Episode 3: Evidence Race

Bob, Dawn, Janel and Jolene’s autopsies reveal details about their killer’s mindset and Delia examines how reliable the police’s investigative case record really is.

Episode Photos

Crime Scene Photos

Episode Transcript

Delia D’Ambra: This is Episode 3: Evidence Race

*SFX of police radios & cameras flashing*

According to the official three-page Saint Joseph County Police log for the April 30th, 1989 crime scene at the Pelley home on Osborne road…

*SFX of handwriting on a piece of paper*

Between the hours of 10:05 am and 9:00pm, a timespan of 11 hours, 25 people came in and out of the parsonage.

That included dave Hathaway, the guy who found the victims, as well as two people from the church who were with him…and three paramedics. The rest of the people in and out were Saint Joseph County Police Officers, two Indiana State Troopers, a deputy prosecutor, the county prosecutor himself, a coroner, and a forensic pathologist named Doctor Rick Hoover.

Something I found interesting while researching this case is that at the time it wasn’t protocol for a forensic pathologist to respond in-person to homicide crime scenes in Saint Joseph County.

The county worked and stills works on a coroner system, which essentially just means that the elected coroner is the one who comes to collect bodies and take notes about the crime scene.

Coroners, by the way, don’t have to be pathologists or even certified medical examiners. They can just be doctors or really anyone who wants to run for that office and wins.

So, when I looked at the police log for this case and noticed that Dr. Hoover was logged as coming in and out of the crime scene twice on April 30th. I wondered why.

He signed in once, from 3pm to 4pm, and then a second time, from 4:25pm to 7:00pm.

I asked Detective John Botich and former State Trooper Mark Senter why Rick Hoover was there if it wasn’t standard procedure to call in a forensic pathologist.

John Botich: Dr. Hoover did stop by. He didn’t live very far from there. It was kind of a fluke that he even stopped by.

Mark Senter: For a forensic pathologist to stop at your crime scene…

John Botich: Yeah.

Mark Senter: and that just never happens. But he was on his way home from church and saw everything so…

Delia D’Ambra: What did he do once he was there?

John Botich: He observed the scene.

Mark Senter: Yeah.

John Botich: He took some notes of his own. He actually did the autopsies I believe.

Delia D’Ambra: John’s right. Rick Hoover did do the Pelley’s autopsies…and we’ll go through those in a minute…but it’s important to explain more about Hoover’s presence at the crime scene.

By all accounts, like Mark said, it was sheer coincidence that the doc, one of the only highly trained and experienced forensic pathologists in Northern Indiana at the time, came by the Pelley crime scene that day.

I did some research about what John said, that Hoover lived on Osborne Road, and I confirmed that’s correct.

The doctor did live less than a mile from the parsonage in 1989.

Having Hoover walk into their investigation was a win as far as Mark and John were concerned. They wanted someone who had pathology experience to help them.

For me, I find Dr. Hoover’s presence…interesting…

I believe in coincidences for sure, but such a lucky coincidence at a quadruple murder makes me ask questions.

Most notably…. What are the chances?…

So, for the past few months, I’ve been trying to get Dr. Hoover to do an interview with me, he still practices at South Bend Medical Foundation. It’s a pathology services and blood center and he’s worked there since 1983.

But after multiple requests, his secretary wrote me last September stating that quote— “he is not able to discuss the Pelley case with you” –end quote.

That is frustrating because Rick Hoover’s name is all over reports for this case.

His work and what he did, and didn’t do, at the parsonage on April 30th during those three and half hours he was inside the crime scene is critical to this case.

Even though he won’t talk to me now, I have several of his depositions with law enforcement and attorneys in the case from over the years.

And according to his testimony in those documents, Dr. Hoover stopped by because he had a growing interest in learning how to interpret blood spatter. It wasn’t something he was forensically trained in, but in 1989 he’d been practicing forensic pathology for almost a decade and wanted to get better at blood spatter interpretation.

Again, this is something Mark and John were completely supportive of because it could help them understand their crime scene better.

As I poured over hundreds of pages of this part of the case though, I found a discrepancy. Something subtle that you could chalk up to a misremembering, but I find it worth pointing out.

According to his own words, Dr. Hoover stated that he arrived at the parsonage in the mid afternoon, which is correct according to the police log. He signed in at 3:07 pm.

In his statement, he says he was joined by one of his colleagues, a Dr. David Jentz who was interested in medical photography and was going to assist Hoover.

The first thing Hoover says he and Jentz did was meet and talk with the coroner on scene. That’s when the coroner provided them with the number of victims and everyone went inside.

The problem with that is, according to the police log, the coroner didn’t arrive and sign in until 6:15pm, three hours after Hoover first arrived.

I found a handwritten police report from that day which states that at 5:45pm Dr. Hoover actually came out of the parsonage and told a police officer to call the coroner to the scene, which the officer did.

So, it’s impossible for Hoover to have met the coroner in the first few minutes he was at the Pelley parsonage, at 3:07.

I wish I could clarify with the coroner in 1989, a man named Dr. Gerwinski, but he died a long time ago.

What’s worse is there’s no reports that I’ve been able to find about his office’s documentation of that day. No notes, no official coroner’s report…nothing. Hoover has stated in multiple depositions that he didn’t take any notes while at the crime scene.

All law enforcement has, in this case, is Dr. Hoover’s autopsy findings for the four victims. And man do those have so much to tell…

*SFX of crickets chirping*

Around 7:30 at night on April 30th, 1989 is when the coroner in Saint Joseph County removed the bodies of Bob, Dawn, Janel, and Jolene from the parsonage.

It took him 45 minutes from start to finish. The bodies were transported to the morgue by ambulance and refrigerated.

15 hours later, at 10:00am on May 1st Dr. Rick Hoover began the first of the four autopsies.

*SFX of refrigerator opening & tools clinking*

He started with Bob.

When Bob was killed, he was fully dressed wearing his wedding ring, a blue short sleeves shirt, a white undershirt, gray slacks, underwear, a belt, socks and tennis shoes. In his pockets were nail clippers, a folding knife, some quarters, a handkerchief, and black comb.

It was clear to Hoover based on what he’d seen at the crime scene and while performing Bob’s autopsy that the pastor had been shot twice with a shotgun, and was facing his shooter when he died.

Hoover determined that 20-gauge deer slugs had been used because the bullet holes in Bob’s upper right chest and near the right side of his mouth were round and distinct.

So, it was unlikely that the shooter used birdshot or some kind of ammunition that sprayed pellets out wide, or else Bob’s wounds would have shown signs of that.

Hoover determined that the first shot delivered to Bob was to his chest, and that severed his spinal cord, dropping him almost immediately. But he could have still been alive.

The second shot, the one to his face, Hoover believed occurred at close range once Bob was lying down.

Hoover wrote that the high-velocity blood spatter on the low part of the parsonage’s hallway wall is what made him think the headshot to Bob was fired second.

The headshot to bob is what certainly killed him.

Hoover also determined, based on the blood spatter, that the shooter had to have been standing deep within the house while taking the shots Most likely at the end of hallway, between the entrances to Jeff’s bedroom and the master bedroom.

For Hoover, based on everything including the lack of gunshot residue on Bob’s clothing, in his professional opinion, he was convinced that Bob’s shooter fired the first shot a few feet away from Bob. Then the second one, basically standing over him.

As I read the autopsy something, I found interesting was that the trajectory of the first shot to Bob’s chest was front to back, angled slightly left to right, and was slightly downward.

Indicating that whoever fired at Bob was either taller than him or was holding the gun higher than Bob’s upper right chest, which would have to have been at least five feet because Bob himself stood at five feet 11 inches.

The only other important note Hoover made was that Bob’s stomach contents consisted of a pale tan liquid, partially digested fruit, popcorn, and ground meat.

He had no drugs or alcohol in his system.

The next victim hoover examined was Dawn.

Like Bob, she was also fully clothed when she died. She was wearing her wedding band, some hair clips, a pink long-sleeved sweatshirt, a button-down shirt, blue jeans, a bra, underwear, and white socks.

It was obvious to Hoover that she died from a single shotgun wound to her head.

It entered at close range, near her right temple, and essentially blew her entire head off. It was so catastrophic that there was nothing left of the actual deer slug that entered her skull.

In fact, the injuries to all of the victims’ bodies destroyed the deer slugs that killed them. Just small pieces of lead fragments remained.

Dawn’s stomach contents showed partially digested fruit and a pale tan liquid, just like Bob’s. However, she didn’t have any popcorn or ground meat before her death.

Her toxicology was also negative for drugs and alcohol.

The last thing Hoover noted for Dawn’s injuries was that she was missing two fingers on her right hand. He later stated this indicated she likely raised her hand to defend herself.

I’ve looked at the autopsy photos of those injuries and I have to agree. They look like last-second defensive wounds.

Hoover performed six-year-old Jolene and eight-year-old Janel’s autopsies on May 2nd, the day after Dawn and Bob’s.

The next few pieces of information may be difficult for you to hear…

Basically, the girls died the same as their mother. Both had catastrophic injuries to their skulls from single shotgun wounds to the front of their faces.

They were fully clothed in tank tops and shorts. the only difference was that Janel had on shoes and Jolene had on socks.

Based on blood evidence and spatter on the bodies it appeared Dawn died first, then Janel, and lastly, little Jolene.

Jolene had visible soot deposits on her arms and shoulder which indicated the shooter had the muzzle of the shotgun within one to three feet of her face before pulling the trigger.

Both girls had some cuts and bruises on their hands, arms and knees, but Hoover later stated these were a result of skull fragments flying so forcefully that they actually cut the victims.

Janel and Jolene’s stomachs both contained the same food as Dawn’s, partially digested fruit and pale tan liquid.

Now, the autopsies of all the victims are definitely helpful but one big problem with them, if you haven’t figured it out by now, is that they were done hours, even a full day after the murders were discovered.

Not only that, the bodies were refrigerated as soon as they left the parsonage.

Dr. Hoover self-admittedly stated that he took no notes at the crime scene as to what the body temperatures were when the Pelleys were found or what stage of livor mortis and rigor mortis they were in prior to refrigeration.

For those of you who don’t know what those last two things are, livor mortis and rigor mortis are indicators of where blood settles in the body after a person dies and how stiff the body is. A lot of forensic pathologists and medical examiners use readings of those two things to try and establish a more precise time of death.

But that wasn’t the case with the Pelleys.

At the time, in 89’, John Botich wasn’t too concerned about that oversight.

In retrospect though, he admits that was probably pretty important and should have been noted.

John Botich: You know, back then you got to kind of understand to we didn’t have all the ability to do things that we could be doing today.

On every case we’ve ever worked, you know, there’s a lot of things…you’re supposed to take the temperature of the house, you know, the conditions outside. All these things, you know, was there a few things that probably could have been, should have been done and when you look back. Yeah. Sure and you’re going to find that in every case you work.

Delia D’Ambra: Specific time of death or not, John and the rest of the investigators on the case felt that the key to figuring out who killed the Pelleys was in the evidence…


So, two officers from Saint Joseph County Police decided within just an hour or two of the bodies being found, to videotape a walk-through of the crime scene.

Jerry Rutkowski: Two of the family vehicles are in the drive just west of the garage door.

Delia D’Ambra: Those officers names were Jerry Rutkowski and John Pavlekovich.

Jerry narrated…

Jerry Rutkowski: The kitchen and dining area of this home.

Delia D’Ambra: While John filmed.

Jerry Rutkowski: Located on the floor of this hallway is our first victim. A male, white.

Delia D’Ambra: I’ve watched the entire 26-minute-long VHS tape three times. It’s very dry but the images of the victims and evidence it shows are important.

Honestly, it’s not the best quality and there are sections where there’s clear cuts, like this…

Pelley Crime Scene

Jerry Rutkowski: The south side of the hall which is the bathroom.

John Pavlekovich: Stop.

Meaning, John stopped and started recording a few times…

John Pavlekovich: We’ll pan this area on the floor…

Delia D’Ambra: What the officers discussed or panned to in those missing fragments of tape, we will never know…

But I have to be grateful at least for the fact that I’m able to go back and put myself at a crime scene from 32 years ago.

Honestly, it’s something I wish I could do for all the investigations I’ve done. It’s little details like this…

Jerry Rutkowski: We see a couple of teeth laying on his shirt near his neck. Items from inside his shirt pocket laying on the floor near his left shoulder.

Delia D’Ambra: That says a lot about the brutal nature of the shootings and what was going through the killer’s mind.

After watching the VHS tape a few times through and reading roughly 200 pages of police reports from officers in and out of the home on April 30th, what I’ve realized is that there was a lot of evidence present but nothing super incriminating.

For example, there was nothing related to a possible murder weapon found in the parsonage. No 20 gauge shotgun, no additional 20-gauge ammunition, and no shell casings.

Meaning, whoever the killer was, picked up the spent shells after shooting the Pelleys and took the gun plus any extra ammo with them.

In addition to that, there were two different types of shotgun shell waddings found.

Wadding, in a shotgun shell, is what’s packed between the gunpowder and the actual metal slug. When a gun fires, the bullet and wadding are driven out of the barrel. So, wadding will usually land in and around wherever the shooter is standing.

According to evidence logs and the VHS tape, two different kinds of wadding, plastic and cardboard, were found on or around Bob’s body upstairs.

Jerry Rutkowski: Located on the floor is what appears to be pieces of cardboard.

Delia D’Ambra: And in the basement with dawn and the girls.

Jerry Rutkowski: One…two…three…four, five more pieces of cardboard or small plastic.

Delia D’Ambra: Blood was sprayed on the walls and carpet in the hallway where Bob was killed…

Jerry Rutkowski: The South wall of the hallway which appears to have quite a lot of dried red substance upon it.

Delia D’Ambra: And the basement was even more gruesome.

Jerry Rutkowski: A vast amount of dried red substance and what appears to be body materials, hair and fiber hanging from the ceiling.

Delia D’Ambra: Brain matter and blood were all over the walls and furniture downstairs.

There was also a section of the wall along the stairs that looked like it had been shot into, and a spot on the carpet that looked like it had taken a hit too.

In addition to shotgun waddings and biological evidence, crime scene techs also collected several other physical objects. A full list is on our website, counterclockpodcast.com, but to keep it simple for this episode, I’ll go through the stuff that is most important.

Police took Bob’s glasses, a disposable camera found on a table in the living room, a 35 millimeter camera sitting in the kitchen, a piece of the wood railing from the stairs going into the basement, small cutouts of wall and carpet from both floors of the house, a single unfired 16-gauge shotgun shell found in Bob’s chest of drawers, furniture that contained bullet fragments, a few damp washcloths hanging in the upstairs bathroom, and…

*SFX of keys jingling*

A set of keys found in a trash barrel outside of the house along with a heart-shaped locket containing a photo of a white man and woman.

All pretty intriguing stuff right? Especially those last two items…the keys and locket.

But that’s not evidence police investigators paid much attention to…

Not at all. In fact, a majority of the stuff I just mentioned wasn’t even photographed as evidence. It’s items police say they collected from the laundry room and bathroom of the parsonage that got their full attention.

And steered the investigation towards still unaccounted for 17-year-old Jeff.

Listen to episode 4, Motive and Haste, right now…