 1990.  So, in March of 1991 David Hendricks was once again on trial for the murder of his family.  It should be noted that while in prison in 1988 he had remarried and that at his second trial along with his mother, and his new wife, sat the mother of Susan Hendricks.  It was said that Susan's family never believed David was guilty of this crime.  This time the prosecution had even less, but like they would later do in the case against Jamie Snow, they brought in a man who had shared a cell with David in prison at one time named David Wayne Stark.  Stark would testify that David Hendricks had confessed to him while in prison to the murder of his family.  The defense would bring witnesses who would testify as to the fact that Stark was known for not telling the truth and apparently the jury believed them.  I found this particularly interesting because in Jamie Snow's trial, some ten years later, they would bring not one, but several convicted felons into the courtroom to testify to a confession. One has to wonder if after seeing that one convicted felon did not work in their trial against Hendricks, another case where there was absolutely nothing to directly link the defendant, they brought in more for that reason.  

It seems that one of the things the prosecution brought up in his second trial was that David Hendricks had asked for a vasectomy.  He had apparently offered to pay for the procedure while he was in prison.  Prosecutors attempted to use this as a sign to the jury that David Hendricks had no desire to ever have a family again and tried to use it against him.  For his part Hendricks says that decision was made based on the fact that his second wife was 39 years old with three children and nothing to do with the murders he was convicted for. 

In the end, the jury from the second trial deliberated for about 12 hours and returned with a verdict of not guilty.  Prosecutors and investigators apparently have had very little to say about this other than the fact that they believe David Hendricks was guilty and while the case is officially unsolved they were placing it in the "inactive" file.  For his part Hendricks expressed anger for what he called the tactics and misconduct shown to convict him for a crime he maintains he did not commit.  At some point David's second marriage ended, although that should not seem to be a surprise with all the stress it likely endured. David relocated to Florida and continued his worth in orthopedics.  He remarried again it seems about 2002 and at least according to his Facebook page as of 2012 he remained married.  He went on to write a book, not about his case, but about the case of Henry Hillenbrand, a man he met while in prison.  

I cannot say what is going on in Bloomington Illinois as far as the justice system there, and in fact, I cannot tell you that either David Hendricks or even Jamie Snow for that matter is absolutely, 100% not guilty of the crimes they have been accused, and both convicted. What I can say is that these are two cases, from the same county that should have never been convicted on the evidence presented.  Forensics do not seem to be a high priority there as I found nothing in either of these cases to link the defendants, and I am talking even basic forensics such as fingerprinting.  And yet, prosecutors there, or at least when these cases were presented, appeared to twist and turn whatever they believed happened to look like facts.  In this case this was a man who, based on the fact that he had "cleaned himself up" and may or may not have attempted to kiss a few women and without incident was rebuffed, was accused of slaughtering his family.  

One thing I did not mention here but found odd in the justice process was in the 1990 appeal, it stated that while David Hendricks was arrested on December 3, 1983 for the murders, it was not until December 22nd that a grand jury returned an indictment on eight counts.  I cannot think of another case in which a grand jury was called on a case AFTER an arrest had been made.  This means this man had been arrested, with I am sure the story all over the news and newspapers before a grand jury even got the case to review.  Now, I do not necessarily give grand jury's a lot of lead way or anything because in most cases it is simply a place in which prosecutors show them what they have and can twist it how they please without any defense coming in and "mucking" it up.  So in essence a grand jury indictment is not something that is often hard to get, I just found it odd that it came not just after an arrest, but so long after.  Just something more to chew on in this case.

Comments

  1. Great summation of the Hendricks case. I followed this through the newspapers and TV/radio reports. I don't know anyone personally involved. But as I read the daily newspaper reports of the trial coverage, I kept thinking, "this is all they've got on him?" One thing that I remember is that shortly after the murders, maybe the very next day or so, David was talking to reporters. I have a memory of seeing him surrounded by reporters with microphones aiming toward him and they were asking him questions. He made a remark (with no tears flowing) that his family was better off now because they were with Jesus or something like that. That was replayed in the media several times and some people took that as no remorse or sadness and made them believe in his guilt all the more. My feeling now is that he didn't do it. The timeline just didn't make sense to me and they didn't have any forensics that implicated him. Of course, who knows how much forensic evidence they actually collected or tested, anyway? Good ole' Bloomington law enforcement. Lori

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  2. Sorry to tell you but Hendricks was definitely guilty! First; he never traveled for business sales, that was all an alibi set up! Two; if he did travel to make sales and found someone interested he'd have taken the time to make the sale! A client was interviewed that happened to want one of his products and he told her he didn't have it. When the police looked in his car he did have that product! The hair on my arms still raises when I think of these facts! HE IS A COMPLETE SCUMBAG!

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  3. The Hendricks family was our neighbors. I was about 10 at the time this happened and the children were my friends, may they rest in peace. I remember it all too well...

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