Shortly after David Hendricks’s July 8, 1986 news conference inside the Menard prison, McLean County State’s Attorney Ron Dozier, who had convicted Hendricks of killing his wife and three children, appeared on my WJBC radio talk show. I played some of Hendricks’s more salient statements from the media event and gave Dozier the opportunity to rebut them.
Not long after that, I wrote Hendricks, posing some questions about his childhood and marriage, trying to fill in some blanks as I inched forward in my research for a book about the case. I apparently also sent him a cassette tape of our coverage of his news conference and of Dozier’s talk show appearance. Hendricks responded in a letter dated Aug. 3.
Thank you for your 7-24 letter. I haven’t heard–and won’t hear–your tape because of prison regulations barring tapes from individuals, but I heard from friends that your coverage was, they thought, fair, except your allowing Dozier to rebut. They felt that he has had many chances to tell his side, and to put him in juxtaposition with my one chance to tell my side, in the interest of fairness, was in fact unfair. But overall they were happy.
Now your questions. I have spent a good deal more time considering whether to answer them than I would have spent had I just answered them. Here is my problem: they are just the type of questions that I consider part of my private life, not part of the public record, and a part that I object to you exposing to the public gaze. On the other hand, they seem harmless enough and I can’t see the danger in answering them. Back to the first side of the scale, most of that information you can get elsewhere. Again, counterbalancing, you have been most kind and I hate to anger you. Caution, in the end, prevailed, but it was a close call. So, sorry, I won’t be answering your questions.
I do hope you believe me when I say that the reason I oppose your book project is because of Susie’s private tendencies, and mine. It is not, as I think you suspect, that I want to profit personally from my story. If it were, I would have been inclining my writing bent toward work on my own story, but as you have seen, I’m working on Tom Henry’s. I am a profit-minded business person, I always have been, and I always will be, but believe me, I can figure out better ways to make a buck than to exploit the tragic and sensational murders of my loved ones.
I trust you will not be angry at me for failing to give you personal details that have no relevance to my trial. And I trust you will accede to my wishes of privacy. There is plenty of material in the public realm that you don’t need to expose our private lives in order to write a compelling story. I do think my mother’s trust in you is not totally misplaced.
Two final things: first, I plan to respond to Dozier’s comments, in writing, very shortly. I will send what I write to you. I know it will not be timely, but I just got the transcript of what he said in. (sic) And finally, I ask you to have far-sighted vision. I am really innocent; the truth will prevail; don’t find yourself caught having written an account biased toward the State, just because they seem to have the winning hand. I may not have even a pair in my hand, but I think I just drew the card that’s going to give me a straight flush.
cc: Laverne Hendricks”
Laverne Hendricks, of course, was Hendricks’s mother. A week later I received a follow-up letter which he copied to six other individuals.
Just last week I received a transcript of Mr. Dozier’s response to the comments you aired from my recent interview. It contains so many lies and errors that I feel compelled to publicly respond. My days of sitting quietly by and letting Mr. Dozier warp the facts are over. The public deserves the truth; I deserve for them to hear it.
I hope you are interested enough to travel all the way down here once more. I promise you new and news-worthy stuff. This weekend I have prepared an hour-long response, including:
1) A listing of over a dozen untruths by Mr. Dozier
2) A fuller explanation of my blood-and-hair-on-weapons theory
3) A more complete discussion of the models
4) Some in-depth comments on my psychological reports
5) An expose of some revealing comments Mr. Dozier made to me during our pre-trial interview
I will, of course, entertain questions when I’m finished.
Not sure if you are interested enough to come down here, I am even less sure if Messrs. Holliday, Morgan, and Baldridge will want to spend a whole day on me again. Perhaps they will simply want to share what you have gotten–I don’t know. Whatever works out is fine. I do think that no cameras need to be brought. You all have plenty of pictures. And I don’t want to overwhelm the administration, who were very kind to us all the last time.
For that reason, and because I do not want to continue giving endless interviews, I am also sending a copy of this letter to Mr. Paul Dunn, who has been after me for an interview for a long time. He has some questions of his own he wants to ask me. Perhaps he could join you. My talk will give him a lot of new material and he’ll be able to ask questions too.
Whoever comes, I am ready for them immediately, as soon as they can make arrangements with the Menard administration.
cc: Mr. Bob Holliday; Bloomington Pantagraph
Mr. Dave Baldridge; WEEK-TV, Peoria
Mr. Paul Dunn, WSOY Radio, Decatur
Mr. Jon Morgan; Peoria Journal Star
Mr. Mike Nesbitt; Menard Counselor
Mr. Jim Hendricks; my brother”
So Hendricks, only a month after his lengthy media event at Menard, was now inviting us to make another seven-hour round trip to hear him respond to Dozier’s comments, enticing us with additional subject matter. So far as I know, none of the invited made the journey. Paul Dunn, who had worked at WJBC but was then on-air at WSOY in Decatur, did interview Hendricks via telephone. I interpreted Hendricks’s letter as an indication he may be warming to the idea of a one-on-one interview with me for purposes of my book. That thought was boosted when I read the hand-written note he included with the more formal letter copied to others:
I know I just wrote that I would respond to Mr. Dozier’s comments in writing, but there is so much material, and it is so very important to me, that I feel I need to give another monologue.
I hope you can come down. I think you’ll be pleased with the material you’ll get, if you do.
By the way–I just landed a job as reporter for our prison newspaper. I start tomorrow. I think it’ll be fun.
Seven months later, about the time the Illinois Supreme Court held oral arguments in his case, I received this letter from Hendricks:
I have completely changed my position on talking to the media.
First, for a long while, I talked with no one. Then I gave the interview you were part of to a limited, select group. Now I have been talking freely to anyone who asks questions.
For example, I chatted with Bill Flick by phone last week. As I did, I thought of you. I have rather left you with the impression that I would not talk with you–which was true when the impression was left. So now I write to tell you I am willing to answer any questions you might wish to ask (with the exception, of course, of one that could cause me legal trouble).
I am not requesting an interview. I just feel badly that you are probably under the misconception that I won’t talk when I am talking.
I’m still not thrilled with the idea of your book. But I have noticed this: The only journalists who have hurt me are those who didn’t have the whole story. I have nothing to fear from the truth, so why should I remain silent?
The Bill Flick referred to is a long-time Pantagraph columnist. With the state’s highest court having heard oral arguments in March of 1987 and its decision pending, I was anxious to put my book research into high gear, knowing police were more likely to talk with me if and when the supreme court upheld the conviction. And now Hendricks was also willing to do an in-depth interview. I responded to his invitation, suggesting a May date and apparently noting that the two men who prosecuted him were no longer part of the McLean County State’s Attorney’s Office (Dozier had become a judge, Murphy an assistant U.S. attorney), and commenting, impishly I think, on his becoming a reporter. Hendricks wrote me on May 14.
Yes, it appears that the Court will issue their decision soon.
You say that, should the court order a new trial, Murphy and Dozier’s absence from the state’s attorney’s office will certainly change my situation. You really know more than I do about the local situation–I must say I’m not sure I understand how things might have changed.
I’m not sure being “one of you” has changed my attitudes toward the media; I’m not sure I am “one of you.” Writing for a prison newspaper doesn’t exactly qualify. But I am flattered. I have high regard for journalists now, something I have not always had.
My change of policy, however, has more to do with my realization that I have nothing to fear from full disclosure. Staying hidden and silent (although on well-meant advice) has not been a good policy. I want to be as open as possible from now on. I still value my privacy, but
part of what has happened to me has ripped it from me, a fact I have come to grips with.
So now I will talk with you–or anyone else–unconditionally. Should you–or they–hurt me horribly by unfair reporting, still I will continue with my policy. I don’t expect you–or anyone–to do that, but my point is that I am not basing my new policy on the condition that anyone must treat me in a manner I prescribe. ‘Let the chips fall where they may’ might be my new motto.
Therefore, I will be glad to answer all your questions (unless, of course,
there is a reason I cannot, for legal reasons). June is fine. A couple of hours is fine. But I should tell you that you may want to spare the expense of coming down here by doing it over the phone. That can be arranged.
In any event, whatever way you want to do it, please arrange the interview through the DOC (Nic Howell in Springfield is the man to talk to about it). I have so many that want to see me and cannot as it is now, I would feel irresponsible using a regular visit–I get four a month–for a journalist, who can come without being counted if arrangements are made. Also, a regular visit would bring you to me with no recording equipment, including paper or pens, whereas a media-visit will allow you your recorder.
Let me know, as soon as you know, what has been arranged. The DOC will not. I’d like to at least look presentable and have slept…
It took a while to get the interview scheduled with the Corrections Department. I wrapped a short family vacation around the June 22 interview. It was a very hot day when I deposited my wife Mary and our two youngest children in downtown Chester, a town of 8,000 about an hour south of St. Louis, and drove to the nearby Menard prison.
I recall being ushered into a conference room in the old prison’s administration area. I sat near the end of a long table, waiting for Hendricks to appear, and also became very aware that a convicted ax murderer would be sitting between me and the only door in the room. I don’t recall whether we shook hands. There was no guard in the room. It was a relatively relaxed though noisy environment. Hendricks answered all my questions, ranging from his childhood to prison life, with a lot of focus on elements of the state’s case against him. The interview lasted at least three hours.
I found Mary and the kids wondering whether I had been taken hostage. They had sought refuge in Chester’s air-conditioned Dairy Queen restaurant after having spent nearly six hours becoming fully acquainted with downtown Chester’s retail establishments. I now had learned much more about David Hendricks.