Killed in cold blood

This 27-year-old Army man killed a mum and her two daugh­ters in their own home

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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

Tragic fam­ily Katie East­burn and the two lit­tle girls who per­ished

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