March 6, 1994 – Convicted killer and Indiana native Larry William Eyler (41) died of complications related to AIDS in the infirmary of the Pontiac Correctional Center (IL). Two days after his death, Eyler’s defense attorney released a posthumous statement in which Eyler confessed to the murders of at least 21 young men. In the confession, he also alleged Robert David Little (52) of Terre Haute had been his accomplice in some of the killings, and was the sole person responsible for the death of Daniel Bridges. Little, an Indiana State University professor with whom Eyler had lived for seven years, was brought up on charges in connection with one of the murders but later acquitted. He then returned to teaching.
In 1982, 19-year-old William Joseph “Billy” Lewis attended a funeral in Texas then left to return to his home in Peru, Indiana, hitchhiking his way across the US.
He was never seen alive again.
In the many years to come, both of his parents would die without ever knowing what had happened to their son. But thanks to advances in forensic science and a determined Jasper County coroner, Billy Lewis has finally come home.
In October 1983, a fox hunter stumbled upon human remains in a rural Jasper County field. Despite collecting clothing and other evidence from the scene, including a distinctive Zippo lighter engraved with the name “Arlene,” police were unable to match the John Doe with any missing person report. No one stepped forward to claim the body. Eventually, Officer Paul Ricker, who was the first officer on the scene when the unidentified remains were discovered, and other first responders crowdfunded a gravestone for “John Doe” at the Sayler Makeever Cemetery.
The first break in the case came in 1994 when, two days after murderer Larry Eyler died in prison, his attorney Kathleen Zellner announced that he had confessed to killing more than 20 men in the late 70’s and early 80’s, including “Jasper County John Doe.” According to the serial killer, he’d picked up the victim on November 20, 1982, as the young man was hitchhiking alone on US 41 near Vincennes. After he got the man selected at random into his vehicle, Eyler gave him beer and Placidyl, a powerful sedative, and then began driving north. Once they reached Jasper County,the hitchhiker was reportedly “semiconscious” and unable to defend himself. Eyler stabbed the victim to death before burying him in a shallow grave.
Despite Eyler’s confession, he claimed not to know the name of the victim referred to as “Jasper County John Doe.” Although DNA was first used in a criminal case in 1986, it still was not widely in use at the time and, without any other leads, the case went cold.
It would remain that way until this past January, when Jasper County Coroner Andrew Boersma hired a geneological forensics company, Redgrave Research Forensic Services, to help identify the Eyler victim. Researchers were able to link DNA taken from “John Doe” to Lewis’s extended family through a geneology website, and it eventually led them to his siblings. Almost 40 years after his death, Billy Lewis reclaimed his identity.
Now that he has finally been found, Billy’s surviving family members plan on giving him a funeral then reinterring him next to his father.
From Associated Press:
Apr 26, 2021 / 09:40 AM EDT /Updated: Apr 26, 2021 / 09:40 AM EDT
CHICAGO (AP) — Human remains found at a northwestern Indiana farm have been identified as a male Chicago victim of the late serial killer Larry Eyler, authorities announced Sunday.
The Newton County Coroner’s Office in Indiana identified the victim as John Ingram Brandenburg Jr. of Chicago. No age was given. He was among four “young men” found on an abandoned farm in rural Lake Village on October 18, 1983, according to the office.
Two others, Michael Bauer and John Bartlett, have already been identified, leaving one victim nameless, according to authorities.
Brandenburg, called “Johnny” by his mother, had been drugged and killed by Eyler, who confessed to at least 20 killings before dying in an Illinois prison in 1994. Eyler was on death row for the 1984 murder of Danny Bridges, a 15-year-old.
Indiana authorities worked with the nonprofit DNA Doe Project, which uses genetic genealogy, and others to find a match to a family member. That led to the positive identification earlier this month, according to the coroner’s office.
“While my heart breaks for this family, I’m thankful that they finally have some of the answers they’ve waited so long for, and I hope this brings them peace,” Rebecca Goddard, a Newton County prosecutor, said in a statement Sunday from the DNA Doe Project.
She worked on the case with Indiana State Police. The prosecutor’s office and state police didn’t return messages left Sunday.
The coroner’s office said Brandenburg’s family had been contacted and authorities would not release further information until relatives gave further permission.
Indiana authorities are hopeful advanced DNA technology will help return the names to two unidentified males discovered deceased in 1983. Both are claimed victims of serial offender Larry Eyler.
The DNA Doe Project has been entrusted with applying forensic genealogy resources to track down the identity of both males. “Adam Doe” is a black male that was between 15 to 18 years old at the time of his death in 1983. He was tall standing between 5’8″ to 6’2″ and had short black hair. The investigation revealed he may have been seen hitchhiking during the Summer of 1983 in Terre Haute, Vigo County, Indiana.”Brad Doe” is a white male that was 17 to 23 years old at the time of his death in 1983. He had medium length reddish brown hair and stood around 5’5″ tall. He had two tattoos on his right forearm and had severely fractured his nose earlier in life.
Please call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST if you have any information that could help identify either of these males.
“I’m very aware of what’s happening. I know that Mr. Agan isn’t. And I told him to make his peace with God… And, after waiting those few minutes, then Dave said, ‘Oh, kill the motherfucker.’ I then stabbed Mr. Agan and Dave took another snapshot. I stabbed Mr. Agan, then I stabbed Mr. Agan a couple or three times. I don’t know how many times. I just did them very quickly. And then Dave came over and then he took the knife from me and he stabbed Mr. Agan while he masturbated. And after he stabbed Mr. Agan a few times, then Mr. Agan went limp.”
– Larry Eyler, in a confession he gave to the court while pleading guilty to Steven Agan’s murder*
*Eyler’s alleged co-conspirator was found not guilty
Name: Larry William Eyler
Known Aliases: (none)
Murder Moniker: The Highway Killer
Date of Birth: December 21, 1952
Claim to Infamy: While in prison for the dismemberment and murder of Chicago teenager Danny Bridges, Eyler confessed to 21 other murders.
Indiana Connection: Born in Crawfordsville, Eyler later lived in Lebanon, Fort Wayne, and Terre Haute. Among other jobs he held, he was a Pinkerton guard at Marion County General Hospital and the manager of a public assistance program in Vigo County. Though he never earned a degree, he attended Indiana State University. Eyler hunted his victims and disposed of their mutilated bodies in several places in the state, as well as in Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky and Wisconsin.
Current Status: On March 6, 1994, Larry Eyler died in prison of complications from AIDS.
Random Disturbing Fact: In his confession, Eyler named at least two accomplices. They were never brought to justice.