Monday, October 30, 2023

The Schoolgirl Killer

Murder of 11-year-old Elizabeth DeBruicker

By Robert A. Waters

On Friday, July 21, 1939, in Attica, Indiana, local newspaper headlines speculated on the intentions of Adolf Hitler. The Fuhrer had assured the world that the German people were "100% against going to war." Few believed him, with good reason. Just two months later, Germany invaded Poland, starting World War II.

Elizabeth DeBruicker (pictured), 11, had no interest in happenings 3,000 miles away. She lived with her parents and two sisters on a small farm two-and-a-half miles from town. The Lafayette (IN) Journal and Courier wrote that "at about noon, Peter DeBruicker arrived in Attica…to deliver two of his young daughters to Attica School, where their 4-H club was meeting. He planned to drive back into town later in the afternoon and pick them up." Peter was described in the newspapers as a "Dutchman" who ran a modest spread.

The club meeting ended at 1:00, and an excited Elizabeth informed her sister, Loretta, that she planned to go swimming at the Harrison Hills Country Club pool, a few blocks away. Elizabeth told her sister and a friend, Lorraine Ward, to meet her at the pool at 3:00. As the sun scorched the earth, Elizabeth, a smart, pretty seventh grader who attended Logan Township School, walked away.

At the time, the rural community of Attica had about 3,700 residents.

When Elizabeth's sister and friend made it to the pool, they found no sign of her. They asked around, but no one had seen the girl. Peter arrived and quickly began searching for his daughter. The search soon spread into town, but the child had vanished.

Finally, as darkness fell, Peter reported the missing girl to police.

Early the next morning, searchers began combing the country club and golf course. The Journal and Courier reported "their search of the rolling golf greens was soon rewarded when [Ike] Rensville found Elizabeth’s sewing basket and powder compact beneath a tree. Nearby was a 300-foot-long rainwater catch basin, and near the pond, [a] trio of searchers found a mound of freshly turned earth. A mere six inches beneath the gravel they found the child’s body.  The belt of her dress, used to strangle her, still was knotted tightly around her neck. Her shoes were missing."

An autopsy confirmed investigators' worst fears: Elizabeth had been brutally raped as well as strangled.

The greenskeeper of the country club, Thomas Allen Boys, 27, was brought in for questioning. His home lay directly on the route Elizabeth would have taken from the school to the pool. Police knew he’d been convicted of molesting a 9-year-old girl several years before, but surprisingly, had only received a 6-month suspended sentence for the crime. (He had offered the child a nickel to undress for him.) Boys had a wife and three sons.

Lt. Paul Rule, commander of the West Lafayette State Police, interrogated Boys. After many hours of questioning, the suspect broke.

Rule made the following statement to reporters: "[Boys] told us he saw the little girl walking across the sixth green at the golf course Friday afternoon and that he called to her to walk across to the other side of the course with him. They sat down on a hillside and he became familiar with her. He became panicky and made a garrote from her belt and strangled her. After that, he related, he carried her body down to a small pond and held her face under the water until he was satisfied she had drowned. He said he then buried her in the place where her body was found."

Boys denied raping Elizabeth but since the autopsy revealed she'd been "criminally assaulted," no one believed his denial.

Boys admitted he dug the shallow grave with his hands, and, when one of Elizabeth's shoes fell off, he threw it in the pond. Searchers located the shoe where he said it would be. Near the grave, they discovered the sewing basket. In the basket, cops found sewing items (for her 4-H club meeting), a bloodstained handkerchief, and Elizabeth’s "underclothing."

After searching Boys' home, investigators found bloody pants and a shirt.

During that era, lynchings were always a possibility in crimes against children. As cops questioned the suspect, more than 300 people gathered outside the Attica jail. To keep him safe, Lt. Rule transferred Boys to the Marion County jail in Indianapolis, about eighty miles away.

On March 12, 1940, Boys was being held in the Montgomery County jail. The Capital Times reported: "Late yesterday, Harry Anderson, 60-year-old day jailor, was taking Boys back to his second-floor cell from the basement, where the prisoner had bathed. Suddenly, Anderson said, Boys kicked him in the groin, beat him with a broomstick he had snatched up somewhere, and, trampling him, ran downstairs and out the front door. The spring lock had failed to catch."

He fled into a nearby back yard as eighty officers searched for him. He stated he went to sleep, and when he awoke, asked the resident, Louis Stanford, to call police. Within four hours, the escaped suspect was back in jail.

On May 1, 1940, Boys, after having pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, was convicted of the first-degree murder and rape of Elizabeth DeBruicker. He escaped the death penalty, however, and was sentenced to life in prison.

In 1956, Boys applied for clemency, but was denied.

NOTE: Boys' name was sometimes misspelled "Boyce" by news agencies.

No comments: