In 1987, the Dardeen family was ki*lled in their small town of Ina, Illinois. It was a very sad ending. After more than 10 years, a serial ki*ller on de*ath row in Texas would say he was responsible for the mu*rders and more than 70 others. But the truth about how the Dardeens died is still not known, and it hasn’t been since the evening of November 18, 1987, when police found their brutally ki*lled bodies.
Russell Keith Dardeen, who was 29 years old at the time, hadn’t shown up for his job as a water treatment plant operator at the nearby Rend Lake Water Conservancy District. This is why the police went to the trailer. Keith, who went by his middle name, was said to be a very reliable worker. When he didn’t show up for work or call to say he wouldn’t be there, his boss called both of Keith’s parents, who said they hadn’t seen him. In the evening, the police went to the Dardeen family home to find out what was going on. There, they met Keith’s father, Don Dardeen, who had brought the trailer’s keys.
The scene of a crime was so violent and bloody that everyone who was there would think about it for years. Elaine Dardeen and her 3-year-old son Peter were k*illed with a baseball bat that Peter’s father had given him for his birthday earlier that year.
Even worse, Elaine was pregnant with the couple’s second child, a daughter, and the beating put her into labor. The ki*ller or ki*llers, however, had no mercy, and the baby was also beaten to de*ath. Elaine was tied down and gagged with duct tape, and the three of them were put to bed together. The area had even been cleaned up, which shows that the person or people who did this weren’t in a hurry to leave the scene of the crime.
When Keith Dardeen’s body was found in a nearby field the next day, it quickly put to rest the idea that he had ki*lled his own family in a brutal way. He had been shot three times, and his penis had been cut off. Police found Keith’s car parked outside the police station in the nearby town of Benton, about 11 miles from the Dardeen home. Blood inside showed that it was most likely where Keith Dardeen had been ki*lled.
A brutal crime like this would have been enough to shock a small town, but the Dardeens were not the first people to be hurt in the area. In the past two years, there have been 15 m*urders in Jefferson County. One of the worst was when a teenager from Mount Vernon k*illed his parents and three siblings.
Even though the mu*rders seemed to have nothing to do with each other, they were enough to make people in the area very afraid. In the days and weeks after the Dardeen family m*urders were found, locals started openly carrying shotguns. The coroner in nearby Franklin County was quoted as saying that locals were so afraid to let strangers into their homes that if he ran out of gas on a country road, he wouldn’t even bother knocking on the door; he’d just walk to the highway and hitch a ride.
Even though 30 detectives worked full time on the case and more than 100 people were interviewed, the police were still unable to figure out why the mur*ders happened or find a likely suspect.
As time went on and the case got colder, Keith’s mother, Joeann Dardeen, kept putting pressure on the police to try to find out who ki*lled her son and his family. She got more than 3,000 signatures to try to get The Oprah Winfrey Show to talk about the mu*rders, which were thought to be too disturbing for daytime TV. Also, America’s Most Wanted passed on the case at first, but they did a segment on it in 1998 that didn’t lead to any new information.
The b*rutal ki*lling of the Dardeen family wasn’t fully understood until the year 2000. That year, Tommy Lynn Sells, a serial k*iller who had been caught after slitting the throats of two girls near Del Rio, Texas, started confessing to other k*illings he said he had done over the years while riding the rails and working at traveling carnivals. The Dardeen family was ki*lled, which was one of the ki*llings that Sells said he did.
Sells says he met Keith at a truck stop or maybe a pool hall. Keith then invited Sells to his house for dinner, where he asked Sells to do something with him and Elaine. Or perhaps not. Maybe Sells just saw an opportunity when he saw the “For Sale” sign on the Dardeens’ trailer. Tommy Lynn Sells’s confession had some problems because he didn’t always stick to his own story, let alone the details of the case.
When Sells first said he was guilty, in 2000, Joeann Dardeen was sure of it. But as time went on, her conviction grew weaker, and by the time Sells was put to de*ath in 2014, she had serious doubts. “Tommy deserved to die for what he did, but I wanted him to stay alive until I knew for sure he didn’t do it,” she told the Associated Press shortly after his execution.
Even though Sells admitted to more than 70 mur*ders, when he was put to de*ath, only 22 of those mur*ders were proven to be his fault. Not one of them was the brutal mu*rder of the Dardeen family, and the chilling Illinois m*urder case is still officially unsolved to this day.