Cold Case Muncie: An interview with co-author Keith Roysdon Pt 2
Muncie epitomizes the small-town America of squeaky-clean 1950s sitcoms, but its wholesome veneer conceals a violent past. Public scandals and personal tragedy dogged the long, notorious life of Dr. Jules LaDuron.
Baseball ace Obie McCracken met a tragic and violent end after joining the police force. A mother's love could not stop James Hedges from committing murder. The paranoid delusions of Leonard Redden hounded him until one day he carried a shotgun into a quiet classroom. And newsman George Dale's showdown with the Klan prepared him for the political fight of his life. Douglas Walker and Keith Roysdon, authors of Wicked Muncie, introduce a new cast of characters from the city's notorious past.
For most of the past four decades, veteran journalist Douglas Walker has covered the criminal justice system in East Central Indiana for the Star Press and its predecessor, the Muncie Evening Press . He has received dozens of awards for writing, investigative reporting and public service, many the result of collaborations with reporter Keith Roysdon, with whom he also wrote a weekly column on Muncie politics for many years. This marks the duo's fourth book on crime and justice in Muncie and Delaware County. Keith Roysdon is a lifelong Indiana resident who now lives in Tennessee. He has won more than thirty state and national first-place awards for journalism, many for work cowritten by Douglas Walker. Their third book, The Westside Park Murders , was named Best Nonfiction Book of 2021 by the Indiana Society of Professional Journalists. Roysdon's crime novel Seven Angels won the 2021 Hugh Holton Award for Best Unpublished Novel from Mystery Writers of America Midwest.
Transcript: CC_Keith 2.mp3
Keith, welcome back to Crime Capsule. Delighted to have you. I'm going to jump in with a procedural question for you.
And this really comes on the heels of a conversation we had with our previous guest, Jesse Pollock, who wrote a book about a murder in New Jersey.
There is a story that seems to circulate sometimes in these premises, when it starts looking, when you start talking about evidence, when you start talking about case files, and you start working with police departments that are experiencing varying levels of openness and transparency, shall we say.
Jesse describes how he and his co-author, Mark Moran, managed through a whole bunch of Freedom of Information Act requests, really became a FOIA wizard in the days he was working on his case, that they were able to catch the Springfield, New Jersey Police Department pretty much in a lie, just an outright lie about whether some evidence existed or not.
And it all boiled down to a story that I just could not help but notice, Keith, appears in your book too. And that story is the flood. There's always a flood. The flood destroyed the evidence. The flood got the box you were looking for. The flood was 20 years ago, or 15 years ago, or 25 years ago, or however long ago. There was always a flood, and this monster flood just so happens to be devastating enough across the board that it gets more than we could have possibly ever hoped to recover, especially the thing that you, Mr. Freedom of Information Seeker, were requesting. You see where I'm going with this, Keith.
So tell us about the flood. Did it happen in your case? And what's the usefulness of that cover story for a police department?
We searched through archives trying to find if there had been coverage in 1987 or 1993, and I could never find specifics about that. Now, I remember during my time there, there were cases when, and this is not the great design of the Delaware County Justice Center as it was at the time, you had a top floor full of a couple hundred jail cells.
You had a first floor full of court offices, sheriff's office, things like that. And you had a basement full of police offices and storage and things. The inmates on the third floor would stop up the toilets so that the court offices on the first floor and the 911 center in the basement and all that got flooded occasionally with sewage. So, what fun.
Yeah, so is it possible that that might have been the case? No, definitely not. Is it likely that, like I said, you know, last week, the idea that priorities change, a new sheriff is elected, a new police chief is appointed when a new mayor is elected.
And first, you got to believe the first thing that the guys who are working down in the bowels of the building, no pun intended, about the sewage thing. You have to believe that first, they're the first ones in the new boss's office saying, we are full; we can't keep all this stuff anymore.
So your options are to rent a building somewhere else and make it secure, which certainly happens sometimes, or do we like probably at one in the morning start loading boxes into dumpsters to be carted off. And I have a feeling that depending on who the particular mix of people involved was that happened. And it's incredibly frustrating.
I know you're referring to the chapter in the book where we were talking to a couple of old cops who said, oh he's heard the flood story. And they just didn't believe it. Now, they had been there since the 80s, maybe the 70s, anyway. Now, they couldn't speak; they were both county investigators, and they couldn't speak to what might have happened with city records, other than they may have heard something about what happened to city records.
But with county records, they scoffed at the idea that some flood wiped out a bunch of records. As we wrote about in the book, they wanted to get together a small group of former investigators, retired investigators, who would go back in and look at some of these cases. And I think there's some willingness still to do that. It hasn't happened. But I think even in the back of their minds, they knew that they were going to be hamstrung by the absence of records of old cases to go back and look at.
You know, I cannot pass up the opportunity for a good meal of delicious irony when a public official or law enforcement officer tells a journalist working for the newspaper of record in a given city, such as Muncie, that, you know, there was this event that for some reason is nowhere to be found in the newspaper of record for which said journalist works. I mean, it's just like, it is perfect and sad and kind of, I don't know, feels all too expected in this day and age, you know.
I'm a big believer in how well local newspapers work. But has our local reporting in Muncie always been great? I mean, I fell down a few times myself. Other people did too. I had cases presented to me, not even local cases, but cases of the local connection, that would have been incredible, incredible to pursue, but I couldn't really do it. So I know that there's all kinds of stories out there that we were not able to run down. And in some cases, you know, some reporters just didn't want to run them down. I mean, you hear at a national level about the access issue with people saying, I'm not going to uh, raise holy hell about this politician because then I would not, uh, get any interviews or have staff. So, I mean, it does happen. It happens on a local level. Whether it did any of these, I don't know. Whether it was the mythical flood, I don't know.
Time will tell, time will tell. Well, let's dig back into those case files, actually. Let's look at a couple more cases. There are two in particular that I want to ask you about. The first is, well, Indiana's farm country, right? So let's go out to the farm and let's take a look at the case of the murder of Charles Graham. Now, this is an interesting one, partly because I'll let you describe who Charles was and the kind of circumstances in which he died. Still, it's interesting because you do note that the area, the specific area of the county where he lived on this farm actually had kind of a history of violence attached to it, and that is not necessarily the case with some of the other homicides or unsolved cases in your book. Still, there's a there's some patterning of violence that follows Charles around here. So introduce us to him.
Well, Charles Frank Graham was part of a family that had a pretty well-known history in late 20th century Delaware County. He was shot to death in August of 1988. By way of telling this part of the story, I'll note that versus all the records that would occasionally not be able to be found, Delaware County's coroners have, by and large, always kept coroner's case files. And they've kept them in very good condition. Those would have autopsies and crime scene photos frequently, and just a lot of the more hard science information.
So looking through, and the coroner We've had a great relationship with coroners there and looking through the Charles Frank Graham case file, we were startled to see that there were crime scene photos. We don't always see those. Sometimes we see the actual crime scenes because we've worked there for a long time and would occasionally work the actual initial crimes. But going through the coroner's file, It was startling to realize that not only were there crime scene photos or photos of Mr. Graham's remains, but that his death was so sudden and unexpected that his body was found on his porch, and I have a picture of the porch in the book, that he still had his cigar in the corner of his mouth when his body was found. later. I mean, he didn't even have a chance.
It's an amazing detail. I mean, that's just absolutely incredible detail.
Yeah. And so Graham's death was one that, again, in 1988, it was literally right before either Douglas Walker or I started covering crime there. And Doug has done it 99% of the time, and I've done it on a fill-in basis for him. So I can't say exactly how extensive some of the coverage was, but certainly there were good investigators on the case. It's interesting that one of the investigators that we spoke to for this book was somebody who was involved in the initial investigation. And there were lots of questions about Mr. Graham's family relationships and also relationships with neighbors.
Things that we heard sometimes years after the fact, but in time to put in this book. in that when you live out in, and it's a pretty remote part of the county when you live out in the county, it is the case that you get into disputes with neighbors, whether it's, you know, somebody wants to buy a port, you know, you have a lot of land. It's much more than just a tract around your house. Somebody wants to buy some of your property, but you refuse. It might've been one of the things they factored into this.
Well, it's interesting because he himself was not a farmer. He was an auto worker. He was a worker at one of the auto plants, and he was in the union.
And it was pretty common for people who owned, like, I grew up on a farm with 20 acres, or the entire property was 20 acres. My dad was an auto worker, but they farmed some of it, and they rented some of the land for, like, corn growth and production and things like that. And so there was always some use for a lot of this ground. And you could make a little bit of money from it, certainly, which might cause people to want more and more of it. But it's interesting.
Gretchen Binney is a longtime friend of mine who and I'll tell you how she got involved in this story in just a second, but she notes an interview for the book. She said the neighbors who predated her when she moved there always believed it was a hit. And she said, you know, the rule, she said it's different in the country. The rule around here is that if you have trouble, if you're stopped by the side of the road, they're nice enough, they'll help you out, but you don't ask questions. And we didn't know that Gretchen and her family lived in that property when we did the initial story about she had lived in the city of Muncie when we had been to her house.
And they ended up buying this property. And as she noted, our realtor told us there had been a murder on it in 1988. So that probably helped with the price. She realized we had written about the case when a picture of her house taken from the road by one of our photographers appeared in the paper.
It showed up in the paper.
Very desolate, snow-covered plain, long distance away. So we started talking to them prior to writing this book. And that's when she said, there's just a weird vibe here. She said, after we bought the place, we found not only that the neighbors all assumed it was a hit on this guy, but that somebody said there had been a murder somewhere else on the property, and there'd been a suicide in the barn. And the animals are weirded out by going, you know, in certain areas. And we get a weird feeling. She called it the heebie-jeebies. And, you know, I need to talk to her again because I haven't talked to her since the book came out. And I don't know that she would necessarily be amused by the title, Coal Case Farm. But, I mean, there is a vibe. I think. You don't have to believe in ghosts to think there is some kind of a vibe that exists.
Oh, well, we here at Crunk Capsule are very, very happy to consider all possible explanations, as our listeners know. We do love a good paranormal tinge when one is invited in. But what evidence actually suggests that it was a hit? I mean, why do we think Mr. Graham's murder was so calculated?
Well, I think What we were hearing after the fact was that, and as police officers, police investigators retired and felt more free to speak, there was suspicion that it was either a neighbor who wanted to acquire the land, and certainly they only knew that because somebody told them that. And people have different reasons for telling things. And there was some suspicion that maybe somebody really close to him had something to do with it. And it's interesting because we have a Facebook page, Wicked Muncie. And as we were working on the cold case book, we would occasionally put a victim's photo on the page and say, we're including this person, Charles Frank Graham, or whatever person it was, in our book.
Kind of a soft solicit for if there's any information, you know, sure. And a woman posted a comment and cited his family by marriage and said, I know all those people. And I actually knew some of them too, a little bit. And she said, I knew all those people. There's a lot more to the story. and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
So I contacted her and I sent her a private message. I said, I would love to talk to you for this book, but do you think you want to leave your comment there public? Because you're committing yourself publicly to saying you know something about this murder and you're kind of suggesting somebody close to him and all that. And she said, OK, yeah, you're right. I'm going to take that comment down. And she took it down.
But not long after that, there was a very angry message posted by somebody who was close to Mr. Graham, relation-wise, who disparaged, and it might have solely been talking about us, or maybe he saw this woman's initial post and disparaged the idea of pretend investigators playing around and sticking their nose in where it doesn't belong and all this kind of stuff. It's kind of the cliche, frankly.
The kind of cliche, don't get involved in something, that kind of thing. And between the two things, the family and close relations angle and the neighbor angle we kind of again they're probably people who would know a lot better than us uh who could contradict this but we kind of got the relationship that Graham was kind of out there on his own not just geographically, but in a sense of he owned that property, didn't have a lot of support, had some antagonism from people and some interest in his property that he didn't want to respond to.
And just the combination of things that caused somebody to come up behind him and shoot him in the back of the head on his porch.
Well, you know, it's interesting, because you do write that the forensics reveal, I mean, number one, someone was able to shoot him up close and personal, so they were able to get close enough to where they weren't warded off to begin with, and secondly, that nothing was taken. He had a bunch of cash on him, and there was no robbery, there was no burglary, so that was not the motive, you know, and I think that's very telling.
It's such a quiet area. There's a nice big pond and there's a large field and a barn and I mean I grew up in a property pretty much exactly like that that was not quite that remote and it makes you wonder if one of two scenarios happened where Charles Frank Graham comes home after work or going to the grocery store or whatever he did which would require him to travel several miles into Muncie and somebody he knew was there on the property waiting for him.
Or maybe, I mean, it's a big enough property and there's enough outbuildings and things like that. Heck, you could just stand around the corner of the house and not know it. So he either trusted the person that was there with him, or in all that quiet and everything, somebody was able to walk up to him, behind him, and do that.
Well, it's a fascinating case and certainly still presents a great many mysteries. And who knows, with the passage of time, perhaps somebody will feel more free to speak, you know, as years go by and they see their opportunity, you know, potentially disappearing. Maybe that will loosen a tongue or two. Well, just briefly, I wanted to ask you about one final case in the book. And this is one that you actually say is one of the best known cases of recent years in the Muncie area. and it has a number of sorted elements to it. I mean, illicit affairs, children out of wedlock, all sorts of salacious, spicy stuff going on.
But at the heart of it, what you actually have is a very sad story about a woman who, at a fairly young age, disappeared, and it is presumed she is still alive, that a body's never been found, but that the theory of the case holds there may have been a sort of forced or coerced disappearance, and that's why the case is still wide open. So tell us about Ashley Mullis, because one of the reasons I wanted to ask you about this one, Keith, is because as it is still wide open, you know, there may be somebody out there who does know something. And part of your efforts is to open the doors for people to come forward.
Yeah, absolutely. And Ashley's father, Don Morris, has done a great job of keeping her case above the radar in the years since she was killed. She is somebody who you would think would have never, never had any reason to disappear and leave her children behind. And she had apparently been engaged in an affair with a married man. And the married man was someone who had apparently a relationship with another woman who died in a fire in a motel room in the town of Daleville, not too far from Muncie. Well, a few years after Ashley disappeared, And it's her father, Don, kept trying to raise awareness of his daughter. And Don would, I mean, he'd stand on street corners with homemade signs with her photo saying, and he'd have t-shirts made up and things. I mean, a real heartfelt, obviously, grassroots effort to keep the word out about his daughter. And so at some point during the years that followed Ashley's disappearance, the man that she had been having an affair with died. And a lot of people assumed that.
Out of state, you write in the book, he'd moved out of state.
Yeah, he moved to Florida. And a lot of people assume that generally means that it's a dead end then. How much is going to come forward? Now, sometimes, things do come forward after somebody dies, and there's no longer any fear of upsetting them. But what's kept the case alive is that Ashley's youngest child with this man that she had an affair with is in the legal custody of the family of the man who was a person of interest in her case. A person of interest, I think you could say, in that motel fire. And has been brought up in Florida by the family down there. So Don Morris, Ashley's father, and his wife not only lost their daughter, but they've lost their granddaughter. And they see a lot of good reasons to just keep that in the top of mind. There are I have to say I have a fondness for the old and forgotten cold cases. The ones who have, I mean, we write about one in the book that isn't even classified as a cold case because the body's never been found, the killer's never been found.
But… Or the Ruby Dean Moore case, which we talked about last week.
Yeah. One of the investigators we talked to said, I'm just certain that this guy killed this guy, but I can't prove it. So, you know, there are a lot of cases like that. And I enjoy digging into those really obscure cases. But one of the things that is really gratifying is to be able to shed light on something like the case of Garth Rector. who we talked to his wife and his sister and his daughter and talked to them about the really difficult time of finding suspects, because Garth, when he was separated from his wife, dated a number of women. Could have been a number of women or women's significant others who killed him. With Ashley, God knows Don Norris would never say this, but there's probably little hope that she's going to just turn up someday. But as long as her child is with this other family in Florida, that has even more so kept the case alive for them.
Yeah, and I misspoke a little bit earlier when I said she was presumed still alive. What I should have said to be more accurate was it's just unknown, you know, because a body was never found. It's not presumed one way or another. And it raises the question, a really, really interesting question, I think, for our purposes here, Keith, which is, you know, she was 25 at the time of her disappearance.
That was about 12 years ago now. She'd be about 37 or so now. You know, I'm no spring chicken, nor am I a millennial, but my understanding is that you know, it's hard to disappear in the digital world nowadays, especially hard for young folks to disappear in the digital world. It's just with all of the levels of, you know, online personas or email addresses or credit card details that tie your civic, financial, and legal identity together in so many more ways than there used to be, you know, two or three generations ago.
It's just trickier than it once was. And, you know, if in the last decade and some change, she has not resurfaced, I mean, that to me speaks volumes, that silence speaks very loudly. I think it really does.
But as you write in the book at the end of every chapter by my count, you and Doug both take great pains for every case in your book to reach out to the public and to say, if you know something, you know, here's who you speak to.
So tell us just a little bit about that, that gesture and in Ashley's case in particular, since it is still still wide open. I mean, who do folks reach out to if on the off chance, but the non zero chance that they might know something or have seen her?
Well, the good part with a lot of the newer cases, families and survivors and friends know who to reach out to. They're probably in regular contact with them. Eric Garrett, who is a mother we write about in this book, feels that it got to the point he soured investigators on his presence because he would come to them. You know over the course of two or three or four decades and say can't you do something about this can't you know here's a prime suspect he was dating my mom why don't you do something about that?
And so he believes his relationship with police is soured, but the good part is most other people like Garth Rector's family and Ashley Morris Mullis's family have really pretty good relationships with investigators. So they know who to contact. When we started doing the articles in 2010, and the first one we did was about the Westside Park case.
We decided we'd make a conscious effort to include, I believe, at that time, because it was local, and the idea was that newspaper articles wouldn't last forever anyway, we'd include the phone number of an investigator going to contact with. As the years went on, and again, talk about administration changing and priorities changing and all that, by the time we were doing these for the book, Would include either an email address or Like the sheriff's department has a contact us anonymously with tips type thing on their website.
Again on the hope that somebody will reach out if they know something. And like I said, I think it's happened a little bit. I need to check back in with the sheriff to see if he's heard anything else. And I need to update with Nate Sloan, the police chief, if he's heard anything subsequent. So we're happy to let people who don't know who they should contact, to let them know who they should contact. the people who are still very involved in the cases involving their loved ones.
Yeah, they're plugged in. They're plugged in. Well, all of this is just such a remarkable testament to the power of hope. And I think, you know, your book stands as a witness to that. Thank you so much for all the work that you've done and just keeping, you know, those, those torches lit, you know, those flames alive. It's incredibly meaningful and you never know when something might turn up. So how can folks find you and your work? You mentioned you have this Facebook page. Is there another way that folks can reach out?
That's probably the best way. It's Wicked Muncie. Muncie is spelled M-U-N-C-I-E on Facebook. We've got about 1,800 followers and we don't post exhaustively on there. but we do post occasionally, and I'll probably post a link to Crime Capsule when I have it. That's probably the easiest way, and we definitely do get messages from people saying, hey, have you ever considered looking at this case?
I have to say, we have people ask us, so do you really think, and I'll cite the person in the Westside Park book, Do you really think he did it?" And I'm like, I'm not really going to get into that conversation on Facebook with somebody I don't really know. The book speaks for itself. And the police think he did it.
But Wicked Muncie on Facebook is probably the best way to get a hold of us. Doug Walker continues to be the all-around crime and criminal justice and courts reporter for the Star Press in Muncie, so his work is out there every day. I'm down here just turning out, you know, pop culture and news articles and looking at books and things like that. And who knows?
We may end up with something else for History Press eventually, someday. You know, when we proposed this book, what turned into Coal Case Muncie, to our editor, I wanted to go really wide with it. At History Press, they know what sells. So I wanted to talk about cold cases and missing persons and sensational crimes in the past. And our editor came back and said, you know, that sounds like three books. I told Doug, and he said, do they have any idea how old we are?
Well, we're not going to ask, so you don't, you certainly don't look at or sound it.
Well, thank you. But so we might turn up there again sometime. Who knows?
If you do, Keith, we want to hear all about it. Thank you so much for joining us. It has been such a pleasure to have you.
Thank you very much. I appreciate it.