Newton County John Does
On October 18 and 19, 1983, mushroom hunters in Lake Village, Newton County, Indiana, uncovered the bodies of John Ingram Brandenburg Jr. and Keith Lavell Bibbs, two juvenile murder victims formerly known as the Newton County John Does.The bodies of two additional murder victims, whose bodies were recovered with the bodies of these two victims, were identified months after they were found. They were all victims of Larry Eyler, a serial killer.
Forensic genealogy and forensic face reconstructions created by a forensic anthropologist that portrayed how each dead may have looked in life were only two of the many methods used to identify these decedents. In an effort to identify and humanize the victims, Newton County coroner Scott McCord gave them the names Adam and Brad decades after their murders. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also produced intricate composite sketches of the deceased.
In April 2021, Brad was identified as Brandenburg Jr., a Kentucky native who disappeared from Chicago in 1983. Adam was identified in July 2023 as Bibbs who, like Brandenburg, had resided in Chicago at the time of his murder.
Brandenburg and Bibbs were collectively known as the “Newton County John Does” due to the name of the county in which their bodies were discovered.
Beginning of the case
In Lake Village, Indiana, on October 18, 1983, a middle-aged couple collecting wild mushrooms came across two half buried human skulls next to an oak tree near an abandoned farmhouse.The couple informed the authorities of their discovery right away.
Four murder victims’ bodies, one of which was partially decomposed, were found here by investigators.All four victims had been dead for several months and had been partially buried, face up, with portions of each victim’s body remaining exposed above ground and only loosely covered with soil and leaves, indicating that the murderer had made only minimal efforts to conceal each victim.
Three of these victims were buried at one side of the tree, three feet apart, with their heads facing north. The fourth decedent was buried at the other side of this tree. All four victims had been bound and stabbed more than two dozen times, and the trousers and underwear of each victim were discovered around their ankles. Furthermore, the body of one victim had been dismembered after death.
All four murders were almost immediately linked to the collective manhunt for a serial killer known as the “Interstate Killer” and the “Highway Killer”, who at the time of the discovery of these bodies was believed to have already murdered up to nineteen young males across several Midwestern States. The level of decomposition of each victim and the clothing discovered upon each body suggested several weeks or months had elapsed between each murder.
One victim had worn a parka, whereas the other three victims had worn clothing suggesting they had been murdered in the spring or summer. In addition, evidence retrieved from the farmhouse would lead investigators to conclude the murderer had evidently used this location as a site to restrain and torture these victims before burying their bodies alongside the oak tree.
By December 29, 1983, two of these four murder victims had been identified via dental records as Michael Bauer and John Bartlett; both of whom had been murdered by the Highway Killer in early March 1983. Contemporary investigators were unable to identify the third and fourth victims recovered at the site.
Confession of the perpetrator
When he passed away in March 1994 from symptoms connected to AIDS while jailed on death row at the Pontiac Correctional Center, Eyler confessed to these four killings in a statement that was later made public by his lawyer, Kathleen Zellner.The two victims, who were unnamed when he passed away and were discovered at this deserted farmhouse, were the third and fourth people he had murdered there, according to his posthumous confession.
According to his posthumous confession, Adam was a hitchhiker who agreed to submit to a sexual act for $75; Brad was an individual whom Eyler claimed to have been introduced to by his alleged accomplice, Robert David Little, at his Terre Haute residence. He was unaware of either of their actual identities. In addition, he is known to have disposed of any forms of identification that he would find on his victims’ possession.
The third victim of the four to be discovered at the burial site was Keith Lavell Bibbs (formerly known as Adam). Although he could have been in his early 20s, this victim’s age was estimated to be between fifteen and eighteen.The most likely height range for him was between five feet eight and six feet two inches, and he had short, black hair.In his lifetime, he had gotten a lot of fillings.
Among the clothing items found on the deceased, there was a distinctive red and black belt bearing the word “devil.” The belt’s buckle featured the word “jeans.” Additionally, the remains of the individual were accompanied by a pair of black suede boots, size 12, with a design reminiscent of Hush Puppies, complete with metal buckles on each side for fastening.
This unfortunate victim, like the majority of Larry Eyler’s murder victims, was found with his pants and underwear around his ankles.
Eyler specifically stated this murder had been committed in July 1983, and confirmed investigators’ suspicions that the victim had been a hitchhiker whom he had lured into his vehicle near Indiana State Road 63 in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Investigator Scott McCord correctly believed that Adam was likely native to the region, having initially speculated he may have been a Chicago or St. Louis native.
In July 2020, the DNA Doe Project announced their intention to identify Adam using genetic genealogy. In July 2023, Adam was formally identified via forensic genealogy as a 16-year-old Chicagoan named Keith Lavell Bibbs.
In a formal confession released by Eyler’s defense attorney, Kathleen Zellner, following her client’s death, Eyler claimed that on a date he believed to be a Monday in early- or mid-July 1983, following several heated arguments with his boyfriend, John Dobrovolskis (whom Eyler had recently discovered to be engaging in a discreet sexual relationship with another man), Eyler had driven toward Terre Haute. While traveling upon State Road 63, he had encountered a hitchhiker who he described as being aged in his late teens or early twenties.
According to Eyler, he offered Bibbs seventy-five dollars to allow Eyler to bind and “perform a sexual act” upon him, to which Bibbs contemplated, then agreed to his proposition. After Eyler had plied Bibbs with vodka and ethchlorvynol, he drove him to the abandoned farmhouse in Lake Village where he had earlier murdered John Bartlett, Michael Bauer, and John Brandenburg. At this location, Bibbs was bound to a wooden post, blindfolded and gagged, then stabbed multiple times in his upper and lower midsection.
According to Eyler, his last words to Bibbs were, “Okay, make your peace with God, nigger.” He had then waited four or five minutes before stabbing him to death. Eyler further claimed to have confessed to this murder to his alleged accomplice, Robert David Little, whom he claimed had asked him the question, “Did he grunt or did he groan?”
Eyler’s confession further revealed he had intentionally buried Bibbs separately from the three Caucasian victims he had previously murdered at this location as he did not believe it to be “proper” to bury an African-American alongside European Americans.
John Ingram Brandenburg Jr. (formerly known as Brad) was the fourth and final murder victim discovered at the abandoned farmhouse. This victim was determined to be a white male most likely aged between seventeen and twenty-three years old. He had medium length, reddish or auburn, wavy hair, weighed between 130 and 180 pounds and was most likely between five feet eleven inches and six feet one inches in height. This decedent had also received several fillings in life and, in the years prior to his murder, had severely fractured his nose and left ankle. In addition, staining evident upon the teeth indicated he may have been a smoker.
The clothing worn by this decedent included size 30×30 brown slacks, white jockey undershorts (which had been lowered to his ankles), and size 10 brown leather hiking boots described as being ankle-high with a fleece interior.
This decedent had two known tattoos on opposite sides of his right forearm—both of which were moderately preserved and recognizable. One of these tattoos depicted either a crudely inscribed Chinese character or a cross with two circular marks. This tattoo was located on the underside of the decedent’s arm close to the wrist; the other was a rectangular (or possibly U-shaped) marking containing one circular mark, which was located on the other side of his forearm. The crude nature of these tattoos indicated a possibility this decedent may have served time in jail or a juvenile detention center in life.
Eyler specifically stated this murder had been committed in either mid- or late-May 1983, on a date he believed his alleged accomplice, Robert Little, had been on a sabbatical from his employment as a library science professor at the Indiana State University.
As with Adam, DNA was extracted from one of this decedent’s bones in efforts to locate any individual who may be related to him whose DNA is contained within national public DNA databases. In April 2021, Brad was formally identified as a 19-year-old Kentucky native named John Brandenburg Jr., who had disappeared from Chicago in 1983. He was last seen by his family leaving their home to visit a friend.
In Eyler’s posthumous confession to Brandenburg’s murder he stated that, following a weekend of continual arguing with his lover, he had driven from his lover’s home in Greenview, Illinois to Robert Little’s Terre Haute residence, where he first encountered this victim. According to Eyler, Little confided to him he had “picked this guy up” at a location he did not divulge. He was unsure whether Brandenburg and Little had been previously acquainted, although he did observe the two had “seemed sort of familiar” with each other.
Shortly thereafter, Little persuaded this individual to participate in a sexual act at the abandoned farmhouse where Eyler had earlier murdered Bartlett and Bauer upon the promise of being paid one-hundred dollars. According to Eyler, as the trio drove to this location, Little had informed this individual, “We’re looking for something really far out”.
At this location, the victim was blindfolded, handcuffed, and bound to a wooden post resembling a cross before Robert Little took several photographs as Eyler removed or adjusted several items of his clothing. According to Eyler, he had to struggle to remove Brandenburg’s clothing as the young man “seemed to know something was wrong”. He was then stabbed to death after Eyler—responding to an instruction from Little—had informed him, “Okay, make your peace with God, motherfucker.”
Brandenburg’s body was dismembered following his murder, with his head removed from the crime scene at Little’s instruction after he informed Eyler he did not want Brandenburg’s murder “connected to [him].” His head was later discarded in a dumpster close to Terre Haute.
Investigation and theory
Given the fact Eyler’s identified victims lived in either Indiana or Illinois, investigators believed the two unidentified decedents were also likely native to the Midwestern United States. Upon revealing the successful identifications of Brad and Adam, investigators discovered both teenagers had been Chicago residents, with the former born in Kentucky.
Prior to their identification, several forensic facial reconstructions of Brandenburg and Bibbs’s faces were generated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The facial reconstructions by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reportedly took approximately eighteen months to complete.
In Brook, Indiana, there was a public funeral service for Adam and Brad in October 2016. Both of the deceased were buried within a mausoleum in Riverside Cemetery in Brook, Indiana, along with a third unidentified deceased known as Charlene Newton Doe, whose death is unrelated to these incidents.
One month after the April 2021 identification of John Brandenburg, his body was buried in Rest Haven Cemetery in Corbin, Kentucky. Bibbs’s body was returned to his family in September 2023.