Triple murder remains an inexplicable crime
By FRANK BOYETT, Gleaner staff
It was a horrific crime, the only triple homicide in Henderson County other than Big and Little Harpe's bloody rampage of 1798-99.
Goebel Duncan, his wife Mamie, son Raymond and daughter-in-law Elizabeth were all shot in the head March 28, 1955, after the two men surprised a burglar from Evansville named Leslie Irvin. Mamie survived being shot through the temple, but was blinded and left with no recollection of the crime.
The Geneva family had been getting ready to leave for the hospital to visit Raymond's wife, Mary Alice, who had given birth to a son only 15 hours earlier. The murders of the farm family sparked a wave of panic across the Tri-state area. Sales of guns and ammunition skyrocketed.
Probably the most heart-rending scene of the tragedy came after the sheriff and journalists went to the Duncan home to tell the womenfolk of the men's deaths. They discovered the women had also been shot. The only one unharmed was two-year-old Shirley Faye Duncan, who clutched a stuffed toy rabbit next to Elizabeth, her dead mother.
"A tiny girl, her blonde, curly hair hanging loosely over a pair of dazed blue eyes, sat upright on the bed, stroking her mother's face and whispering into an unhearing ear," reported Cecil Williams of The Gleaner.
"Mommy is sleeping."
The minister who presided over the funeral of Goebel and Raymond was no more able than the little girl to explain the meaning of the event.
"I find this very hard to believe and understand," said the Rev. G.O. Hoover of the Corydon-Little Dixie Methodist Church. "This is different from what I'm used to. This is the worst tragedy in the history of Henderson County.
"I don't believe it was God's will that this good family should be bereaved, but bye and bye, when we leave this vale of tears, we'll know the reason."
Fifty years later, the reason is still incomprehensible -- at least to those of us in this vale of tears. I don't know why God allows evil to exist. I suspect it's because the best way for us to comprehend God's light is to see it in contrast to the dark. Perhaps from Heaven we'll be able to see evil as the dark line that gives greater clarity to the true light.
The Rev. Raymond Hill preached Elizabeth's funeral at St. Agnes Catholic Church in Uniontown, which more than 1,000 people attended. He gave a message I believe entirely appropriate for this Easter Sunday:
"Death is not only an ending; it is a beginning. Death is only the separation of the soul from the body, and the soul lives on. On the final day, it will be judged by God. Our life on earth is just to prepare our souls for that meeting with God."
A huge police manhunt resulted in 500 interviews and more than 20 suspects. Eleven days later Irvin was arrested near Evansville and confessed to the killings -- as well as three murders in Indiana and numerous burglaries.
Irvin, who was out on parole after serving nine years for a 1945 armed robbery, was never tried for the Duncan killings. He was initially sentenced to death for one of the Indiana murders, but after a jail break was retried and sentenced to life. He died in prison of lung cancer in 1983.
After his initial confession Irvin had a long talk with Henderson County Sheriff Lee Williams, who used a conversation about God to persuade Irvin to provide details of the Duncan killings.
"He told me he believed in the Lord, but he didn't understand why the Lord had let him do the things that were done," Williams related to The Gleaner. "He then asked me what he could do to get help. I told him the only one that could help him now would be the Lord and he would have to pray for forgiveness."
Irvin sat in silence for a few minutes and then looked up and said, "What do you want to know?"
Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2005 HCH&GS