Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Allentown Massacres

A Growing Threat

The scene at the chocolate-colored house on Ehrets Lane, outside Allentown, Pennsylvania, in Salisbury Township, was unthinkable for that quiet community. No one who knew the family would have believed that their growing troubles would have escalated to this kind of cold-blooded frenzy. True, the two older boys had been a handful, but everyone who saw the carnage on Monday, February 27, 1995, wondered what could have triggered such outright rage.

Dennis & Brenda Freeman
Dennis & Brenda Freeman

Dennis Freeman, 54, had been head custodian at a local high school, and his wife Brenda, 48, a homemaker. They'd been devout Jehovah's Witnesses, raising their three boys to abide by the rules of their beliefs. That meant no birthdays, no celebration of national holidays, no voting or participation in the military. As their sons had grown into adolescents, and especially as Bryan developed an interest in a military career, they had noticed trouble. They had tried different programs to deal with his anger, but they weren't able to stop its momentum. He'd warned them before that he was going to kill them, and it appeared that he'd made good on his threat.

In A&E's documentary Blood Crimes, Fred Rosen reports that on February 27 Brenda's sister, Valerie Freeman arrived at the home in the late afternoon. She found the front door locked, which seemed to her unusual. Then she noticed that Dennis' truck was in the driveway, which meant that he had not gone to work that day or was home early. Either one was uncharacteristic for him. Curious, she went to the garage but found it locked as well. Then she tried the sliding glass doors at the side of the mud-colored house. This time, she managed to get in. Erik's dog was there, waiting for her — the same dog that Erik had asked her to take because he feared it would get killed.

Inside the home, it was quiet and cold — too cold for people to be in there. Instinctively, she knew that something was wrong. She moved slowly, watching for someone to acknowledge her presence, but no one did. Her first stop was the bedroom of the youngest son, Erik. His door was closed. She opened it and looked inside. To her shock, the 11-year-old lay in his blood-spattered bed, obviously dead. Someone had bludgeoned him. Down the hall in the master bedroom, as she would later testify in court, she also saw that another blood-spattered body lay in bed. That was as far as Valerie was willing to go.

Erik Freeman, victim
Erik Freeman, victim

Leaving the home, she ran to a neighbor to call the police, and Officer Michael Pochran was the first to respond. Valerie gave him a key. He called for back-up, and the two officers entered the house. In the dining room, resting against a cabinet, they encountered a bloody aluminum bat. From there, they went to the master bedroom, where they discovered Dennis Freeman, his face and head smashed so hard that his brain was exposed. The Herald Sun indicates that his throat was slashed as well. The officers then proceeded into Erik's room where they already knew they would find their second victim. He, too, lay on his bed, bloody and still. They looked for Brenda Freeman, but she was nowhere to be found until they entered the basement. (Some accounts say she was outside Erik's bedroom, but this is clearly in error.) On the way down the stairs, they discovered a metal pipe covered with blood. Then they saw Brenda lying on her side, her nightgown pulled up to her thighs, with a knife lying next to her. She had been bludgeoned and stabbed. On a wall behind her body, someone — presumably her killer — had drawn two swastikas.

They called for a homicide detective, and Trooper Joseph Vazquez arrived on the scene. He delegated officers to interview people in the family and in the area. (One source indicates that two sisters were away from the home, but as they are never mentioned again, it's likely that this information was in error.) It was clear to everyone that David, 15, and Bryan, 17, were missing. Given their history of aggression and their embrace of a white supremacist movement, as well as the disappearance of the family's Sunbird, there seemed little doubt as to who the perpetrators of this triple homicide were. Yet it soon became clear that a third party may have been involved as well: their 18-year-old cousin (some sources say 19), Nelson "Benny" Birdwell III. The hunt was on to find them. People knew them as the "Three Musketeers." They might have been "all for one," but their acts were a far cry from those of the noble characters in the novel.

 

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