Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Allentown Massacres

Third Statement

Bryan Freeman, headshot
Bryan Freeman, headshot

Bryan required several conditions before they would make formal statements. He wanted the death penalty taken off the table, he and his brother would not give up their right to a trial, and they wanted to give an interview to a reporter of their choice. The deal was approved by Allentown prosecutor Robert Steinberg, although he was unhappy with the idea of more publicity. Still, they were offering him the means and motive, and as long as it was all done according to proper procedure, he was glad to have all the facts handed over.

On March 6, the same day on which Dennis, Brenda, and Erik were laid to rest in a cemetery in Allentown, David went first. He sat down with a tape recorder, writes Rosen, several police officers who had driven over from Pennsylvania, and an attorney, and told what he knew. He admitted that he'd lied at first to protect his cousin. He waived his rights and jumped in. Describing once again how they had spent the evening and how Bryan had stabbed Brenda, he added that he and Ben had gone upstairs together to Dennis's room. Ben had a pickax handle with him and David had grabbed an aluminum bat out of the hallway closet. They had then argued quietly over who would strike the first blow. He said that Ben did it, and that Ben had cut Dennis's throat as well. David admitted to hitting his father four times in the face. He also said that Ben was the one who had killed Erik, cracking his skull with just a few well-delivered blows. He stated that Ben had told them that Erik's eye popped out of his head and hung there after he hit him. David had looked in Erik's room before he went downstairs and saw blood everywhere. He then went into the dining room and threw up. While David and his brother had changed clothes there at the house, Ben had kept his clothing. They dropped off his girlfriend's car, purchased gas and cigarettes, and then set off toward Ohio. They purchased a new pair of jeans for Ben and discarded his in Ohio, somewhere along route 80.

Bryan was next, going over some of the same territory as the other two, but closing up some holes, especially with his own involvement in his mother's murder. He said that after he had killed his mother, Ben was still downstairs with him and had used the handle of a pick ax to hit her over the head. Then he went upstairs to help David.

At this point, Bryan began to cry, as if remorseful. He claimed that Ben had told him that he'd hit both Dennis and Erik in the face, and had stated that he'd shattered Erik's skull. Bryan denied that he'd instructed the other two to go kill the rest of the family. He also denied that he'd ever threatened his parents. Taking the rap for Ben, he said, was Ben's idea, because Bryan's stint in a mental institution would help him mitigate the crime. Once his statement was done, he seemed satisfied.

Bryan, David, and Ben went before a Michigan judge to hear a formal reading of the charges against them. The brothers were charged with three counts of first-degree murder, while Ben was charged in hindering apprehension. They all agreed to extradition, but before they returned to Pennsylvania, the brothers drew a map for the police to indicate where they had tossed Birdwell's bloody jeans. They wanted this evidence to back up their version of the story. The Ohio State Police went to the site but found nothing. Yet they did locate a clerk who recalled Birdwell purchasing a new pair of jeans, so she was reserved as a potential witness. And, more important, a technician noticed what appeared to be spots of blood on the blue T-shirt that Ben had worn. It was sent to a lab in Pennsylvania for DNA analysis.

Old Lehigh County Prison
Old Lehigh County Prison

In Allentown again, the three offenders were taken to Lehigh County jail, and Bryan and David went into the same cell. While PA law demands that any juvenile who commits homicide be tried as an adult, the possibility of being sent to a juvenile proceeding was available. No bail was granted for the brothers, but Birdwell was held on $250,000 bail. His parents hired attorney Richard Makoul to defend him, while Bryan was assigned Allentown public defenders Earl Supplee and Jim Netchin. They hoped that he might testify against his brother, thought to be the principal instigator, to avoid excessive jail time. Judge Lawrence Brenner assigned David's case to Wally Worth and Brian Collins, who set to work to get him transferred to the juvenile court.

Yet even as all of this was happening, another incident was grabbing local headlines.

 

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