September 1

This Day in History

Crime

Sep 1, 1981:

A teenage boy murders his father

Fifteen-year-old Eric Witte shoots his father, 43-year-old volunteer firefighter Paul Witte, in the family's Indiana home. Although Eric admitted to shooting his father, he claimed that the gun had accidentally gone off when he tripped on a rug. The bullet hit his father, who was lying on a couch across the room, in the head. The shooting was ruled an accident, and Eric was released.

Three years later, Eric's grandmother, Elaine Witte, 74, was killed with a crossbow. A few months after the murder, the entire family was arrested in California for forging Elaine's signature on her Social Security checks. In the subsequent trial, the bizarre story behind the murders came to light.

Eric's mother, Hilma Marie Witte, had tried to kill her husband, Paul, by lacing his food with rat poison and Valium. When this proved unsuccessful, she convinced her son to shoot his father by telling him that Paul was going to divorce her and that they would end up living in the streets. She later persuaded John "Butch" Witte, Eric's younger brother, to kill his grandmother by convincing him that Elaine planned to kick them out of the house. John, who witnessed his father's murder at the age of 11, was 14 when he killed Elaine Witte. At the trial, John stated, "My mom said I could strangle her or use my crossbow. It was up to me."

A few hours after killing his grandmother, John went to court with his mother to inquire about receiving disability benefits from his father's death. When they returned home that night, they began cutting up Elaine's body with a knife and a chainsaw. Marie and her two boys then scattered the dismembered body throughout California.

John and Eric were given 20- and five-year sentences, respectively, and were released in 1996. Hilma Marie Witte received a 90-year sentence.

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