David Hendricks, a businessman traveling in Wisconsin, calls police in Bloomington, Illinois, to request that they check on his house and family. According to Hendricks, no one had answered the phone all weekend and he was worried. When the police and neighbors searched the home the next day, they found the mutilated bodies of Hendricks’ wife and three children, all of whom had been hacked to death with an ax and butcher knife.
Because there was very little sign of a struggle or forced entry, police thought the crime scene was suspicious. In addition, though the killings were brutal, the murder weapons had been cleaned and left neatly near the bodies. When Hendricks returned later that day, police questioned him and checked his clothes and car for bloodstains. But the search was inconclusive, and Hendricks’ alibi—that he had left for Wisconsin just before midnight on November 4—appeared solid.
Nevertheless, with no other leads, police began to examine Hendricks’ story more closely. He claimed that he had taken his family out for a pizza at about 7:30 on November 4. According to him, they then played in an amusement area and returned home at 9:30. Hendricks left for his business trip several hours later.
But after studying the children’s bodies, medical examiners concluded that Hendrick’s story did not quite fit. Ordinarily, food leaves the stomach and moves into the small intestine within two hours. However, in all three children, vegetarian pizza toppings were still in their stomachs, which led investigators to estimate their time of death sometime around 9:30—while Hendricks was still at home.
Police charged Hendricks with murdering his family, but they still lacked a concrete motive. The Hendricks family was devoutly religious, belonging to a puritan-like group called the Plymouth Brethren. Hendrick’s defense attorney hammered away at the only physical evidence against him, pointing out that physical activity or trauma can affect the rate of digestion. Still, the jury found Hendricks guilty of four counts of murder and he was sentenced to life imprisonment on December 21, 1988.
In 1991, Hendricks was retried and found not guilty.