Brother recalls brutal murder of star athlete and his girlfriend 50 years ago
It’s been 50 years since teenagers Mike Morrison and Debbie Means were murdered near Mascoutah, devastating their families and friends and instilling fear throughout the region.
The crime on May 4, 1969 — in the early morning hours after prom night — was particularly brutal.
Fifteen-year-old Debbie’s bruised and nude body was found on Peabody strip-mining property between Mascoutah and Freeburg. Her hands and feet were bound behind her back with clothesline. She had been gagged with her underwear, raped and strangled.
“Morrison, still clad in his tuxedo trousers and white shirt, was found about 75 feet away,” according to a 1985 story in the Belleville News-Democrat. “He had been shot three times in the back of the head at point-blank range with what was later determined to be a .22-caliber pistol.”
The BND story was written 16 years after the murders because Marshall Wayne Stauffer, the man believed to have committed them, was up for parole. He was serving time in prison for a Clinton County rape and armed robbery. Charges in the St. Clair County case had been dropped as part of a plea agreement.
Mike’s brother, Eddie Morrison, is self-publishing a book on the murders in conjunction with the 50th anniversary. If it turns a profit, he plans to donate it to the Morrison/Means Memorial Scholarship at Mascoutah High School.
“I’ve been keeping a scrapbook,” said Eddie, 67, who now lives in Harrisonburg, Virginia. “I started it when I was 17. I thought, ‘Someday, if I ever have some kids, they will want to know about this.’ I kept every article about it.”
An editor now is reviewing Eddie’s manuscript. The book will be titled “Bad Moon Rising,” after the Creedence Clearwater Revival song, which Mike listened to in his room before leaving for prom.
Eddie sees the lyrics as something of an omen, with phrases such as “I know the end is coming soon” and “I hope you are quite prepared to die.”
“Don’t go around tonight,” the chorus warns. “It’s bound to take your life. There’s a bad moon on the rise.”
Mike remembered as ‘golden boy’
Eddie is a semi-retired financial planner. He and his wife, Mindy, a DuQuoin native, were in Illinois recently to visit family and friends.
That included John “Bubby” Hinkle and his wife, Lynnette, who hung out with Mike, 18, and his girlfriend, Debbie, in high school. They were among the last people to see the couple alive.
“(Mike) was on track to be valedictorian of our class,” said John, now 67, of Mascoutah, a retired Air Force and airline pilot and former math teacher. “He was at least a two-sport star athlete in basketball and baseball. He was a golden boy — good-looking, athletic, smart and cool.”
Mike, a senior, had received three scholarships and planned to study math and play football at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Debbie was a sophomore, known for her hard work and school activism. Both their fathers were in the military. The Morrisons lived in Mascoutah, and the Meanses lived on Scott Air Force Base.
Mascoutah High School’s prom took place on Saturday night, May 3, 1969, in the girls gymnasium. The theme was “Moonlight and Roses.”
“We tried to transform the gym to make it look like it was nighttime,” said Lynnette, now 66, a retired schoolteacher. “We covered a cage ball with aluminum foil and suspended it from the ceiling and had a blue spotlight projecting on it to make it look like a full moon.”
After the dance, John and Lynnette met several other couples for dinner at Carriage House Restaurant (now Papa Vito’s) in Belleville. Mike and Debbie were late because Mike got a ticket for spinning his wheels in the school parking lot and having a loud muffler on the Morrison family car, a 1963 Plymouth Belvedere.
Eddie, a junior, and his prom date dined at Carriage House that night with a different group. It was the last time he saw his big brother alive.
After dinner, Mike and Debbie headed to a small party at the abandoned Peabody strip pits. They left about 2:30 a.m. but never made it home.
“They were run off the road and abducted at gunpoint,” Eddie said.
Investigators concluded that Stauffer drove the couple about three miles in his 1962 maroon Chevy convertible with a black top. He parked in an isolated spot near Funk School Road and Jack’s Run Road, where he raped and strangled Debbie and shot Mike. At some point, Mike was locked in the trunk.
Bodies spotted by private plane
In 1969, Mike’s father, Chief Master Sgt. Bill Morrison, was serving in Thailand while his wife, Anne, cared for their five children. On Sunday morning, she became frantic, wondering why her eldest son hadn’t come home from prom.
After Mass, Eddie headed toward the Peabody property with sister Cecilia and neighbor Mary Kay Haas. They found the Plymouth along Rentchler Station Road with its doors open and keys in the ignition. Back in town, Mary Kay’s father waved down Illinois State Police trooper Dave Jung, who agreed to help find the missing teens.
By Monday, Scott Air Force Base had joined the effort, sending a busload of military personnel to search on foot. An Aero Club member flew over in a private plane and spotted Mike’s white shirt. Jung and trooper Charlie Graul hiked through overgrown brush to reach the bodies.
“It was absolutely gruesome,” said Jung, now 75, of Mascoutah, who is retired.
“We had never seen anything like that before. We had been to car accidents where multiple people died, but these people had been murdered. Debbie was hogtied from her neck down to her hands and then down to her ankles. Mike was lying face down in a ditch that had a small amount of water in it.”
Soon after the discovery, St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department officers arrived and took over the investigation. But it wasn’t long before Jung and Graul were involved again.
Mascoutah Police Chief Ernest Bovinette made a desperate phone call to Capt. Emil Toffant, the Illinois State Police District 11 commander, and persuaded him to give the troopers a special assignment in Mascoutah.
Jung, who was in the room, recalls the chief saying, “Emil, you guys just cut my legs off. You’re taking away two of my hometown troopers, and I need their help. Our town is in a state of panic. People are afraid to leave their houses because there’s a murderer on the loose.”
Jung considers the next month one of the most interesting in his 39-year career. Beyond normal investigative work, he and Graul pretended to be a couple, parking late at night on country roads, with 25-year-old Jung dressed as a woman.
They hatched the sting idea after the murderer wrote a letter, graphically describing Debbie’s rape and killing. He addressed it to the “murdered girl’s mother” and sent it to Scott Air Force Base, along with contents from Mike’s wallet. He claimed he wouldn’t have killed Debbie if she hadn’t bit his lip.
“A psychologist (who analyzed the letter) said if the guy was still in the area, there was a good chance he would do it again,” Jung said. “He was in the habit of running the back roads looking for parkers.”
Graves marked by joint tombstone
The St. Clair County prom murders made national news. Reporters, photographers and TV cameramen filled the balcony at Holy Childhood of Jesus Catholic Church in Mascoutah, where hundreds gathered for Mike and Debbie’s joint funeral.
Mascoutah High School dismissed classes, so a throng of students ran to nearby Holy Childhood cemetery as a long procession of cars pulled up for the graveside farewell. Mike and Debbie were buried next to each other. Their tombstone reads, “Friends Together Always.”
Teenage pallbearers included John Hinkle and Doug Wombacher, who remember how quickly their youthful feelings of invincibility disappeared. Lynnette and other girls were afraid to go out after dark.
“It made me realize that there is true evil,” said Doug, now 65, an assistant warden at a detention center and a retired prison administrator who lives in St. Marys, Georgia. “It is real, and it is horrific. (The murders) changed me deeply in that sense.”
Doug also noted that schools throughout the St. Louis region began embracing the concept of “locked-down” prom parties, where students could no longer come and go.
In those days, Stauffer, 39, went by the name William Nickerson. He was a nomadic mobile-home repairman with a long criminal record and many aliases.
Investigators searched his trailer in Shiloh after his employer at Scott Mobile Homes told them he had skipped town without notice after the murders. Evidence included cigarette butts with blood on them.
“Authorities said he has a bluebird tattooed on his upper left arm, the word ‘mother’ on the lower left arm, a burn scar on the inner right wrist and unknown lettering tattooed on each knee,” according to an AP story.
Stauffer had undeveloped camera film in his possession, and the photos positively linked him to another crime, a Clinton County rape and armed robbery involving two teenagers from Belleville and East St. Louis. The circumstances were similar.
“(The couple) had been parked on a lovers’ lane, and a man ... blocked their car,” the BND reported. “The man told them he was a policeman and pulled a gun. He locked the man in the trunk before raping the woman. He then let the man out of the trunk and ordered him to engage in sex with the woman while he took pictures.”
In that case, the victims were allowed to live. They later identified Stauffer as their attacker during a preliminary court hearing, according to the Centralia Evening Sentinel.
Public upset at plea agreement
Former St. Clair County State’s Attorney Bob Rice dropped two charges of first-degree murder against Stauffer after he agreed to plead guilty to the Clinton County crimes. Stauffer received concurrent sentences of 50 to 52 years for the rape and 30 to 50 years for the armed robbery.
Jung was among those who felt certain Stauffer killed Mike and Debbie.
“When (the plea deal) hit the news, people in Mascoutah were just furious,” he said. “Bob Rice agreed to come to Mascoutah High School for a public meeting and explain why they did what they did. There was a tremendous crowd. The gym was packed.”
Jung remembers some townsfolk being so aggressively hostile that police had to quickly escort Rice out of the gymnasium for fear he would be harmed.
Rice is now deceased. In 1985, he told the BND that he agreed to drop the murder charges because the evidence was mostly circumstantial and probably not strong enough for a conviction. FBI handwriting experts had disagreed on whether Stauffer wrote the letter to Debbie’s mother, June Means, and the gun used to kill Mike was never found.
“If I had my life to live over, I would have tried him,” Rice said. “I don’t think I would have won the case, but the public pressure and scorn were so bad. It was the low point of my eight years as a prosecutor. I don’t think the people of Mascoutah have ever forgiven me.”
Stauffer spent 21 years in prison, serving at both Menard and Dixon. Doug Wombacher saw him regularly for five years while working as an Illinois Department of Corrections classification officer at Menard in the 1970s.
Doug described Stauffer as a “psychopath” who knew how to manipulate the system, working his way up to the influential position of chief clerk as an inmate.
“It was difficult,” Doug said. “It was very difficult to be around somebody who I knew had killed two wonderful people.”
Suspect went on to rape again
Beyond rape and murder, Stauffer’s criminal record included car thefts, con jobs and a five-year stint at the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas for going AWOL from the U.S. Army.
Stauffer was released from Dixon Correctional Center in 1990. Two years later, he was arrested and convicted on charges related to three violent rapes and a kidnapping in Idaho, Oregon and Nevada. He was serving a no-parole life sentence when he died in 2002 at age 71.
Stauffer preyed on teens and liked to humiliate them by forcing them to remove their clothes and smile for lewd photos, according to Bobbi Richart, the former Idaho county prosecutor who put Stauffer in prison for good. She was interviewed in 2004 for a BND story on the St. Clair County murders.
“He’s right up there with Ted Bundy with the cruelty,” Richart said. “If you ever said ‘no’ to Marshall Stauffer, you got hurt.”
Last year, it was Eddie Morrison’s wife, Mindy, who persuaded him to write a short story about his family tragedy. Then the short story became a long story, and the long story became a book, which Mindy is co-authoring.
Eddie did extensive research, determined not only to document the murders but also to learn more about Stauffer and what made him tick.
“Once (Eddie) started on this journey, it was like throwing a pebble into a pond,” said Mindy, 66, a retired schoolteacher. “And as all those ripples went out, it started including more people and more stories. It just sort of grew organically.”
Eddie’s parents are deceased. He reached out to Debbie’s parents, Bob and June Means, who now live in Texas, but they declined to be interviewed for the book. Talking about their daughter’s horrible death still hurts too much.
The Morrison/Means Memorial Scholarship was established in 1969. It’s awarded to one male and one female graduating senior at Mascoutah High School each year. Eddie was the first recipient. Since that time, the amount has increased from $500 to $1,000.
The scholarship program is a small but enduring reminder of a painful chapter in the city’s history. When “Bad Moon Rising” is published, Eddie plans to sell it and hold book signings locally.
“It’s something that people out here have never forgotten,” Jung said. “It was a big tragedy.”