Uncovered: The Lovers’ Lane Murders is a five-part investigative podcast into the murders of two teenagers in Norman, Oklahoma in 1970. The case is almost 50 years old and remains unsolved. Allegations of obstruction and cover-ups have plagued the Norman Police Department in the years since the murders, but changes made hope to rectify those concerns.

Episode 1 explores how The Daily came across the story of the two murdered teenagers, David Sloan and Sheryl Benham. Get to know their families and the rural Norman road that is just the beginning of the unsolved mystery.

Episode 1 Script

ACT I

 

-Gunshot sound –

 

K: 1970. It was the summer after Woodstock and America’s counterculture was thriving. The Hippie Era was still blazing, but now, the kids coming of age had become increasingly politically active. Hundreds of thousands of college students were protesting the Vietnam War. The OU Daily, in a new podcast series called “Uncovered,” investigated a pair of murders that took place May 9, 1970 in Norman.

I’m Kayla Branch and I’ll be your host as we hear stories and first-hand accounts from those involved with the case. The murders are intrinsically tied to the decade they occured – the type of technology available for investigations, the loss of trust in  police and the beginnings of harsh public scrutiny into government bodies. Most of the case takes place in central Oklahoma and Northern Texas, but our story begins five days earlier in Kent, Ohio, on Monday, May 4, 1970.

 

-Theme music –

 

After President Richard Nixon announced plans to invade Cambodia, riots, protests and demonstrations broke out all over the country. Thousands gathered for a demonstration on the Kent State University campus in Ohio. The National Guard was called in to contain the crowd, and shots were fired when students wouldn’t disperse. Four students were killed and nine others were wounded.

On Tuesday, May 5, the University of Oklahoma Student Association gathered hundreds of students to protest not only the war, but the actions of law enforcement in Ohio.

Five days later, a few miles west of OU’s campus, shots were fired again, ending the lives of two college students. Decades of investigations followed, creating ripples in the Norman community still felt today.

K: This past spring, our newsroom got a call asking if we could look through our old newspapers to find a picture taken of a Jimi Hendrix concert on campus from the May 12, 1970 paper. A Daily staffer began flipping through pages in our large, dusty archive books. She found the newspaper with the requested photo, but also found what led to the months long Daily investigation into that pair of murders. “TWO FOUND DEAD IN TRUNK.” Those five words, in large bold font, headlined a story on the bottom right corner of the May 12 front page. When I first heard that, there was a little bit of shock and, as I read further, a little bit of intrigue. We flipped through the following days, seeing article after article following police officials and community groups. When I googled the names of those involved, dozens of articles popped up, spanning decades. That’s when we realized this case was more than a pair of untimely deaths. We had talked about wanting to devote resources to an investigative piece, and what unfolded left us determined to tell the stories of not only of those who died, but really about those who spent their lives with the case and how police at the local and state level conduct investigations.

K: Back to that Tuesday in 1970: the OU protest ended peacefully, but police and residents were on edge for the rest of the week. There was a carnival coming to town and classes were ending soon, so students were hosting parties. Police were spread thin. But amid the chaos, David Sloan and Sheryl Benham were preparing for a date.

 

-Party music –

 

ACT II

 

Recording of Linda: “Well, she loved her job… I love, there’s this one picture of Sherri, she looked so cute she had the little red skirt and the white top, you know, and she was just so cute in it.”

K: This is Linda Adams, the older sister of Sheryl Benham. She talked about Sheryl like this every time we had a phone call.

Recording of Linda: “She also loved her first nephew, my son that was living there with us…  She was just crazy about him… She had, believe it or not, she had a blue Mustang, a baby blue Mustang. She would drive it to work, drive it to see her friends… She loved life, she loves everything that everybody did, and she looked for that in people.”

For Linda, talking openly about her sister is something that’s relatively new. It may have been almost 50 years since the murders, but Linda said it rarely feels that long. Sheryl met David Sloan at Steak and Ale, a restaurant in Oklahoma City where they both worked.

David came to OU as a student from Amarillo, Texas, in 1966. Described as ornery but well-liked and friendly, he was on a tennis scholarship for his first two years. There is a picture of him in a 1969 OU yearbook with his racket. He was tall with thick brown hair and a lean build. He’s got a big smile, seems confident. He was part of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. According to newspaper articles in the Norman Transcript from that first week, David was set to graduate the upcoming December with a business administration degree and then be commissioned through the Naval ROTC. On Saturday, May 9, 1970, Dave was 21.

Sheryl graduated from Putnam City High School in 1969 and was living in Oklahoma City with her parents, her older sister Linda and Linda’s oldest son. She was outgoing and fun and their family was close. She was 19.

When we found Linda’s phone number and reached out to her, she had reservations about telling her story to another set of reporters, but she became an invaluable source, sharing personal details from a family struck with tragedy. We never found anyone from Dave’s family to speak to like this, so we were given a much clearer look at the Benham family from Linda’s vivid recollections of almost 50 years ago.

The Benhams were traditional. Linda and Sheryl’s parents, Ben and Sue Benham, moved around for Ben’s different jobs until settling their family in Oklahoma City for good.

Recording of Linda: “Our family was very close, very close. And we were brought up, we went to church, my dad was a Mason. It is like a fairy tale now. There aren’t families like that now, I don’t think. Sherry and I, yes. Well, we shared the same bedroom. We were very close. She was just, oh, well-respected, very intelligent, just you know… My dad was a very strict father, but he, uh, you just knew what to do and what not to do.”

K: They lived in a house off of Northwest 46th Street, a main road in Oklahoma City. Today, that house is tall and long, bricked at the bottom. It sits in a quiet neighborhood. There’s a large backyard shaded by multiple trees. The driveway is to the left, the sidewalk running along the length of the house for a few yards before the steps to the front door. That’s where Dave would have walked when he came to pick Sheryl up for their date Saturday night.

 

ACT III

 

-Fade in with party music –

 

K: From interviews, news articles and court documents, we were able to piece together an outline of that night. After picking Sheryl up at her Oklahoma City home, the pair drove down to Norman to attend a party at Dave’s fraternity. They stayed at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house for a few hours, hanging out with friends.

There would have been music, talking, some drinking, maybe dancing. The more I learned about that night, the more I realized it started off just like the fraternity parties today. College students going out together, laughing with friends, looking forward to the future. That happens all the time at OU. But this night ended differently.

They left the fraternity house around 11:30 p.m. and went to a place in western Norman known as “Lover’s Lane.” In 1970, Norman was going through a period of growth, but this part of town, out past the main highway and now home to a large residential area with houses and schools, was still just farmland and brush. It was private enough for young couples to park their cars and be intimate. The place Dave and Sheryl went was popular, though they probably weren’t expecting to find any company. The two stayed there for an unknown amount of time.

What is known is they were disrupted.

Recording of Linda: “This was one of the weirdest things ever. Before she left that house, she turned to my mother and said, ‘Here mom, here’s your Mother’s Day present early…’ the next day was Mother’s Day. And my mother still to this day, ‘Why did she give that to me?’ Was there a premonition, I don’t know, no one will ever know.”

K: Almost two days later, their belongings were found dropped in and around Dave’s car, a 1966 Pontiac GTO. An old pool cue, broken in half, was in the front seat. The car was riddled with bullet holes. And inside the trunk were the bodies of David and Sheryl, shot and mutilated.

 

-Theme music here –

 

The murders of David Sloan and Sheryl Benham remain unsolved. It’s been 48 years and the case has been closed and reopened, seen two grand juries and one trial. Most of those who were involved in the case have died, but my team and I were able to track down individuals who remember first-hand what happened all those years ago. The stories they told were shrouded in conspiracy theories and different ways the case was mishandled by the Norman Police Department and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. Hundreds of court documents back that up. What truly happened to Dave and Sheryl is still and may always be speculation, but some people believe they have a pretty good guess.

 

Next time on Uncovered: The Lover’s Lane Murders:

 

As the night hours of May 9 wear on, Sheryl’s dad becomes worried. What happens next leaves him and his family reeling while the Norman Police Department begins investigation. But one officer leaves just four days after the murders.

 

-Exit theme music again –

In episode 2, listen to the the story of Sheryl’s sister, Linda, on the day her family searched for Sheryl. The Norman Police Department begins investigations into the crime and receives tips on who might have been involved with the killings.

Episode 2 Script

– Intro music –

 

K: You’re listening to Uncovered: the Lover’s Lane Murders. I’m Kayla Branch, and when we left off in episode one, the murders of David Sloan and Sheryl Benham had just happened after they left a fraternity party in Norman. We’ll pick back up the day the bodies were found.

 

ACT I

 

Recording of Ken: “Well, I’d been to law enforcement academy at LSU for 90 days and I got back that Sunday, Mother’s Day — was going to take a couple of days off but was going by the office to get my expenses… I was actually in the bank parking lot, I remember where I was, and the chief agent called me on the radio and asked if I would go to Norman to help them with a vehicle they’d recovered in a missing person’s case. I didn’t really want to, but I thought it’ll be pretty easy; I live in Midwest City and I’ll drive down there and we can process that car in an hour or two. Ended up, I don’t know how many days and nights we first worked on that, several, and now 48 years later, it’s terrible.”

K: For Ken Jacobson, that was his introduction to the murders of Sheryl Benham and David Sloan. He was working as a recent recruit to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation in 1970 and was assigned to the case full time. When the OSBI, along with the Norman Police Department and the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office, found the bodies on Monday, May 11, Sheryl and David had been missing for just over 24 hours.

By early morning Sunday, Sheryl’s dad had driven to Norman to speak with police and report her missing. Linda, Sheryl’s older sister by two years, stayed at their family home in Oklahoma City with her mom.

Recording of Linda: “Early the next morning, my sister had not come home and we knew something was wrong … I remember my mother shaking me saying, ‘Linda, Linda.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ She said, ‘Have you heard from Sherry?’ I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ And I begin to hear all this, ‘She never came home last night.’ My very first thought was ‘Oh my god, Sherry, are you in trouble now.’… My dad was gone before daylight driving to Norman. My mom, of course, is there, and I was there with her. It was pretty tough. My mother finally said, ‘I’ve got to call Ms. Sloan and tell her what is going on.’ My mother hung up the phone and said, ‘She is on her way.’”

K: This is one of the only times we ever came across the Sloan family coming to Norman to be involved with the case. David’s mom raised him and her other children on her own, according to Linda. The family was polite and helpful after the murders, but wanted more than anything to just move on.  

Sheryl’s family started thinking of possibilities of what could have happened. Maybe Sheryl had been drugged. Maybe the war protesters from earlier that week had started rioting. When David’s mom arrived at the Benham house later that Sunday, Linda decided she was going to leave for Norman to see if she could help find Sheryl.

Recording of Linda: “When something like this happens, you feel like, ‘What could I do?’ And the neighbor across the street had gone to OU … So I called her and explained that you know Sherry went on this date last night, and she isn’t home yet. I said my dad has been in Norman all day. My mind was, ‘Where could I go, what could’ve happened?’ She drove me to Norman. She suggested we go to the police station and see if anything’s come up. So when I walked in there, and they say, ‘Can we help you?’ And I’m just here, ‘My sister is missing and I’ve just wondered,’ and they stopped me and go, ‘What is her name?’ And when I said ‘Sherry Benham,’ they turned to me and say, ‘You need to go home.’ I’m like, ‘Well my dad-,’ ‘No, you need to go home, now.’ You’re probably gonna think, how could anyone be as naïve as I was. But I was. I call, my dad picks up the phone. So I go, ‘Dad did you find Sherry? Did they find Sherry?’ ‘Yes. Come on home.’ So I hung up. I tell Judy, ‘They found her! Let’s go!’ Well, they did find her. Well..”

 

-Music-

 

ACT II

 

-Music-

 

K: Police had starting investigating where Sheryl and David could have been after Sheryl’s dad filed the missing persons report. They spoke to an ex-girlfriend of David’s, who said they had sometimes went to the Ten-Mile Flats area after dates. Ten-Mile Flats is the official name of the area that was home to many of Norman’s secluded roads, which were commonly known as Lover’s Lanes. When police got there, the crime scene had been swept clean. No murder weapon, no footprints, no tire tracks. DNA testing wasn’t being used yet, so police had few options. Some personal belongings had been strewn around the car, like a bracelet Ken Jacobson, the OSBI investigator from earlier, found and gave back to Sheryl’s parents. David’s keys, wallet and shoes were all missing, too. But there were also bullet casings, almost 30 of them, scattered in the dirt and brush. David and Sheryl were each shot at least 10 times, and David’s car had multiple bullet holes through the rear of the car and the trunk. This was the only physical evidence in the entire case. They were from a .22 caliber weapon.

Recording of Ken: “The reason a .22 was used is because you can’t do any type of ballistics on them like you can with larger guns. The only thing we had to work with was the shell casing that had been ejected, and the firing pin makes a distinct impression on the shell casing, and this one was unusual … But we could never match them. But again, a guy has knowledge of firearms would pick a .22 to use, you know, all you have to worry about is that firing pin, and if you throw the gun in the river, the evidence is gone. Whoever did that knew about crime scenes and knew about firearms — they knew what they were doing. And they did a good job, far as cleaning it up and everything.”

K: After finding the car and the bodies, officers from all of the agencies came together to sweep the area. They walked up and down the field, finding a few things — more bullets, mostly. Mike Brake, a police reporter for the Oklahoma Journal in 1970, went out to the crime scene with officers. He has an old binder with newspaper clippings, police reports and photos he took of the crime scene when it was discovered. He showed us this information he had collected over the years. The Norman Police Department said it didn’t hold any officials records back that far that we could use to verify specific details.

The next few days were chaos. The police department brought in dozens of suspects, potential witnesses, family members and friends to interview. They took in Sheryl’s ex-boyfriend for questioning. They had broken up a few months before, but Jacobson said he just wasn’t the type to commit a murder. They arrested a man who was picked up on the side of the road in a different town because someone reported him as having blood on his clothes. He was found to not be involved with the case at all. David’s fraternity went out to search the field as well, but they didn’t find anything helpful. On the following Wednesday and Thursday, funerals were held. Sloan’s was in Amarillo at the First Presbyterian Church that Wednesday. Brake saved a newspaper article about Sheryl’s funeral the next day.

Recording of Brake: “200 people. Bill Maher funeral home. On Thursday. Here’s a quote about Sher right there: ‘She loved life and lived to make people happy.’ Dr. Bailey said he told her young friends that detailing her high moral character and firm Christian beliefs, then urged the crowd especially the young to trust in God. Words he said he believes she would have said.”

Articles about the murders were all over the central Oklahoma news, and Linda said her family was asked to do multiple interviews those next few days. There were press conferences asking for information and a reward fund was set up, raising thousands of dollars to give to anyone who could provide helpful details. Jacobson said calls flooded in, but every one of them led to a dead end. Except one, a few days later.

 

-Music-

 

ACT III

 

-Music-

 

The call came from a TV station in Amarillo, Texas, a few days after the murders. A reporter there had a tip about someone on Norman’s police force.

Recording of Brake: “He contacted somebody here, said there’s a guy in your town there who was a bad apple out here, who is known for messing with Lover’s Lane couples, and they started checking into him and found out he is on probation and shouldn’t have ever been hired by the Norman Police Department in the first place.”

K: That man was Frank Gilley.

 

-Music here-

 

Recording of Ken: “Frank made a couple of comments to me after the bodies were taken out of the car. We got several Norman officers lined up and walked across the area to see if we could find anything … He told me, ‘I knew that smart punk in Amarillo.’ At the time, I thought, ‘Boy, that’s a cold statement to make, the guy just got taken out of the trunk, he was shot a couple dozen times or so.’ He came up to me and volunteered that, none of the officers had anything to say, they just did what they had to do. Frank wanted you to know that he was on top of everything and that he was better than these other guys.”

K: We heard this again from Brake, who had a copy of the official police reports Ken filed the day they found the bodies.

Recording of Brake: “There was no official record at any check in Texas to indicate that Gilley had ever made contact with Sloan, officially. But handwritten here, in Ken Jacobson’s handwriting, Gilley made a verbal statement on 5-12-70 to this agent that he was personally acquainted with Sloan and had trouble with that wise punk in Amarillo two or three times.”

K: The phone call from the Amarillo TV station eventually prompted some case investigators to seriously look into Gilley. But by that point, he was gone.

 

-Theme music-

 

K: Next time on Uncovered: The Lover’s Lane Murders.

 

-Sound bites here from next episode-

 

When officers are tipped off to start investigating Frank Gilley as a suspect in the double homicide of David Sloan and Sheryl Benham, the Norman police force splits into two groups working against each other. Those pressing to charge Gilley uncover what they believe to be undeniable evidence, but the stakes may have been too high for those who wished to keep Gilley from being arrested.

 

-Exit noise – 

The cloudy past of the man suspected for the murders is investigated in episode 3, as well as the beginnings of a cover-up, a retracted alibi and testimony from various couples who were also harassed on Lovers’ Lanes. 

Episode 3 Script

-Intro music –

 

ACT I

 

Recording of Brake: “Some friends told me that the man was Frank Gilley and that he hit me in the head with a flashlight. I did not see the flashlight myself, but as he was shoving me out the door, my head hit the door. I was taken into his car and handcuffed to be taken to the jail, along with some of the other boys… ”

K: You’re listening to Uncovered: the Lover’s Lane Murders. I’m Kayla Branch. At the end of episode two, we first heard the name Frank Gilley as a possible suspect in the murders of Sheryl Benham and David Sloan in early May of 1970. The case becomes exceedingly complicated and twisted from here on out, so be prepared.

K: That was the voice of Mike Brake, the reporter from the Oklahoma Journal who covered the Sheryl Benham-David Sloan case in the early 70s. He’s reading a statement from a boy in Amarillo who witnessed a crucial altercation involving Frank Gilley. The boy had been dropped off at a party in late May or early June 1968, and later in the evening he got into a fight until Gilley pulled him off. Gilley was white, 5-foot-8 and close to 180 pounds. Born on Dec. 28, 1935, he was in his mid-30’s during the early 1970s. He had lived in small towns in northern Texas his whole life and spent over a decade in the Amarillo area as a sheriff’s deputy for Potter County. He was married multiple times and had a few children. We were never able to get in contact with any of these family members, though.

Recording of Brake: “When he got on the elevator there, there was a Mexican boy about 18 years old on there with us, as well as another deputy. On the way up, Mr. Gilley made several remarks to the Mexican, one remark was that he didn’t like his face. When we got upstairs, Mr. Gilley was filling out the paperwork on the Mexican boy and he asked the boy how much money he had and the boy said $10. Mr. Gilley asked him another question and the boy answered it. Then the boy said you didn’t put down my $10. Then Mr. Gilley said are you accusing me of stealing your $10? He then jumped up and grabbed the boy by the shoulders, shoved him against the wall and banged the boys head against the wall several times.”

K: Gilley had a clean official record until this incident in 1968. He was taken before a grand jury in Amarillo and indicted, given a suspended sentence and put on probation for an aggravated assault charge, though it was deemed a misdemeanor. He resigned and worked for an amusements company before being hired at the Norman Police Department, according to articles in the Norman Transcript.

Now this detail, the assault charge, is crucial because case investigators used it to show that Gilley should never have been hired by the Norman Police Department in the first place. Officers with assault charges aren’t usually allowed to continue policing. But in March of 1970, just two months before the murders, he was hired, by police chief Bill Henslee.

 

-Music –

 

When Gilley started work for the Norman police, he was described by other officers as just having shown up one day. They didn’t know anyone new was being hired. It was a much smaller department then, often only a few police officers would be out patrolling the city at a time. A tight knit group.

Recording of Kayla: “Can you speak about the relationship between Henslee and Gilley?

Recording of Brake: “Henslee, basically, hired Gilley on friendship because Henslee had been in law enforcement in Texas where Gilley was.”

Investigators on the case soon discovered that Gilley had been hired by Henslee without a background check or fingerprints taken, which we were told were normal hiring steps at the time. Henslee claimed that he had gotten a letter of recommendation from one of Gilley’s old bosses, but OSBI agent Ken Jacobson said when case detectives asked him to show them the letter, he couldn’t find it.

Recording of Ken: “Well Frank and Henslee and the sheriff were all buddies from out there and so we asked Henslee if we could take a look at that letter and he couldn’t produce it. And then all of a sudden one day, he said he found it. His secretary had said he got mail, so we think he called that old sheriff out there and said write me a letter from Frank and date it back.”

K: At this point, as we were learning all of this and trying to connect the dots, we started to have some questions. Did Henslee know about the assault charge? And if he did know, what did he think when investigators were first tipped off by an Amarillo reporter to look into Gilley as a possible suspect in the murders of Sheryl and Dave?

According to articles, testimonies and interviews, Henslee was worried. He agreed to give Gilley a polygraph test, unbeknownst to case investigators. Gilley took the test four days after the bodies were found. After the test, Henslee told reporters Gilley was innocent, that the polygraph proved it, and then Gilley packed his bags and resigned from the force that same day.  

Recording of Brake: “…He answered the relevant question truthful. So he passed the polygraph.

Recording of Kayla: “Is that difficult to do?…”

Recording of Brake: “Let me tell you, it’s not difficult to do for a true sociopath.”

 

-Music –

 

ACT II

 

K: “Ex-policeman appears victim of hate plot,”  headlines a June 2, 1970 article in the Norman Transcript. It chronicles what Gilley called a scandal, telling detectives and reporters there was a plot against him. He said his assault charges and even the call from the Amarillo TV station were retaliation for a contentious sheriff election in Amarillo in 1968, among other things, and that he was being used as a, quote, “political football.”

Henslee backed him, saying Gilley wasn’t the kind of man to commit any serious crimes, definitely not murder. The articles mention the relationship between Henslee and Gilley, that they had worked numerous cases together when Henslee was a Texas Ranger assigned to Pampa, Texas and Gilley was still in Potter County, about an hour southwest.

Recording of Brake: “Henslee, I think, after the murder happened, I think he thought right away “Oh this guy might have done it and I’m going to look terrible for hiring him, so let’s just get him the heck out of town.” … So Henslee was in cover up mode at that point. Whether he actually knew or rather it was just oh my gosh this is embarrassing, I don’t know, I think more likely the latter. I don’t think Henslee was convinced that Gilley had done it at that point. I think he just thought it was embarrassing to have the guy being investigated.”

K: Henslee talked about why Gilley left the Norman police force, saying he asked Gilley to go because the assault charges would make NPD look bad.

The explanation that Gilley was being framed ended up as somewhat of the official stance of the police department. Henslee is quoted saying this in multiple articles and testimonies. But agents like Ken Jacobson didn’t believe that and kept investigating.

Jacobson and a few other agents, like Norman detective Floyd Nash, dedicated themselves to finding enough hard proof to convict Gilley. They were spurred on by the initial evidence; the assault charge, Henslee hiring Gilley out of line with protocols and Gilley disappearing. But as 1970 wore on, other facts started showing up that were strange, Jacobson told us, describing them as being too many coincidences to not be connected.

Investigators called former colleagues and bosses of Gilley, looking for character statements.

Recording of Brake: “This is a contact with the Dave Kelley, who was with the DA office in Potter County, Texas. It says… after being acquainted with Frank Gilley, it was the opinion of this officer that Gilley is very capable of committing such an act of which he is being investigated by your department. Believed under the right circumstances, especially if the possibility of discovery were probable, that Gilley would not hesitate to kill a person or persons to help cover an illegal act he was committing…This is also from Sheriff Johnston, Randall County Texas, where Gilley worked at one point. ”

K: Randall County is a small portion of land encompassing the southern half of Amarillo, a lake and a few other small towns with a current population of about 120,000. Potter County, where Gilley was working directly before he came to Norman, covers the northern half of Amarillo.

Recording of Brake:  “Sheriff Johnston said he believed Gilley was very much capable of committing the type of crime that is involved in this case, he said in his opinion, GIlley was a very sadistic personality….”

K: They talked to other officers he worked with and they said he liked to “run gulley’s,” a slang term for driving through lovers’ lane areas and harassing teens. Investigators told me that they started to hear rumors, that GIlley had an obsession with lovers’ lanes, just like the one where David and Sheryl were found.

Officers also started looking into Gilley’s personal life, interviewing the woman he was married to in the 70s about his whereabouts the night of the murders. She told them he was home with her, but later recanted her statement, saying she didn’t know exactly where he was. They checked his police car, finding that on an average night, he would drive well over 100 miles on patrol. On the night of the murders , his car logged only about 30.

What became the most important, Jacobson told us, was finding the murder weapon. Police questioned Gilley and Henslee, who both said Gilley had never owned a .22 caliber weapon, the type of gun used in the murders.

Recording of Ken: “There was just like half a dozen guys on the police department that would even talk to us. One of them was Butch Green, who had ridden with Frank, who gave the statement that Frank did in fact carry a .22 rifle on duty in the car. Said he’s shoot rabbits with it and stuff.

K: Brake had the actual statements that Jacobson is referring to, from when Butch was questioned by investigators on Nov. 24, 1970.

Recording of Brake: “They asked…, “Were you acquainted with Frank Gilley when he was employed by the Norman Police Department? He said yes… Do you know if Gilley owned or had in his possession any .22 caliber weapons? He had a .22 caliber rifle in his locker at the Norman Police Department and also has several pistols of this caliber in his residence in Norman. He had showed me all of these at one time or another and also offered to loan them to me. A few days after he came here, to the state crime bureau for a polygraph test…”

K: This was the same polygraph Henslee had Gilley take shortly after the murders, the test Henslee said proved Gilley’s innocence.

Recording of Brake: “He told me that if anyone asked me about a .22 rifle, which he might own, to tell them no. And then relayed to me that that rifle actually belonged to his wife so he wasn’t lying. Having a conversation with Gilley in reference to his activities when he was a deputy sheriff in Amarillo, he told me of several investigations he had made and also relayed to me that during patrolling for our police department, he asked where any parkers went. I asked him why and he relayed to me that when he was in Amarillo, he went and would bust the parkers up and make them get out of the car and harass them and then let them go. Did you ever see Gilley with any type of badge other than the one he had? Yes, he had a badge in a black badge holder that was for the sheriff’s office.”

 

-Music –

 

K: Ten days before Green told investigators what he knew about Gilley, they learned that multiple young couples had recently been harassed by an unknown man on lovers’  lanes.

Recording of Brake: “Ava Yvonne Boden, this was her statement on Nov. 14, 1970. .. On June 8, 1970, they had driven down to Norman… It says “Well we were on a dirt road and had pulled up toward the west to where the sun was going down.”

K: Boden and her date Rick had been west of Norman, in the same area that David and Sheryl were just 30 days earlier. And it’s important to remember here that Gilley left the Norman police force on May 15. This incident is alleged to have happened in early June. And it’s also important to remember the climate of the time, that even though the majority of Norman’s community trusted law enforcement officials, the younger generation was having increasingly negative run-ins with officers, whether through protesting or individual incidents. Back to Brake reading Boden’s statement:

Recording of Brake: “We watched it go down and when it was down, we were still there for a few minutes and a car drove by and I didn’t see it but Rick did. And about 10 or 15 minutes later, we looked up and don’t know how long this guy had been standing there, but we looked up and there was a man standing there and he had a badge and he showed it to us…. Badge was in a black holder…. He told Rick that it would cost us a $20 fine each or he would have to take us down… As he was leaning up against the car, he asked me, and this was one of the first things he said, eh asked me if Rick and I had ever gone all the way together or something like that. I told him we hadn’t. He told me that if he asked Rick if I were a virgin and he told him I was and he asked me if I myself was and I told him no. He asked me if I’d ever had sexual intercourse. Said if I went out in the woods and took off all my clothes, he wouldn’t take me to jail.”  

Slowly, multiple other young couples started to come forward and they told stories like this one, of being out in a lovers’  lane area and getting harassed by a man claiming to be with the sheriff’s department. When the couples started coming to police, investigators put together a line up of photos of officers. And even though these statements were coming in after the murders of Sheryl and David, police were including pictures of Gilley.

Recording of Ken: “So we showed them photographs and they picked Gilley… We ended up with seven couples, 14 kids, that picked Gilley’s picture out that claimed this had happened to them on Lovers Lane.”

 

-Music-

 

K: Next time on Uncovered: The Lovers Lane Murders.

 

-Music-

 

Recording of Ken: “It turns out, there weren’t that many people working toward the same goal.”

Recording of Brake: “Frank Gilley did it. What more do you want me to say?”

Recording of Linda: “What all he did to how many people after Sherry and Dave? Who knows.”

K: When Jacobson and the team of investigators finally have enough evidence to put real pressure on Gilley, they run into opposition from Henslee and other Oklahoma law enforcement. Two years later, it seems like charges might be put against Gilley, but nothing is certain.

The initial investigation putters out after obstruction from local law enforcement agencies. Episode 4 crosses state lines into Dallas, Texas, where the investigation is reopened in the 1990s. 

Episode 4 Script

-Music –

 

K: You’re listening to Uncovered: The Lovers’ Lane Murders. I’m Kayla Branch and at the end of episode three, investigators had taken testimonies from 14 young adults who came forward claiming Frank Gilley had harassed them while they parked on lovers’ lanes. We’ll start back up with thoughts from Linda Adams, Sheryl’s older sister.

 

-ACT I-

 

-Music –

 

Recording of Linda: “He looked at my mom and said, “Sue, I’m going after him and they’re not going to do anything,” and he got his truck and took off and I know he had a rifle. He was going to drive to Amarillo, Texas, and kill him. And your first thought is “Good! I hope you do.” But then, he got pretty far but not real far, and started thinking. He told my mother, “Then I remembered, I still got you, I still got Linda and I still got Steve.” So he drove back home.”

K: Linda told us about her dad, overcome with anger and sadness, jumping in the car one night a few months after the murders to go find Frank Gilley himself.  The Benhams became close with investigators, especially Ken Jacobson, the lead investigator from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

Recording of Linda: “Ken Jacobson, I remember that name a lot. I think dad was with him for a long time with what was going on… He was so honest and wanted justice done. But when you can’t because of the way things are done, that’s hard.”

He kept the Benhams updated on the case. He told them that Gilley was their main suspect, but they were struggling to convince other law enforcement officials, like the DA’s office or the OSBI, that he could be charged with the murders of Sheryl and David.

K: It seemed like there was a main theory our sources kept coming back to on why it was so difficult to solve the case, even after the testimonies from other young couples who had also been harassed on lovers’ lanes in the area and from Butch Green, Gilley’s former partner, who told police Gilley had lied about not owning .22 caliber weapons. The phrase “good ol’ boys” was repeated to me several times. Everyone was referring to the idea that during the time of the murders, the men stuck together no matter what. They covered for one another and allowed scandals and corruption to be swept under the rug. This meant that investigators were not only working a difficult case, but also working against bosses and colleagues, politics and public perception. Investigators said Bill Henslee, the Norman police chief at the time, wanted to make sure this case didn’t reflect poorly on him or the department. He hoped to become director of the OSBI, Jacobson said, and a mark like this on someone’s record could derail a rising career. Investigators were also dealing with the biases of the Norman community. Many thought a cop would never commit such a crime.

Recording of Ken: “It’s my opinion that there were a lot of folks working against us. The DA at the time, I told him I wanted to file kind of a lesser charge on Gilley, just so he’d go to jail, because I thought he’d fall to pieces in jail. So I wanted to file impersonating an officer and he would tell these kids he was the sheriff and the DA refused to file. And he told me, he said if I file a case like that, it’ll set law enforcement back 20 years in Oklahoma.”

Recording of Kayla: “Now what does that mean?” 
Recording of Ken: “I don’t know…”

 

-Music –    

 

A few months into the investigation, detectives persuaded Henslee to give Gilley a second polygraph test. Gilley had taken his first polygraph a few days after the murders and when Henslee said he passed, Gilley packed up his bags and left the force. Now, Gilley was living in Amarillo, presumably with his parents, Jacobson told us.

Recording of Ken: “Henslee set it up and at that time, we weren’t sure if Henslee was for us or against us. He called us one night and said Frank’s agreed to take a polygraph and we’re going to do it in Lubbock. Well we thought that was unusual because Frank lived in Amarillo.”

K: Lubbock and Amarillo are nearly two hours away from each other.

Recording of Ken: “But we jumped in the car in Oklahoma City and drove out to Lubbock, drove all night. We got out there and the polygrapher is an old Texas Ranger, one of Hensley’s buddies. They patted each other on the back, good to see you, and all that stuff. Of course Gilley passed the polygraph and we didn’t get to talk to him or anything.”

K: Undeterred by the two passed polygraphs, investigators kept digging. Using the testimonies from other young couples and from Butch Green, they eventually secured a warrant to search Gilley’s home in Amarillo in December of 1970. State police officers came to assist.

Recording of Ken: “Frank stood on the porch and he said, “Well Rangers can come in, but you guys from Oklahoma can’t come in.” And the Ranger said, “You don’t have any choice Frank, these guys are with us and we’re all coming in.” Frank said, “I don’t have any .22 caliber weapons, I never owned one, I wouldn’t have one…”

K: But investigators did find .22 caliber weapons in the house, however they were technically owned by Gilley’s father. They took the weapons and tried to match them with some of the shell casings from the crime scene, but the tests came back without a ballistics match, Jacobson said.

In the coming months, detectives tailed Gilley as he went to work at his various odd jobs. They tried to set up sting operations, but they came up with no solid evidence.

Investigators believed they reached a tipping point in March of 1971 when they persuaded the district attorney to bring Gilley in on charges of impersonating an officer in connection with the statements given to police by the various teen couples. Gilley was brought in to the Amarillo police station and had his mug shots taken. Impersonating an officer today can lead to jail time and thousands of dollars in fines, but in 1971 Gilley didn’t spend any time in jail. Norman investigators tried to use these charges to connect Gilley with Sheryl and Dave’s murders, but in the end, nothing ever came of that either.

Eventually, Jacobson told Ben Benham, Sheryl’s father, to try writing a letter to Oklahoma’s attorney general and see if a grand jury could be convened, effectively skipping the need for authorization from heads of local agencies and instead giving officers a way to immediately close in on Gilley.

Benham did write the letter on May 11, 1971, exactly one year after the body of his daughter and her date were found in the trunk of Dave’s car. He sent it to the Norman mayor, the DA and even Mike Brake, who still has an original copy.

“I’m writing this in hopes that some of the people receiving this letter can provide answers,” he typed.

He had seven specific questions.

One: Why a man with an aggravated assault charge in Texas had been hired as a Norman cop? Two: Why Henslee hadn’t focused the investigation closer on Gilley from the beginning? Three, four and five: Why before Gilley was hired, he didn’t take a polygraph test, have a background check or enter his fingerprints into the system? Six: Why Gilley was allowed to resign days after the murders? Seven: How much Henslee knew but wasn’t letting on?

Months went by without a response or a jury.

 

-Music –

 

-ACT II –

 

-Music –  

 

K: In the spring of 1971, the bodies of Gilley’s former partner Butch Green and Green’s mistress were found after her husband shot and killed them when he found the pair together. When the husband went to court, it was speculated that Gilley was involved, that maybe he had tipped off the husband to the affair. Before Green died, Gilley had come back to investigators claiming that Green had something to do with the murders of Sheryl and David. He told Jacobson he needed to shift his focus elsewhere, but Jacobson was already convinced Gilley was the main suspect.

K: By this point, it had been over a year since the murders and the small group of dedicated investigators had spent hundreds of hours on the case. They began to feel the full weight of frustration that only a couple of guys were truly working together to bring down a case held back by politics.

Recording of Ken: “One of the hardest things about something like this is what you know happened but you can’t prove it. And there’s probably a million cases like that… This one is really unique in that it involved a police officer and I think that if we had had 100 percent cooperation from the get go, that we could have cleared it.”

K: It wasn’t until 1972 that the case seemed like it might pick back up again. The grand jury Sheryl’s father had requested would finally convene. On March 8, 1972, the grand jury met for the first time in Cleveland County to listen to witness testimonies and decide if there were any charges that could be filed against Gilley or if there was mishandling they could hold the local law agencies accountable for. Most of the trial information was kept from the public, but news articles indicated that Henslee and other officers testified, as did Jacobson and the other investigators. The judge for the jury was the former Cleveland County DA who had previously refused to go after Gilley, Jacobson said. The jury went on for a few days, but that’s really the end of it. An article almost 15 years later cites the grand jury’s final decision, saying, “We have investigated any and all complaints against the district attorney or his office… and find them without merit.”

Recording of Ken: “Some people just couldn’t believe that a police officer had done something like this and of course I didn’t believe it at first. When these kids started coming up and picking his picture out of a photo lineup is when I really started believing they knew what they were talking about.”

K: Jacobson left the OSBI almost a year later. He said the politics were too much, that true policing was impossible because of it. He was only on the force for three years, mostly focused on this one case.

Recording of Kayla: “What was it like for you… at the time that you retired was the case still open or had it kind of effectively gone cold?”

Recording of Ken: “Well it was open but they didn’t do anything on it… The agent that was signed to that after I left, I doubt if he did half a dozen interviews. I spent an awful lot of time on it in 1970, 73 but after that it just..

Recording of Kayla: “Puttered out.”

Recording of Ken: “Yeah.”

 

-Music –

 

ACT III

 

Recording of Pearo: “We had a cold case file and I would go through old homicide cases, not so much as to try to solve them, but to see how guys worked them in the past and that sort of thing.”

K: This is Dave Pearo, a Norman police officer from 1981 to 2004.

Recording of Pearo: “This case was in there. But it was one that, it was kind of a taboo subject.”

Recording of Kayla: “Why?”
Recording of Pearo: “Because of the way it was handled back in the 70s and the fact that the main suspect had been a Norman officer. There was a lot of talk about cover up from the chief of police back then and everything, so the whole thing just had kind of a bad smell to it I guess. It was like, “Hey look, that case will probably never go anywhere, so forget that one, you can look at the rest of them…””

K: He told us about finding the old case information from the murders and becoming interested. And he answered a crucial question about why the case came into the spotlight again after nearly 20 years since the initial investigation.

Recording of Pearo: “In February of 1990, just out of the blue, the old landlord for where Frank Gilley, where he used to live.”

K: This was one of the houses Gilley lived in full-time while he was on the Norman police force and on and off for a few months after the murders.

Recording of Pearo: “Frank had rented a house from this guy and he brings in this .22 caliber rifle.”

K: The caliber of the weapon that killed Dave and Sheryl.

Recording of Pearo: “And he told us where he’d gotten it. He says he found the gun in Aug. of 1970,”

K: Three months after the murders.

Recording of Pearo: “but kept it for 20 years and didn’t know that there was any significance to the fact that it was a .22 rifle and that it may have belonged to Gilley… So we didn’t know if this was the gun or not, but it sort of caught Gilley in a lie. I was able to talk to my supervisor, went up the chain and went to the chief and said “Hey look, can we maybe open this case back up and take another look at it, see where we can go with it?” He said yeah, but go to the DA’s office and talk things over with him.”

K: The new team of investigators – led by Pearo – took the gun and ran tests, but it came back without a match. This was a disappointment, but it paled in comparison to the news detectives received when they went to the OSBI to retrieve the rest of the case evidence.

Recording of Pearo: “The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, because they had helped out on the murder investigation as well and they’re the ones that have the labs and everything in the state of Oklahoma, so the evidence was all turned over the the OSBI. And over the years, when we went back and started looking for those things, the OSBI couldn’t locate them. It was just gone, all the evidence was just gone.”

K: There were clothes, a bloody blanket, hair and the roughly 30 shell casings that were all missing. Now detectives believed themselves to be without any physical evidence. And even though the gun turned over by Gilley’s landlord wasn’t the murder weapon, it gave Pearo a path to officially reopen the case.

They began surveillance on Gilley, finding out where he lived now, following him to work. They picked through old evidence and files, contacting anyone who would still have a good recollection of what happened two decades before. Pearo said investigators were discouraged by how the case was previously handled, but when they met up with original case detectives like Ken Jacobson, it was a new opportunity for collaboration.

Recording of Pearo: “Ken never gave up on the case. As a matter of fact, he, even all those years later, he kept track of where Gilley was on the sly, would leave him a little note on his car every once in a while, Gilley wouldn’t know where it came from, but we’re still looking at you, that kind of stuff, a little psychological warfare. So we got Ken involved and he became really instrumental in being able to help us out with kind of what happened back in the beginning, how the case got convoluted into this big cover up thing by the then chief of police.”

K: Jacobson, who had been involved with the case from the very morning the bodies were found, was happy another set of investigators would take up where he left off.  Pearo and Jacobson worked closely at times, and as Pearo found out more about the case, his determination to give Sheryl and David justice mimicked his predecessor.

Recording of Ken: “I’m thrilled that somebody is still interested enough in it to try to put something together, that’s why I didn’t hesitate to meet with y’all. Dave and Sherry deserved something better than what they got and their families… Maybe there is something in there we missed.”

Gilley was living close to Dallas in De Soto, Texas, in the early 90s. Pearo and his fellow investigators would drive to Dallas frequently, watching Gilley’s house, following him to work, trying to put together enough evidence to arrest him. With the information from the previous investigation, the gun turning up and interviews with every single original witnesses, except one that died, detectives decided to try and get a warrant to search Gilley’s De Soto residence.

Recording of Pearo: “We went down and we talked to a judge in Dallas…. We walked into his office and we had our probable cause for the search warrant and then he kind of looked at the case and looked when it was and said, “Trail’s kind of cold, isn’t it boys?” and we said yeah.. But he signed off on the search warrant.”

K: In the search warrant, officers claimed that Gilley likely still had possession of items from the crime scene, like David’s shoes and car keys, a scrapbook of newspaper articles and personal photos of the scene and possibly the murder weapon. Investigators spoke with former wives of Gilley’s who said he was obsessed with his former life as a cop, keeping “firearms, badges, uniforms and other police paraphernalia,”close by, that he had a rampant temper and always carried a gun. The daughter of one of his wives said Gilley had answered yes when she asked if he’d ever killed anyone, though there is no record of a lawful killing on Gilley’s police file. On Nov. 21, 1990, officers were able to search Gilley’s residence.

Recording of Pearo: “So we went to De Soto, went in his house, we found a gun safe in his house that we couldn’t get in to… Frank was at work, so we got a locksmith to come out and get us in the safe. In the safe we found some more weapons, one of them was a sawed-off shotgun, which is illegal. So we had him with an illegal weapon there in Dallas County. And then we were afraid that if we didn’t let him know, we wouldn’t know when he was coming home. So we called him at work. De Soto PD called him, and said “Is this Mr. Gilley?” and he said yeah. And they said “Well Mr. Gilley, I’m standing here in your living room and it looks like somebody broke into your house.””

K: Gilley rushed home to a frenzy of officers.

Recording of Pearo: “He thought we were just working the dickens out of his burglary. And then we sort of told him “We’ve got some good news and bad news. It was us that broke into your house and you’re under arrest.” So he started looking around and he looked at me and he said, “Where are you from?” and I said “Norman, Oklahoma.” And he said “I thought so.”

 

-Theme music –

 

K: Next time, on Uncovered: The Lover’s Lane Murders.

Recording of Linda: “I would just love to look him straight in the face and say “What happened? How did you kill them? What really happened? Why?”

Recording of Brake: “I think Gilley was just out there trying to get a glimpse of some boobies and harass some kids like he’d done many times before and runs into somebody that knew who he was.”

K: With Gilley arrested, Pearo believes detectives can finally charge him with the murders of Sheryl and David, but the Cleveland County DA wants to give a grand jury another try.

 

-Music –

 

 

The final episode explores the trial that took place 20 years after the murders and follows up with current law enforcement administrations on evidence and hiring protocols. 

Episode 5 Script

-ACT I-

 

-Music –

 

Recording of Linda: “…When I walked into that courtroom in Norman and he was sitting right there, and I was, you know, a foot away from him and saw his face, I just *sharp inhale*… Oh God….”

K: Welcome back to Uncovered: The Lovers’ Lane Murders. At the end of episode four, police called Frank Gilley at work and told him to hurry home. When he arrived, he was arrested. Here, Linda Adams, the sister of Sheryl Benham, is describing the first time she had come in contact with Frank Gilley, the man she believes killed her sister and her date, David Sloan, 21 years earlier.

Recording of Linda: “I thought, “I’ve seen you. And now you’ve seen me.”

 

-Music –

 

K: Ballistics tests had come back negative for guns collected from a search of Gilley’s home in November 1990, when officers found a sawed-off shotgun and tried to connect it with the murders of David and Sheryl. The sawed-off shotgun allowed them to arrest him for an illegal weapons charge, but eventually he was released to go home in Desoto, Texas. In the following months, officers deliberated how best to pin Gilley down for the murders. They felt the options were running slim, until February 1991.

Recording of Pearo: “There were a bunch of them that sat there and kind of kicked it around and decided that they weren’t going to go for an arrest warrant but wanted to go for a grand jury, which to me was very disappointing because I’m a go get them arrest them kind of guy.”

K: That’s David Pearo, the lead case investigator for the Norman Police Department in the 1990s. When it was decided the case would once again be brought to a grand jury in February 1991, the trajectory looked similar to when the murders were first investigated in the 1970s: A team of investigators followed Gilley, arrested him for a related but not directly connected charge and then a grand jury determines whether he could stand trial.

And we started to hear this idea that the Norman police were “covering themselves” and trying to make up for the public outcry against them 20 years earlier.

Recording of Pearo: “It’s bad enough in a normal murder case, I mean we know we take every murder seriously but if there’s a dirty cop somewhere, that looks bad on all of us. And so we’re not letting that go. We’re just, you just don’t let it go. I mean this guy was a cop and he did this stuff. That was good enough for me to go after him with everything I had.”

K: Mike Brake, the reporter who covered the case in its earlier days, said the same thing.

Recording of Brake: “Well the second one, the guys at the Norman Police Department really wanted to solve the darn thing. Because those guys weren’t even policemen when this thing happened. They were younger detectives and they knew that was kind of like a festering sore. Dave Pearo and some of those guys, they really wanted to go after it.”

K: Along with the drive NPD felt to clear its name, the clock was ticking. Two decades had gone by and the investigators weren’t going to gather much more than they already had, Ken Jacobson, the 1970s OSBI investigator, said.

Recording of Ken: “As far as physical evidence, evidence is required to sustain a murder conviction, we didn’t have any…. But the DA at that time was adamant that the case was going to go to trial with what we had because, you know, the case wasn’t improving. Witnesses were dying, people were moving or losing track of them. It wasn’t going to get any better.”

K: Eventually, Norman prosecutors declared they would be seeking the death penalty for Gilley due to the “period of torture and terror” David and Sheryl endured while being locked alive in the trunk. David was shot 11 times and Sheryl 14. Most of these shots were in the upper body and head.

And on March 1, 1991, after roughly a month of testimony and deliberation, the second Cleveland County grand jury looking into Gilley returned an indictment. The charges: One count of perjury. Two counts of first-degree murder.

 

-Light music –

 

K: Four days later, Pearo and other officers arrested Gilley at the auto parts store where he worked and booked him once again into the Dallas County jail. A monthslong extradition fight began, ending in May 1991 with Gilley being brought to the Cleveland County jail.

In July, a hearing was held to determine whether the case had enough evidence to go to trial. It would be the public’s first look at new details and theories regarding the case.

 

-Music –

 

-ACT II-

 

K: The first full day of the July hearing had testimony from seven witnesses, including Gilley’s parents, a former wife and the Norman police chief from the 1970s, Bill Henslee. Gilley’s parents testified he was at his home the night of the murders, but his former wife said she couldn’t confirm where he was that night. Henslee said he had fired Gilley a few days after the murders because of the tip that Gilley liked to harass couples on lovers’ lanes, but also said he had “never seen any physical evidence to this day that ties Gilley to the crime.”

Recording of Ken: “One of the comments Henslee made… was that he didn’t have enough power to influence a murder investigation. Which, the police chief, if he doesn’t have enough power to influence, who’s going to?”

K: A few days in, the couples that identified Gilley in 1970 as the man who harassed them on Lovers’ Lanes told the grand jury Gilley had mentioned the murders of David and Sheryl to them when he approached their cars. Jacobson also testified. He spoke of how Gilley admitted to him he did know David before the murders, though Gilley previously testified he had never met David. Other officers also took the stand, saying Gilley kept several guns in his work locker at the police department, one of which was a .22 caliber rifle with a hexagon barrel, the specific caliber of weapon used in the murders. Pearo also testified, noting that almost all the evidence from the crime scene had disappeared, except one bullet casing.

K: Most of these testimonies didn’t come as a shock to those intimately involved with the case. Gilley’s attorney, Robert Perrine, said most of the evidence was not conclusive. On the last day of the pretrial, one of the most interesting pieces of evidence emerged, though it was never corroborated, when a new witness was called to the stand. W. E. Joslin, a worker on the Norman dairy farm owned by Charles Haynes in western Norman, said he arrived at the property, which has a view of the lovers’ lane where David and Sheryl were killed, at about 3 a.m. to go to work on Mother’s Day 1970. As he was leaving the barn about 7 a.m., he saw two men standing next to two parked cars. Shortly afterward, he heard gunshots.

The next day, after testimony from 33 witnesses and 21 years since the murders, District Judge Patricia Herron ruled Gilley would stand trial in Cleveland County for the murders of David Sloan and Sheryl Benham.  

 

-Music –

 

-ACT III-

 

Recording of Minty: “He just sat there quietly at the defense table the entire time. Rarely did he make any type of gestures that would draw any interest….He was quiet and he didn’t do anything to call attention to himself.”

K: That’s Chip Minty, a reporter at The Oklahoman who covered the trial, describing Gilley’s demeanor on Oct. 21, 1991, as jurors were picked. Two days later, testimony began.

K: Sheryl’s dad, Ben Benham, testified, answering questions on what it was like to file a missing persons report for his daughter. A woman who was a clerk for NPD in 1970, said Gilley was in the office around 3:30 a.m. Sunday, within a few hours of the murders, and acted unusual. Sloan’s ex-girlfriend, who helped find the car after Ben Benham reported his daughter missing, told the jury she drove to the lovers’ lane area and happened upon the car, but left and reported it to police when she realized there was blood in the front seat and she smelled what she described in news articles as “the smell of death.” The medical examiner explained in detail how Dave and Sheryl died, both shot over 10 times, including bullets fired directly into each of their eyes.

Two of Gilley’s ex-wives testified, saying he never mentioned to them his work in Norman as a police officer, though they knew of his work in Amarillo. A daughter of an ex-wife said Gilley told her he had killed someone and kept a diary of old cases with pictures of dead bodies. Jacobson pointed to the unusual handling of the case and what he considered obstruction that interfered with the investigation. Henslee said he thought Gilley was the target of a hate plot and a smear campaign.

K: The defense strategy was one of continual questioning. Perrine put in dozens of requests, ranging from declaring a mistrial to requesting that words like “grotesque” not be allowed in the courtroom. Re-reading articles and court documents, it’s clear he challenged every step of the trial. He questioned witnesses intensely, returning again and again to the lack of physical evidence and the 20-year gap between the murders and the trial that might affect recollections of what happened.

Recording of Minty: “…his job was to cast some kind of doubt on the jury’s mind about whether, you know, the validity of those claims. Any kind of doubt that he could create was important to him. And I think he did use time as an ally to just cast some doubt on the allegations that were made and the accuracy of the allegations and the accuracy of the witness recollection…”

K: Perrine also focused on technicalities, like Gilley not being read his Miranda Rights at certain points or the lawfulness of using testimony from witnesses who had died before the trial started. And then, on the last full day of trial, on Friday, Nov. 8, Perrine put Gilley on the stand.

Gilley said he was not guilty. He spoke of other things he usually did on weekends, like playing card games with friends. He maintained that his wife at the time of the murders was with him before he started his night shift, though she denied it. Gilley said he had never met Sloan. He brought up the likelihood that Butch Green, his former partner who died a year after the murders, was the real potential suspect. Soon after he testified, the jury began deliberations.

 

-Music –

 

Brake and Jacobson had personal theories they shared with me on exactly what happened the night of the murders. They believe the incident started before Gilley’s NPD shift started around midnight Saturday.

Recording of Jacobson: “David Sloan was from Amarillo, and when they tried Gilley on his aggravated assault out there, they tried it like a murder case because it was a horrible thing for a law enforcement officer to be accused of aggravated assault. They’d see Gilley’s pictures in the papers, on TV — Amarillo’s not that big of a town. What we think happened is Sloan and Benham were up on the lovers’ lane and Gilley approached them, probably came up to David Sloan, his side of the car, and said I’m the sheriff of Cleveland County, probably made David get out and talk to him. We think David recognized him from that trial in Amarillo…”

Recording of Brake: “Here’s what’s interesting about the autopsy report that told me at the time how I think it transpired. Keep in mind that they had been at a fraternity party at the SAE house. Fraternity parties always being what they were, I suspect David had a few beers….”

Recording of Jacobson: “They tell us David was a hot head and David said you’re not the sheriff. I know who you are, you’re Frank Gilley”

Recording of Brake: “So what I think happened is they stopped there to make some whoopie, and I think maybe Sherry was already undressed when Gilley approached. Now he is not working at this time…. He probably has a .22 pistol. I think he started his lovers’ lane harassment and I think David recognized him. And said something like, “You son of a bitch, you’re not a real cop, I remember you from Amarillo, you got in trouble up there…”

Recording of Ken: “David had a pool cue, a cut-off pool cue by the driver’s door under his seat, and his friends tell us that’s the first thing he drug out if there was going to be trouble. And that pool cue was over on the passengers’ side, on the floor and it was completely wiped clean, didn’t have anybody’s fingerprints on it.”

Recording of Brake: “So I think Sloan grabbed that pool cue handle and said “I’ll kick your ass” and Gilley shot him with the handgun. When you read David’s autopsy report, you find massive right hemoral thorax. A lot of blood and congestion in the right lung from a wound in the lung. Now you don’t die right away from a wound in the lung unless there is a major artery hit. What happens is you have blood seepage into the lung.”

Recording of Ken: “I think he came out of that car and Frank had to shoot him a couple times, I don’t think he intended to shoot anybody, he just wanted, you know, to do his thing. You know and Frank and David were both described as hotheads and so you put two hotheads together I think Frank his only choice was to shoot him to protect himself and then Sherry probably just did whatever he wanted her to do.”

Recording of Brake: “ heek. I think while he was shoving her into the trunk he had to slug her a couple times. I don’t think she was shot at that point. I think he was but was not dying or dead, maybe not even dying. And they are locked in the trunk now, what are they going to do…. I think he locked them in the trunk after wounding David….”

Recording of Brake: “I think at this point he’s just got the little .22 pistol. He might have fired most of the ammunition from it already and he doesn’t have the firepower to kill them both. Maybe he’s just gone away and somebody will rescue them or find them. And then he comes back. He gets the rifle, which is a high capacity rifle,… a .22 rifle might have a magazine of 22 rounds or more. So got a lot of fire power….. And then he goes on duty… and comes back in the police car and finishes them off.”

 

Recording of Brake: “And you notice there were a couple bullet holes in the fenders of the car. I think when he came back he stood back and fired a couple rounds in the side of the car to see if they were still in there and alive and he probably heard them “oh please” you know and he popped the trunk and started killing…. So he opens the trunk and he stands there… with the rifle and just starts emptying the rifle into them. And they’re almost all headshots at that point. I think that’s what happened and the autopsy points to that as well. She looks like she died almost immediately. She did have a couple of chest wounds, but there was not a lot of bleeding internally in that…. There is no other perpetrator that makes any sense at all, none.”

Recording of Ken: “When you get in a situation like that, you never really think you’re going to die. You know, you think you’re going to get out of this, you’re going to go to class the next day or go to work or whatever you do. But Frank, from the time David got out and it was apparent that he did recognize him, they’re both from Amarillo, I mean, what are the chances of that happening?”

 

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The jurors came back Monday, Nov. 11 with a verdict.

Splashed along the front pages of newspapers and TV station headlines were two words: not guilty.

 

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-EPILOGUE-

 

Recording of Pearo: “So what we had done in retrospect was probably a mistake. We announced that we were going to go for the death penalty on those cases because of the circumstances. And we think that was sort of a mistake because of what the jurors said in some of their questionnaires. As I remember it, they thought he was guilty but after 20 years, you know he’s sitting there, Dave and Sheryl had been dead for 20 years. We’ve got pictures of them but that’s it. After 20 years, they couldn’t see putting a guy to death…. So I think that helped cloud their decision was the fact they thought he was guilty by a good percentage that he was guilty, probably enough to convict. They just couldn’t get past the death penalty portion.”

Recording of Brake: “I think there were people on that jury who said ‘I believe he did it but I can not send him to the electric chair…’” When NPD first contacted me back then and said they were going to try and revitalize the case and they started running through all the material again, I remember sitting down there in the homicide office down in Norman with the file sitting on the desk between us saying “It’s great what you guys are doing but I don’t think you can nail him. I just don’t think it’s there.” Turns out I was right. I don’t fault them for trying…. The verdict was inevitable… in my opinion. Because there was not a hard piece of evidence to put him on the trigger. There was every bit of circumstantial case you could have wanted to the point of you have to ask, who else in the world could have done it? But there was not one piece of evidence the jury would go in and say “Evidence A says Frank Gilley killed those kids on that night.” It just wasn’t there, I can’t quarrel with the jury even though I hated to see it turn out the way it did.”

K: There was plenty of evidence in the case right after the murders happened that today would have most likely garnered a conviction through DNA testing, said Jordan Solorzano, the public information officer at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. DNA testing began right around the time this case was reopened for trial, but when it was discovered that almost all of the evidence had disappeared, it didn’t matter.

K: Solorzano said protocols for handling evidence have become much more strict in the last 50 years, every step being documented in a complex computer program.

Recording of Solorzano: “There’s definitely more rules in place…  documented. It’s seized, it’s packaged. It’s every single step we take in our evidence transfer or testing or anything and is logged in a computer system. So you can get on our little system and see where something is so if something goes missing and then you would have the person transferring the evidence or the criminal list that has the evidence so something goes missing, it would be pretty easy to go in there and pinpoint. You know “You had this last so where is it?”

K: The Norman Police Department also changed its evidence protocols, said Sarah Jensen, the public information officer for NPD.

Recording of Sarah: “And I think even evidence management is like a totally different ball game in the sense of how we now use a locker system. Not anyone can walk into property custody… Everything is labeled and stored and organized at such a different ballgame and so a lot of those concerns about obstruction, evidence, we as an agency have put a lot of safeguards into place to ensure these things are not happening and that there is a trail. They take that very seriously because they testify to that in court as to who exactly has touched that piece of property, analyzed it, when it left to go to OSBI, when it returned. Those types of safeguards are in place. So I think in this case, at least from what I’ve been able to read about it, there were a lot of questions about things disappearing or not being there. Maybe altered and those things would be extremely difficult to occur today based on the procedures that are in place.”

K: NPD responded to public criticism of its officers over the years, said Major Kevin Foster. Not only does the department interact with the Norman community on a more regular basis, but the hiring protocols for officers have completely changed.

Recording of Foster: “One, we have basic requirements of age…. Certain convictions you can’t have to get hired at a police department. Plus the chief added some automatic disqualifiers to that on drug usage, domestic issues that you may have that will automatically disqualify you from our process. I think when you ask around about other places or just other people that are in this profession when they talk about getting hired at Norman you’ll learn that our process is a lot harder and a lot more scrutinizing than a lot of places… We still do psychological testing. We still do polygraph examinations…. We still do a complete background on these people talking to everybody looking at everything. Every issue they’ve had including internal affairs investigations at the current agencies they’re with, talking to officers that they work with those agencies also and friends neighbors and things to see if anything else comes up. So if you come across something at a department where something may have been…tried to be swept under the rug because the department didn’t want to look bad, the current chief or sheriff didn’t want to look bad for whatever reason you might think that happens. We talked to more than just that agency to try to uncover those things and those issues such as in this case an issue we had in Amarillo.”

Recording of Kayla: “You mentioned that that was kind of a change. you’ve got this policy that’s a lot stronger than some other places. Why? Why that change?”

Recording of Foster: “It’s just due to the public pressures on things and us relooking at things and listening to the public go Oh yeah yeah, that does make sense, that would be a lot better. Yeah we should do that. It’s not that we know everything and that the other side of that is us hearing it but it’s that the public is coming to us and telling us because in the past, a lot of people didn’t, it didn’t affect them they didn’t care or if it was affecting them they was too afraid to come to the police because theys like I’ll just be in more trouble if I try to tell them we’re doing some wrong. It’s just that willingness to listen and to take action on those things.”

K: The lost evidence and the hiring of Gilley in the first place played major roles in the Benham-Sloan case, but so did the alleged obstruction by the various law enforcement agencies.  

Recording of Foster: “Back then a lot more of that stuff what went on. who’s who and what do I need to do to keep a job or to get that promotion. So there’s checks and balances to make sure the stuff isn’t happening. Particularly a lot more nowadays than there was back in the 1970s.”

 

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K: Many of the individuals named in our investigation died within 10 or 15 years of the case going to trial. Henslee never did get his promotion to be the director of the OSBI. He moved to Edmond as an administrator for the Edmond Police Department and died in May 1999.

Pearo retired in 2004 and moved to Florida where he spends time scuba diving. He told me that he still keeps an eye out for talk of the murders, mentioning in particular a message board where he saw people talking about the case.

Recording of Pearo: “You could see some of the resentment from people who are now adults still going back to their college days and being really critical on the police. And then he said something about “Well you couldn’t even convict him again” or something like that. Some guy said that to me and I kinda went off on him a little bit.”

Brake lives in Oklahoma City, working part time as a public information officer for the OKC county commissioners office.

Recording of Brake: “Wish we could have put the son of a bitch in the electric chair.”

K: Linda lives in Oklahoma City and has multiple children of her own. She’s a grandmother too, visiting her grandchildren as they graduate from college and get driver’s licenses, close to the same age Sheryl was when she died. And after almost 50 years, she said the pain is more manageable.

Recording of Linda: “I know justice was not served… It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, cause every day I would drive from Oklahoma City clear to Norman, to the courthouse and you know Kayla, what I heard in that… was just even, even proof to me more and more that he did do this.”

K: Sheryl’s mom died in 1995 and her dad in 2001.

Recording of Pearo: “It’s always a let down. Because you know her parents were there. I got to know her parents very well. It was really hard for them when we told them we were reopening the case again because it had been so long and sort of accepted the fact as much as they could. You know they were sort of at least at peace, at least a little bit. Then here we can and were visiting it again, making the news again…. It was another disappointing end again.”

K: Frank Gilley lived in Texas working odd jobs until he died in March 2002, according to the Amarillo Globe-News. We were told he had been living in a nursing home.

Recording of Linda: “I thought whoopie, OK good, fine, you know? They said he had no family, no visitors, I hope he didn’t. I hope he died alone and a very painful death. That’s what I wish.”

Recording of Linda: “Oh hey, 10 years ago, 15 years ago, it was so hard for me…. I would just bawl. I don’t anymore. I can talk about it now, I can.”

Recording of Kayla: “Why do you think that is? What do you think was the change there?”

Recording of Linda: “I don’t know how to explain that. I think before when it was brought up, I still hurt so bad and my emotions. And now I can talk about it without breaking down and crying. Now I’m almost like, not mad, I don’t wanna use that word but damn, I wish they had had DNA back then.”

K: After Ken Jacobson left the OSBI, he eventually started working as security for a company in Dallas. He still lives in the area. But Jacobson, never did let go of the case.

Recording of Ken: “It’s amazing to me the interest that’s continued in this case. The calls got further apart, but somebody would always call and would say what do you think about this thing, did you look at this, and all that…. This one kind of absorbs you. And the further you get into it, the further you want to get into it. I had an awful time letting go of it. Way past that 1991 trial. Everytime I just about get it out of my head, somebody calls and says we’ve got a guy that thinks he’s got the gun…”

K: In fact, for 20 years, he, the initial investigator and pursuer of justice, kept a single shell casing in an envelope, one he picked up while walking the fields after finding the bodies of Sheryl and Dave. Because of his mistrust in the intentions of other officers as the case unfolded through the years, Jacobson held onto it until he presented it in 1990 as the lone remaining piece of evidence.

 

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Meet The Team

Graphics and editing by Will Conover

 

Reported and recorded by Kayla Branch

 

Research and Design  by Paxson Haws