Thursday, May 30, 2013

Who Murdered Little Gregory MaComb?

1954 case will likely remain unsolved…
by Robert A. Waters

Six-year-old Gregory MaComb spent his last night alone in a silent apartment.  Louree MaComb, his mother, worked at a night club in Salt Lake City.  Divorced from her husband, Louree couldn’t afford a baby-sitter, so she asked a friend to stop by and check on her son.  At about 11:45 p.m., Barbara Dinneen looked in on Gregory at the apartment on 1029-4th East.  She later testified that he was sleeping in his bed.
It was September 16, 1954.  The weather had begun to change, with a refreshing coolness stirring the trees.    

When Louree arrived home at 1:15 a.m., she found the apartment door open.  Rushing in, she discovered Gregory missing.  The frantic mother searched for her son, calling several friends who may have seen him.  Two hours later, she notified police.

At about 4:00, the first officers from the Salt Lake City Police Department arrived.  Police Chief F. Clark Sanford quickly made the case a priority, assigning his two top detectives to head the search.   Cops began scouring nearby apartments, houses, and fields for the missing boy.  Barbara Dinneen, Loureee’s friend, told detectives that she checked in on Gregory not once, but twice, the second time around midnight.  Both times, she said, the child lay asleep.

A neighbor, Renae Brown, who lived in a downstairs apartment, said that at 12:24 a.m., she’d seen an automobile drive up and park in front of the building.  She noticed a short, stocky man wearing “striped bib-overalls and a red shirt.” He took Gregory from the apartment and, opening the passenger door, placed him in the car.

Later that afternoon, the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Department received two calls informing them that a body had been found in Parley’s Creek.  Several young boys, out swimming, had discovered a half-submerged corpse.  They called to a nearby adult, who pulled the remains from the water. 

Newspapers reported that an autopsy showed Gregory MaComb had been “criminally assaulted.” His skull had been crushed by a blow to the head, and he’d been strangled.  The coroner stated that during the sexual assault, Gregory had been choked.  The boy had likely fallen to the floor and struck his head, said the coroner, and that resulted in his fractured skull.  The coroner determined that Gregory’s death occurred soon after he was abducted and not at the creek.  This gave the Salt Lake City Police Department jurisdiction.

Police meticulously interviewed everyone they could find who knew Louree.  They also rounded up and interrogated every known sex offender within miles.  The Salt Lake City Tribune reported that “among the suspects, [Norman Ash] Fackrell was singled out for a lie detector test and a ‘truth serum test.’ He was released after both examinations, however, and officers turned to other avenues of investigation.”

After three months, Chief Sanford reported that everyone interviewed had been eliminated. 

And there the case languished for three years.

In 1956, a new police chief was elected.  W. Cleon Skousen immediately made solving the MaComb murder his top priority.  He assigned two detectives, Sgt. T. W. Southworth and Officer D. F. Duncombe, to the case.
Norman Ash Fackrell
Investigators quickly focused on 37-year-old truck driver Norman Ash Fackrell.  A friend of Louree MaComb, he vehemently denied having murdered Gregory.  When he’d been interrogated in 1954 during the first days of the investigation, Fackrell wore a red shirt and a pair of striped bib-overalls.  The right side of his car had been damaged, and the passenger door could not be opened.  Cops also speculated that Fackrell knew Louree kept a key to her apartment underneath a mat near the door, though the suspect denied it.  Those tenuous links seemed to be the only evidence police could find against him.

To make matters worse for investigators, it turned out that Barbara Dinneen had lied about her second visit to check in on Gregory.  After an intense interrogation, she told police that her friend Louree MaComb had asked her to say that she’d been to the apartment at midnight, even though that was not true.  When investigators asked Louree why she’d concocted the lie, she replied, “I thought my ex-husband had kidnapped [Gregory] and I might lose custody, so I made it appear that we made two checks.”

Also hindering the investigation, Renae Brown couldn’t identify Fackrell or the automobile she’d seen parked in front of the apartment complex.

Still, detectives hammered away at the trucker.  Other than a “reckless driving” charge, he’d never been in trouble with the law.  He insisted that he was sleeping in his car the night Gregory was kidnapped.  When pressed about his relationship with Louree, he claimed they had “a mutual friendship with no strong emotional feeling.”

Finally, Chief Skousen decided to roll the dice and charge Fackrell.

The trial began on December 4, 1957.  Prosecuting attorney D. Christian Ronnow presented the state’s case.  With no physical evidence, and no eye-witnesses to identify the suspect, Ronnow seemed to be grasping at straws.

Many of Fackrell’s friends and relatives packed the courtroom.  They watched a masterful display as his attorneys, Phil L. Hansen and Richard C. Dibbee, shredded the state’s case. 

On December 7, the jury returned a verdict of “not guilty.”  The courtroom erupted in cheers, as Fackrell broke down and wept.

So who brutally raped and murdered little Gregory MaComb?

All these years later, no one knows.

A monster, hiding among the shadows, got away with cold-blooded murder in the City of Mormons.

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