Last week’s case was the sad story of three Girl Scouts murdered on the first day of camp in Oklahoma. That case remains officially unsolved after 45 years. This week, our case comes from Indiana. There, in September 1981, 15-year-old Eric Witte killed his father. He said it was an accident, but that turned out to be untrue. The story took an even more bizarre turn from there.
Eric Witte Manipulated into Murder
Eric Witte was 15 years old in the late summer of 1981. His relationship with his father, Paul Witte, a volunteer firefighter, was complex. Although he had many good memories of his father, Paul would physically abuse the boy if he made the slightest mistake. It wasn’t difficult to convince the conflicted boy that his father had to die.
On September 1, 1981, Paul Witte was taking a nap in the family home in Beverly Shores, Indiana, just outside Michigan City. While he slept on a sofa, Eric shot his father in the head. He told police the gun accidentally went off when he tripped on a rug. Investigators at the time believed the story and ruled Paul’s death an accident.
Unknown to Eric, his mother, Hilma Marie Witte (she went by Marie) had been trying to kill Paul for some time. She’d been lacing his food with rat poison and Valium but had not been successful. Marie’s own mother, Margaret O’Donnell, had been helping her.
Eric Witte is Caught in a Web of Murder
One murder was apparently not enough for Marie. She soon began poisoning her mother-in-law, Elaine Witte. Eric, now eager to get away from his mother’s penchant for killing joined the Navy.
Poisoning Elaine didn’t work, or at least didn’t work fast enough for Marie. She then convinced her younger son, John “Butch” Witte to do the job for her. John later told investigators, “My mom said I could strangle her or use my crossbow. It was up to me.” He then fatally shot Elaine with a medieval-style crossbow in her Michigan City home. John was 14 at the time.
Marie and John didn’t report Elaine’s death to police, Instead, they dismembered her body and disposed it in various places around Indiana. They even hid parts of the body in Eric’s car before he drove back to San Diego. When he discovered the remains, he panicked and put them in a storage locker in California.
Life Unravels for Eric Witte
People with friends can’t just disappear without those friends becoming curious. Such was the case with Elaine. When her friends started demanding to know where she was, Marie panicked. She and John drove to California to enlist Eric’s help. Eric went AWOL from the Navy to help his family figure out what to do.
It all started to unravel when Marie forged a signature on one of Elaine’s Social Security checks. The forgery led to her arrest. It was during the forgery investigation that Eric and John spilled the story of how their mother had manipulated them into committing two murders.
Hilma Marie Witt was convicted of murder and received a 90-year sentence. She currently resides (2022) at the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis. She is due for release in 2027.
Marie’s mother, Margaret “Marcie” O’Donnell, served six years for her role in the murders. She died after serving her time.
John and Eric received 20- and 5-year sentences, respectively. Both were released in 1996. Eric is now married and has a family. John died from complications of diabetes.
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