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November 7, 1983 - 25 years ago Friday - dawned as sunny, mild, a gorgeous day, especially for one embedded in a month infamous for its dramatic climate changes. Voters in Bloomington-Normal were heading to the polls to fill school board seats and decide tax issues. The Illini had just clinched a Rose Bowl berth. 

Bob Donewald's highly successful Illinois State University basketball team was making its first preseason appearance at Horton Field House.

Everyone in town - at least those scribbling letters-to-the-editor - was in a foamy froth about the latest awful news to hit: that B-N citizens would be required to bag their yard leaves rather than burn them.

Then came nightfall.

"We've had some bad days," says Ron Dozier, the ex-McLean County state's attorney and later a judge, "but I don't remember one that perhaps more shocked us all at once like that day and that one case. We had never EVER had a case like that one."

Yes, when Bloomington-Normal went to bed 25 years ago tonight, it awakened eight hours later to a different time.

"FOUR SLAIN IN EAST-SIDE HOME," boomed the next day's headline across page one of The Pantagraph.

In a timeless sense and a benchmark date, they became known as the Hendricks murders.

Out on Carl Drive in what was then far-east Bloomington, hearses (only two, no one had ever envisioned an actual need for four) lined up inside yellow police tape that circled a virtual city block.

That was tranquil compared to what was inside.

Blood-splattered walls, blood-soaked sheets, a wife and mother and her three children - ages 9, 7, 5 - hacked to death with a knife and ax in what remains the grisliest, most sensational slaying in this area, ever.

It was so all-encompassing in such a different time and a different place, the next day, as longtime city attorney Todd Greenburg remembers it, court hearings had to be cancelled because there were no police officers left to testify at any cases. They were all at the Hendricks crime scene.

"That's a day I will never forget," says Eric Ruud, then a young county employee and today McLean County assistant state's attorney. "With a killer apparently at large, everyone wondered if someone was hiding in the bushes. It was on that day that the community realized they were not living in the same town as the day before."

"I'll tell you how that day changed things. Everyone in my neighborhood got a new street light," said Tom Hamilton, Bloomington city manager.

Adds Dozier: "That did change us. We were accustomed to having one murder a year or, in a really bad year, maybe even two. Many years there were none. Then suddenly there was Hendricks …"

It was a story that spanned seven years - from the murders, to first the conviction of husband David Hendricks, to his acquittal at a second trial.

Vanity Fair magazine did a spread.

Dan Rather followed it on the CBS Evening News.

Phil Donahue spent an entire episode on the case.

In its seventh printing, a best-selling book ("Reasonable Doubt") still sells and is part of St. Martin's Press' "true crime classic" library.

"I think you can find a copy at just about every garage sale in B-N for 40 cents - 25 cents if it is autographed," chuckles author Steve Vogel, 25 years ago a WJBC radio personality and today ensconced in the State Farm hierarchy as a speech writer for CEO Edward Rust Jr.

Names that were little known then are commonly heard today.

The first person to examine the bodies was a 22-year-old mortician and deputy coroner. Today, he is more widely known as popular Republican state representative Dan Brady.

When David Hendricks first called Bloomington police from Madison, Wis., to see if they'd check on his family (his alibi was he was on the road and could not have possibly committed the murders), the desk sergeant who took the call was Roger Aikin. Today. he is Bloomington's police chief.

Bloomington-Normal itself?

In a strange way, although obviously not related, it's not the same community in other ways.

In 1983, when the Hendricks lived on Carl Drive, $100,000 was classified by this newspaper as "an executive-bracket home." Today $100,000 will barely get you a "starter" home.

A combined community of 79,000 in 1983, its population steady since the 1970 census, Bloomington-Normal is now home to 129,000 people.

The east side retail sprawl that today stretches from Empire Street north to Fort Jesse Road was, in 1983, just a horse pasture. It had a fence around it.

Constitution Trail was a railroad track.

The 1983 B-N telephone directory listed 52 restaurants. Today, there are 261. There were five Yellow Pages listing attorneys. Today, there are 39.

Twenty-five years, in a lot of ways, is like 25,000.

David Hendricks himself?

A successful, reputed millionaire orthopedics maker/salesman in 1983, he is still that today, living south of Orlando, Fla. He is married, for a third time, and executive of another successful business called HOPE - Hendricks Orthopedic Prosthetic Enterprises.

And us?

If anything better mirrors how 25 years and Hendricks have changed things, it may be this:

A few days after news of the Hendricks murders broke, The Pantagraph ran a story about people scurrying to buy door locks to make sure their homes were secure.

How weird is that?

Today it would only be news if homeowners didn't have locks on their doors.

The big movie in town on Nov. 7, 1983?

It was a Clint Eastwood thriller entitled "Sudden Impact."

Twenty-five years later, you would say that.

Indeed.

Contact Bill Flick at flick@pantagraph.com. The Flick Blog: www.pantagraph.com/blogs


Hendricks case timeline

Night of Nov. 7, 1983: News breaks that Bloomington, McLean County and state police are investigating a multiple homicide at a residence on Bloomington's east side.

Nov. 8, 1983: Police report four people are found axed to death in two upstairs bedrooms. Dead are Susan Hendricks, 30; and her three children, Rebekah, 9, Grace, 7 and Benjamin, 5. David Hendricks, Susan's husband, tells authorities he was out of town on a business trip the day of the slayings.

Nov. 16, 1983: A $10,000 reward is offered by Crime Stoppers of McLean County for information leading to the indictment or conviction of the person or persons responsible for the murders.

Dec. 5, 1983: David Hendricks is charged with eight counts of murder.

Nov. 29, 1984: After a five-week trial in Rockford, Hendricks is convicted on all charges. Six weeks later, he is sentenced to life in prison.

July 3, 1990: Hendricks' conviction is overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court, which orders a new trial.

March 28, 1991: Hendricks is acquitted at the second trial, held over seven weeks in Bloomington. He is freed and eventually leaves the area, moving first to the St. Petersburg, Fla. area, then east to Orlando where he launches a successful orthopedics company called HOPE Orthopedic.

SOURCE: The Pantagraph

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