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Grisly crimes sent chills through city

Lapp murder scene
News-Sentinel file photo

Lapp murder scene
Investigators gather evidence at the Rudisill Boulevard home of Sharon Lapp, a longtime critic of the administration of then-Mayor Win Moses and his police department. Lapp was found murdered on May 1, 1985, in an upstairs bedroom.
By MIKE DOOLEY of The News-Sentinel

When police entered the Charlotte Avenue home of Tanya Wittekind that December day in 1980, they found a grisly scene. The woman, possibly the victim of a drug dealer with a score to settle, lay dead in a pool of blood, shotgunned to death.

More tragic, though, was the fact her 3-year-old son saw the whole thing. When police asked him if he knew who did it, all he could tell them was "the monster man" shot his mother.

The homicide was one of the first of a string of high-profile murders that made headlines in the 1980s. But it was hardly the last — in all, a total of 221 people were listed as homicide victims in Allen County before the decade ended.

Possibly the most spectacular of the crimes were the September 1983 bludgeoning deaths of News-Sentinel editorial page editor Dan Osborne, his wife, Jane, and their 11-year-old son, Ben, at their home on South Harrison Street. The couple's 2-year-old daughter, Caroline, escaped injury, but wandered about the house for two days before the murders were discovered.

The slayings sent a chill through the quiet neighborhoods around the crime scene. Gun sales shot up for a time, and sales of alarm systems and guard dogs also rose as the murders went unsolved.

About four months later, police arrested 18-year-old Calvin Perry III on an unrelated charge. When they questioned him about that crime, they got a huge surprise — Perry confessed to the Osborne murders.

The city never learned why Perry killed the family members, as he hanged himself in his jail cell shortly after his arrest. Now, despite his admission, there are still those who do not believe he was the killer.

That same sort of suspicion still clouds the May 1, 1985, murder of community activist Sharon Lapp at her home on Rudisill Boulevard.

Lapp, known for her outspoken criticism of Mayor Win Moses and other city officials, was the publisher of "The Messenger," an occasional newsletter that passed on gossip and other material that usually held city officials in a bad light.

Lapp was rumored to keep information alleging criminal activity by some officials, and filed the material in an office at her home. When her husband arrived home the day of her murder, he found her body sprawled across a bed, her throat slit. She had also been raped.

Police, acting on orders from what they said were higher-ups in city administration, removed boxes of material from Lapp's office even before the room had been processed for evidence that might have led to her killer. When that came to light, Prosecutor Stephen Sims stepped in and ordered all the items turned over to the Indiana State Police.

Four years later, Frank Hopkins, a drifter who'd been arrested in Oregon, was convicted of Lapp's murder in the first trial in Indiana to use DNA evidence. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison, but won't start serving the term until he completes his Oregon prison sentence.

Hopkins' conviction wasn't the final chapter in the Lapp murder. Several years after she was killed, a grand jury indicted Police Chief David Riemen for allegedly lying about his involvement in removing evidence from her home. A judge threw out some of those charges, and a jury found Riemen innocent of another.

The ‘80s saw three men — Charles "Red" Smith, Terry Lowery and Kevin Hough — sentenced to death in Allen County courts for their roles in three unrelated murders, but now only one of them — Hough — remains on death row. Unlike their cases, the identity of the killer in one of the last high-profile homicides of the decade remains a mystery and may never be known.

That's the person who killed 8-year-old April Marie Tinsley, who disappeared from her West Williams Street home on April 1, 1988, after telling a friend she was going to a home on East Hoagland Avenue to pick up an umbrella. Three days later, a jogger found her body at the bottom of a rain-swollen ditch on a rural DeKalb County road. She had been molested and suffocated.

The only lead police had was a light-blue pickup seen in the vicinity of the child's home and at the murder scene, and while they took a suspect into custody for a brief time, no arrests were ever made. Two years after her death, a cryptic message that read, "I kill April Marie Tisley (sic)" and "I kill again," appeared on the side of a barn in St. Joseph Township, but police never found the person who left it there.