Muncie Murder & Mayhem: An interview with co-author Keith Roysdon
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 Roysdon's crime novel Seven Angels won the 2021 Hugh Holton Award for Best Unpublished Novel from Mystery Writers of America Midwest.
Keith, welcome to Crime Capsule and congratulations on your new book.
Hey, thank you very much.
Yeah, so a little bit of a spoiler here in that you are actually a Crime Capsule alumnus, but in a slightly different way. So it turns out that we actually ran an interview with you several years ago back when we were just a a print website, if that makes sense. We were working on your previous book, your book about the Westside Park murders, which covered the 1985 killing of Kimberly Dowell and Ethan Dixon. Before we get into your current work, I was just curious for all of our listeners who were once readers of the website and picked up that interview, is there any news in that case since we last spoke?
You know, I've periodically been in touch with police there in Muncie. I'm in Knoxville now, but I've been in contact with police in Muncie and Delaware County. And Nate Sloan, who was the police investigator and now police chief, who had worked so hard on uh researching and and redoing interviews and things like that uh for the west side book said that he had and this is the last i spoke to him so it's been a few months uh said he had uh heard a few people get in contact because we try to put Some method of contact with all of these cases, we did it with most of the chapters of the new book, Cold Case Muncie. And we did it, we included Sloan's email with the Westside Park murders. And he said he'd heard from a few people that strangely enough, It was people who were just echoing the kind of thing that we'd already heard, like, oh, it was the guy who rushed into a party and he was dressed like Rambo. Keep in mind, it was 1985. Or it was this person or that person. kind of gratified that we had touched on those stories in the book already, and also disappointed that there wasn't anything that was really percolating anew about the case. So, and I have heard, when I was working on a cold case Muncie, and sat down with a couple of longtime, now retired police investigators, right before we moved down here, One of them was just like almost He's very outspoken and basically discounting the Police's main suspect. Oh, well in in the Westside case and just said You know that you guys got it wrong. The police have it wrong. This is aside from the other veteran investigators who believe that the current As current as a 36-year-old case can be, an investigator had it wrong. So it's not been incredibly fruitful in the sense of something moving toward some kind of resolution to it. It has been useful in getting people to think about it again.
Now, you guys had actually written, when I say you guys, I refer, of course, to your co-author, Douglas Walker. Now, you guys had written a person of interest who was actually incarcerated for a different crime, a different murder, at the time that we last spoke, and you were kind of awaiting a response from him. Did you ever hear anything from Jimmy Swingly?
We never did. At some point, I would occasionally check the Indiana Bureau of Prisons site. He was, and I haven't checked it in months, he was scheduled for release in 2030. And that was for a homicide 11 years after the Westside Park slayings. Totally separate case. And a murder he was convicted of and sent to prison again until 2030. At some point after, while I contacted him and said, hey, did you know that you are the main suspect, the person of interest for Muncie Police in the Westside Parks lanes? And of course he knew that because the kind of the pivot point that clinched that we could go ahead and write the Westside Park book was that in 2018. Nate Sloan, that police investigator, now police chief, had gone to a local court and got a warrant to go to the prison and take a DNA swab of the suspect. So he certainly knew, that was the second conversation the police had had with him, so he certainly knew he was a suspect. But I said, And I just, because you got to keep it short. And I included a self-dress stamped envelope so that he can respond if he wanted to. And said, did you know you're a suspect? You know, what do you think about that? Did you do it? Why do they think you're a suspect if you're, if you didn't do it? And did not hear back. I'm kind of surprised I didn't hear back from any of his daughters or family members, but I can't imagine what a painful situation would be for your father or relative to already be in prison for one murder and be cited as the person of interest in two others.
Yeah. It's a remarkable story, and I certainly encourage our listeners to check out that particular volume, because it is a really gripping tale, and you guys handle it beautifully. Now, when we left that interview, we actually left it on a little bit of a cliffhanger. Keith, I believe the last question was whether you and Douglas were working on another book, and at the time you had left the question a little bit open. I think it's safe to say that that question has been rather conclusively answered, and here we are sitting with a copy of Cold Case Muncie. Now before we dive into that one, which we will just in just a second, go ahead and tell us just a little bit about your other titles, because I know you've had a few with History Press.
Uh, we actually, uh, kind of fell into this to tell you the truth. We were both in 2015. We were both working douglas walker and I and douglas Doug i'm gonna slip up and call him doug because that's sure We've worked together since the late 1980s and nobody has as much experience and the kind of incredible encyclopedic memory about local court cases, murders, things like that, that he does. He is the basically a framework of every one of the articles that we write about this kind of thing and every one of the books. And so it was 2015 and it was the city of Muncie's 150th anniversary. And I did stories about 150 years of local industry and 150 years of local hospitals and things like that, because I was in addition to covering government, I was covering business at the time. And Doug did a extremely abbreviated version of 150 Years of Muncie Crime. And Muncie has always been known as a pretty crime-intensive city for a city of its size that at some point was close to 100,000 people. It's probably under 80,000 now. I think the population peaked In the 1970s, and like Youngstown, Ohio, and a lot of other cities, this really struggled with. population loss and jobs and school enrollment and things like that. But it has always been statistically pretty high in crime. It's a safe city with a lot of really good people. And frankly, it's getting better and more diverse as the university, Ball State University, grows and the IU Health Corporation grows. But Doug had done as brief as it could possibly be history of crime. And someone from History Press contacted him. And we had been running, by that point, for five years, we'd been running a series of articles about coal cases. That's right, yeah. And they said, hey, would you turn your book into, or would you turn your article series into a book about coal cases for us? And little did we know it would be four more books before we get to that point. You said, don't throw me in that briar patch, right? Yeah. But Doug turned to me and we decided, well, how about this? We'll do something with colorful and sometimes grim and sometimes just oddball. stories about Muncy's history, kind of the darker aspects of it. And after every book, so Wicked Muncy was first, and that's the name of our Facebook page, by the way, where we do very sporadic updates on the books and our work. So after Wicked Muncie, we pitched a second book that fell into History's Murder and Mayhem category. So we did Muncie, Murder and Mayhem. And by that point, John Rodrigue, our acquisition editor at History, was saying, hey, what else would you like to do? we knew Westside seemed a natural for us to do because it is certainly the most notable of the long-standing cold cases in Muncie and after that we talked to John and we said okay we did Westside but between 2010 and about 2018-2019 Doug and I wrote 30 articles about different unsolved cases in Muncie. So, working with John, we turned that into the Cold Case Muncie book. there is, unfortunately, a wealth of material to work for as far as coal cases. And we didn't even manage to do all the cases that we had covered in the newspaper. Plus we did We wrote new chapters on each one. We didn't rerun material. But we also had several that we hadn't heard about when we were working on that series in the 2010s. And some that people were bringing to us because by this point, they knew that we would eventually probably have another book.
Well, let me ask you this, because as I was reading Cold Case Muncie, you flagged this fairly early on, but it really was borne out throughout the entire volume. Muncie is kind of a violent place. And to what do you attribute this higher level of, you know, you've got homicides, you've got kidnappings, you've got burglaries gone wrong, you know, you've got a lot of drug deals that end up going south, a lot of them in your book, a lot of these cases have some narcotic element kind of attached to them, you know, in a way, shape, or form. Why Muncie and how do you chalk this up?
Well, a couple of things in that, and I still have a very soft spot on my heart for Muncie. My son lives there, he goes to college there. Yeah. And Doug has a theory that I think is pretty interesting. Muncie, like a lot of Midwestern cities, I mentioned Youngstown earlier, but when you get further north like Chicago and Detroit and Gary, A lot of cities really saw an influx of new population in the first half of the 20th century. There's a wonderful book by Isabel Wilkerson named The Warmth of Other Suns. Great book. Yes, and it is about, she looks at a half dozen African-American folks from the South who decide to go North for better opportunities and to also to get away from the Jim Crow and the vestiges of, I can't even say vestiges, the racism in the South. Doug believes that there was kind of a betrayal of a lot of people who moved north to Muncie and to that area when some of these large corporations, and I'll cite the one that he always cites, Ball Corporation, which for many years made the ball canning jars and is an aerospace primarily now. Well, they actively recruited people from the South in the late 1800s when they opened their first canning jar factory in Muncie. They came from upstate New York and came to Muncie. And the family has done a lot of wonderful things for the community. That's why the university is named after them. And overall the influence of the Ball family has been an entirely positive one on the city of Muncie. But one of the things that Doug notes is that the can and jar factories, which were then developed in other areas around there by other corporations and all the auto parts manufacturers and things like that, really set up this expectation that there would always be these jobs. There would always be good factory jobs. My dad worked at an auto parts plant for 30 years. There was expectation, I didn't have this expectation, but there was expectation that when you graduated from high school, you didn't have to go to college, you would go right to the plant where your dad worked. Absolutely. Starting in the early 60s, these plants started closing, and Ball Corp was really the first domino to fall. They closed their canning factory. They stayed in Muncie for another 30 years, as far as their corporate headquarters went, and then moved to Denver, Colorado. But they don't have any, didn't have any, for 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, any manufacturing capacity in Muncie anymore. Delco Battery followed them and left. By the time we're into the 2000s, we had BorgWarner, you know, the BorgWarner Trophy at the Indy 500 is named after them. BorgWarner Automotive, Chevrolet, all these plants went away so that there were no big industrial employers. And Doug's theory is that the community and the large corporations in it really kind of got accustomed a few generations of people to the idea those jobs are always going to be there. When they went away and started dwindling, at some point, Borg Warner, where my dad worked, they employed nearly 6,000 people in the 1950s. I mean, a huge economic driver for the city. And everybody else had thousands of workers. When all those plants started going away, a lot of people, they either moved, they found some other gainful employment, or as Doug notes, they started getting in trouble. A lot of them had some kind of probably health issues like a lot of us do now. And some of them, I mean, we had a huge Oxycontin issue in Muncie for a long time. We had meth issues. People turn to, without jobs, they turn to crime, they turn to various kinds of lawlessness. And drugs certainly factor into a lot of the cases that we've written about over the years. Not all, of course. I mean, money is a big factor, too. All those are frequently intertwined. But Doug's theory is that the rug was kind of pulled out from under lot of people in Muncie over the decades and maybe it was slow enough and it was slow enough that some people could Find a soft landing but others did not so, you know the crime happened and you know poor family units happened and Schools failed and you know, just a lot of really ill effects.
Yeah, you know, it's it's When you have a major manufacturing base like that suddenly evacuate from a region, the effects are catastrophic and the ripple effects go far, far beyond just the mere loss of employment. It spreads into so many different… Sectors and it's certainly as I was reading, you know made me realize that for all of the kind of anytown America the vibe that you might have expected to find in a city in central, Indiana You know, it ain't Mayberry right and it never will be again Even if it ever was just to start with and it's kind of an interesting portrayal that you have there now, of course one of these knock-on effects of the loss of capital and region and you know public resources and so forth is the strain that then reaches the the law enforcement right that the city services and you described that in one of the earliest chapters of your book that The if you look at the the sort of overall picture the bird's-eye view of what it's like for law enforcement to try to pursue these cases and solve these cases and so forth and The numbers, the clearance rates, just pure clearance rates alone, are not what anybody would expect. That they are far lower than you would perhaps assume a medium-sized police force in a decently large town would be able to achieve. And you just come right out and say it. You say there are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of cold cases all across America that have yet to be solved. And here in Muncie, we are absolutely representative of this kind of averaging a 50-50 shot at whether a case is going to get solved. Can you help us to see those numbers in a bit more detail or clarity?
I was really startled by this. As we were working on the Colgate book, we were looking at numbers and were shocked by how bad they were.
I mean, it's eye-opening, Keith. I mean, it's really, it really kind of takes you by surprise. I mean, I just thought, frankly, that there would be a lower number overall, and I expected that the clearance rate would be higher. And boy, oh boy, was I wrong.
It is startling. We, I'm gonna kind of hopefully find this, but yeah, the, I mean you kind of live with the numbers, you kind of make peace with the numbers. when you cover it on a daily basis almost. Doug recently had a story about three bodies being found, this is in the past couple of months, three bodies being found in a house in Muncie. And it was probably two murders and a suicide. And I had tweeted his story, and a friend of mine on Twitter said, I think what I'm most shocked by was this is the third year in a row that there's been a triple homicide in your town. And I said, yeah. I mean, because Doug included information in there, the history, which is a good thing to have. So you kind of get in your head that things are a certain way, but you don't really think about it too much. And then when we were working on this book, we started looking at national statistics. And we go into some of these numbers in the Colcase book, but Project Colcase reporting and, you know, things taken from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, found really only about a 50 percent, like you said, about a 50 percent clearance rate for coal cases, for homicides. I mean, so that's 50 percent coal cases. And it's startling that this is the case. And then you think, you know, maybe it's not because you've got a certainly a culture of people who they fear for their lives if they are going to get involved in something. Or, you know, people clear out, you know, if they know something, they get out of the area, they get out of town. Sometimes, and this is the thing that frightened local authorities the most, was that, and we mentioned this in the Westside book, Sometimes there's a concern that someone comes into town, commits a murder like the Westside Park murders, and then leaves, and they're in some other state. Maybe as with the Westside Park case, the murder doesn't get solved, but the person who is the suspect is incarcerated for something else.
Sure. They stay in trouble rather than, you know.
They stay in trouble, but they're in prison. They're in prison, and they certainly have no motivation to bring any light to Past case because they're anticipating being in here for decades you know the worst case scenario is that At least for families and for victims and law enforcement is that Somebody will die and carry that secret with them to the grave and Case will never be solved. Yeah
So let's take a look at one. There's a few cases that I'd like to cover. We'll pick up a few more next week. But there's one that struck me in this particular volume, and it is the holidays as we are sitting down. And there's a particular case that you call the holiday homicide. which was the murder of a lady named Ruby Dean Moore. And this was interesting because this took place almost exactly 60 years ago that Ms. Moore's body was found. So who exactly was Ruby and what were the circumstances in which she disappeared and was then later discovered?
Ruby was one of the people that we have tried to do with all these books, but especially with the Coal Case book. Because with the West Side book, those are high-profile people from high-profile families. One was the son of an industrialist, the other was a daughter of a doctor. But there are so many, and I just have to always believe that part of this contributes to the idea that these cases don't get solved. There are so many people who were not greatly paid attention to at the time they were living. Their deaths were not paid a lot of attention to. So Ruby was somebody whose body was found in a ditch line, as you said, the week before Christmas 1964. So going on a big anniversary for that. And she had I'm going to double check here. She had just kind of disappeared. It wasn't the first time that she had disappeared. So the family wasn't overly concerned. But finally, after a few days, her husband had reported her missing. And but they said, well, she's probably gone to Ohio, you know. And again, it always is the case that the less attention somebody gets in the early stages of these cases, the harder it is then to come up with something afterward. Yeah, there's a ratio there, isn't there?
And we saw this in the inverse last week when we had Jesse Pollock describing a murder in New Jersey that too much attention of the wrong kind early on compromised the investigation for years to come. But similarly, not enough attention early on just never gives the case a shot at all.
Yeah, and I mean, she was somebody who had like the people we were talking to earlier, had been born in Kentucky, even though that's a border state right south of Indiana. She had moved north in 1940 and had married a World War II vet. and had worked and she'd had some issues with public intoxication and a couple of other arrests. It was all misdemeanor stuff. The kind of thing that you could expect for a mid-century, Midwestern woman who worked as a cook or a waitress or something like that. But the investigation just kind of stalled and we were unable to really say why in the book. So this is one of those instances where the postscript comes well after the book is printed. And you and I haven't discussed this. When we were back in Muncie in August when the Cold Case Muncie book came out, A man, we did several talks at local library and a couple of Ball State University related facilities, added a couple of rotary type events, a Kiwanis event. It was at a Kiwanis event where a gentleman, an older gentleman, and I'm one myself, but he's even older than me, comes up and says, I want to talk to you about the Ruby Dean Moore case. And so we were all ears and he talked to Doug most of the time because I was talking to someone else. And it turned out that he was, he had in his hands a scrapbook. And it was a scrapbook that he had kept since 1964. He was an investigator. on her case. Wow. And he still had, I mean, this would have been amazing to know this before we wrote the book, but you know, you can only work with what you got. He had crime scene, he had crime scene photos and notes and things like that, that he had kept for himself for God, I went into journalism, so I didn't have to do math, but for 59 years. And, and he said that they were pretty certain that they had a suspect, and they made a case and took it to a deputy prosecutor, who pretty much dismissed it. And I mean, you probably know the relationship between police investigators, prosecutors is it's never like 100 percent warm. You know, it's I mean, oh, my gosh, we we used to have a deputy prosecutor Muncy who would send cases back to investigators and that put him under Bad list for for the rest of his life but but this had pretty much been dismissed out of hand by this deputy prosecutor and the case just don't really go any further and Certainly there the coverage the quality of coverage in the newspaper very greatly depending on who the staff was I'd like to think that I The two of us and a few other people have done a better job or did do a better job beginning in 1980s, 1990s and going forward. But for some reason the paper didn't, you know, I mean, who really wants to line up to get the grief that you'll get back when you keep busting the chops of local police investigators and local prosecutors for failing to follow through on a homicide. And frankly, Muncie had so many that it could be kind of distracting. I mean, if you wanted to concentrate on a killing and try to determine why it didn't move forward, well, you know, and we note in one of the earlier books, there was a single day, I believe in 1967, in Delaware Circuit Court, there were three men who were in court that day for having killed their wives, for one kind of hearing or another, you know, different stages of their criminal process. And Muncie had, you know, which had its reputation as a, you know, as little Chicago, a lot of cities kind of claimed that, that title of little Chicago because of crime and corruption. Muncie may actually have earned that title, but, um, Things got, balls got dropped and people changed their jobs. And every time a new sheriff was elected or new prosecutors elected, priorities shifted. So Ruby Moore just did not get the kind of attention that she should have. Occasionally an anniversary story in the newspaper and then the chapter in our book. But I mean, it's it's awful. It's terrible. And one of the things we really want to do with these with this cold case book in particular, we really wanted to center the survivors. And in that case, I don't think we found anybody, any survivors. Post book publication, we found this cop who still cared very deeply. But we wanted to center not just the victims, but the survivors. And also, because there are plenty of police investigators and prosecutors and judges who really wish that there would be some resolution to these cases, not just the high profile ones like of the two rich kids from the Westside Park book, but even people like Ruby Dean Moore.
Absolutely. You know, one of the things that seems so, and I really hate that I have to say this, Keith, I'm gonna say it and it gives me no pleasure whatsoever to say it, but one of the things that seemed so damnably stereotypical about this particular case was that there was a suspect, but the case file was lost. And then there were scant records, and then nobody could find anything. And you just, it's this kind of, you know, you're trying to get blood from a stone. There's just so little to go on from the actual outset that, of course, you know, coming to it decades down the road, I mean, what threads do you have to pull on, you know? And it's very frustrating. That comes up time and again in your book, which is why it's so important to bring these
Back to light we we were lucky with the Westside Park book in that And again, you know maybe because the killing of two teenagers 16 and 15 were so horrendous and Maybe because they were well-known. I mean huge general processions things like that to the big downtown Methodist Church but the files had already been, had always been preserved. When Nate Sloan, the investigator who really pursued that case in the 2010s, started the case because it was standard for a really bright and promising Muncie police investigator to kind of be encouraged by the police chief, whoever it was at the time, to begin looking at these old files for various cases. And Nate did an incredible job. And but he had he said, you know, I spent two weeks in a room going through all these files. Well, I can guarantee you there was not a file box, no less 20, full of reports and evidence about Ruby Dean Moore or a lot of the people we write about, which makes it harder for us And we write about this a little bit in a book, but it's it's harder for the actual people that need Access to that because I mean they didn't let us sit there and go through files or anything like that You know, we don't want to do anything. It's gonna compromise and again a future investigation but but most damning for the for the investigators who would like to pick up those threads, like you mentioned, and sometimes years later and see where they go. And we talk about that a little bit in the book.
Well, let's leave it there for now. We will leave that thread hanging and come back next week, because there are some cases that have some really unusual elements that I want to ask you about, some very curious patternings and so forth. So we'll come back to that. But for now, thank you so much for helping us to see the measure of the problem. And hopefully, we can also kind of get into some potential remedies for the problem next week as well. See you then. Thank you, Keith.