A teenage boy murders his father - HISTORY
Year
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.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Wreck of the Titanic found

Seventy-three years after it sunk to the North Atlantic ocean floor, a joint U.S.-French expedition locates the wreck of the RMS Titanic. The sunken liner was about 400 miles east of Newfoundland in the North Atlantic.American Robert D. Ballard headed the expedition, which used ...read more

Germans invade Poland

At 4:45 a.m., some 1.5 million German troops invade Poland all along its 1,750-mile border with German-controlled territory. Simultaneously, the German Luftwaffe bombed Polish airfields, and German warships and U-boats attacked Polish naval forces in the Baltic Sea. Nazi leader ...read more

Qaddafi leads coup in Libya

Muammar al-Qaddafi, a 27-year-old Libyan army captain, leads a successful military coup against King Idris I of Libya. Idris was deposed and Qaddafi was named chairman of Libya’s new governing body, the Revolutionary Command Council.Qaddafi was born in a tent in the Libyan desert ...read more

Aaron Burr acquitted

Former U.S. vice president Aaron Burr is acquitted of plotting to annex parts of Louisiana and Spanish territory in Mexico to be used toward the establishment of an independent republic. He was acquitted on the grounds that, though he had conspired against the United States, he ...read more

Atlanta falls to Union forces

On this day in 1864, Union Army General William Tecumseh Sherman lays siege to Atlanta, Georgia, a critical Confederate hub, shelling civilians and cutting off supply lines. The Confederates retreated, destroying the city’s munitions as they went. On November 15 of that year, ...read more

Germany invades Poland

On this day in 1939, German forces bombard Poland on land and from the air, as Adolf Hitler seeks to regain lost territory and ultimately rule Poland. World War II had begun.The German invasion of Poland was a primer on how Hitler intended to wage war–what would become the ...read more

Fighter pilot nominated for Medal of Honor

Lt. Col. William A. Jones III leads a mission near Dong Hoi, North Vietnam, to rescue a downed pilot. Locating the pilot, who had activated his emergency locator beacon, Colonel Jones attacked a nearby gun emplacement. On his second pass, Colonel Jones’ aircraft was hit and the ...read more

First Japanese player makes MLB debut

On September 1, 1964, pitcher Masanori Murakami becomes the first Japanese man to play in U.S. baseball’s major leagues. Murakami pitched a scoreless eighth inning for the San Francisco Giants in a 4-1 loss to the New York Mets in front of 39,379 fans at Shea Stadium.Murakami was ...read more

First Anglo women settle west of the Rockies

On this day in 1836, Narcissa Whitman arrives in Walla Walla, Washington, becoming one of the first Anglo women to settle west of the Rocky Mountains.Narcissa and Marcus Whitman, along with their close friends Eliza and Henry Spalding, had departed from New York earlier that year ...read more

P.T. Barnum brings Jenny Lind to New York

The iconic American huckster, showman and circus entrepreneur P.T. Barnum is most often associated not with refined high culture but of somewhat coarser forms of entertainment—the circus, yes, but also Siamese twins and various human oddities such as “Zip the Pinhead” and the ...read more

Robert Pirsig is born

Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974), is born on this day in Minneapolis.Pirsig, the son of a Minnesota law professor, rose rapidly to fame with his novel, which was based partly on his own experiences. The book chronicled the motorcycle ...read more

Penn’s Into the Wild premieres

On this day in 2007, Into the Wild, a film directed and co-written by Sean Penn and based on the true story of a young adventurer who died in Alaska, debuts at the Telluride Film Festival before opening in wide release the following month.Into the Wild was based on Jon Krakauer’s ...read more

Minnesota town burns

The town of Hinckley, Minnesota, is destroyed by a forest fire on this day in 1894. A total of 440 people died in the area.The upper Midwest was particularly vulnerable to devastating fires at the end of the 19th century as European settlers cleared the land for agriculture and ...read more