Tom Henry Living as a Free Man

Tom Henry Living as a Free Man

Tom Henry, the title character of the book, Tom Henry: Confession of a Killer, was paroled last April. For 8 months he stayed with his sister and her husband in Central Illinois, near where he was born and raised, and where he committed his crime 50 years ago.

It was a community that protested his presence, and he worked diligently to transfer to another community in another state where he was known, not as a murderer, but as a hard-working logger, a husband, a father, a Bible-believing Christian, and a philanthropist. There he would be welcomed.

He got his wish in December and has since been living with his son, Thomas, in a mobile home they are refurbishing on a wooded acreage in southwestern Missouri, right in the hills where he hunted, fished, trapped, and logged during his 13 years as a fugitive.

I finally got the pleasure of visiting Tom Henry in his new milieu last weekend. At 72, he’s starting life afresh. He has re-established relationships with former friends and even with a new “friend,” his parole officer. (Below is a photo of him with Lou Keeling, former McDonald County sheriff, the very lawman who escorted the FBI to where Tom Elliott, nee Henry Hillenbrand, was logging some 35 years ago when he was returned into custody. Lou had said, You’re welcome back in this country when your legal problems get sorted out. )

He was born Henry Hillenbrand and he became Tom Elliott as a fugitive, thus the book title, Tom Henry. Now he is Tom Elliott to friends and neighbors and Henry Hillenbrand to his parole officer and Social Security. So, as senility approaches, his task is to keep his two identities straight.

Fortunately, he’s nowhere near senility yet and, hopefully, he won’t be for many years to come. His son supplied him with a pickup – 20 years old, stick shift, 6 cylinder, single cab – “couldn’t be more perfect,” he says. He hasn’t yet got his driver’s license; that’s next. He’s got feeders to attract deer and birds. He carries out seeds and molasses daily, and he looks out his living room window and watches them.

He’s free, except for a restriction not to leave the state, which is mildly onerous because he lives near where four states meet, but he doesn’t mind. “Actually, Bro, I don’t really want to leave this house much,” he tells me. “I really like it here.”

He happily cooks me breakfast, slicing and dicing bacon, veggies, potatoes, pacing and talking a mile a minute. A friend gave him a drip coffee pot, which he keeps going all day. He takes long walks in the woods nearby and down by the creek that flows in the ravine. The local Goodwill Store has become his haberdashery.

He is content and relaxed. I sit in an easy chair watching him watch the birds through his picture window and we’re both happy.

Henry Parole Update

Tom Henry was released from Menard Correctional Center in Chester, Illinois, Friday morning, April 26, 2019. His son, Thomas Elliott, picked him up and they quickly interrupted their five-hour drive with a stop at Walmart, where Henry was outfitted with white sneakers, blue jeans, black belt, long-sleeve button-down shirt, and a huge smile, all under a gray baseball cap. 

Derek Barichello of the Streator Times reported. “The Prisoner Review Board voted 14-0 in favor of Hillenbrand’s parole … According to documents, the board, after ‘reviewing all factors available at this time,’ concluded Hillenbrand is a ‘good risk for parole.’ In documents, Hillenbrand said his long-term plan is to move to Missouri to live with his 41-year-old son, who owns a logging business. Hillenbrand would need approval to move out of state.

“In the short term, he’s been accepted at the Bridge to Freedom halfway house in Chicago, but also has kept in touch with his sister, Rosemary, and her husband, Richard, who live in Granville. They have agreed to support him ‘in every way possible.’

“Documents in favor of his parole said Hillenbrand’s ‘faith had deepened, his work ethic strengthened, and he has worked every day to be the best person he can be and to try to atone for the horrible crime he committed so many years ago.’ The documents also stated he had a strong plan and support group after he was released from prison.”

Henry tried to call me three times Thursday evening, without success. This often happens, due to problems with the company who manages the prison collect phone-calls. It was then I got the call from Henry’s sister, Gloria, telling me of the PRB’s unanimous vote to grant him parole.

I have received a number of requests for Henry’s contact information. When the excitement has settled down and he’s settled in at the Bridge to Freedom halfway house in Chicago, I’ll ask Henry for his permission to give his contact number to well-wishers requesting it. I’m sure he’ll whole-heartedly agree, but I need to hear him say so. I’m sure you’ll understand.

Thank you, all who have cried, hoped, prayed for, and written to Henry!

If you have read my book, Tom Henry: Confession of a Killer, you’ll know the derivation of the two first names in the title. I wonder, when he finally re-settles in McDonald County, Missouri, which name he’ll use. If I were a betting man, my money would be on “Tom.”

I can’t wait to visit him there and find out.

Parole Hearing Results 2019

Today I’m going to bury the lead.

Tom Henry’s parole hearing at Menard, where he is incarcerated, was on March 20. The day before, March 19, his two Chicago pro se attorneys, Susan Ritacca and Sara Garber, visited him to strategize the plans—half-way house, permanent residence, more details—before a hoped-for granting of parole.

In his letter telling me of it, Henry asked me not to publicize it here on my website or in fb this year. His reasoning was I’ve done so every time before and each year he’s been rejected. I acquiesced. That’s why you’re not reading about it until today and why I didn’t advise you ahead of yesterday’s April 25 PRB (Prisoner Review Board) hearing in Springfield, IL.

The vote last year, if you recall, was 6 to 5 in Henry’s favor, but since they count members not attending as no votes, he was denied parole. It seemed so wrong! Will this year be more of the same sad story?

I got a phone call at home last evening from Henry’s sister, Gloria. I haven’t talked to her for months. What she was calling about was to say—and here’s the lead I so blatantly buried: “Henry got parole! It was unanimous! Pass it on!”

He’s now 71 years old. Almost exactly half of those years have been spent behind bars! He was 22 when he committed murder. He escaped and survived 13 years as a fugitive. So, 22 + 13 = 35. He was recaptured and has spent that same number of years incarcerated. So, if he survives just a few months of freedom, his free days will begin to outnumber his caged nights.

Congratulations, Tom Henry! May your last decades be happy! You did wrong, you’ve paid the price, and I, along with many others, wish you the best.

If you haven’t read it, check out my book Tom Henry: Confession of a Killer, still available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback. In the book—and on the back cover—Tom Henry tells me, early in our acquaintance in prison, “Be careful what you wish for, Hendricks. When I was a child, I wanted bunk beds.” Well, my friend, enjoy your new wider, softer, single-mattress bed!

Parole Hearing Results

Tom Henry’s en banc hearing was held in Springfield, IL on June 28. I don’t know the results. If you do, please advise. A letter from Tom Henry arrived yesterday.

He writes the PRB (Prisoner Review Board) member who interviewed him at Menard started with a glowing report. “… excellent prison record … valued worker … low risk assessment … highly qualified …” Discussion ensued. One member said he’ll never vote for parole because the escape shows Henry didn’t take responsibility for his actions. A vote was taken. There are 15 PRB members. Two seats are currently vacant and two members are on vacation, so eleven were present. When 10 had voted, it was 5 to 5. When the eleventh member voted for Tom Henry, a wave of excitement shot through his supporters – sister and husband, son and girlfriend. He got the majority of votes! What just happened? He just made parole!

Not so fast. A member spoke up saying that any PRB members not in attendance are marked as “no” votes, so parole was denied.

There is a lawyer who does pro-bono work who is looking into it. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m afraid they’re correct. The PRB website states: “Parole is granted upon receiving a vote of the majority of PRB Members assigned to the Board at the time.”

It’s crazy. Of the members in attendance, he got the majority. If the two on vacation would have split, he’d still have the majority. But he only got six of 13, the crazy way they figure it.

A visit with Tom Henry

For the almost-30 years since I left Menard, I have been unable to see Tom Henry because of a rule that former inmates cannot visit current ones. I’ve requested an exemption a few times over the years without success. Until now. Just this month I was granted permission to visit him, so I flew to St. Louis, drove to Menard, and spent 4 hours Tuesday and 4 more Wednesday visiting my former cellmate and friend.

The first thing he said was, “I know. I’ve got 10 minutes,” referring to an old joke between us. He was often telling an anecdote or piece of news, and when I would lay on my bunk to sleep I’d say, “I’m closing my eyes now. You have 10 minutes to wrap it up.”

Our visiting hours flew by too fast. It was interesting to note that, except for gnarled fingers from tightened tendons, a scar left from a prison-industry accident surgery, a dilated pupil in his right eye from a stroke 7 years ago, and persistent psoriasis, this 70-year-old is the same guy I used to know as cellmate and friend – albeit 30 years older.

Tom Henry has his parole plans in place and is hopeful, as he has been for the last few years, of getting good news from the Springfield en banc hearing next Thursday.

Another Parole Denial for Tom Henry

Thursday, April 27, 2017, was Henry’s en banc hearing. That’s where the parole board member who interviewed Henry at Menard CC gave her report to the full board. It occurred in Springfield and was again attended by Henry’s sister and, for the first time, his son, Thomas, who drove from southwestern Missouri. The board allowed only one family member to speak for up to 10 minutes. Thomas spoke.

Henry really thought he had a chance this year. The parole board member who interviewed him in March questioned him for hours, and he felt she understood him and was favorable toward him (which turned out to be true). Then after her visit, a risk assessment was administered, and then the original parole board member returned for a second visit, during which she told Henry he had done well on the risk assessment. What was against him was that two of last year’s four affirmative votes had retired from the board, and one member who was actively opposed to Henry, who was to retire last October, did not. As it turned out, Henry did pick up two votes, which replaced the two who had left, but even if those two had not left, he would have fallen one vote short. He needs seven.

After voting to deny Henry parole, the board voted on how long before he is reevaluated for parole. It appeared to the family members in attendance that he was going to get a three-year “set,” but in the end they voted to review his case again next year, which by now is only a bit more than ten months hence.

(I’m writing from memory of a phone call from Henry two nights ago. I didn’t take notes and can’t find any news report of Henry’s en banc hearing result.)



Henry Parole Story

From a post today on my authorhendricks fb account:
Tom Henry is now 69 years old. His current parole hearing took place on March 16, 2017.
A DHS social worker recently visited him to do a “risk assessment” interview.
The en banc hearing will be held in Springfield this Thursday, April 27.
In other news, Henry is a great grandpa. His (estranged) daughter’s daughter had a baby.

And a quick parole interview story:
Tom Henry has an enlarged pupil of the right eye. It always looks dilated. It’s from a retinal stroke he suffered many years ago. A few years ago a social worker interviewed him for parole. Some days later, a correctional officer showed up at his cell one evening, “The sergeant downstairs wants to see you. When Henry got there, the sergeant handed him a cup and told the officer to take Henry to the bathroom for a urine sample. He told Henry to put the sample in the cup, tighten the lid, rinse the container, and dry it with a paper towel. The sergeant shook the container, looked at the color strip, and told Henry, “You’re good.” On the way back to his cell, Henry asked the officer how many guys were they testing. “Just you,” the officer said.
So the parole interviewer must have noted his dilated pupil and recorded something like, “suspected drug use.” I’ll bet the results of that test never caught up with her comment. Its probably still in his file. That’s how things happen in prison.
Regards to all,

Tom Henry Denied Parole Again

My life is full and I have largely left this website and blog unattended. To blame is a new business called Blue Diamond Orthopedic that manufactures and sells spinal orthopedic braces, an ongoing investment interest (stock picking) and, last but by no means least, the birth of a now-7-month-old boy. I apologize for my long absence, but I make no promises that my next blog will arrive after a shorter interval.

The Illinois Prisoner Review Board met on April 28 to once again consider Henry’s parole. In support was his sister and a high-school classmate of Henry’s, and opposing was a prosecutor. The board member who interviewed Henry in Menard made his presentation, which was surprisingly favorable to Henry, given his background as an Illinois prosecutor. He voted for Henry, as did two other members, but on May 12, 2016, Henry was once again denied parole. He was scheduled to be reviewed in a year, the shortest possible time interval between hearings.

Thank you all for your cares and prayers. They mean a lot to Henry.

Henry Denied Parole

Tom Henry: Confession of a KillerI was sad to read an email that came in last night from Andrea Ryken, one of the two fantastic student advocates who worked for Tom Henry’s release. To give you the story from her perspective, I’ll copy her words here:

“The en banc hearing did not go as well as we had hoped. Henry received the same two votes as last year, and he did at least receive a one-year set once again. However, the tone of the hearing was disappointing, to say the least. Eric Gregg, the Board member who had interviewed Henry in Menard, spoke about Henry with really positive language, and we were at first very optimistic. But then we were asked to leave so the Board could hear the protest letters from the victims’ families and, when we returned to the room, the tone had changed. It felt like all had gone cold.

“The Board allowed Rosie, Dick, and the two of us to say a few words. The Chairman was very short with us all, though, and Rosie in particular. We tried our best to clarify some points and emphasize that Henry has met every one of their supposed markers of an ideal parole candidate. And yet, some members could not get past the crime itself. One member described Henry as a Jekyll/Hyde character, and at this point Gregg seemed to back pedal and express worries about Henry that seemed at odds with how positively he described him from interview at first. Finally, Gregg recommended denying him parole, and he even hesitated about the set length, citing the difficulty it puts the victims’ families through with each attempt.

“We are sorry to report bad news. We stood with Rosie and Dick afterward, and some tears were definitely shed. It was a sad moment.

“We have both gained so much from this amazing experience. Our graduation is on May 16th, and we both agree this is one of the most important things we have had the privilege of doing in law school. It has been our absolute pleasure to get to know Henry, Rosie, Dick, and you through this process. We have memorialized the process in memos that we have passed on to our professor, and we have organized and re-named all of the electronic files for Henry’s petition in hopes that all future attempts are as smooth as possible. As our professor told us after the hearing when we called him, disappointed, it is absolutely worth it to keep trying because one never knows how the PRB will change with new members or how the situation will hit members differently, year to year.”

Thank you for viewing my blog. Please return often. I value your comments.


David Hendricks

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Tom Henry’s Prison Parole Hearing

Tom Henry: Confession of a KillerI received a phone call from Henry Tuesday evening, during which he filled me in on his parole hearing Thursday of last week, March 20. First, a little background on the process.

To decide on parole for a prisoner, the IPRB (Illinois Prisoner Review Board) first sends a single member of the board (called a “Hearing Examiner”) to the prison. That parole board member interviews the prisoner and prepares a report and a recommendation for the full board, which meets later at their monthly meeting of the full Board in Springfield (that month’s en banc session).

The petitioner (inmate) is allowed to have a representative at the hearing, who may make a brief statement on the inmate’s behalf. There is also an opportunity for the inmate to tell his or her own story and to express personal thoughts on why they feel they should be paroled. The interview is recorded.

Henry told me that, in attendance, besides prison employees, were the Hearing Examiner, Henry’s sister, Rose, and her husband, Richard—who have become known to members of the Board by appearing at each of Henry’s hearings—and the two law students appointed by Alan Mills, Adjunct Professor at the Northwestern University School of Law.

Here’s what Henry told me: “Dave, it went better than any hearing I’ve ever had! The guy from the parole board was real friendly and me and him got to chatting before the others got there and we had a real good time, and the two gals from Mr. Mills were fantastic! They helped me to answer the questions and … one of them even put her hand on my leg and said, ‘Henry, you’ve gone beyond the question. Let’s come back to the point,’ one time.”

Henry talks fast and rambles when he talks. He is, in some ways, his own worst enemy at a formal hearing because of the jocularity of his demeanor and his no-telling-where-I’m-headed-next stream of consciousness method of communication. Back in January I told Ariel and Andrea that the best way they could help Henry at the hearing, in my opinion, was to tape duct tape across his mouth—and make sure to run it around the back of his head so it stays in place! Thankfully, they didn’t take me literally, but they, according to Henry, were fantastic advocates and excellent controllers as well. “They didn’t miss a single point we talked about beforehand,” he said.

The Springfield en banc meeting is scheduled for May 1, Henry informed me, “which will be one day before the anniversary of my arrest in the woods of McDonald County, when that FBI agent said to me, ‘It’s been a long time, Henry Hillenbrand’.”

Thank you for reading my blog.


David Hendricks

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