The Letter

A house surrounded by leafless trees

Prior to and following the August 19, 1976 triple homicide of Lloyd and Phyllis Schneider and their 17-year-old daughter, Terri, I witnessed numerous suspicious events and circumstances. During the first days following the Thursday night murders and Michael Drabing’s arrest at Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Lincoln, IL, I spent time at my good friend Theresa’s apartment. Theresa and I were both employed as deputy circuit clerks at the Logan County Courthouse before the time of and following the Schneider murders.

Richard Lee Jones (Rick) was a good friend of Pat Hanley and Michael Drabing, and all three guys were 21 in ’76. Rick Jones also worked at the courthouse as Judge Robert Thornton’s BAILIFF. Jones visited the circuit clerk’s office almost daily during the workweek while I was a deputy clerk. He would come into the back part of our office, grab some coffee, and hang out. A third female deputy clerk who also worked in the circuit clerk’s office at this time was a close friend of Terri Schneider (murder victim). My friend, Theresa, was sharing an apartment with Pat Hanley’s former girlfriend, Cindy, before, during, and after the Schneider murders. Through Cindy’s association to Pat Hanley, she was well acquainted with Drabing and Jones.

The apartment Theresa and Cindy shared was on the second floor of a large home located on the corner of Tremont and Water Streets in Lincoln. The rent was a little more than Theresa could afford, so Cindy became Theresa’s roommate in the spring of ’76 and paid part of the rent. By August of ’76, Cindy was no longer dating Pat Hanley. She’d broken up with him for numerous reasons — one reason being that he’d been mean and aggressive towards her (according to Cindy). Cindy made further damning claims and admissions to me (and others) in regard to Hanley and his aggressive behavior.

At the time frame of the murders, Cindy was dating a younger guy who worked with produce clerk Jay Fry, 24, at Kroger grocery store. Jay Fry and Lincoln realtor Ruth Martin, 51, had both been called as witnesses to the October 1, ’75 Kroger shoplifting incident involving expelled Lincoln College student Russell Smrekar, 21, a known thief from upstate Joliet. Smrekar was arrested for stealing two ribeyes steaks from the meat department and leaving the store without paying. He had friends with him that day: Lincoln College girlfriend, Patti Gunther, from Skokie, IL; his younger Joliet girlfriend Melissa Smith; and another LC student who was a friend of Gunther’s, Lois Sloan.

Previously, in September of ’75, Smrekar had been arrested and charged for a Lincoln College dorm room burglary. Honor student, Michael Mansfield, an acquaintance of Smrekar’s, had also been arrested. There’d been a rash of burglaries occurring on campus, and Smrekar was the number one suspect. On September 18, ’75, Smrekar ditched some of the stolen property in Mansfield’s dorm room. Mansfield got scared and dumped the goods near a trash chute in his dormitory, and he was later arrested for Theft By Possession.

On September 25, ’75, Mansfield testified against Smrekar before the College Judiciary Board, and Smrekar was found guilty of the burglary. He was expelled from campus and told to never return without written permission from the Dean of Students. Mansfield swore he had no involvement in the burglary, and he later agreed to turn state’s evidence and testify against Smrekar in court. After signing a Deferral of Prosecution Agreement on Dec. 18, ’75, offered by Logan County State’s Attorney Roger Thompson, Mansfield returned home to Rolling Meadows, IL to spend the holidays with his family. On December 31, ’75, Mansfield answered the phone at his parents’ house and told his folks he was leaving for about an hour and would be back. He never returned.

Kroger shoplifting witness Ruth Martin disappeared from her home in Lincoln on June 2, ’76. The Martin residence was located just off Route 66 and not far from Kickapoo Creek Park. Ruth was shot in her garage, loaded into the trunk of her car, and then her killers drove off with her car and her body. The day Ruth vanished, a large bloodstain and a spent .22 caliber bullet (in mutilated condition) were found in the Martin’s garage. Someone involved in her murder had tried to wipe up the blood on the concrete floor with some kind of absorbent material. In the process of doing that, the blood was spread out over a larger area creating a bloodstain that was 36 inches long and 18 inches wide. Measures were taken by the killers to temporarily conceal the bloodstain from view, and the absorbent material used to wipe up the blood was removed from the crime scene.

Two days after Ruth went missing, her Pontiac Catalina was found abandoned at the Bloomington Holiday Inn (on June 4th), 30 miles north of Lincoln. Motel patrons noticed the Catalina in the parking lot at 6 PM the same day Ruth disappeared, and the car’s right front tire was completely flat. Obviously, the Catalina had been left in the lot prior to 6 PM. On the 4th, a woman caller notified police that the Martin vehicle was at the Holiday Inn and the license plates matched the plate number released by area media. When authorities arrived at the Holiday Inn and popped open the trunk lid, an abundance of blood was found on the trunk mat. Additional evidence was found inside the Martin vehicle, but Ruth remained missing.

On June 8, ’76, a family fishing in KICKAPOO CREEK PARK found a PARTIALLY BURNED, BLOODY T-SHIRT in a makeshift fire pit on a sandbar in the creek near the railroad trestle. They reported the bloody T-shirt (critical blood evidence) to authorities, who were still searching for Ruth Martin. The evidence was collected by LPD Sgt. Ron Robbins, and then Robbins turned the evidence over to leading LPD Detective WILLIAM A. KRUEGER.

By August of ’76, neither Mansfield nor Martin had been found, and Russell Smrekar had been making repeated appearances at the Logan County Courthouse as the defendant in the two theft cases. Both cases — one being a Theft Over case and the other a Theft Under case — had been subject to continuances; witnesses had disappeared (Mansfield and Martin) and evidence in the college burglary case had been stolen out of the second floor CID evidence room of the Lincoln Police Department — the same building where the Lincoln City Hall was also located. Cindy’s mother was employed at the City Hall/LPD as a meter maid and was well acquainted with members of the Lincoln Police Department.

Later, on October 9, 76, following the Schneider triple homicide on August 19th, witness Jay Fry and his pregnant wife, Robin, were shot-gunned to death in their home. On October 18, ’76, Russell Smrekar was arrested for their murders at the Logan County Courthouse where he was appearing for a hearing in the ongoing Kroger shoplifting case. Following Smrekar’s arrest for the Fry double homicide, he was transported to the Macon County Jail (Decatur, IL) and placed in the SAME CELL with Michael Drabing. Both Drabing and Smrekar did a lot of boasting about their crimes to other inmates. One inmate told authorities Smrekar divulged that he and “another guy” killed Ruth Martin. Smrekar also said he burned evidence in Ruth Martin’s murder in the incinerator at Lincoln Community High School. Rick Jones’ father, Dr. Robert Jones, was the superintendent at LCHS, and Pat Hanley’s mother and Judge Thornton’s wife worked for the high school administration.

The weekend following the Schneider triple homicide, I was at Theresa’s and Cindy’s apartment. The evening of Saturday, August 21, ’76, a strange car (thought to have been a Vega) seemed to be stalking the apartment. The car sat idling on Water Street facing the apartment with the headlights illuminated, making it difficult to see the person at the wheel. The car sat there for a while, but no one got out. Then it left. I stayed overnight at the apartment that Saturday, and Theresa, Cindy, and I were all concerned about the murders and about who the driver was inside the unknown car. We all wondered if it was Pat Hanley.

Over that particular weekend, a male person was calling the apartment (the apartment phone number was unlisted) wanting to speak to Cindy. The caller wouldn’t identify himself when Theresa answered the phone. Cindy wasn’t there, but I was there when Theresa intercepted one of the calls. The voice was recognized as being Hanley’s. The male caller did apparently make contact with Cindy when I wasn’t at the apartment. Cindy later verified it was Pat Hanley who’d called. Cindy told me (and she told others) when she asked Pat where he was, he said he was driving around trying to get his head clear. There were/are additional disturbing and incriminating statements allegedly made by Hanley, according to Cindy.

During the time of these phone calls to the apartment, most people didn’t know where Pat Hanley was. Even my father, Logan County State’s Attorney Roger Thompson, didn’t know where he was, and he and authorities were most interested in speaking with Hanley. My father was fully aware of the confrontations I’d witnessed at the Schneider’s July party involving both Lloyd and Phyllis Schneider and Pat Hanley, Michael Drabing, and Rick Jones. I told Dad about the three confrontations the Monday following the party. Theresa and I had lunch with Dad at the Hotel Lincoln, and over lunch I relayed to him what I’d witnessed during the party. I also recounted what I experienced after the party had been abruptly called off by Lloyd. So, my father was aware of the conflicts experienced by Lloyd and Phyllis involving Hanley, Drabing, and Jones prior to the event of the Schneider triple homicide. Dad was also aware of Hanley’s intimidation tactics toward me after the party had ended.

Pat Hanley was the instigator of all three confrontations I witnessed at the party. Hanley was the one doing all the talking, shouting, and threatening. Hanley was the one who promised Lloyd he was going to “get” him and “kill” him. When I first arrived at the party late in the evening, the first incident I witnessed involved Phyllis Schneider, Pat Hanley, Michael Drabing, and Rick Jones. After I parked my car and went around to the back of the house, I spotted several kegs of beer lined up near the back door, and I went to the keg closest to the door to get a beer. While I was filling my cup, I heard a commotion coming from inside the house. Then, the screen door suddenly swung open, and out stepped Rick Jones and Michael Drabing. I detected Phyllis’ voice. I peered inside and saw Pat Hanley walking toward the door with Phyllis behind him. It was apparent she’d caught the three 21-year-old guys in the house, and she was clearly upset and wanted to know what they were doing.

By this time the party had gotten out of hand. Kids were drunk and in the swimming pool; some had either voluntarily jumped in with their clothes on or they’d been pushed in by others. Michael Drabing was supposedly one such person who’d pushed people into the pool. The Schneiders had rented porta-potties for the event because they obviously didn’t want hundreds of kids traipsing in and out of their house. Phyllis was obviously suspicious about what the three guys had been up to while inside. It was an uncomfortable situation, so I left the keg area and passed by Lloyd, who seemed overwhelmed by the rowdiness of the partygoers, as he was making his way over to Phyllis. I went to join the crowd of kids who were watching the live band performing.

Pat Hanley was finally interviewed at the Logan County Jail, after he’d surfaced at Lincoln High School on Monday, August 23rd. He’d gone to the high school to speak with his mother. Hanley claimed he was in Jacksonville at Illinois College the night of the Schneider murders. He said he’d left Lincoln the day before, on Wednesday the 18th. Years later, Mrs. Drabing adamantly told me (and others who were in our company in September of 2003) that Hanley, whom she regarded as a “sneaky little bastard,” had left Lincoln “the day of the murders” and not the day before. There are also others who disputed Hanley’s claims about being in Jacksonville for the duration of the evening of August 19th. An eyewitness who was with Nancy Schneider that night swore she saw Hanley walk into the Knights of Columbus bar in Lincoln somewhere between 10:00 – 10:30 PM. Drabing was also rumored to have been at the KC’s playing cards during that same time frame. Hanley’s alibi for the night of the murders was never fully corroborated by his college roommate, his only alibi.

Back to the weekend following the August 19th murders. On Sunday, August 22, ’76, Theresa and I had breakfast together and then returned to her apartment in the early afternoon. When we walked up to the Water Street entry leading to the upstairs apartment, there was an envelope in the mailbox. It was addressed to Cindy, but it had no stamp on it or a return address – nothing indicating who’d HAND-DELIVERED IT to the apartment. Cindy was not there when we arrived, but she showed up shortly after we returned. The three of us were standing in the living room when Theresa handed Cindy the envelope. Cindy reluctantly opened it and began reading a letter. She was standing directly across from me as she was reading it, so I couldn’t see the information it contained. Cindy had a horrified expression on her face while she was reading, and her expression startled me. I asked her what was wrong. She was speechless. I asked, “Who’s it from?” Cindy didn’t answer. I demanded again, “Cindy, who’s it from?” She exhaled, “Michael.” I couldn’t believe my ears. I recoiled, “Michael? Michael Drabing?” She was silent. I demanded, “What does it say?” Cindy ran to her bedroom and wouldn’t tell us what the letter said.

Right after that, the same unknown car from the previous evening showed up outside the apartment and sat there briefly and then took off. The driver of the car appeared to be a male. After the car left, Cindy ran down the stairs and also left the apartment. She moved back in with her parents after this incident, and it took her a few months to fully move out of the apartment.

So why was Pat Hanley calling the apartment wanting to speak to Cindy during the weekend following the Schneider murders when he was, according to what Cindy claimed he said, “driving around trying to get his head clear”? If he wanted to speak to Cindy, why hadn’t he just come to the apartment and asked to speak to her? What did he need to allegedly get his head clear about? Who actually wrote the letter to Cindy, and who hand-delivered it to the apartment? Michael Drabing couldn’t have hand-delivered it – he was sitting in the Sangamon County Jail charged with a triple homicide. Drabing was under arrest for killing all three victims, including Lloyd whom Hanley had promised HE was going to “get” and “kill.” Lloyd’s face was intentionally disfigured — an act of personal aggression. Drabing said he had nothing personal against the Schneiders, and he’d only killed them because they were rich.

Cindy claimed “Michael” had written the letter. Cindy obviously meant Michael Drabing, but there was a hesitation before she’d answered, “Michael.” Since that day, I have always believed she hesitated to answer me because she was thinking of something to tell me other than the truth. I guess Michael Drabing could have theoretically written the letter prior to the murders, but then someone else would have to have hand-delivered his letter to the apartment. If Drabing had actually written the letter, he would have to have preselected a messenger to deliver it before the crime was committed or between committing the murders and fleeing the crime. Drabing had returned home within 10 to 15 minutes of the killings, which was far too quick. That fact, in conjunction with there having been no blood or a shred of trace evidence found in his Ford Torino, certainly suggests that someone else drove him home after he fled the crime scene.

Why would either Drabing or Hanley feel the NEED to get a letter to Cindy? If there was nothing relating to the murders in that hand-delivered letter to Cindy, then why had she been so horrified, why hadn’t she divulged what it said, and why had she moved out of the apartment and back in with her parents? But why would Drabing and/or possibly someone else connected to Drabing and the murders have taken the risk of putting incriminating and/or threatening information in writing to be delivered to Cindy when it could potentially be exposed? The importance of the information within that letter, and getting that information to Cindy, must have outweighed the risks of it being exposed. It seemed the author of the letter, and/or its messenger, must have been extremely confident that Cindy would not reveal what the letter said.

THE LETTER WAS EVIDENCE — possibly one of the most important pieces of evidence in the Schneider triple murder case.

There were a few possibilities that came to my mind as I contemplated the importance of the letter. I strongly believed then, as I do now, that the letter was in reality from Pat Hanley, not “Michael” Drabing. The information in the letter might have implicated Hanley and others as being accomplices in the murders and/or accessories before and/or after the fact. There were also other possibilities relating to the letter’s content. The letter had to have related to the Schneider murders in some way. After all, Cindy had said the letter was from “Michael” and Michael was sitting in jail for single-handedly stabbing the Schneiders 90 TIMES. The murders were clearly premeditated.

Regardless of the possibilities pertaining to the letter, it was Cindy’s law-abiding duty to have turned that letter (EVIDENCE) over to authorities. It’s not believable for Cindy to claim all these years later that she “can’t remember” what was in that letter. You don’t just abruptly move out of an apartment under these circumstances and not remember why you did that. The letter and its content WAS THE CAUSE for Cindy’s sudden departure.

For 43 YEARS Cindy has needed to TELL THE TRUTH about the letter, AND SHE STILL DOES.

My friend, Dr. Larry Farwell, Forensic Neuroscientist and the Inventor of Brain Fingerprinting, assisted me in my investigation. Farwell is a witness to admissions and claims made by Cindy. Farwell and I also interviewed others.

So, what importance did Cindy bear, and what did that letter say? Most importantly, what did Cindy DO with the letter?

Truth and Justice,
Bonnie J. Thompson, Investigative Writer/Author

The former second floor apartment on the corner of Tremont and Water in Lincoln, IL. (All content from “Buried Truth” by Bonnie J. Thompson. Registered Copyrights 2013, 2015, 2017. All rights reserved.)

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