When Milton Lindgren and Eric Hendricks, two men in their seventies were found murdered in their Camby Indiana home on October 20, 2008, it was automatically assumed to be a hate crime as men were openly gay. When the full story was revealed and the motive ended up being not because the men were gay but the age old motive of greed people became angry that it had been assumed to be a hate crime. The town of Camby, basically a small suburb of Indianapolis, could not win for losing in a sense. Either it had been a hate crime and they were criticized for their intolerance, or it was not a hate crime and they were criticized for their assumption that it was.
The discovery of the bodies can basically be credited to an auto repair shop. On October 20, 2008 a man named Michael Brown came into the shop. The owners wife, Connie Ballard, had met the man before but there was something about him that he did not like. She had met him with long time customer Milton Lindgren. Milton was seventy years old and lived with his male companion, Eric Hendricks in a house they had bought a few years prior. Come to think of it, Connie had not seen or heard from Milton in a bit. He had called about three weeks prior saying he was planning to go on a road trip and wanted to get his van in for an oil change and a check up, but he had never come in. Now here was Michael Brown telling her that he had possession of Milton's van and wanted to see about getting it towed from his house to the shop because he claimed someone had put sugar in the gas tank. Connie began asking Brown about Milton, and how Brown had come in possession of the van. Brown told her that Milton had apparently loaned the van to someone Brown did not know and had gone on a trip. Brown would claim that this unknown person had called him and asked him to pick it. Connie Ballard thought this sounded a bit fishy because she knew Milton was fussy about who he let drive his vehicle.
Connie Ballard knew the man who owned the security company that patrolled the neighborhood in which the two men lived. It is unclear if she called the man, Anthony McClure, while Brown was still in the shop or if he had left by then. Either way after talking to McClure, Connie asked Michael Brown to meet him at the residence. Whether Connie Ballard knew or not that Michael Brown had once lived with the two men or just knew them was unclear.
At any rate Michael Brown went over to the home and got there before McClure. Brown would talk to neighbor Kevin Tetrick and asked if he had seen the two men recently. Brown attempted to use the house key he still had but said he could not get in because the storm door in the front was locked. Tetrick suggested looking in the back so the two went to the back of the house. A window was open and Brown yelled inside but there was not an answer. McClure pulled up around this time and while he declined going inside he told the other two they should. Brown climbed in the window and opened the back door for Tetrick. Tetrick would tell officers that there was an immediate smell inside the home. To him it smelled of rotten meat, to a trained professional they knew the smell to be decomposition. Tetrick would claim that at this point he told Brown that they should leave and call the police but Brown insisted on going upstairs and checking the bedrooms. Once upstairs Tetrick would hear Brown yell that there was blood everywhere. Again, Tetrick would insist they leave the home but Brown said he was checking the other room. Tetrick was not waiting this time. He went out and informed McClure that the police needed to be called.
Investigators would arrive at the home fairly quickly. They would find Milton in his room, in his bed with the covers all the way up. The only things exposed was his head and it had been beaten. A medical examination would show that he had multiple skull fractures to the left side of his head. It was believed these injuries had been made by an object such as a baseball bat, a rod, or a hammer. His official cause of death would be to a brain laceration from the skull fractures from an injury by a blunt object. Eric Hendricks would be found in the adjoining bedroom but he was found on the floor and not in his bed. He too had been beaten in the head. He had a two inch laceration and skull fracture to the back of the head. His official cause of death was “cranial cerebral trauma due to blunt impact to head.” The object was also theorized to be a baseball bat or a hammer. The medical examiner estimated that the bodies had been in the house for at least a week before they were discovered.
One of the reasons of course that this was thought to be a hate crime initially was obviously because the men were openly gay but they had also seemingly been harassed as of late. In August of that year Milton had filed a police report when it was discovered that someone had cut their cable line and left a note on the door that simply said “fag.” Michael Brown would tell authorities that a few weeks prior to the discovery and that while he was there Milton had told him that he had “gotten into it” with some kid's father. He would say that while he was there Milton had a phone call where he was yelling and through the phone Michael Brown heard someone say “You stay away from my son.” However, aside from the note and the vandalism it does not appear that anyone else knew of any issues the men were having with anyone.
A few hours after the bodies had been discovered another detective came onto the scene and according to him later he immediately thought something was off with Michael Brown. At first Michael did not want to go to the police department to be interviewed but he finally consented. He would recount the story about seeing Milton on the phone and the conversation. He would say that was approximately four weeks before the discovery. He would claim that he had last talked to the men about three weeks prior. He would then tell the story to the authorities that he had told Connie Ballard, well at least some of it. He would claim that on October 11th he had gotten the call from the person he did not know about picking up Milton's van in the Walmart parking lot. The detective did question the fact that according to Michael's story at the time he had to tow the van and had done so to his girlfriend's apartment in Franklin Indiana, southeast of Indianapolis, instead of the men's home that was nearby. It is unclear if he gave any real answer.
Two days after the discovery of the bodies Michael Brown was back in the auto repair shop apparently looking to talk to Connie Ballard. She was not there as she was being interviewed by the police. It seems that Brown had also gone to another car dealer that did repairs and mentioned that the van he had brought in had belonged to a murder victim. Both auto repair shops contacted the police. They in turn called Michael Brown and asked him to come in for another interview. He refused claiming that he was on his way to Evansville, some three hours away for a wedding and would be gone for several days. A few days later Brown was pulled over with his girlfriend, Julie Esslinger in her car in Indianapolis. They now knew his story of leaving had been a lie and he was questioned on the side of the road but they had nothing they could use to keep him.
Investigators had been able to get a hold of Milton's van and had processed it but results would take days, if not weeks. They found blood on the driver's seatbelt as well as on the garage door opener to the home. Then on October 27th investigators got a break. A woman from the nearby town of Monrovia called and told them that she and her husband knew Brown and that they were storing things at their home for him. Two weeks before the bodies had been found Brown had asked them to store a television, a stereo and some boxes. Then on the 24th they were asked to store two safes. Investigators went to the home and among the items they found several furniture store receipts in Eric's name, the title to Milton's van and a copy of Milton's birth certificate.
On October 28th Julie Esslinger dropped Brown off in downtown Indianapolis. He had several hundred dollars on him and told her that he was going to stay with a different friend for a while. Just after that police showed up at her home with a warrant to search. They found a hammer, another garage door opener for Milton and Eric's home. Julie would tell investigators about a storage unit that Brown had and inside they found several thousand dollars worth of furniture. Investigators talked to the two stores and they identified Brown as the person who bought the items but would claim he had an identification with the name Eric Hendricks to make the purchases.
The next bit of information the investigators received came from the post office. It seems that at the end of September Milton had come in and inquired as to why Eric had not been getting his mail at the home for some time. He was told that in February a change of address card, with Eric's signature had come in. According to the investigators initially the mail began going to a home where a man named Keith Myers lived. Myers was a friend of Brown's. He would claim that Brown had asked him to allow Eric's mail to come there because he was going through a bad divorce and did not want the mail going to his home. In August Myers told Brown that he was moving and the mail would have to be changed. Apparently at that point he had it sent to Julie Esslinger's Franklin Indiana home. After learning of the mail issue, the following day Milton had brought Eric in and they knew the signature was not his and they had fixed the issue.
Investigators talked to the families of the victims of course too. They would learn that from about February to July of 2008 Michael had lived in the home with Milton and Eric. Milton had been known to help people down on their luck so it had not seemed unusual and by all accounts it seemed as if Michael, who had claimed to the men, as well as many others, to be a doctor of some sort, helped them in their day to day lives. Eric's brother would say that in March Brown had called him and citing his medical training said he thought Eric should be placed in a nursing home. Eric suffered from issues with diabetes and spent a lot of time in a wheelchair as walking was very difficult. Eric's brother thought the conversation odd but did not really think twice about it until after the murders. He would also tell investigators that just prior to Brown meeting and moving in with the men Eric had received a significant inheritance from their father after he had passed.
By November 13th investigators had enough to charge Michael Brown in the murders of Milton and Eric but he was no where to be found. He was found two days later and arrested in San Diego.
By the time they went to trial in September of 2010 prosecutors had determined that the murder weapon was likely an aluminum bat that Julie Esslinger had owned and had disappeared, as well as a hammer that they had found. The trial lasted a total of four days. I did not find a lot of specifics about the trial, even in Brown's 2011 appeal, especially pertaining to the defense. Of course Connie Ballard from the repair shop, the security guard, Anthony McClure, and neighbor, Kevin Tetrick testified. There was also testimony from several store clerks to show that while the things bought were sold to an Eric Hendricks it was Brown who had purchased them, and investigators had found the fake ID by then. There was also a man named Edward Raifsnider that testified, although I have to say with all the evidence that the prosecutors had I would have never put Raifsnider on the stand. Raifsnider had met Brown in December of 2008 in jail while they were both waiting extradition for their respective crime. Raifsnider would claim that Brown confessed to killing the two men because he was stealing from them and supposedly told him what weapons were used. I threw Raifsnider's name into a Google search and he would be the last person I would want to testify in a courtroom. He had a criminal record a mile long. In my opinion the prosecution had enough evidence and credible witnesses that they did not need him, but apparently they did.
Michael Brown was ultimately convicted and was sentenced to 120 years, sixty years each to serve consecutively. According to the Indiana Department of Correction his earliest possible release date is in 2069. Upon looking at the site I found this was far from Michael's first crime. He had served sentences in the past in prison dealing with fraud and forgery.
So in the end Milton and Eric's murders had nothing to do with the fact that they were gay. In fact, prosecutors came to believe that the incident in which their cable line had been cut and a note was left on the door was actually done by Michael Brown in order to make it appear they were being harassed. They also found no evidence that could link anyone to the supposed phone called Brown claimed to have heard. Milton and Eric lost their lives because Brown had been a thief and greedy and he was about to be caught.