Writing and reporting about true crime are two different things. Susan Hendricks describes in her book ‘Down The Hill’ the chilling story she covers: the Delphi Murders.
On February 13, 2017 Abigail “Abby” Williams (13) and Liberty “Libby” German (14) vanish from a hiking trail near the Monon High Bridge, Delphi, Indiana. Their bodies are found in less than a day.
Until the time of writing, the exact cause of death for either victim has not been revealed. The only fact we know from Hendricks is that “at their funerals, both girls’ necks had been wrapped in scarves.”
An unspent bullet was found at the crime scene but a gun need not have been the murder weapon. It could have been used to get the girls under control and to a secluded area. From what Hendricks wrote, I suspect a knife or a ligature was involved.
In this book, Hendricks describes her journey living this case from the moment she was made aware of it. We get the behind the scenes story, how these cases are presented in the news, how much preparation time there is for on air interviews, and how strict the rules are for the allotted time. We follow Hendricks from hotel to hotel while she visits Libby’s family, tries to attend every press conference, and talks to experts to get the information that the authorities are not willing yet to make public.
This book is less focused on the investigation from the point of view of law enforcement or from a forensic angle (with the exception of the chapters where Hendricks talks to Paul Holes and Dr. Ann Burgess) but details a reporter’s personal journey. What does it take to report about a double murder of two teens for a journalist who is also a mother and has experienced violent death in her own family? What does it mean to be on the scene and at what times? What does her reporting career do to her family life?
We meet Libby’s family. As is their wish and respectfully handled in this book by Hendricks, Abby’s family prefers not to discuss the case in public. However, we do get to know Abby, her life, hobbies, ambitions, and more. We meet Libby through the eyes of her sister, her father, and grandparents.
In this book we learn what exactly Libby recorded. There is more but that is withheld by the authorities. In this book you will also read, no, you will feel the frustration of the investigators as they inch forward. And then suddenly, the arrest.
On October 28, 2022 authorities announce the arrest of Richard Allen, a local husband and father, who worked at CVS. Hendricks gives us more details and discusses with Paul Holes and Dr. Ann Burgess what to expect, what they think about the suspect, how he fits the crime scene, what his signatures might be, what kind of evidence has not been revealed yet, and more.
This book is a fast read, fast-paced, and very well written. Hendricks takes you behind the scenes of reporting on camera, in her car as she races to the next location, and in her heart where her doubts and fears live. Because, true crime reporting feeds off your soul. Each case takes a bit away and we see how Hendricks struggles to recover before the next deadline.
Highly recommended reading for all interested in reporting, journalism, and of course, the Delphi Murders.
Note 1: Richard Allen is held without bond at Westville Correctional Facility, Indiana. Trial is set for Jan 8-26, 2024.
Rest in peace, Abby and Libby.