INDIANAPOLIS–In 1996 Carroll Horton, then 69, was arrested and charged with committing the 1971 LaSalle Street murders in Indianapolis. He was also let go before trial, charges dismissed because of the meddling of a former freelance journalist. That left the case cold for another four years.
The story of James Barker, Robert Gierse and Robert Hinson and their deaths, had become one of Indiana’s most fascinating unsolved cases. On Dec. 1, 1971, the men were found with their throats cut nearly ear to ear, in separate rooms, in a house of North LaSalle St., not far from 10th and Rural, on the city’s east side.
They had all three also been hit in the head, hard.
Retired Indianapolis homicide Capt. Robert Snow, author of the book “Slaughter on North LaSalle”, said he believes the case was solved with the discovery of two confession letters by the family of a man from Gibson County, a man who was missing a pair of boots. The letters were to the police and the “Indianapolis Star”, and were found in a safe deposit box after Fred Robert Harbison died.
“He basically said he had been hired by Ted Uland, the former employer of two of the men, to kill them,” said Snow.
A bloody boot print and a cigar in the ashtray were two pieces of evidence that were not in the newspapers, radio or TV news, held back on purpose by police.
“He also said that he had left a bloody foot print in the house. He knew he had, so when he got back down to Jasper, he buried his boots,” said Snow. He said a detective who talked to Harbison’s wife confirmed she remembered her husband talking about burying a pair of boots.
Another piece of evidence that was documented, but with little follow-up in 71, was a big, long yellow car with a Gibson County tag, seen parked outside the house. Snow says that also fits into the scenario. Harbison drove a yellow Plymouth Roadrunner.
And the motive? Mostly money, according to Snow.
Uland was a former boss to Gierse and Hinson, and when they left his company he had a life insurance policy out on the two men, worth a total of $150,000. When they left Record Security, Uland’s microfilm business, they also stole equipment and eventually clients.
Snow said police kept after Uland, who had a solid alibi, to take a polygraph test. He promised he would, but never did. And, other kinds of evidence seem right to Snow.
“Besides having their throats cut, and everyone who knew Fred Harbison said, yep, he’d do it, his wife said he was always sharpening knives,” said Snow, noting also that Harbison was known to be able to tie complicated knots, matching the knots used to restrain the men.
Snow said police took their findings, along with the letters, to the prosecutors.
“We submitted this evidence to the prosecutor and they officially closed the case,” he said. “They thought it was enough.”
So, if the case is no longer a cold case and has been solved, you might wonder how come you haven’t heard that before and where the fanfare was when the prosecutor said it’s over and done. Snow said the failure to bring the case to a close quickly in 1971, followed by the attempted prosecution of Carroll Horton, gone faulty, were embarrassments to the police department and prosecutor’s office.
“So, we took this information to the chief and the chief of police said good. Put it away. It’s solved. We’re done. We’re not making any kind of press releases on this. Twice burned, you’re kind of shy about it.”
Snow said lessons can be learned from the LaSalle Street murders. One is that these crimes many times aren’t solved quickly. Another is never throw away evidence in a murder case, which happened in the LaSalle St. murders in 1986.
Though the case may be solved, and many other murders, some even more grotesque, have happened in the half century since, the LaSalle St. murders continue to be talked about, perhaps because the men killed had a contest of conquest going on, to see who could bed the most women, or perhaps because morbid curiosity is part of human nature, something that is acknowledged in the publicity about the misfortune of others.