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Questions and Answers

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David

Finding the killer

Q: Who do you suspect of murdering your family?

Q: You now have the ability to fund an investigation into your family’s murder. Why haven’t you?

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In Prison

Q: How were you treated in prison?

Q: How did you get along with the hardened criminals in prison?

Q: What do you think of the prison system?

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After Prison

Q: What would you say to the police and prosecutors whose efforts got you convicted?

Q: Did writing Tom Henry reopen any old wounds?

Q: How did you deal with the loss of your family?

Q: What do you say to people who still think you’re guilty?

Q: What has your life been like since leaving prison?

Q: Why haven’t you had any more children since you were released?

Q: What went wrong with your second marriage?

Q: What do you think of the justice system?

Q: Do you have advice for innocent people who might be arrested?

Henry

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Victims

Q: Does Henry feel like his being saved purges his guilt of his crimes?

Q: How does Henry’s family feel about his parole hearing—and his release?

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Prison

Q: Did you see any violent tendencies in Henry while in prison?

Q: Did Henry ever try to escape again?

Q: You only spent two years with Henry. How well do you know him?

Q: Would you have made friends with Henry outside of prison?

Q: What kind of relationships did Henry maintain while in prison?

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The Man

Q: Do you talk to Henry?

Q: What do you think should happen to Tom Henry?

Q: What expertise do you have in the criminal psyche to know when it’s appropriate to release Henry?

Q: Henry Hillenbrand killed two people in a vicious manner. Even as a fugitive he was an aggressive person. Leaving aside that he’s your friend and that he helped you in prison, why do you think he should be paroled?

Q: You’re an advocate for Henry’s release. Are you going to attend Henry’s parole hearing to speak for him?

Q: Are you paying Henry for Tom Henry?

Q: Have you contributed financially to Henry’s release?

Q: Did you have an intimate relationship with Tom Henry?

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The Book

Q: What input did Henry have in this book?

Q: Did you change Henry’s name to hide the real person?

Q: Did you take into account the feelings of the victims of this crime and how they would feel having their lives disturbed?

Q: What do you say to people who call the proceeds of this book “blood money”?

Q: Do you feel like you’re glorifying a murderer with this book?

Q: Who profits from this book? Will any contribution of proceeds be made to the families of the victims of the crimes committed by Henry Hillenbrand?

Q: Why would you write this book? Your own story is so compelling, why write someone else’s and not your own?

Q: What is your motivation for writing this book?

Q: How long have you been working on this book?

Q: You say very little about George in this book, yet he was one of Henry’s two victims. Why?

Q: Is Tom Henry really a true story?

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David

Finding the killer

Q: Who do you suspect of murdering your family?

A: While I was in prison, Susie’s younger sister made a shocking revelation. She said that shortly after the murders, her then husband had given her surgical scrubs to wash. They were splattered with blood. She washed them and said nothing. She said that he was angry and jealous of our family, and that he knew where she kept her key to our home. She also said that, shortly before the murders he took my 5-year-old son, Benjie, for a walk through a cemetery and asked him if he was prepared to die. So he is our number one suspect. My problem, however, is that she didn’t say a word about any of this evidence until their divorce, which means she covered up evidence relating to the murders of her sister and nieces and nephew for years. So it’s hard to know what to believe.

Q: You now have the ability to fund an investigation into your family’s murder. Why haven’t you?

A: While I was in prison, the bloody scrubs evidence came to light, so I paid a private investigator to interview my ex-brother-in-law, who admitted the bloody scrubs incident and said he got them from a doctor at the hospital where he worked. The doctor denied it, and as it turns out the doctor did not start working at the hospital until four months later. The investigator returned to follow up and my ex-brother-in-law clammed up immediately, and at that point our investigation was stopped. Without the coercive powers of the law, we were powerless to do more. My point is, you need more than money to pursue a criminal investigation. You need the enforcement authority of the law to be able to make suspects talk and, if they don’t, to arrest them and bring pressure to bear and, if you have the evidence, to try them. That kind of power cannot be bought.

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In prison

Q: How were you treated in prison?

A: Our lives were constantly in danger due to the prison’s method of using gangs as their enforcers. The administration maintained control that way, but at what a price to the inmates! At one point an inmate wrote to a local newspaper on this very subject. Because of this letter I was thrown into Segregation and put through Menard’s version of hell. When they figured out that I’d had nothing to do with writing the letter, they released me from Seg, but they never admitted why I was subjected to this cruelty, and during the time I was in Seg, they shredded years of my personal journal, where I had recorded prison events. Other than that, I was treated like any other prisoner.

Q: How did you get along with the hardened criminals in prison?

A: In prison, as in life, you learn who to avoid and who to hang with. But in prison, it’s more vital to get it right. Personal factors both hurt and helped me. What hurt me was that inmates thought I had money. What helped me survive was that I’m a big guy who avoided confrontation, but one who also wore a facade of bravado. No matter how terrified I was, I never let it show.

Q: What do you think of the prison system?

A: I think it sucks! Prison theory has shifted between retribution, rehabilitation, punishment, and warehousing. Warehousing’s purpose is to protect society, but it causes more harm than good. We lock criminals up, but we make no attempt to help them get better, and then we release them back into society to prey upon it. Prison is a vocational school that teaches crime skills and instills in its students the anger to use those skills. Prison in its present form is dangerous to society.

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After Prison

Q: What would you say to the police and prosecutors whose efforts got you convicted?

A: I would say double shame on you, first for ruining my life and second for harming everyone else involved by taking the easy way out. You tried to prove your initial hunch, instead of solving the crime the right way: gathering facts without prejudice.

Q: Did writing Tom Henry reopen any old wounds?

A: Yes it hurt! One of my favorite writing quotes I got from Stein on Writing: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” –Red Smith. In spite of the pain, however, writing this book was a cathartic experience and I’m better for having undertaken it.

Q: How did you deal with the loss of your family?

A: My hope is that you can’t even imagine the pain. But try—think about being told that your entire family has been murdered, then minutes later being hauled into a police station interrogation room and questioned all night long. It hurts like hell, and the pain just doesn’t go away. Years later, after I was released, a psychologist friend advised me to dwell on the memories of my family and to embrace them, even when they caused pain. So I did, and yes, many times they did cause pain, but at other times they made me smile, and as time went on, the memories became more good and less bad.

Q: What do you say to people who still think you’re guilty?

A: It hurts that there are people who think I could have mutilated my own children and loving wife with an ax and knife. In my nearly 60 years, I’ve never exhibited anything other than an even-tempered, clear-headed reasonableness. Yes, there are people who “snap,” and I met some of them in prison, but these are people with mental or emotional instability who are faced with a personal crisis. None of that applied to me.

Q: What has your life been like since leaving prison?

A: My acquittal gave me the chance to rebuild my life—to do good and to live well. But for a time after I was released, I did flounder. I immersed myself in work to dull the painful memories of my loved ones. A psychologist advised me that I needed to grieve because I had not been allowed to mourn. He told me to summon memories of my family, to welcome them, even when they caused pain. So I replayed stories of my family in my head and with my friends, and I found that he was right. The more I thought about Susie and Becky and Gracie and Benjy, the stronger I got. The memories brought pleasure along with the pain, and I slowly healed. As time went on, I returned to business, my natural comfort zone, and 10 years ago this December I married the second love of my life.

Q: Why haven’t you had any more children since you were released?

A: I cannot have children because of an ill-advised vasectomy I had done shortly after being freed. Ten years ago, shortly after I married my current wife, I underwent a vasectomy reversal surgery, but it was unsuccessful. We have considered adoption.

Q: What went wrong with your second marriage?

A: I married my ex-wife while still in prison and I emerged from seven years of incarceration into the arms of that wife. Having never been allowed to grieve properly, I just wasn’t ready for marriage. One day I recall being so miserable I wished I was back in prison. That split-second thought jolted me into reality and I knew I had to make a change.

Q: What do you think of the justice system?

A: It has problems, nowhere more apparent than in Illinois, the state I came from, where 20 convicts on death row were shown to be innocent, mostly due to DNA evidence. This  caused one Illinois governor to declare a moratorium on the death penalty and a decade later another governor abolish it and commute the sentences of all 15 men remaining on death row to life imprisonment.

Q: Do you have advice for innocent people who might be arrested?

A: Once you are suspected of a crime, you’ve been instantly transferred from citizen to criminal, and you’d be well advised to start thinking that way. Don’t say one word to the cops—don’t justify yourself, don’t think they must really want to help you, and above all, don’t think that because you are innocent everything will come out all right. Don’t do anything but shut up—except to demand a lawyer. Nothing you can say can possibly help you. You need a trained mouthpiece, one who is not a criminal, which I say again, you are the instant they suspect you.

Crime scene do not cross!

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Henry

Victims

Q: Does Henry feel like his being saved purges his guilt of his crimes?

A: Henry believes Jesus paid the price a righteous God exacts for sin, and by accepting Jesus, he is forgiven of all, even the most heinous, sins. But Henry is acutely aware that, in a judicial sense, he must pay for his crime. God has forgiven him; man has not.

Q: How does Henry’s family feel about his parole hearing—and his release?

A: Henry’s sisters and his elderly father would be delighted to see Henry freed, and his sons in Missouri would be thrilled. His daughter, named Winkie in the book, has more ambivalent thoughts. Henry does not think he could live in Illinois, as there is so much sentiment against him, so he’ll request parole to Missouri, where he’d be more welcome. Actually, it is for the benefit of his Missouri children and grandchildren I most want to see Henry released. It would be fantastic for both Henry and his daughter to see them reconciled, but perhaps that is too much to hope for.

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Prison

Q: Did you see any violent tendencies in Henry while in prison?

A: No. The stories he told me showed an aggressive, sometimes-violent personality, but I never saw that in his behavior in prison.

Q: Did Henry ever try to escape again?

A: No, I never heard him even talk of it.

Q: You only spent two years with Henry. How well do you know him?

A: I know Henry very well. I lived with him in a small prison cell. I shared his highs—like when his daughter gave him a granddaughter—and his lows—like when she wrote that she was cutting off relations with him. But mostly, I listened to his life’s story. I can’t imagine any reasonable person wondering if I know this man, after reading Tom Henry.

Q: Would you have made friends with Henry outside of prison?

A: No. We both agree we’d never have been friends if we hadn’t been thrown together. We’re about as different as two guys could be.

Q: What kind of relationships did Henry maintain while in prison?

A: Henry got along with all; black or white, inmate or guard, gangbanger or independent—everybody liked Henry. That’s what first drew me to him. He seemed to have Abe Lincoln’s “malice toward none and charity for all.” I’ll tell you a story that’s not in the book. During a threatened strike by the prison guards, the administration threatened back, saying they’d shut our prison down if the union didn’t buckle under. Tensions were high. Guards worried about losing their jobs; inmates worried about being bussed to some overcrowded prison. Henry made a full-sized sandwich sign, which he wore up and down Main Street inside the prison, that said: “Hell no! We won’t go!” He wore it until the warden himself, almost unable to walk because he was laughing so hard, came out and told him to put it away. Through his unexpected and daring prank, Henry diffused the tension in the entire prison.

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The Man

Q: Do you talk to Henry?

A: We talk, but only occasionally, because he has limited phone privileges and two families to call. We do write, though I’m ashamed to admit, he more than I. I  tried to visit him but was turned away.

Q: What do you think should happen to Tom Henry?

A: I think he should be released. He’s a good man who did a horrible crime. I agree he needed to go to prison for a long time. He has. By the time he sees the Parole Board next, March of 2013, he’ll have been incarcerated for more than 30 years and he’ll be 65 years old. It’ll be time.

Q: What expertise do you have in the criminal psyche to know when it’s appropriate to release Henry?

A: He’s not in a hospital for the criminally insane, waiting to be declared cured by an expert. He committed a crime and he should do the same amount of time as others who committed similar crimes who were sentenced under similar rules, that is, the laws in effect in Illinois before 1978. Back then, criminals with similar amounts of time were often paroled in 15 to 20 years.

Q: Henry Hillenbrand killed two people in a vicious manner. Even as a fugitive he was an aggressive person. Leaving aside that he’s your friend and that he helped you in prison, why do you think he should be paroled?

A: He’s done enough time, and he’s an old man. The piss and vinegar is gone. What’s left is a caring, thoughtful, remorseful guy. He’ll be no trouble to anybody, I’m sure. And I know him about as well as anyone can.

Q: You’re an advocate for Henry’s release. Are you going to attend Henry’s parole hearing to speak for him?

A: I wish I could but I can’t. It’s held inside the Menard Correctional Center, which I’m not allowed to enter, because I’m a former inmate.

Q: Are you paying Henry for Tom Henry?

A: No, we decided to write Tom Henry to tell his story; not to make a profit. I’ve invested five years writing this book, three of them post prison (when I could have been earning), and I frankly don’t see how I‘ll even recoup my expenses, much less make a profit. If there does come a point that the book makes a profit, Henry has requested that I contribute what would have normally gone to him, but which legally cannot, to a charity whose purpose is to help the children of incarcerated parents.

Q: Have you contributed financially to Henry’s release?

A: No I have not. I did start a company called Tom Henry Cards, printing greeting cards based on Henry’s prison designs. I was going to use that company to pay Henry for his designs—which would have been money he is legally allowed to earn, providing him with a job and a post-prison income. I have decided to shut Tom Henry Cards down, for business reasons. But if Henry needs startup money until he gets himself rolling, I’ll be here for him. He won’t need much, and I know well enough to tell you, he won’t want to take it.

Q: Did you have an intimate relationship with Tom Henry?

A: No. Homosexuality in prison is exaggerated in the movies. In real life, I would guess, the percentage of guys that are wired that way is just about the same in or out of prison. Being incarcerated doesn’t change who you are. Now, experts say rape is a crime more of violence than of sex. So in prison where you’ve got violent psychopaths, some who appear homosexual might not really be. I’m not a psychiatrist. But back to the question, I’m heterosexual and I never saw any sign that Henry wasn’t the same.

Crime scene do not cross!

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The Book

Q: What input did Henry have in this book?

A: He told me the story, then he corrected what I had transcribed for accuracy, he wrote to friends after I got out prompting them to talk to me, and in the last couple of years, he read through two different of the many drafts of this book and gave me long hand-written letters with many vital and useful comments.

Q: Did you change Henry’s name to hide the real person?

A: Gotcha! You haven’t read the book. If you had, you’d know that’s not the reason. I make it quite clear what Henry’s birth name is and there’s even a scene when I ask him what he’d prefer to be called, Henry or Tom, and we settle on Tom Henry. That really happened and that’s where that name came from. Early on, we knew that would be the title of the book. The subtitle evolved, but the main title was settled on long before the first chapter was written.

Q: Did you take into account the feelings of the victims of this crime and how they would feel having their lives disturbed?

A: Yes. Henry’s daughter, who is called Winkie in the book, was a huge help to me in resetting my perspective on the tragedy Henry caused. She read Streator portions of an early manuscript and gave me excellent, if tough, feedback. I’ve since edited most of those passages to be more caring toward the victims’ and their families. Even Junior, a genuine character, got the gentle treatment. I omitted most of the bad things I heard in interviews about him. Not one witness I talked to said anything good about him. Yet he was the father of Patty and I pulled my punches when it came to him.

Q: What do you say to people who call the proceeds of this book “blood money”?

A: I understand how they feel. But you could say that to the author of any true crime book the world has ever seen. You could equally charge that of all newspapers and most reporters. Do we really want to be without the knowledge we’ve gained in that genre? For example, would we be better off if Truman Capote hadn’t written In Cold Blood?

Q: Do you feel like you’re glorifying a murderer with this book?

A: This book makes Henry look both good and bad. That’s not because I designed it that way. I took the story as it came to me from Henry, verified and edited it through interviews and research, and, as they say in computer speak, WYSIWYG or, to put a new twist on it, what I saw is what you get.

Q: Who profits from this book? Will any contribution of proceeds be made to the families of the victims of the crimes committed by Henry Hillenbrand?

A: This isn’t a project I undertook for money. It’s a self-published e-book, with the option of a POD (Print on Demand) paperback, and an audio book to come. Ebooks are very green and POD is the greenest way to print—rather than printing thousands and sending them to book stores, then trashing what didn’t sell. This method’s catching on, and that’s great, but it seems unlikely that, without being in major bookstores, enough copies of the book will sell to even cover the expenses, much less the time spent creating it. The book has local interest in Central Illinois. How far it will reach beyond that area remains to be seen.

Q: Why would you write this book? Your own story is so compelling, why write someone else’s and not your own?

A: Well, I think this one is plenty compelling. But I’ll let you be the judge. However, I do hope to write my own story. As with Tom Henry, I’ve already got the title ready. Now all I need is a hundred thousand words and, in the words of Alexandre Dumas, “they’d better be the right ones.”

Q: What is your motivation for writing this book?

A: Steve Vogel, the author of a book about me, once told me, “I would never have written that book if it hadn’t fallen into my lap.” Tom Henry fell into my lap. I do hope it causes people who think of Henry as a monster to understand that “there’s a man inside the monster,” a good man who did a bad thing. Besides that, it’s a darn good story

Q: How long have you been working on this book?

A: Probably two years in prison, one year in 1996, and the last two years, which makes five. In the process I slowly produced 1,100 pages of manuscript, then painfully pared it down to 350.

Q: You say very little about George in this book, yet he was one of Henry’s two victims. Why?

A: George was probably a fine young man who was just chasing a pretty girl. But I never learned enough about him to know. I couldn’t get anyone to talk about him. One of the only quotes I have regarding him is from the then chief of police in Streator, Gene Robertson, who told me, “George was just an unlucky bastard who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” I didn’t put that quote in the book, of course. I’d like to know more about George, but his relatives won’t talk to me, and that I understand too.

Q: Is Tom Henry really a true story?

A: Yes, I can vouch that, to the best of my ability, every word of it is true. I say “to the best of my ability” because I really did take pains to verify everything I could. If a reader finds anything they feel is not factual, I invite them to go to the contact page, click on the “errata” button, and tell me about it, so I can make the next version even more accurate.

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