Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Larry Eyler, the Highway Murderer

Justice?

Robert David Little made an unlikely monster. At age fifty-three, a respected professional and former president of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union chapter in Terre Haute, he was regarded by colleagues as "innocuous." His worst mistake, most of them said, was opening his home to Larry Eyler between 1975 and 1984--a lapse in judgment that now threatened his very life.

Jury selection for Little's trial began at Newport, Indiana, on April 9, 1991. Prosecutor Mark Greenwell was matched against defense attorneys Dennis Zahn and James Voyles. Opening statements were made on April 11, Greenwell telling jurors that Little had conceived a murder plan on the night of December 19, 1982, after watching the violent porn film {Caligula} with Eyler. A copy of the film on videotape had been seized when police searched his home in December 1990, but nothing else was found to support the murder charge. It rested entirely, as Greenwell admitted, on the testimony of convicted killer Larry Eyler. "Without his statement, we don't have a case," Greenwell said.

Little's defenders countered with a claim that Eyler's statements were self-serving lies. He hoped to save himself by sacrificing Little, they maintained. "This is Larry Eyler's story" Voyles observed, "what he has chosen to tell you eight years afterward." To discredit the lie, Voyles and Zahn planned to prove that Little was in Florida, visiting his parents, on the night Steven Agan was killed.

Eyler was the state's first witness on April 11, repeating his tale of murder inspired and directed by Little. Eyler claimed that Little joined in stabbing Agan, then masturbated while Eyler finished the job. When he was done, Eyler said, Little had lowered his camera and complained that "it went too fast." A new twist was added with Eyler's claim that Little--not Eyler--had murdered Danny Bridges in Chicago.

Two more prosecution witnesses--Mark Miller and Keith Hegelmeyer--testified  on April 11 that they had posed nude while Little snapped photographs, but neither recalled any violent behavior and their testimony added nothing to Little's acknowledged interest in nude photography.

Agan's grisly murder was portrayed for jurors on April 12, Greenwell displaying photographs and bloody clothes before criminologist Michael Goldman described how Agan's "body was cut open and his intestines were hanging out in the open." Pathologist John Pless confirmed that Agan's murder was "the worst case I've seen without the body having been cut into pieces." Still, nothing was produced connecting Robert Little to the crime.

The defense case was simple, branding Eyler a liar and presenting an alibi that placed Little hundreds of miles from the crime scene. His mother testified that Little "never missed" a Christmas visit to Tampa between 1958 and 1990, adding that he had arrived in Florida before December 19, 1982. A neighbor confirmed Little's presence in Tampa, but thought he might have arrived as late as December 22 or 23. Greenwell produced documents proving that Little's car had been repaired at a Clinton, Indiana, garage on December 21, 1982--with the bill paid in cash--but none of his witnesses from the garage could remember who brought in the car. Money had also been withdrawn from the automatic teller at Little's bank, shortly after midnight on December 22, 1982, but again there were no witnesses to the transaction.

Little declined to testify, putting his trust in the jury, and his faith was rewarded with acquittal on April 17, 1991. Mark Greenwell declared himself "a little disappointed, but not surprised" by the verdict, freely admitting that star witness Eyler had gross credibility problems.

The sole convicted Highway Killer ran out of time on March 6, 1994. Stricken with AIDS-related complications, Eyler died that day in the infirmary at Pontiac Correctional Center. Before his death, he confessed to twenty-one murders, vowing that he was joined in four of the crimes by an accomplice still at large. Eyler's lawyer announced her intent to aid survivors of those victims in suing the alleged accomplice for wrongful death, but no such litigation has been filed to date.

 

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