Just a couple months after David Hendricks had been convicted of killing his wife and three children, I wrote him at the Menard prison, asking him for an interview for the purposes of a book that I was planning. He sent a hand-written response dated April 4, 1985:
I don’t have a copy of my response to him. I presumably continued to attempt to convince him that any book about his case would be better informed if he were interviewed during the research. Then, about two or three months later (in June or July), I received this letter:
Later that year, on Dec. 10, I received this letter from Mercer Turner, the attorney who had handled Hendricks’s business affairs:
As the first anniversary of Hendricks’s conviction and an appeals court hearing approached, Hendricks was receiving other interview requests. On April 15, 1986–two months after the appellate court hearing–he sent this typed letter to me and three other reporters who had covered all or significant parts of his trial:
“Dear News Reporters:
You all covered my trial fully and subsequently asked for interviews with me. I granted none, saying that the time was not yet right.
I believe now that the time is right. As soon as the appellate court makes a decision in my case–whatever that decision is–I will be glad to talk with any or all of you. You may record me by any means you like.
I don’t know the prison’s policy on interviews; I’ll leave the arrangements to you. I suggest that, of those of you who are interested, you elected a coordinator to arrange the details. I ask: 1) that I be notified at least the day before the interview so I can look groomed, and 2) that I receive before the interview, in writing, any questions you plan to ask. I am so inexperienced and will be so nervous, I am sure, that unless I consider your questions in advance, I may not think fast enough to give them the thoughtful and thorough answers they deserve.
Frankly, granting a recorded interview is about the last thing I want to do; I am naturally a very private person. But so much has already been said about my case that my continued silence may well be unfair to you (the media), me, and the newswatching public; they deserve the balanced truth.
I am sending this letter simultaneously to: Mr. Jon Morgan of the Journal Star; Mr. Dave Baldridge of WEEK-TV; Mr. Steve Vogel of WJBC Radio; and Mr. Bob Springer of the Associated Press. You and only you four have my consent to interview me.
This to Steve Vogel: I understand you are writing a book about my case. As you know, I am strictly against such a work; I consider it a breach of my private and personal life. I did, however, make a promise to you, that when I first talked to the media I would include you; and I try to keep my promises. I request that, if you plan to use any of the interview material in your book, you please refrain from participating in it. I thank you in advance for cooperating.
I look forward to hearing from one or more of yo soon. Best wishes; God bless you.
I suspect it was an oversight on Hendricks’s part that he did not include Bob Holliday, who had covered every moment of the trial for the Bloomington newspaper, The Pantagraph. Just by way of further explanation, the Journal Star and WEEK-TV are Peoria media outlets; Bob Springer was the AP’s bureau chief in Peoria.
I responded to Hendricks in an April 24 letter:
“Dear Mr. Hendricks:
It was interesting that I should receive your letter this week because I was preparing to write you to request an interview–both for the purpose of my struggle to write a book and ideally for immediate broadcast here in Bloomington.
As you suggested, it seems likely that the four of us who wrote will select a single person to perhaps arrange and coordiante an interview with you. It seems like that AP bureau chief Bob Springer is the likely choice because he regularly provides material for all of us. I’m writing today to address your concern about my writing a book about your case and utilizing in the book some things you may say in a future interview.
First of all, you should know that it’s not certain that I will ever finish the manuscript, and there is certainly no guarantee that it ever will be published. Yet it is my intention to complete a manuscript and find a publisher.
I’m surprised by your statement that you oppose such an effort. The last time we traded letters (about a year ago), you tried to persuade me to delay writing a book until your case is resolved. You said you were anxious and willing to tell your complete story at that point.
Based on that premise and in an effort to insure that I have a well-rounded portray (sic) of the facts, I have slowed my research and writing, tackling only those areas where I fear memories could fade or the ‘trail’ could grow cold.
As you know, I have maintained an open mind about your case. If I’m to write a complete and accurate account, I naturally will need some information only you can provide.
Now to speak directly to your concern about my obtaining information from the interview and including it in a book: I hope to be in on that interview. I’ve been anticipating it for 15 months now. But it obviously is impossible to fully separate an understanding and knowledge of your case between what I do in on-the-air reports and a much more detailed written account. My suggestion is that if you have concerns about the book, etc., that I simply refrain from asking the detailed questions that would be useful only in a book. You, of course, could refuse to answer any questions you think would be useful only in a book. Perhaps we could cover that ground in a later interview.
It is my honest opinion that it is clearly best for you to talk with me for the purposes of the manuscript someday relatively soon. As you can imagine, I have been largely exposed to the prosecutorial side of the case. What I’m lacking is a complete understanding and explanation of your side. Perhaps I can gain that understanding after the ‘hard news’ interview with me, Morgan, Springer and Baldridge. I hope you find my suggestion acceptable. Please let me know what you think so we can move ahead with a ‘coordinator.’
I saw your parents and in-laws at the oral arguments in Springfield. It seems they’re doing well. Hoping to hear from you soon,
It’s possible there was another (lost) exchange of letters that occurred in the latter half of the previous year. It’s also possible I chose to conveniently ignore or forget the letter I had received five months earlier from Hendricks’s attorney. At any rate, I obviously was still trying to sell Hendricks on the idea of in-depth interviews for the purpose of a book.
The pace of my research had, in fact, greatly slowed. Not only was Hendricks unavailable–so were law enforcement people who had worked on the case. None of them would talk with me until all the appeals had run their course and the matter was “finally” settled.
Hendricks wrote a letter dated April 24, 1986:
I understand your problem of separating for-the-book material from the for-the-public news. I like your suggestion that you refrain from asking the detailed questions that would be useful only in a book. I don’t want to exclude you from the interview simply because you are involved in writing a book I am opposed to. I will trust you to appropriately limit yourself. Thank-you in advance.
Let me tell you why I am against your book project. It’s not that I don’t like you, or that I think you don’t have an open mind; my mother has repeatedly told me she has confidence in you and I accept her discerning opinion. There are, however, three reasons why I am against the book: 1) Susie was a private person would not have wished to be the subject of a book that sold nationally, especially one as controversial as yours. I respect her wishes. 2) I, too, like my privacy and want to cling to what little I have left. 3) I’ve already told you my third reason, that there may be unpleasant legal repercussions. Now, the book may help me enormously. I don’t know. But, you must admit, I’m in a high risk situation. I can’t afford any more strikes against me, if I can avoid them.
I’m glad you wrote me about your misperception a year ago, because I thought I had left the clear impression with you that I was unhappy with your book-project. It’s always good to clear up misunderstandings, I think. When I offered to grant you an exclusive in return for you delaying your work until after I was cleared, I was accepting a bad situation and attempting to minimize my risks. Of course you never wrote back, which I took–along with your continued work on the research–to be a refusal of my offer. I then instructed Mercer Turner to write the letter you received from him much later, in mid-December, 1985.
It is possible, even likely, that I will at a future time give you an interview–or a series of them–to help you write your book. If I do, it will not be because I am happy with the idea of a book, but rather to, once again, minimize my risks. Your mild implied threat that if I don’t talk to you the book will be slanted against me is well taken. I would have figured that without such a reminder. I also feel, quite frankly, an obligation, now that I have become public material in a sense, to not allow the truth to become distorted. Even if I suffer unjustly the rest of my life, I have a responsibility to the society that gave me so much, and which I still hold in such high regard, to inform it accurately so something similar to this might be less likely to recur.
I’ll expect to hear next from Mr. Springer, if I understand you correctly. Best wishes to you and all at WJBC.
Hendricks apparently forgot to mail the letter. I never received it, until he included it in another letter to me dated June 22. In the meantime, Illinois’s Fourth District Appellate Court upheld Hendricks’s conviction by a vote of 3-0. Here’s his letter, written three days after the appeals court decision:
It wasn’t until after getting the bad news and digging into the box where I keep your letters that I noticed I still have the letter I wrote to you last. I hope I sent you a photocopy, but I think I may not have since I have the original and a carbon copy (it’s not easily to keep an orderly filing system in here). So here it is, rather late, but still in time, I guess.
I have been wondering why I never heard from Mr. Springer; now I know. I never sent you a reply. I do know that someone has contacted the prison about arranging an interview. It is to be scheduled between July 7 and the end of the month. By now you probably already know the date.
Please remember that I will need, as soon as possible, some guidance in writing as to what questions and areas you will want to probe. My thought is to give an opening statement and then answer questions. How does that sound?
Bob Holliday wrote me a letter just last week asking for an interview so, in response, I’m going to include his name on the list of approved journalists, making a total of five.
I feel a grave injustice was done to me in this recent appellate decision and think that part of the reason has to do with my public perception. I ask that you be as fair to me as possible. I am granting this interview against the advice of my attorneys. Please show some compassion and don’t try to take advantage of me. If things go well I will have an excuse to freely talk again. I ask for compassion because I really am innocent and have been horribly hurt. I don’t ask yo to slant toward me, just to be fair. My mother feels you will.
I have no record of a further response by me prior to the group news conference that occurred July 8. Audio (and my recollections) of that in-prison event can be found elsewhere in this “Clippings” section of this website.
I did a series of reports for WJBC Radio with excerpts from the news conference, and then, a day or so later, played longer parts of the interview on the air, allowing State’s Attorney Ron Dozier to respond to Hendricks’s statements. Shortly afterwards, I received this letter from Hendricks, dated July 12.
Thank you for coming to Menard to interview me. I enjoyed the time I spent with you.
I don’t know how much of the interview you aired, but I did hear from my visitors that you aired a part of it and then let Dozier on to rebut it.
There may be questions that you wish you had asked, there may be some you thought of since, or there may be some that have come out of listener response or Dozier’s comments. I would be happy to answer any additional questions that you have. Just write to me and I’ll do my best.
I would have liked to have talked with you personally, but things didn’t work out that way. You are, by far, the best equipped to understand all I said, having researched my case for your book.
I hope you understood my comments and line of reasoning on the hair on the knife and the axe. They are, it seems to me, of monumental significance. I have seen the newspaper accounts; neither one mentioned anything about that, or any of the other technical points I tried to make.
I trust you had a pleasant chat with my mom last Saturday. I may be slightly biased, but I think she is tops!
Hendricks did later send me a letter, responding to Dozier’s on-air comments. I’ll include that letter along with other correspondence leading up to and after the one-on-one interview I had with Hendricks in a future “Clippings” entry.