THE VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE: 30 Years Later

by Nile Stanton

    On Valentine's Day of 1977, four young men (Gregory Brooks, Ralph Spencer, Raymond Spencer, and Reeve Spencer) were brutally murdered in a house-trailer near Raccoon Lake in Park County, Indiana.  The murders were not perpetrated to eliminate witnesses to a robbery or some other crime.  They were not revenge for some perceived injustice.  As far as I know, the Raccoon Lake slayings constituted the first mass murder committed in America in recent times "just to see what it's like" to kill people.

    At the time the murders took place, I had been representing Roger Clay Drollinger for about two years -- in several cities and on a wide variety of criminal charges.  Roger and his father, Nathan, had come into the office one day to talk to my law partner, Ronald E. Elberger, about the possibility of representing Roger in a civil rights suit involving alleged police harassment.  Ron had clerked for Abe Fortas on the United States Supreme Court, was the president and one-man-army of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, as well as a black belt in karate -- not someone to take lightly, even if he was 5' 2" and might weigh 117 lbs. soaking wet.  As it turned out, I got the brunt of representing Roger Drollinger, since he had innumerable more criminal charges against him than valid personal civil rights claims.  In fact, Roger Drollinger managed to get into so much trouble that my law partners used to kid me that he was like an annuity, a lifetime income.

    I was in the middle of representing Roger in a drug trial in Crawfordsville, Indiana, when the Valentine's Day murders took place.  The drug trial had been going on for a week.  That Sunday I drove from Indianapolis to meet with Roger in my room at the General Lew Wallace Motel in Crawfordsville, Indiana –- a motel named after the city's most famous citizen, the author of Ben Hur.  Since Roger was to take the witness stand the next morning in the drug trial, Roger and I reviewed his testimony.  Also in my room were Michael Wright, Danny Stonebraker, and a highly impressionable teenager named David Smith who obviously revered Drollinger as a role model.  I’d met them all before since they were Roger’s best friends.  

    On the Monday morning after Valentine's day, Roger testified in his own behalf at the drug trial; and that evening Judy Kirtland, my co-counsel in the case, and I watched the evening news together and learned of the brutal shotgun-slayings of four young men that had taken place the night before less than twenty miles away.  (I had invited Judy to help me represent Drollinger in the drug case because of the technical nature of the defense -- entrapment.  Judy was one of the smartest people I'd ever met and a straight "A" student from kindergarten through law school, in addition to being former Editor-in-Chief of the Indiana Law Review.)  Normally calm, analytical, and pragmatic, Judy went berserk and screamed, "The whole world is going crazy!"  Her outburst seemed appropriate:  Only a week earlier, Tony Kiritsis, whom I would also later represent, had commandeered the nation's attention by kidnapping a mortgage company executive in broad daylight and, on live TV, had marched him down the streets of Indianapolis with a sawed-off shotgun wired around his neck.  And now this?!

    Roger Drollinger's drug trial jury didn't buy the entrapment defense.  Being reasonable people, it was probably hard for them to believe that someone could have been tricked by police into exchanging drugs for money three times in a row.  So, Roger was found guilty but shortly thereafter failed to appear for sentencing.  A nation-wide manhunt for him began, not because he failed to appear in court for sentencing but because Danny Stonebraker had confessed to his role in the St. Valentine's Day slaughter at Raccoon Lake and had fingered Drollinger as the leader of the gang of killers.

    Although I had met with Drollinger countless times and felt that I knew him well, Stonebraker's accusations came as a total shock to me.  I was incredulous.  Yes, in the course of representing Roger, I had talked to most of his friends and several of his enemies and had at considerable expense, borne by his wealthy father, caused two private detectives to study Roger's life and activities in considerable detail.  That he wanted to become as well known as John Dillinger, I was aware of.  That Roger and his gang had thrown a cement block out of a car at a passing motorcyclist, I knew.  That they had hidden in bushes along country roads and jumped out in front of cars brandishing shotguns to stop and rob them, I also learned.  And that Drollinger had once put a loaded .44 magnum up to a friend's head and threatened to blow his brains out if he didn't follow orders.  Still, knowing all this and being aware that Roger was undoubtedly a dangerous sociopath, I was initally unprepared to accept that he was capable of organizing and participating in mass murder.  But over time the facts became clear that he was.

    Two weeks before the killings, Drollinger and the three other gang members had cut themselves and made a blood oath:  Each of them promised to kill someone, and if one of them did not the other gang members would kill that member of the gang.  The reason for killing?  Just to see what it was like to kill someone.  They all obtained shotguns, and Michael Wright rented an Opel Cadet for the occasion.  Then, upon leaving my room at the General Lew Wallace Motel in Crawfordsville, Indiana, on St. Valentine's Day of 1977, Roger Drollinger, Michael Wright, Danny Stonebraker, and David Smith roamed around the western Indiana countryside hunting for victims -- any victims -- to feel whatever it feels like to deliberately snuff out human lives.

    On an isolated road near Raccoon Lake, the Drollinger gang spotted a house-trailer with two relatively new cars parked outside.  They parked the Opel Cadet down the road and crept back to the trailer.  Drollinger cut the electrical wires, and a few moments later the three other gang members burst through the door.  They shined flashlights on Betty Spencer and three of her boys and ordered them to lie on the floor and not look around.  After he felt assured that it was safe for him to enter, that he would not be seen by any witnesses, ringleader Drollinger entered the trailer.  A moment later, they heard a car pull up outside, and he commanded silence.  Another of Betty Spencer's sons entered and was promptly ordered to join the others on the floor.

    One of the killers asked the victims if they had any money or guns.  Yes, to both questions.  One gang member pocketed the money, about $30, while another located a rifle and bent the barrel in the toilet.  Then Roger Clay Drollinger walked behind each of the teen-aged boys who were on the trailer floor, tapped each one on the foot, and asked, "How old are you, son?"  "How old are you, boy?"  After that, he ordered his cohorts to turn off their flashlights and put them aside.  Four shotguns boomed repeatedly, blasting the brains and blood and life out of the four boys on the floor.  But Betty Spencer's wig saved her life.  A few pellets grazed her scalp, and her wig flew off.  The killers thought her life had gone with it.  But as one of her sons died, she heard his blood gurgle out as he slowly and faintly whispered, "Oh God, I'm flying . . . Oh God, I'm flying."

    Leaving the grisly, blood-splattered, scene the Drollinger gang decided to take one of the new cars parked outside.  With two gang members in that car and two in the rented Opel, they drove for several miles and then left the stolen car at the side of the road with the keys in the ignition.  The killers laughed as they abandoned the car, planning and hoping someone else would take it, get caught by police, and end up facing murder charges.

    The next morning Roger Drollinger appeared in court in Crawfordsville to testify in his drug trial, acting as though nothing at all had happened the night before.

    A little over a month later (after he had failed to appear for sentencing for the drug conviction), on the Friday before Easter of 1977 at about five in the evening, Roger Drollinger telephoned me at my law office.  He was on the lam and had somehow managed to avoid being captured in the intensive nation-wide manhunt for him.  In his first call, Roger told me that he was thinking about surrendering, which I encouraged him to do.  He said he would call me again later in the evening.  While waiting for a call I doubted would ever come, I discussed some options for Drollinger's surrender with the only other person who hadn't yet left the office that Friday:  Martin Wayne Bradberry.  

Ah, Martin Wayne.  This was a guy I really loved in many ways:  an absolutely loyal friend, a bright and daring young man, a true rebel, a joker and a smoker, a borderline hill-billy and, well, . . . a criminal.  So, I must avail myself the opportunity to digress briefly.

    Driving a car down a country road with the lights off and the trunk full to the brim with marihuana one night, a police car came up behind him with its red lights flashing.  Martin Wayne stopped, jumped out, ran back to the police car, flipped his wallet open for a split-second, and heatedly shouted, "Federal surveillance!  DEA!  We're following some drug dealers!  You f*** this up, you're in a world of trouble!"  And then dashed back to the car and took off again with the cops electing not to follow after that.  He was one ballsy dude.

    When I first met him, Martin Wayne Bradberry was a prisoner at the Indiana State Reformatory.  He worked in the "writ room," where prisoners do legal research; and, when he was released, I hired him to help me on several cases and for several reasons.  He knew how to talk to criminals, had a fair understanding of criminal law and could do excellent research.  But, when I hired him, my law partners were somewhat skeptical -- thought he might steal from the petty cash drawer or take a typewriter or something.  I assured them that Martin Wayne would never stoop to that level, although he might try to steal the office building we were in.

    The reason Martin Wayne Bradberry went to prison was for the attempted theft of a huge earthmover.  Who knows what he was going to try to do with it?  Take it to a pawnshop?  Move earth?  Anyway, as Martin Wayne was driving it away from a construction site in broad daylight, an Indiana State Policeman pulled up in his car.  Martin disarmed the policeman and told him to take him someplace, which the cop did.  Thus, when he was apprehended later, Martin Wayne was charged with two crimes: kidnapping a state policeman and attempted theft of an earthmover.
    
    At the time, kidnapping was a crime that carried a life sentence.  The two essential elements of the crime which the State had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to secure conviction were that a person be (1) moved from one place to another (2) against his/her will -- that is, with force or the threat of force.  Well, at Martin Wayne Bradberry's trial, the he-man macho state cop just couldn't bring himself to admit that he had been "forced" to do anything, or even that he was "in fear" of the use of force.  The policeman made it sound like he was driving Martin Wayne somewhere sort of as a favor.  Understandably, the jury found Martin not guilty of kidnapping but guilty of attempted theft.  The verdict, however, did not set well with law enforcement types.  And thereafter Martin was assuredly not liked by cops.  But . . .  I liked him, hired him, and greatly appreciated his counsel and assistance.

    Now, to get back to the main story .  . .

    Roger Clay Drollinger did call me back on that Friday before Easter of 1977, saying that he had decided to surrender and that he wanted me to pick him up by myself.  He promised me that he would turn himself in on the Monday after Easter if I would arrange for him to spend the week-end with his wife first.  So, while I traveled to southern Indiana in my TR-7 sportscar, Martin Wayne Bradberry went to talk to Roger's wife.  Martin Wayne was to wait with her at her home until I telephoned and told them where to meet Roger and me in Indianapolis.  Martin and I had agreed that I would call him between 9:00 and 9:10 p.m., and that if I did not call he was to immediately telephone the state police and FBI and give them a description of my car, the license number, etc., and tell them where it was that I was supposed to meet Roger Drollinger.

    When I arrived at the little church just off I-65 near Jeffersonville, I parked in front and got out of the car -- leaving the passenger door open, as Roger had told me to on the phone.  I went in and looked around, but no one seemed to be in the church even though the lights were on.  I returned to my car, waited a few minutes, and then went back in.  This time a minister was there and I asked for "Bobby" as instructed.  When the minister told me that no "Bobby" was there, I thought that I might be in the wrong place.  I stalled around for a while, then went back to my car.  Drollinger was there sitting in the passenger seat.  The first thing I noticed was he needed a shave and stunk like a family of sick rats.  

    As we drove north to Indianapolis, I told Roger that Martin Wayne and I had determined that rooms were available at various points on the outskirts of the city and one in the center and that he could choose to stay in any one he wanted to, hinting that staying in the center might be best -- since it was probably the last place anyone would expect him to be.  Roger selected that hotel.  (What I had not told him was that I knew the particular hotel quite well and was aware that both exits could be clearly observed from one strategic location.)  A few minutes before 9:00 p.m., we stopped at a filling station, and I called Martin Wayne to tell him to take Roger's wife, Kathy, to the downtown hotel.  It was then that I realized how careless, how stupid, I had been:  If the station had been closed, or the telephone out of order, Martin Wayne would have called in the Mounties and both Roger Drollinger and I, and perhaps a few policemen, would almost certainly have died that night.  

    That Easter week-end, Martin Wayne and I met with Roger several times at the hotel on North Meridian Street, northwest of White River.  At all times, I had one or more private detectives situated outside watching the exits.  Had Drollinger set foot outside, every local, state, and federal law enforcement agency around would have been notified immediately.  But, Drollinger didn't attempt to leave.  Just as I had kept my promise to him to arrange for him to spend Easter week-end with his wife, Roger Drollinger kept his promise to me and surrendered to the FBI in my office on Monday morning.

    The way the surrender took place was interesting.  Since Drollinger had been getting tons of terrible publicity over the previous several weeks (yes, merely being accused of being the leader of a gang that has committed mass murder does tend to generate some bad press and hostile feelings), what Roger wanted to do was have a press conference before being taken into custody.  He wanted to proclaim his innocence to the public on live TV.  Thus, at his insistence, I phoned a local Indianapolis TV station and arranged for a prominent newsperson, Linda Lupear of Channel Six, to come to my office.  Drollinger sat at my desk, his wife beside him holding their baby, with me standing to the side.  It was quite a scoop for the station: a live interview with one of the most wanted men in America.  Tears in his eyes, Roger Drollinger talked about his wife and baby and professed his innocence. Then, with the TV camera focusing on my telephone, Drollinger called the FBI and said he wanted to surrender.  All in all, a dramatic performance -- one I would later be accused of having choreographed, though all the credit actually belonged to Drollinger.

    Before the FBI arrived at my office, I had Drollinger stand up and prove to Linda Lupear that he was not armed.  Per my instructions, Martin Wayne Bradberry met the FBI agents in the reception room and then led them back to my office.  The three FBI agents were quite professional in every respect and, although they did not have to, permitted me to accompany Drollinger as they took him out of my office, down the elevator, and over to the FBI lock-up in the Federal Building.  

    A few days later, Drollinger was taken to Park County to be arraigned on the murder charges, the court proceeding wherein an accused is read the charges against him and asked to plead guilty or not guilty.  Hundreds of people were milling around the courthouse, and a cordon of Indiana State Police troopers surrounded Drollinger and me to escort us through the crowd into the court.  As we pushed through the crowd on the courtyard’s sidewalk, a frail, white-haired woman approached, caught my eye, and whispered, "You son-of-a-bitch."
    
After Roger Drollinger's appearance in the Park County court, where the prosecutor opposed a change of venue and claimed that Drollinger could get a fair trial (yeah, right), my client was promptly taken to Crawfordsville, Indiana, to be sentenced in the drug case I'd been representing him in when the Raccoon Lake slayings took place.  The courthouse in Crawfordsville was roped off to keep the crowd at bay, and as Roger and I went up the courthouse steps they chanted, "Kill him!  Kill him!  Jail's too good for him!  Kill him!  Kill him!  Jails too good for him!"  It made me think of what it must have been like to represent a black man accused of a violent crime in the South in the 1930's.     

    I continued to represent Drollinger through several pre-trial proceedings, but when judges set his trial date and that for Tony Kiritsis to begin at the same time, I withdrew as Roger's lawyer.  He was subsequently tried before a jury in Hartford City, Indiana, convicted and sentenced to four consecutive life terms in prison and is presently incarcerated in Westville.  I am absolutely opposed to the death penalty.  However, I must admit that I agree with what Judge Bruce Bade said when he sentenced Drollinger:  If anyone ever deserved the death penalty, Roger Clay Drollinger did.
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