Farms, freckles and football are the sort of touchstones one thinks of when discussing small, Midwestern towns like Delphi, Ind.
It’s the kind of place the horrors of the modern world seem to bypass, much like Interstate 65, about 30 kilometres to the west.
On Feb 13, 2017, that innocent world was obliterated forever. Abigail Williams, 13, and Liberty German, 14, had vanished while hiking near the Monon High Bridge Trail.
On Valentine’s Day, their bodies were discovered. They had been murdered.
The 21st century had arrived in Delphi and suddenly, it was on the national media map.
Journalist Susan Hendricks has written a book about the girls and the investigation entitled Down the Hill:
My Descent into the Double Murder in Delphi (Hachette). The book is out Sept. 19.
“I saw myself and my sister at that bridge. I got to know the families and I got to know the girls,” Hendricks told The Toronto Sun. “It became very personal to me.”
One aspect of the case that triggered widespread public interest was that as the clock ticked towards her murder, brave Libby German clandestinely recorded their killer ordering them, “Down the Hill.” She also took video of the mystery monster.
“You knew what they were going through and the worst was yet to come,” Hendricks said, adding that because the girls’ families were so strong, it gave her strength.
The shocking double murder resonated in the public’s imagination, and Hendricks believes Libby’s defiant actions made the difference.
“These two young girls, Abby and Libby, people became invested because they heard the voice of their killer,” Hendricks said. “You can’t help but wonder what she was thinking in those final moments.”
The recordings were a gift to cops. It not only gave them a head start, but it painted a media bullseye on the case.
Still, as Hendricks noted, law enforcement was frequently criticized. There was evidence they simply could not release about the killer and the terrible events of Feb. 13, 2017.
“Not going public with a lot of information fuelled public opinion that maybe local law enforcement wasn’t up to the task. But people wanted to help,” Hendricks, a longtime CNN reporter, said.
In tiny Delphi, rumours ran wild about the killer and what actually happened to Libby and Abby. Media speculation and roasting of the cops didn’t help, Hendricks added.
For detectives, there were a number of false starts. A child pornography enthusiast was arrested, along with others carrying sex-related rap sheets.
Some of the information detectives received was solid. A lot of it was ridiculous but still needed to be checked out, wasting precious time.
During her research for the book, Hendricks became close with the families. Through video, she heard their laughter and joy, making their murders all the more poignant.
Yet, the years passed and despite the heroic efforts of investigators, it seemed as though the case might never be solved. There were “new directions,” composites and always, always, Libby’s video and recordings.
But by the fall of 2022, detectives from the Indiana State Police (ISP) and the FBI were getting closer. And on Oct. 26, the ISP announced that a suspect had been arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder.
His name was Richard Matthew Allen, a married employee at the local CVS Pharmacy with two grown children. In November, it was announced that cops had recovered a .40-calibre unspent bullet between the girls’ bodies. It allegedly came from the suspect’s gun.
It was also revealed that Allen — who has pleaded not guilty — emerged from the trail area “muddy and bloody,” witnesses told cops.
In multiple jailhouse phone calls, Allen allegedly unburdened himself to his wife, Kathy Allen.
“Investigators had the phone call transcribed, and the transcription confirms that Richard Allen admits that he committed the murders of Abigail Williams and Liberty German,” reads a motion filed on April 20 by Carroll County prosecutor Nicholas McLeland.
“He admits several times within the phone call that he committed the offences as charged. His wife, Kathy Allen, ends the phone call abruptly.”
Hendricks conceded: “We don’t know much about him”.
“There was no indication he was capable of such a crime. No one [in Delphi] ever thought it would be him. Other names came up, but this one came out of nowhere,” the veteran reporter said.
“He is a blank.”
She added: “There was no connection. There was no tying these girls to this person. It was a remarkable job by the police.”
The trial is slated to begin in January.
“It’s not over yet,” Hendricks said.
Indiana is one of the few northern states that has the death penalty on the books. It is almost certain that prosecutors will demand Richard Allen receive a one-way ticket to death row — and the abyss — if convicted.