VALPARAISO, IN — On September 1, 1981, a 15-year-old named Eric Witte shot his father, 43-year-old volunteer firefighter Paul Witte, in the family’s northern Indiana home.
But this would only be the first of a series of deaths that would end with Eric’s mom, Hilma Marie Witte, being charged with orchestrating the murders of her husband and her mother-in-law — and using both her teenage sons as her hitmen.
In 1981 Hilma, who went by her middle name, Marie, was an attractive brunette trapped in an unhappy marriage with her husband, Paul. She tried to poison Paul using rat poison, Valium, and arsenic, but wasn’t successful.
A master manipulator, she then convinced Eric that Paul planned to divorce her and kick the family out, and the only solution was for Eric to shoot his father.
Paul’s shooting was originally ruled an accident after Eric claimed that the gun had accidentally gone off when he tripped on a rug. But three years later, investigators’ suspicions were raised when Eric’s grandmother, Elaine Witte, 74, was killed with a “medieval-type” crossbow.
Following Paul’s death, his mother Elaine Witte took her stepdaughter-in-law and grandsons into her home.
Marie repaid her generosity by stealing money from her mother-in-law’s bank accounts — and when Elaine found out, she confronted Marie and asked her to leave. That’s when Marie convinced Eric’s younger brother, John “Butch” Witte — who was just 14 — to kill his grandmother using a similar sob story to the one she told his brother.
At the trial, John, who witnessed his father’s murder when he was just 11, stated, “My mom said I could strangle her or use my crossbow. It was up to me.”
He picked the crossbow. After the murder, Marie had John help her cut up Elaine’s body with a knife and a chainsaw — and then they traveled to California to dump the dismembered remains.
A few months after the murder, the entire family was arrested in California for forging Elaine’s signature on her Social Security checks.
As part of the plea agreement in the case, John agreed to testify against his mother and his older brother, Eric, in connection with the crimes when they stood trial in Michigan City.
Marie was charged with murder and conspiracy in the death of Elaine Witte, and Eric was charged with conspiracy to commit murder.
Marie’s defense attorneys attempted to convince the La Porte County jury that she had nothing to do with the crossbow death, claiming that young John planned the murder on his own after becoming obsessed with the fantasy roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons.
John and Eric were given 20- and five-year sentences, respectively, and were released in 1996. Hilma Marie Witte received a 90-year sentence. In addition, a federal judge sentenced her to 10 years in prison and fined her $10,000 for forging and cashing $1,135 in Social Security checks stolen from her mother-in-law.
In 2000, her request for a sentence modification was denied. She remains behind bars at the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis.
Watch the season premiere of Deadly Women on Investigation Discovery, Friday, September 1 at 10/9c!
Main photo: Dramatization of Hilma Marie Witte and her son John in an scene from “Deadly Women” [Deadly Women – (screenshot)]