BLOOMINGTON, IL — November 7, 1983, was Election Day in the central Illinois area of Bloomington-Normal. That was expected to be the big news.
Instead, sudden, shocking tragedy dominated the headlines after authorities discovered four members of the well-known, well-liked Hendricks family dead and hacked up on their floor of their home.
David Hendricks, 29, telephoned police that evening from a Wisconsin business trip to ask officers to check in on his wife Susan Hendricks, 30, and their three children, Rebekah, 9; Grace, 7; and Benjamin, 5.
Hendricks said he’d departed just before midnight on November 4, and his calls home had since gone unanswered. He was concerned.
The millionaire businessman and devout fundamentalist Christian was right to feel distress. Responders walked in on Susan and the kids splayed out around the house in pools of blood. No sign of struggle appeared evident. Next to the bodies, the weapons were displayed — an ax and a butcher knife — scrubbed clean of fingerprints.
Upon returning to Illinois, David told investigators that he’d taken the kids to Chuck E. Cheese for dinner and gotten home at 8:30 P.M. Susan was out at a baby shower. He put the kids to bed at 9, and Susan returned an hour or so later. After 11 P.M., David departed for his previously scheduled trip to Madison.
The alibi seemed rock-solid, until the coroner’s reports came in. Judging by the digestive condition of the food in the kids’ stomachs, the Medical Examiner reported that they’d died at around 9:30 — while David was still with them.
On December 5, 1983, cops arrested David Hendricks and charged him with four counts of murder.
During the trial, the District Attorney played up Hendricks’ active participation in the Plymouth Brethren, a strictly conservative Christian denomination. Since Hendricks’ public religious persona would prevent him from getting a divorce, the D.A. argued, he massacred his family to get out of the marriage.
Even among neighbors, friends, and business associates who liked Hendricks, the Plymouth Brethren stuff came off a little “weird.” The state’s case played up those prejudices, big time.
As to “indications” that Hendricks wanted out of his marriage, the prosecution pointed out that he’d lost a bunch of weight recently and had auditioned 13 female models to pose for ads promoting the core product of his company, a back brace he invented. One of the models noted that Hendricks “smelled good,” which was turned into an implication he was looking to sexually appeal to her.
The absence of a struggle also figured into the prosecution — although police noted that the backdoor was unlocked. At that time, Bloomington-Normal residents didn’t even think much about locking their doors, to the point that following the murders, local media reported on a boom in heavy door hardware and locksmith services.
Despite those gray areas, blood spatter marks indicating two killers using two separate weapons, and police bungles such as mislabeled evidence containers, on November 24, 1984, the jury convicted David Hendricks on all counts.
Judge Richard Baner opted to give Hendricks four consecutive life sentences, rather than the death penalty. In his closing statement, the judge said that he, personally, remained unconvinced that Hendricks’ guilt had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
For the next seven years, Hendricks worked tirelessly from inside the Menard Correctional Center to get a new trial. He also remarried.
In 1990, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned his convictions and granted him another day in court. Their ruling, in particular, excoriated the prosecution’s ludicrous attempts to make something tawdry out of the model auditions.
During the second trial, prosecutors called a wholly unreliable prison inmate as a witness, and claimed Hendricks wanted to get a vasectomy. The jury deliberated 12 hours before finding Hendricks not guilty.
Upon being released, Hendricks told the press:
“I have been in prison seven years, and I know, and my family knows, that I am not the same guy I was when I was put in there. I`ve been deprived and defamed and there is a lot of anger, and I’ll probably have to work it out.”
After the second trial, Hendricks relocated to Florida, and reestablished his successful orthopedics and back-brace business.
Stating, “I am not a man of faith anymore,” Hendricks is presently married to his fourth wife.
In 2012, Hendricks authored Tom Henry: Confession of a Killer, a book about his former cellmate turned longtime friend, Henry Hillenbrand. To date, the Hendricks family murders remain unsolved.
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Main photo: Members of the David Hendricks family, who were discovered murdered in their beds shown in an undated photo. The children are, left, Grace, age 7; right, front is Ben, age 5 and rear is Rebecca, age 9. The mother is 30 year old Susan Hendricks. [AP Photo]