I recently got a new computer after my last one decided that it had had enough. In the process I lost the list of cases that I had compiled but that is someone easy to remedy. I already spend a lot of time watching documentary shows which is where I get a lot of my case names to begin with, so I just had to step it up and start over. Many of the shows that I watch I have either already seen in the past or I have seen another similar show on the same case. It seems as if it is only on the rare occasion that I come across a case I have never heard of. This happened to be one of those cases. In fact, I was even more surprised to realize that the case had occurred in my state and I still had never heard of it.
In the early morning of March 1, 1974 twenty-four year old Lindy Alton and twenty-three year old Sherry Lee Gibson parked out on a rural Knox County Indiana road often described as a “lovers lane” of sorts. Several hours later, after a decent snowfall, a farmer was in the area and saw what he first thought was an abandoned car. The farmer soon heard yelling and banging coming from the trunk of the car. The trunk was pried open and Lindy Alton emerged. He immediately began yelling for Sherry. The police were called and for at least a split second investigators were suspicious of Lindy's story. It is said that part of their suspicion came from the fact that Lindy seemed to be “stuttering” through his story. It was later learned that when he was a child Lindy had suffered a head injury and when he was stressed he began to stutter and have difficulty in expressing words. Their suspicions ended when soon after, some seven miles away, an abandoned farmhouse had been set on fire and inside the home the body of Sherry Lee Gibson was found. At that point Lindy Alton because their only witness to what they now knew was a gruesome murder.
Lindy Alton was very clear in what happened and what he saw on that night. He told authorities that the couple were in the car “making out” when a man approached their car asking for directions to nearby Vincennes. Soon after the man returned to the car, this time with a woman in tow. They forced the couple out of the car at gunpoint. While the man “pistol whipped” Lindy and forced him into the trunk of his car, the woman was forcing Sherry into another vehicle. He was able to describe the perpetrators to a police sketch artist. He even knew how the man parted his hair, and the location of a mole on the woman's face.
When Sherry's body was recovered it was discovered that she had been sexually assaulted and stabbed several times. Although there were multiple stab wounds the coroner determined that three particular wounds had pierced her heart and had ultimately caused her death.
For the next two years there were really no leads on the case. There have been arguments over the years over what was released to the media first through articles at the time the crime was committed and later through an arrest that was made. But in 1977 a guard at a juvenile facility in Indiana began asking questions about any unsolved murders in the Southern Indiana area around 1975. Authorities went and talked to sixteen year old John Jeffers who was spending time at the facility after being charged with auto theft. It has later been said that for some detectives, no matter how inconsistent a confession may be, a confession is good enough. We also have to keep in mind that this was 1977, when there was little talk of false confessions. It does appear that at least at some level the detectives wanted the confession to fit the crime, then again it seems that on some very key points the investigators did not care if Jeffers was lying. It was said that Jeffers initial confession in no way fit the evidence or the facts known. It took two more attempts to get that correct. Some believe he was fed the information by investigators and given articles from the media in attempts to get his story “straight.” Just exactly what facts he gave on how, or even why he committed the crime seems to be unclear. However, he did implicate another boy named Kenneth Shaner. It has been reported that Jeffers met Shaner at a county orphanage. At the time of Jeffers confession Shaner was in Germany as he was a member of the military.
Now, I have already mentioned that it has been said that for some detectives a confession is good enough to solve a crime, but I cannot for the life of me understand how the investigators, and later the prosecutor in the case decided they had the right man. Two things completely jump out at me to say that this confession was not true. First is the fact that Lindy Alton had always stated that the perpetrators were a man and a woman. In no way, shape or form did he indicate that either of the perpetrators were young boys. At the time of the murder John Jeffers was fourteen while Shaner was sixteen. There was never any indication that either of these boys looked feminine in any way. Secondly, while in 1975 DNA was not available they had been able to test the semen recovered. It was alleged that the person who had raped Sherry was likely an “older” man as his sperm count was apparently low. While I never saw it mentioned I would also gander to guess that they had tested the sperm for blood type. Whether they cross matched that blood type with John Jeffers or Kenneth Shaner is unclear but I would guess that even the investigators who took the confession as his word knew there were issues and more testing would harm their case so they just left it alone. Instead both John Jeffers and Kenneth Shaner, who was brought back from Germany, were arrested and charged with murder, rape, robbery and kidnapping.
As is often the case both defendants pleaded not guilty at their preliminary hearings. In March of 1978 Jeffers attempted to change his plead to not guilty by reason of insanity but after being evaluated two psychiatrists declared him to be sane. Within in a few months Jeffers had made a deal with prosecutors. He had agreed to plead guilty to first degree murder and the other charges were to be dropped. The agreement required that he testify against Kenneth Shaner at trial and it allegedly guaranteed Jeffers would receive the “minimum” sentence. The problem is that he was not advised as to what that “minimum” sentence would be so when he was sentenced in June of 1978 to thirty years some say no one was more surprised than he. Prosecutors pushed on when it came to Kenneth Shaner. His trial began in October 1978 and been moved to nearby Gibson County. A special prosecutor was also put in charge of the case. I can only guess that this happened because of all of the pre-trial publicity in the case.
On the fifth day of Shaner's trial John Jeffers testified. He apparently told three different stories on the stand and at least one of them was that neither he, nor Shaner, were involved in the murder. Lindy Alton also testified and declared without hesitation that Kenneth Shaner was not the man that had forced him into his own trunk in 1975. On the following day the prosecutor approached the judge and asked that all charges be dismissed with prejudice, meaning they could never be filed again. The judge granted the motion. Kenneth Shaner went back to the military but a cloud remained over him for decades to come. John Jeffers went back to prison. It is unclear as to why his case never seemed to be appealed through the courts. In 1983 Jeffers was able to apparently hoard medication and died of a drug overdose while still incarcerated.
And there the case apparently sat. On one hand it had been officially closed with the plea deal from John Jeffers, but on the other hand there seemed to be many who did not believe his confession. From a legal standpoint there was nothing really left to do. Then in November of 2001 a woman named Ella Mae Dicks walked into a police station in Georgia and told a story that she had apparently recanted at least a few times over the past few decades, but had never told a police officer. Now here she was telling authorities that she and her ex-husband, Wayne Gulley, had committed several crimes together while they were married but none more vicious than the murder of a young girl in a farmhouse near Vincennes Indiana.
Investigators from Indiana went to Georgia to talk to Ella Mae and were intrigued by her story. They not only believed her story as she had details they claimed had never been released, but she was almost a dead ringer for the sketch that had been made in 1975 on recollections from Lindy Alton. Ella Mae was able to give the investigators a diagram showing complete details of what the inside of the farmhouse had looked like, even the correct position of Sherry Lee's body. Of course they could not just arrest Ella Mae, let alone Wayne Gulley right away without investigating more and at least talking to Gulley. So their next step was to find Gulley who now lived in Illinois. His first interview with investigators, at his home, was audio taped and was later used at his trial.
When investigators met with Gulley, they seemingly did not initially tell him the exact reason for their call on him. One investigator later said that he was super cooperative and was a very nice guy. He did not have a criminal record or even a traffic ticket. Investigators had to think that maybe, just maybe, as much as they wanted to believe Ella Mae, she was lying. But, even those thoughts were pushed back a bit the second he opened the door to investigators. Just as Ella Mae had looked like the sketch of the woman made by Lindy Alton, Gulley, resembled the sketch of the man, just as much. They began with basically recounting his life. According to investigators Gulley had been able to recount everywhere he ever lived and during what time period. By the time they found him in 2001 he was on his sixth marriage and working towards his second master degree. Then they started in on some of the things that Ella Mae had told them, yet still steering clear of the murder itself. It appears that Gulley pretty much agreed or substantiated many of the things Ella Mae had told them, including being involved in the robbery of a fruit stand less than a mile away from where Sherry was taken, on the night she was taken. And then the investigators told him about Ella Mae's confession about Sherry Lee Gibson's murder. It was then that Gulley did not deny being involved in the murder, although he did not admit being involved either. Suddenly Gulley was having memory issues and questioned if he could have been there and “just blocked it out.” He was then shown the sketches that had been made in 1975. In the interview he said, “They look like me, I'm not going to deny that. It certainly looks like her.”
Still the investigators did not apparently arrest Wayne Gulley or Ella Mae Dicks. They continued their investigation and sent it to a grand jury. They were both indicted in August of 2002 and the arrests were made. For her part, Ella Mae it seems had no issue in pleading guilty. She had confessed to begin with because she had been tormented for nearly three decades and she had extreme remorse.
By the time Wayne Gulley went on trial in August of 2003 Lindy Alton was no longer alive to testify. He had died in 1998 when he accidentally set himself on fire while burning corn stalks on his property. He had eventually married and had a child but most people who knew him say he was haunted by that night in 1975. Considering it had been close to thirty years since the murder, and from a legal standpoint it had been solved with the confession of John Jeffers, there seemed to very little left against Wayne Gulley aside from the confession of Ella Mae Dicks. Prosecutors had an uphill battle. They had to prove to a jury that John Jeffers had lied back in 1977 and that the investigators and prosecutor at the time had let him. Then they had to prove that Ella Mae was telling the truth that not only was she involved in the murder of Sherry Lee Gibson, but more importantly so was Wayne Gulley.
The defense attorney's obviously attacked Ella Mae's character, as well as accusing the prosecutor of prosecuting and already “solved” case. They argued that there was nothing to indicate, in their opinion at least, that John Jeffers had given a false confession. They accused Ella Mae of suffering from mental illness, alcoholism and hallucinations, all of which apparently Ella Mae and the prosecution agreed. They also argued that Ella Mae had made her confession based on the media information on the case and that she was resentful of Gulley because he was intelligent and apparently professionally successful. Prosecutors argued against this. They were convinced that information Ella Mae gave initial investigators came from her memory, not from the media. They pointed to the drawing she made of the farmhouse and the fact that a robbery had in fact taken place at a fruit stand on the night of the murder, just as she had said. They were quick to point out that while Sherry Lee had been stabbed several times it was the three stab wounds to her heart that had killed her and Ella Mae had not only known that but knew how many, something else that had not been released. According to Ella Mae, Gulley had done all of the stab wounds except those three and had forced her to inflict those. Prosecutors also played the audio tapes made of their interview with Gulley.
After deliberating for eleven hours the jury came back with a guilty verdict. In September of 2003 Ella Mae was first sentenced to serve fifteen years for her plea and then later in the month Wayne Gulley was sentenced to fifty years. Despite his apparent continued claims of innocence I was unable to see any appeal that has been filed in this case.
Ella Mae, who during her time in prison was going by the last name of Morgan was released in February of 2011. According to the Indiana Department of Corrections Gulley, who was already in his sixties by the time of his conviction is not eligible for parole until at least the year 2026. At that point he will have served twenty three years of his sentence, making him well into his eighties before he is released.
If you are a regular reader than you have often heard me say that the law, more than true crime is my passion. I expect a prosecutor to prove the charges they have alleged and do so without going solely on the word of anyone else, no matter how many they are. For me this case seems a bit different and maybe that is because of the time period in which it took place or because so much time passed before the truth came out. While technically the only real evidence it seems came from Ella Mae's confession and proving that she herself was there, there were other things that did point to Wayne Gulley. Even his own words and behavior in his first interview points to his guilt. When you add that to the fact that he argued with nothing else that Ella Mae had confessed to and the fact that he was a dead ringer to the sketch one seems to have little choice but to believe that it was Wayne Gulley who had committed the murder with Ella Mae's help. Based on what Ella Mae knew there seemed to be absolutely no doubt that she was present that night at the murder and by his own admission Wayne Gulley was with her that night too. He just did not know when he said it that he had painted himself into a corner!