A GRUSEOME DISCOVERY
The first call went to the East Peoria police from Eugene Norman and Robert Rohmann who told the police that they had seen a body lying along side Upper Spring Bay Road. The two men then led police officers to the scene. The police looked down at the body of a young teenager, who was wearing cowboy boots, and a ripped T-shirt. There were multiple wounds about the body and head. Right next to the body was a broken fencepost that had obviously been used in the attack and murder of the young man. The evidence clearly showed that the body had been dragged and rolled to its final resting place. A determination was made leading to a call to Sheriff Durst. The game was afoot. Dozens upon dozens of photographs were made as the sheriff and his deputies combed the murder scene. While at the site a call came in indicating that the 1953 Chevrolet had been found. Deputies discovered two license plates inside the car. That led them to Maxine Crews and a V. Frost. Officers gathered everything they could find within the car along with a traffic ticket made out to David Gibbs, and a license applied for receipt. It was clear to the sheriff that this was the car David Gibbs had in his possession just before he was murdered.
WHO KILLED DAVID GIBBS?
The young killers, meantime, were hoofing it away from the murder scene, ending up at a gas station. The attendant questioned one of the boys about blood on his hands, but did not call police. The foursome managed to get a ride and by the time the 1953 Chevrolet was towed away, they were all at home. Did they know if David Gibbs was dead…did they care?
Multiple calls came into the police departments and the sheriff’s office sending police cars racing around talking to several witnesses. The two men that police were interested were the men that had given the boys a ride home from the gas station. They talked to a witness that had seen the car being pushed and within a short time Sheriff Durst was knocking on the door of a lady that he knew personally. He stunned the woman when he said, “I have a warrant for the arrest of your son, Carl.” Mrs. Welchman woke her son up with the shocking news, and watched as Sheriff Durst and his deputies took him into custody. One down…how many more to go?
Sheriff Durst had spent the night talking to police in East Peoria, Peoria, and the Peoria County Sheriff’s office as well. Over in Peoria, officers were rounding up two young men, namely Waters and Peddicord. Across the river in Creve Coeur, Illinois, officers took the final young man into custody. The final count before the night was over were Welchman, Waters, Peddicord and Taylor, all now resting in the Woodford County Jail.
I think most folks would agree that that was a pretty good night’s work. It was a testament to what police departments can do when they work together. Maxine Crews, David’s mother worked as a telephone operator and had arranged for David to pick up his sister Mary Jo, but he never showed up. She worried about that because David was reliable and prompt when it came to doing things for his mother. When she got the horrible news, she asked her daughter to identify David’s body. Her brother’s body was taken to a funeral home in Metamora where pathologist, Dr. Silverstein did an autopsy.
THE CORONER’S INQUEST Coroner’s inquests are not trials, or civil actions, they are held to determine how the deceased died…murder, suicide or by natural causes. The inquest was held in front of six jurors in Eureka, Illinois. Dr. Silverstein told the jury that the body of David Gibbs looked to be about sixteen years old. The doctor indicated that David had met his death by multiple abrasions, bruises, and blunt force trauma to the head. To the horrified jury and audience he described the blackened eyes, bloody face and deep lacerations he found on the young man’s body. He continued to discuss the terrible leg injuries and that some of the injuries came after David Gibbs was dead. It was a shocking, horrific testimony that some people told reporters they would never forget. The jury was handed fourteen gruesome photos that stunned some of them, leaving them visibly upset. Once all of the police evidence was submitted, the coroner charged the jury to reach a verdict. Their verdict was death by homicide and recommended that the process of the law continue. Sheriff Durst was right on top of that and in less than seventeen hours he had the culprits in his cells. It would be up to the state’s attorney from now on. Coroner LeLand Morgan thanked the citizens for their service and adjourned the hearing. THE GRAND JURY Over in Eureka in their old, elegant courthouse, the secret grand jury met, but in a small town, secrets don’t last long. The state’s attorney presents the evidence to the grand jury and they decide if an indictment is in order. Sheriff Durst and his people were called upon to tell the jury just exactly what his office had to warrant a true bill to indict. This is no trial, the defense has no place in the process, and the jury is spoon-fed the information by the state’s attorney. Durst had taken court reporter statements from the four young men, and of course, the state’s attorney hoped to use these statements against the defendants during the upcoming trial. I think I will give you a few lines of all four of those statements to give you an idea what the grand jurors heard. They are basically excerpts, but they give you a good idea of what went on out there on that cold, December night in 1964. GARY PEDDICORD: My name is Gary Peddicord, 721 Madison, Peoria, Illinois. I am nineteen and finished the ninth grade. Gary then went on to describe how he met David Gibbs and how he happened to be in the car. He then explained how all five of the young men were in the car and how they ended up over in Spring Bay. GARY PEDDICORD: David was pulled into the back seat where the guys continued beating him. I pulled over and got out of the car as they beat him. Waters told us we would all have to hit him if we were all in on it. I hit him once. Bob Taylor got a branch and started hitting him with it. They made me do it too. Bob Taylor and Welchman drug him off to the side of the road. They then threw him in the gully. DAVID WATERS: My name is David Waters, and I live on 802 S. Western in Peoria, Illinois. I was down at the Cove and me and Carl was drinking. David Gibbs was driving and we went with him. All of us headed out to Spring Bay. We were all a little drunk except the guy driving. We were talking about raping girls and he ( the driver) smarted off and we got into an argument and started fighting with him. He fought back and when he stopped the car and when he got out of the car we jumped on him and started fighting with him. I got that post and started hitting someone with it. ROBERT DUANE TAYLOR: My name is Robert Taylor, I am sixteen and live at 136 Gerber Court in Creve Coeur. Dave Gibbs picked us up at the Cove. He was going to give us the car, then walk home, and report the car stolen. When we were out on a country road to drop him off, Carl started hitting him. Dave Walters hit him too then they took him out of the car and started beating him. After that we took him and put him in a ditch. CARL WELCHMAN: My name is Carl Welchman, age seventeen and live at RR One, Spring Bay. We were in the car and Peddicord hit David with his fists and took his glasses off. After we stopped the car they pulled him out of the car and started hitting him with their fists. The four of us kicked him and tore his shirt off. We played with him for awhile, just beating him around. We got a stick and started beating him with it; we really were not planning on killing him. When Peddicord got a stick he just went out of his mind. We talked about running over his head with the car. We ran over his legs. I think you have read enough, believe me; the actual quoted details are even worse. At any rate the grand jury spent little time deliberating before they indicted these vicious thugs. Just think of what you just read. This was a senseless murder of a young man and for what? The pain it caused the families of all of these boys is impossible to measure and will never end. THE LEGAL PROCESS By December 16, 1964 the four young men had been properly charged with the murder of David Gibbs and paraded before cameras and newspaper reporters. Their combined arraignment at the Woodford County Courthouse brought throngs of spectators, leaving many standing outside in the cold. The defendants were handcuffed to each other, and strung out like fish on a line. One cameraman got too close and a scuffle ensued, causing even more chaos. Judge Dan Dailey appointed Sam Harrod to the defendants that could not afford a lawyer, while Peorian Harry Sonnemaker was the other defense attorney. The first bit of business was to try and quash the signed confessions. A battle royal ensued and after several very heated hearings the judge made a final ruling to allow the confessions to stand. If you were in Eureka at the time perhaps you heard a huge, collective sigh at that ruling. Folks in Peoria, Pekin, Creve Coeur and the counties were looking forward to a major trial right there in that old venerable courthouse in Eureka, Illinois. Perhaps a question popped into your head? What about a change of venue since the local newspapers had a field day, wouldn’t that tarnish a jury? Well, the judge agreed and set the trial for Christian County, a hundred miles away in a town called Taylorville, Illinois. So, 1964 gave way to 1965 as the defendants languished in their cells in Woodford County. They were allowed visitors; they wrote letters, made a few phone calls and of course ate three good meals a day. As for poor David Gibbs, he was still dead and buried in Lewistown, Illinois. I have written at least 300 stories about murder and I can tell you this one thing for sure. Except for the victim’s loved ones, the murder victim is soon forgotten, as the media lights shine on the killer or killers. That is a fact that is so very sad, but so very true. THE TRIAL The trial was to proceed on March 21, 1965, and as the date neared excitement was rekindled not only here in our area, but in Taylorville as well. A large juror pool was notified and the courthouse came alive. This was a major murder case, and that meant a lot of preparations were underway. Many visitors were expected, and the folks in Taylorville meant to make the most of it. Prior to the trial date, defense lawyers were busy filing motions, subpoenaing witnesses and making plans. The defense had a total of four lawyers by now and the State of Illinois would be represented by Special Assistant Ackerman. He battled each and every motion and throughout it all, the judge refused to relent, confirming that the confessions would be heard by the jury. That was devastating news for the defense, and they seemed to be backing down in their bluffing and pre-trial rhetoric.
Excitement built as the folks crowded into the Christian County Courthouse, excited and eager to be part of a murder trial with four young defendants. The jury commission room was over crowded with potential jurors, the defendants and their lawyers were all present, and the judge was ready to proceed. Then something very unexpected happened that brought disappointment for all the folks eagerly awaiting the trial. First it started as a rumor then the official word came rather quickly. There would be no trial! Shortly before the trial was to begin, all four of the defendants, through their respective lawyers had decided to change their pleas from not guilty to GUILTY! It was indeed stunning news. Potential spectators and jurors alike walked about talking among themselves. “You mean it’s over?’ was pretty much the theme of their conversations. Slowly, one by one, and in groups the massive crowd drifted away. The prisoners were taken back to Woodford County and their respective cells. The big show was over. Now what? The reporters rushed off to file their ‘Non-story,’ and the camera crews turned off their bright lights and went back to their TV stations. Taylorville’s fifteen minutes of fame was over. THE SENTENCING On a promising spring day, March 26, 1965, the defendants would be sentenced by the judge in Woodford County. He had schedule a full-blown hearing allowing anyone who wanted to speak to be heard. The defense would plead for leniency and the state’s attorney would ask that the maximum sentence be given to those four young killers. Again the place was packed with citizens, friends, relatives and victims alike. The atmosphere was full of tension, and officials were very alert for potential problems. Judge Daniel Daley listened as a member of the defense team made his plea: “Your honor, please leave something for their future. They are not wild animals. They are four boys in a gang that committed a crime.” The People: “I think the facts will justify the extreme penalty if the court desires. These defendants acted like wild animals and society has no alternative than to treat them like wild animals. I recommend a sentence of sixty-years.” SAM HARROD: This is a classical study in juvenile crime. They consumed a fifth of whiskey. Not one of them alone would have committed this crime. The court is aware of the impact of a gang. They are not wild animals they are four boys that drank in a gang and committed a heinous crime. With boys of this age the court cannot deny all hope to return to society.” Judge Daily then commented on the lawyer’s comments before he announced his decision. He told them that he would not impose the death penalty and that he would give them a chance for possible rehabilitation so that they might one day return to be members of the community. Judge Daily sentenced the three oldest defendants to thirty to sixty years in the state penitentiary at Menard, Illinois. Taylor was then turned over to the Illinois Youth Commission. The judge looked over at Taylor, “The court has a right to bring you back when you are seventeen and again when you are twenty-one for further action.” THE FOLLOWING YEARS Sadly, we all know where David Gibbs is, that will never change. We hear of closure in cases like this…but I know from research that that never really comes for the victims. As for the defendants they served a lot less than you may think. That information is available on your computer…I have no interest in it. I will tell you a little bit more about David Waters.