Forensics Case: The Hendricks Family’s Last Meal

By Douglas P. Lyle

David Hendricks was a successful Bloomington, Illinois, businessman who traveled frequently to meet with customers. One such trip was planned for Friday, November 4, 1983. Hendricks planned to leave late November 4 and drive all night to be ready for meetings the next day in Wisconsin.

According to Hendricks, while his wife attended a baby shower, he and their three children arrived at a local pizza parlor at 6:30 p.m. for dinner, which they finished by 7:30. The children went to bed around 9:30, his wife returned at 10:30, and Hendricks departed on his trip at approximately 11:30 p.m.

During the weekend, Hendricks called home several times, but received no response. He called friends and relatives to find out whether they’d seen his wife or children. He finally called the police, expressing concern that maybe his family had been in an accident. Police informed him that no one by the name of Hendricks had been involved in any accidents.

Hendricks returned home on the evening of Tuesday, November 8, to find the police and several neighbors at his home. His family had been brutally murdered with a knife and an axe, both of which had been found neatly cleaned and lying at the foot of his bed. Hendricks was too shaken to enter the house, and police, sensing his shock, spared him the grisly details.

Had Hendricks kept his mouth closed, the story might have ended there, but the next day, he told reporters that burglars had broken in. He even listed items that had been taken. Police wondered how he knew what had been taken when he hadn’t entered the house and they hadn’t told him of their findings.

Autopsies of the children proved Hendricks was lying. The stomach contents of the three children revealed undigested pizza, which means they died within two hours of eating because that’s approximately how much time it takes for the stomach to empty.

Digestion ceases at death and essentially freezes stomach contents in the state they were in at the time of death. Because the children finished their meals at 7:30 p.m., this finding indicated that Hendricks probably killed his children around 9:30 p.m., about an hour before his wife returned home.

He then killed her and left on his trip, thinking he had the perfect alibi. Forensic evidence proved to be his undoing, and he was convicted of murder and sentenced to four life terms.