KNOX COUNTY, IN — In the early morning hours of March 1, 1975, Sherry Lee Gibson, 23 (above), got cozy in the backseat of a car with her boyfriend, 24-year-old Lindy Alton.
The young couple from the small farming city of Vincennes had spent the evening with friends and then drove off for some alone time to a rural “lovers lane.” If only they had just kept driving.
A local farmer happened by the next morning and saw Alton’s car. It looked unoccupied. Suddenly, yelling and pounding came from the truck. The farmer pried it open and Lindy Alton jumped out in a panic, shouting, “Where’s Sherry?! Where’s Sherry?!”
When officers arrived, Alton said that while he and Gibson were parking, a man and a woman pulled up behind them, blocked their car in, and attacked. Alton said he was pistol-whipped and forced into the trunk, from where he could hear Gibson get carried off, screaming.Related: Killer Couple — Sarah Edmondson & Benjamin Darras, Natural Born Killers Copycats
At first, the cops didn’t buy Alton’s story. As a child, he had suffered a head blow that inflicted him with a speech impediment that came out during times of stress. He would occasionally go silent or stutter as his words got “stuck” on the way out. Obviously, Alton had never experienced stress at this level, so investigators initially thought his halting, nervous talking pattern indicated he was making up facts.
Everything changed, though, after a sudden fire gutted an abandoned farmhouse seven miles from Alton’s car, and responders unearthed Gibson’s charred remains from the debris.
An autopsy revealed that Sherry Lee Gibson had been savagely beaten, raped, and stabbed dozens of times. Three deep knife wounds to the heart officially caused her death.
Physical evidence — specifically a low sperm count — suggested Sherry’s rapist had been an older man. That fact, coupled with Alton passing a polygraph exam, cleared her youthful boyfriend as a suspect. He then became a key witness.Alton worked with a police sketch artist to describe the male and female attackers. He gave detailed specifics, down to the types of eyeglasses they wore, the part in the man’s hair, and the specific location of a mole on the woman’s face. These images would prove invaluable — but not until decades later.
For the first two years, investigators had no leads. In August 1977, a tip came in from a juvenile hall guard about John Jeffers, a 15-year-old inmate. Jeffers had apparently been saying he had inside info about the Sherry Lee Gibson murder.
Hours into being interrogated, Jeffers confessed to the crime. He said he had planned it and he did it along with Timmy Wylie, his best friend with whom had had grown up in an orphanage.
By now it was January 1978. Timmy Wylie was in West Germany, honorably serving as a military policeman in the United States Army. Authorities promptly extradited him back to Indiana to stand trial.
At last, it seemed, police had a break in the case. Unfortunately, John Jeffers was lying. The long-troubled teenager had agreed to plead guilty and testify against Wylie in exchange for “the minimum.” To Jeffers’ surprise on the day of his sentencing, that turned out to be 30 years.
Wylie’s trial began that October. John Jeffers took the stand and stated that neither he nor Timmy had anything to do with the crime. He told the court he boastfully fabricated the story to get attention and implicated Wylie in order to get back at his former friend. The previous year, it turned out, Wylie had gotten Jeffers’ girlfriend pregnant.
The proceedings took an even more dramatic turn when Lindy Alton took the stand, pointed at Timmy Wylie, and loudly announced, “This isn’t the guy!”
With apologies, Timmy Wylie flew back to Germany. John Jeffers went back to jail. Five years later, Jeffers committed suicide by overdosing on medication in his cell. He has since been officially exonerated.
With no other suspects on the horizon, eyes turned again toward Lindy Alton. Rumors cropped up. A whisper campaign around Vincennes suggested that Alton’s head injury had caused him to black out and that’s when he killed Sherry. None of it was true.
So on top of surviving the original attack and being unable to protect his girlfriend, Alton was then cursed by years of pointed fingers and sideways glances. He eventually married and had a son, but friends and family described Alton as forever being “haunted.”
In 1998, Lindy Alton weirdly burned to death in a brush fire. With his passing, many feared, would go any chance to ever find Gibson’s murderers. Three years later, though, one of those killers — the very woman Alton had once vividly described to detectives — walked into a police station and gave herself up.
Upon turning herself in, Ella Mae Dicks said she needed to clear her conscience regarding the 1975 rape and murder of Sherry Lee Gibson.Dicks was just 20 years old back then. She had already married and divorced Wayne Gulley, 34, a highly intelligent, charismatic military veteran and electronics technician with a sadistic sexual bent from whom she could never pull herself away.
In her confession, Dicks told police how Gulley abused her and coerced her into increasingly high-risk thrill-seeking activities. The couple, she said, escalated from BDSM to swingers’ clubs to committing robberies together all the way up to their encounter with Sherry Lee Gibson and Lindy Alton.
Police noted how Dicks described aspects of the case that were never made public. She added that after Gulley raped and stabbed Sherry, he ordered his ex-wife to “finish” her. Dicks said she plunged the blade into Sherry’s chest three times.Ella Mae Dicks’ account matched not only what Lindy Alton told investigators, but also what forensic experts had concluded about the crime. Even more amazingly, Dicks looked exactly like the female police sketch based on Alton’s description.
Detectives immediately made haste to the home of Wayne Gulley. Now in his 60s, Gulley had earned a master’s degree, worked good jobs, and never even racked up a traffic violation. It did seem curious that Gulley had been married six times, but that’s no crime.Once officers arrived, Gulley agreed to answer a few questions. Detective Larry Eck, who tape recorded the interview, said he was immediately taken aback by one thing: Gulley also looked exactly like the male figure in the other police sketch.
Upon being told that Ella Mae Dicks had confessed to stabbing a woman to death, Gulley claimed to have no idea about that — although he conceded that maybe he had just forgotten about it.
When pressed about the killing, Gulley said, “Well, if she said she did it, maybe I was there.” Later, he added, “Well, let’s say she is telling the truth — could I have blacked it out and not remembered it?”
Most damning of all, when shown the police sketches of the suspects, Gulley declared on tape, “Well, they look like me. I’m not going to deny that. It certainly looks like her.”
In 2002, Ella Mae Dicks pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Wayne Gulley insisted he was innocent and went to trial the following year. Dicks testified against him. Prosecutors played the recording of Gulley’s interview in court. It didn’t take the jury long to convict Gulley of first-degree murder. At present, he is serving a 50-year sentence.
Nearly three decades after the horror, justice had been done not just for Sherry Lee Gibson, but also for Lindy Alton, the other victim who lived not only with the initial trauma, but who further suffered the burden of suspicious minds and vicious small town gossip.
For more on the Sherry Lee Gibson case, watch the “Twisted Fate” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Cold Hearted on ID GO now!
Main photo: Sherry Lee Gibson [fair use]