Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Larry Eyler, the Highway Murderer

Freedom

Attorney David Shippers, Eyler's lawyer
Attorney David Shippers, Eyler's lawyer

Attorney David Schippers knew a bad search when he saw one. Once a prosecutor in Chicago, he brought his knowledge of police methods with him when he entered private practice. Now, as Larry Eyler's lawyer, he was instantly alert to problems with the evidence and statements gathered by investigators working on the Highway Murders case. On December 13, 1983 Schippers filed a motion to suppress all evidence collected in the case, including Eyler's statements to police on September 30 and October 3-4, plus items seized in various searches of his truck and Robert Little's home, conducted on September 30, October 1, November 1 and November 22, 1983.

The suppression hearing convened in Lake County, before Judge William Block, on January 23, 1984. Testimony spanned four days, with witnesses including seven police officers, John Dobrovolskis, his wife Sally, and Larry Eyler himself. In each case, Schippers tried to show a pattern of negligent and illegal behavior by investigating officers, suggesting that the evidence they seized and statements they recorded should be inadmissible at trial.

State Trooper Kenneth Buehrle was first on the witness stand, describing his stop of Eyler and Darl Hayward on September 30. On cross-examination Buehrle admitted that Eyler had committed no offense except illegal parking on the interstate. Indiana State Police Sgt. Peter Popplewell recalled Hayward's comments of September 30, then admitted leaving those statements out of his official report. Prodded by Schippers, Popplewell also granted that it was unusual for citizens to be handcuffed and jailed for twelve hours, with their vehicles impounded, for illegal parking. Sgt. John Pavlakovic noted that he ordered Eyler's removal to Lowell in handcuffs, still insisting that Eyler was "in custody" but not "under arrest."

Peter Trobe, Lake County States Attorney
Peter Trobe, Lake County States Attorney

Prosecutor Peter Trobe opened the January 24 proceedings with a tape recording of Eyler's statement on September 30, 1983. Task force Sgt. Frank Love next described his interview with Eyler, admitting that the task force had no evidence to charge Eyler with a crime when he was jailed. Love also conceded that he was "rather concerned" by Eyler's 12-hour confinement, in the absence of probable cause for arrest. Another task force member, Sam McPherson, said Eyler's boots were "close enough" to the Calise tracks to merit investigation--but he could not explain why Eyler was released, if the boot evidence incriminated him. Eyler took the stand on January 24, admitting that he gave consent for officers to search his pickup, claiming that he feared he would be held in jail until he acquiesced. Confused and frightened, Eyler said he had agreed to everything his captors asked for, in a bid to win release.

Detective Dan Colin
Detective Dan Colin

Detective Dan Colin was first on the stand for January 25, describing most of the Highway Killer's victims as gay hustlers. Ralph Calise, he admitted, had no such record, and the murder scene betrayed no evidence of sexual assault. State police corporal David Hawkins recalled that the search warrant for Robert Little's home was "lost" overnight, apparently misfiled at the Vigo County courthouse. John and Sally Dobrovolskis described police barging into their home without warrants or permission on October 3. John recalled that Sgt. Roy Lamprich not only rejected Eyler's plea for an attorney but ordered Dobrovolskis not to call one.

Tire, knife and shoes, (POLICE)
Tire, knife and shoes, (POLICE)

On February 2, Judge Block ruled that there had been no justification for jailing Eyler on September 30 or searching his pickup. "Every act that followed was a direct consequence of the illegal arrest and detention for those investigative purposes," Block said. Facts contained in a police affidavit for the October 1 warrant on Little's home were also insufficient to support a legal search. The seizure of Eyler's pickup on October 3 was "tainted" but permissible, since Eyler had granted permission. It was a small concession, and too little to support a case. The judge's order ruled out any use in court of Eyler's boots, his handcuffs, or the bloody knife. Nothing remained except the tire tracks, of a relatively common type.

PICTURE5

Eyler was free. Fearing harassment by police in Indiana, he immediately pulled up stakes and settled in Chicago. There was nothing that police could do but watch him go.

 

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