Killed in cold blood
This 27-year-old Army man killed a mum and her two daughters in their own home
On 7 May 1985, Timothy Hennis spotted an ad for an English setter dog.
He called the number listed and Kathryn Eastburn, known as Katie, picked up the phone.
Married to an Air Force captain, she explained they were seeking a loving home for their dog Dixie, as they were likely to move away soon.
That night, Timothy, then 27, drove to Fayetteville, North Carolina, to collect the pet.
While there, Katie said her husband Gary was working away, and she’d just put her three little girls to bed. Soon after, Timothy left with Dixie.
It wasn’t until four days later that anything seemed awry.
Gary called his wife for their regular Saturday-morning chat – but she didn’t pick up.
After trying a few times, he started to become worried.
At the same time, a neighbour noticed three uncollected newspapers on the doorstep.
Knocking to check everything was OK, nobody answered, but he could hear a baby crying, so called the police.
An officer forced his way into the home and scooped up Katie’s 22-month-old daughter, who’d been screaming helplessly in her cot. Then he spotted dead bodies...
In the living room, homicide detectives found clues to the horror that had unfolded.
A pair of women’s jeans was on the floor next to a torn pair of knickers. Two buttons were also discovered that’d clearly been ripped from a blouse.
And, curled up under a blanket was Katie’s 5-year-old daughter’s bloody, lifeless body. She’d been stabbed repeatedly in the chest.
Metres away in the bedroom lay her 3-year-old sister, knifed in the chest and back.
Then the officers discovered Katie’s body on the floor next to the bed, naked from the waist down. She had 15 wounds, and semen was found in her body, suggesting she’d been raped.
All three victims had their throats slit.
After breaking the devastating news to Gary, he was quizzed for any information that could help police find the killer.
Gary explained that Katie had recently rehomed their dog, but didn’t know who with. A couple of days later, an eyewitness came forward. He’d seen a tall, white man leaving the family home at 3.30am with a black bag slung over his shoulder. He’d driven away in a white Chevrolet.
Immediately, police appealed for the mystery man. Hours later, Timothy Hennis turned up at a local police station. He’d seen the news, and realised he matched the description perfectly.
Carefully and cleverly answering their questions, he evaded arrest. However, shortly afterwards, police got a warrant and charged Hennis with three counts of murder and one of rape.
Hennis was unfazed, arrogant. But little did he know the evidence was stacking up against him…
His neighbours reported seeing him light a bonfire in his garden two days after the murders.
Police also discovered he’d
Carefully and cleverly, he answered police questions
taken the jacket he was spotted in that fateful night to the dry cleaners the following day.
Before his trial in the summer of 1986, Hennis refused a plea bargain.
‘I’m not pleading guilty to something I didn’t do,’ he insisted.
However, jurors convicted Timothy Hennis of all counts, and he was sentenced to death.
But his lawyers appealed the conviction, arguing shocking crime-scene pictures shown in court unfairly prejudiced the jury against him.
The Supreme Court agreed, and awarded him a retrial.
The defence worked tirelessly this time to discredit the eyewitness who identified Hennis leaving the Eastburn house on the night of the murders. ‘They are putting a square peg in a round hole, and it doesn’t fit, and it stinks,’ a defence lawyer said. The tactics worked. A second jury found Hennis not guilty on all counts and, after more than two years on death row, he was released.
The case was all but forgotten until 2005, when a cold-case detective decided to reopen the investigation.
Since the original hearing, DNA technology had advanced significantly, and a retained sample of the sperm found in Katie’s body was sent away for testing.
It was a clear match with Timothy Hennis.
Only, double jeopardy laws in the US mean a person can’t be tried twice for the same crime.
But savvy detectives found an important loophole…
Timothy Hennis couldn’t be tried by the State again, but as a former Army man, he could be tried in a military court.
‘In 1985, what he couldn’t have known, what would come back to haunt him, is the evolution of science…dna,’ the prosecutor said. ‘He left one thing at that crime scene he couldn’t have known to clean up – that’s his sperm.’
So, in April 2010, 25 years after Kathryn and her girls died, jurors unanimously found Timothy Hennis guilty of the triple murder – and agreed he should be sentenced to death.
Hennis is now on death row at an Army facility in Kansas, though his lawyers are planning another appeal...
DNA technology had since advanced significantly