Unsolved Murders Haunt Indianapolis Police

Every major city has its share of unsolved murders, “cold cases” that remain in the filing cabinets even though no new evidence has appeared in years or even decades, even if nobody in the department was there when the slayings took place. Indianapolis is no exception, not just with regard to cold cases, but with regard to far too many unsolved murders in recent years. There are a few, however, that have remained on the books long after the pages yellowed with age.

The LaSalle Street Murders

In 1971, a pair of young businessmen, Bob Gierse and Bob Hinson, ran a microfilm business in Indianapolis. They were also roommates, sharing a bachelor pad (1318 N. LaSalle Street) where a friendly competitor, James Barker, also hung out frequently. It was there that all three men were found, bound and gagged, with their throats cut. Gierse and Hinson had known Mafia associates (some of their microfilm equipment turned out to have been stolen), and had definitely stepped on plenty of people’s toes with their swinging lifestyle. There were other suspects but no arrests.

The Burger Chef Murders

Seven years later, a case shocked the public even more, as it involved the murder of four young Burger Chef employees in Speedway, Indiana. They were apparently kidnapped during a robbery, taken to a rural area and slain: Two by gunshot, one by stabbing, and one from a vicious beating with a chain. Although nobody was ever arrested, there were a number of strong suspects, but not enough evidence. Several of those suspects wound up in prison for other crimes, but detectives regret not having been able to solve the Burger Chef Murders of 1978.

One case that sat dormant for years, but finally resulted in a perpetrator being locked up, was the case of Dawn Marie Stuard (a 13-year old girl who was raped and murdered in 1986). The police suspected Paul Reese Sr., a career criminal whose son Brian had followed in his father’s footsteps. Stuard knew Reese’s daughter, and was believed to have been at his house the day she disappeared. After Reese’s arrest for his role in his son’s killing spree in 2008, his DNA was linked to the Stuard murder, and he was jailed in 2011 pending trial.

Indiana’s Most Infamous Female Death Row Inmate

Paula Cooper was a 15-year old street tough from Gary, Indiana when she took part in the 1986 robbery and murder of a 78-year old Bible school teacher named Ruth Pelke, stabbing the woman 33 times. Her three partners in the crime all received lengthy prison sentences after pleading guilty, but even though she also plead guilty, Paula Cooper was sentenced to death and sent to the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis.

The Ultimate Price

The Indiana Women’s Prison was the first of its kind in our country, and was also the first maximum-security women’s facility in the United States. It also had the distinction of hiring the first female warden in American prison history. The death penalty has always been a part of Indiana legal lore except during a brief spell in the 1970s. One of the peculiarities of the state law was the fact that children as young as 10 could be charged with murder and sentenced to death.

Public Outcry

In Cooper’s case, this meant death by the electric chair, considered by some to be cruel and unusual punishment. This was at a turning point in the way the world viewed capital punishment; France had barely discontinued use of the Guillotine, and Utah was less than a decade removed from executing murderer Gary Gilmore by way of firing squad. The use of lethal injection had yet to become widespread, with most states using either electrocution or the gas chamber as means of execution.

Following a 60 Minutes expose on the teenage death row inmate, an outpouring of protest began on Cooper’s behalf, beseeching the Indiana courts for mercy in the form of commutation. Even the grandson of her victim made public expressions of forgiveness toward her. Even Pope John Paul II lobbied on behalf, and in 1989, her sentenced to 60 years; with time off for good behavior and time served, she will be eligible for parole in 2013. In this way, Paula Cooper avoided being the only female inmate to be executed since 1900.