If you’ve been around here long enough to have eaten at the Brittany, bought clothes at Pine’s or Marben’s, or cashed a check at American State Bank, you know the name David Hendricks. He’s the man convicted, then later acquitted, of killing his wife and three young children with an ax and a butcher knife in their east side Bloomington home in November of 1983.
My unscientific public opinion barometer tells me about a third of people familiar with the case believe Hendricks is guilty as sin but ultimately got away with what were probably the most savage murders ever to occur here.
Another third, I surmise, think Hendricks didn’t commit the crimes, that police prematurely made him the sole focus of their investigation, allowing the real killer, or killers, to elude justice. Members of this group became more confident in recent years as dozens of people convicted of murder in this state — some of them on death row — were exonerated and set free, sometimes on the basis of new DNA science. Justice, they found, is not just blind, but also imperfect.
The final third, according to my sounding, is made up of people who don’t know what to think, who believe we’ll probably never be sure what really happened in the house that still stands on Carl Drive. (Full disclosure: I wrote a book about the case. No, I’m not trying to sell copies. It’s out of print, though you can probably find one at a local garage sale this weekend for about 30 cents.)
But Hendricks has a new book, and members of all three groups will be interested. “Tom Henry” is mostly the story of a Streator man who was Hendricks’ cellmate for much of the six years Hendricks spent inside Menard, a 134-year-old hellhole of a prison.
But there are glimpses of Hendricks’ life behind bars (prison administrators, he says, empower gangs), his post-conviction belief that he’d be sentenced to death, and some statements that will be pounced upon and psychoanalyzed by those who think he’s a killer (like how the capacity for evil resides in each of us, and how things can go wrong for a normal guy “and he goes nuts.”)
Yet this book is mostly about Henry Hillenbrand. In 1970, he killed his common-law wife and her lover, escaped from the LaSalle County Jail and lived in Missouri — his past hidden from his new spouse. Captured 13 years later, he was sentenced to at least 130 years behind bars.
Over their many months in the same cell, Hendricks found Hillenbrand to be a master teller of stories, especially his own. Hendricks transcribed the stories and made them the centerpiece of the book he’s self-publishing — not to make money (he’s a millionaire after selling two businesses he started since he got out of prison), but in the hope prison officials will see how Hillenbrand is worthy of parole.
Most stories, told in an ungrammatical first person, are interesting — none more than how Hillenbrand escaped from the jail in Ottawa.
Hendricks, now 58, lives in Florida with his fourth wife; they’ve been married 10 years. You’ll hear many of those who investigated and prosecuted Hendricks declare they’ll never read his book. But I bet they can’t resist.