The Deck Investigates - 3 of 15: The Wooded Path

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Walter Grosnickle finally had some free time on Saturday, August 18th, 1984 to make the

hour-long drive from his house in North Manchester, Indiana, to Argus to check out some land that

he’d been interested in buying for his timber operations.

This was actually the second time he had driven there to have a look, but he wanted to double

check the trees on the plot before he moved forward with actually buying it.

Since Walter wasn’t from Argus, he didn’t realize that there was a massive manhunt going

on near his destination, nor was he aware that a mother of three had been abducted the

day before just a few miles away and was still missing.

You could call it happenstance or fate.

The Marshall County prosecutor calls it divine intervention.

But many believed Darlene would have never been found had it not been for Walter’s timber

search in the woods that day, or his subsequent call to police.

This is Episode 3, The Wooded Path.

When police got Walter’s call at around 2.30, the lead investigators were just wrapping

up a press conference in Plymouth at the Marshall County Police Department.

They announced to the reporters that they were looking for a blonde man driving a four-door,

blue-green car with rust along the bottom.

They asked reporters to tell their readers and listeners to call the Indiana State Police

or the Marshall County Police Department with any tips.

By this point, Marshall County and State Police were heading up the search together, with

officers from Argus PD assisting with manpower.

Just as the press was leaving, Sergeant Dave Yokelet with Marshall County came running

in to advise ISP troopers that a body had been found in the southern part of the county

off Olive Trail.

Several troopers and local officers headed straight to the scene, getting there at about


When they parked and got out of their cars, they noticed a cut in the fence leading to

the woods.

It’s how Walter had actually gotten into the woods to begin with.

What you’re about to hear is a reenactment of Sergeant Yokelet’s interview with Walter

at the scene.

Gail, can you inform me, just explain to me what you found here today?

I’ve been in the process of bargaining with Thompson Realty in Plymouth on this acres,

timber and all.

I’m a timberman from North Manchester, and I came here to check the woods again to go

over it.

And I stopped up at these people’s house from Chicago and talked to them for about an hour

and backed up along the road, hunting for a place in the fence where I could get across.

And I came upon this place where the fence was partially cut, so I climbed over and I

just walked in a few feet, parted the brush, and just happened to look up and I seen this

form laying there.

And I just turned and I run to the road.

At that time, a farmer was coming down, probably a couple hundred feet away with his tractor,

and I flagged him down.

So we went to the neighbours and called the police.

Okay, Gail.

You was just checking the property just to buy lumber out of it?

To buy the whole thing, 20 acres.


Had you been down here before, checking on it?

Yeah, my wife was here last week one night.

So you, again, you was just driving down here, just trying to find a place to park, to cross,

and go look?

Yeah, there’s a place way at the north end.

I wanted to go back there in the swamp to see if there might be any springs.

So I had the idea of maybe putting a pond in there if I buy it.

There’s a swamp area.

Back here is it?



So you found this low spot and that’s when you just got out and you was going to walk

across there?


It’s back towards the back there.


It’s back towards the south end of the woods.


How far into the woods from the road did you get into before you noticed this body?

Oh, you was there.

Yeah, but how far?

What did you say?

Take me out of them branches down so I could see.

Let’s put it this way.

How close to the body did you get?

I don’t know.

20 feet, maybe.

I just happened to look up and seen a form laying out there and I just turned and run


You knew what it was right away?

Well, I knew.

I didn’t know.

You didn’t know it was a body?

Yeah, I knew it was a body.


But I didn’t know what.

Is there anything about that body?

Did you see any clothes on the body?

No, I didn’t pay no attention.

I just seen something there and I took off and run.

Then you drove back up the road and met the farmer?

Yeah, just a little ways right there and I met him.



And that’s when you went with him and made the phone call?


Did you, Gail, notice any traffic or anything else up and down the road here?

Oh, I’ve been driving.

I’ve been driving.

I’ve been driving.

I’ve been driving.

I’ve been driving.

I’ve been driving.

I’ve been driving.

I’ve been driving.

Did you, Gail, notice any traffic or anything else up and down the road here?

Oh, I’ve been up here about an hour talking to these people in this house right there,

you know, from Chicago and I don’t think there’d been a car went by.

Okay, Gail, thank you.

The time is now 3.15 p.m.

Edges of the fence where the cuts had been made were rusty, which made police think that

it wasn’t a fresh cut.

Once they crossed over the fence, there were drag marks that they followed back into the

woods, beyond a ditch and to a tree.

And there, about 75 feet from the road, was a woman’s body.

She was laying on her back with one arm down by her side and the other bent up over her


She had on one Nike tennis shoe, which looked like the mate to the shoe investigators had

found at Darlene’s house the day before.

She was also still wearing a light green pullover sweater and a green skirt.

But both were sort of pushed up on her body.

Her shirt was also pushed down off one shoulder, and it was pushed up so high on her torso

that one of her breasts was almost exposed, but not quite.

Same with her skirt.

It was one of those skirts that if she was standing, it would have been down almost to

her knees.

But when she was found, it was pushed way up on her thighs, but not quite exposing her


Her dark brown hair was matted with blood, and there were obvious open wounds on her

head and face, and additional cuts and bruises on her neck, arms, fingers, and legs.

When officers knelt down beside her to get a good look at her face, she stared back at

them, eyes wide open.

Even through the maggots, there was absolutely no doubt that it was Darlene.

While Sgt.

Yochelet took Walter back to the station to get his boot print for possible elimination

purposes, other authorities radioed for a coroner and crime scene technicians to respond

to the scene to take some photos and search the woods for any other clues.

It was notable to them that whoever killed Darlene didn’t attempt to cover her body

with brush or leaves or anything.

This scene was in pretty dense woods, so if the person had wanted to conceal her body,

they could have done it pretty easily.

I mean, there were leaves all over the ground.

But her killer did position her body behind a tree.

So while she wasn’t too far from Olive Trail, if you were standing on the road looking

in, you wouldn’t have been able to see her.

Gary Dunlap, a deputy coroner for Marshall County, arrived and was briefed before he

took photos of her body and the woods, and then he worked with ISP’s crime scene techs

to process the scene.

They searched and searched for the missing fireplace poker rod, hoping to find it near

Darlene’s body, but no such luck.

In fact, they didn’t find any other evidence in the woods.

As they prepared to take Darlene’s body to the morgue in Plymouth, other officers were

sent to break the horrible news to Ron and his family, who were still at the grandparents'

house, hoping and praying and believing that Darlene would be found safe.

An eight-year-old Marie really did believe that her mom would come back.

Mostly because she had seen the man who attacked her mom, and she was like, well, he was a

stranger, and why would a stranger want to hurt my mom?

It’s that kind of kid logic that I sometimes wish adults could apply to situations more


But in her mind, it made no sense that this perfect stranger would have any reason to

take her mom away.

So when the cops came to tell the Holst family that Darlene had been found dead, it was hard

for the girls to even understand.

I’m sure it was so confusing and scary.

Do you remember anyone having those conversations with you?

The only person that did was my maternal grandmother, called her Grandma Jolly.

And she was the one who got it and made me understand that she may not be coming back,

because that was her daughter.

And she just would cry a lot.

And I remember her saying, I’m going to get you some counseling.

I’m going to get you some counseling.

And I thought, why would I go to counseling?

I don’t even know what you’re talking about.

But everyone else was very hesitant to say.

There were no words, really, just hugging.

I don’t remember someone really sitting me down and saying, okay, this is what we’re

going to do now.

They were just hugging and crying, a lot of crying.

That’s all I remember.

When Marie finally did understand the gravity of the situation, that her mom wouldn’t

be coming home, the overwhelming feeling she had, even at eight, was guilt.

I felt so bad because I kept on replaying it over in my mind and thinking what I could

have done differently.

And I knew my dad had a gun in the back of his closet.

And I just kept thinking to myself, I should have run the other way.

I felt so guilty that I didn’t do something to stop him.

In my eight-year-old, I mean, now I’m realizing that I could not have done that.

But in my eight-year-old self, I thought I should have just gone and got that gun.

But I was thinking, I was panicking.

I don’t even like thinking about what might have happened had the girls stayed and tried

to defend their mom.

As a mother myself now, I believe the one ounce of peace that Darlene got in her death

was that she protected her children.

All she cared about in that moment was her girls.

It was the only thing she said, don’t hurt my babies.

She told her girls to run.

She kept them safe.

Marie and Melissa gave their mother a gift by listening to her one final time.

As the Holses came to terms with Darlene’s death, family members rallied around Ron to

help care for the girls.

And Marie and Melissa teamed up to help take care of their baby sister.

A welcome distraction, maybe.

But they were also just so relieved that she was okay.

Kristen, I don’t remember Kristen, like, wanting anybody else but Melissa and I.

I mean, she was just with us all the time after that.

I mean, we fed her.

We bathed her.

We changed her.

We did everything for her.

Family members also stepped in to help Ron make funeral arrangements for Darlene.

And all of this was happening as police prepared for a massive manhunt.

And they shifted to a homicide investigation.

A crazed killer was on the loose.

And two days after Darlene’s abduction, on August 19th, police were no closer to finding him.

But that morning was Darlene’s autopsy.

And investigators were hoping the information they were going to get from that would help them understand the why behind it all.

It was becoming more and more difficult for them to reassure the community about their own safety

when they didn’t even know why Darlene’s killer showed up to her house in the first place.

Even though the scene didn’t really support robbery as a motive,

police kept leaning that way until something else told them otherwise.

The autopsy was performed Sunday morning at Memorial Hospital in South Bend by Dr. Rick Hoover,

which is a name that you might recognize if you also listened to Counter Clock Season 3.

Also present at the autopsy were a few ISP troopers, Marshall County officers, and the prosecutor at the time, Fred Jones.

One of the first things Dr. Hoover noted in the autopsy report was Darlene’s clothing

and the areas where blood was concentrated on her skirt, shirt, and underwear.

A few small hairs and fibers were found on her clothes, so they bagged those along with her clothes,

and fingernail clippings, all as evidence.

Even though she was only missing and likely in the woods for about 30 hours, rigor mortis had started to set in,

and lividity showed that she had likely been lying on her back in the woods since the time she died.

Darlene’s left hand was injured, which looked like defensive wounds,

and there were seven lacerations on her head that Dr. Hoover said were caused by a, quote,

long, narrow type of instrument, a.k.a. the fireplace poker.

Dr. Hoover noted in his report that Darlene’s skull wasn’t fractured,

and her brain didn’t show any evidence of additional trauma or hemorrhage.

He also noted some injuries to her legs, arms, and neck,

but some of those injuries Dr. Hoover thought Darlene probably received after she was already dead.

Hoover concluded that her cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head,

and he determined that her manner of death was homicide.

Dr. Hoover’s findings also stated that Darlene was not sexually assaulted,

which is surprising considering everything we know so far, right?

Considering her skirt and shirt were pushed way up when she was found.

Considering that nothing was taken from the home, and this man seemingly came with duct tape for her.

Hoover’s reports say they did a sexual assault kit,

but there isn’t any information in the report about what type of testing they did.

What we’ve come to learn is that in 1984, it could have been one of several different tests,

some of which were super detailed and others were kind of superficial.

But Dr. Hoover seemed certain that she wasn’t sexually assaulted.

He also said that Darlene likely died sometime between 8.30 a.m. and noon on Friday, August 17.

But we know that it was probably after 9 since Ron’s dad had been there dropping off bananas just before 9.

As these findings made their way back to the Argus community,

the story of Darlene’s murder was all over the news,

from the small local newspapers to radio broadcasts and even the TV stations in South Bend,

which meant that calls were pouring in.

Most of them were various sightings of green four-door cars,

which sort of became a wild goose chase for police.

But there was one very interesting tip that seemed super relevant.

An Argus man named Alex Long called police and said that he had seen the news about Darlene Hulse,

and in hindsight, he realized that he had been driving by her home right around 9.30 a.m. on the day that she was abducted.

Alex lived one road over from the Hulses,

and he was headed to Plymouth that morning when he passed their home.

He said that he saw a four-door, blue-green, early 70s Bonneville-type car

with round headlights parked outside their house,

but not in the driveway where Marie and Melissa would see it just moments later

when they would eventually go running from the home.

He said that the car was parked out front, like on the road.

He said what he noticed about the car was that it was in bad shape with rust on it,

and he saw a man sitting in the driver’s seat who had a big, pointy nose,

blonde, slicked-back hair, and he was wearing a collared shirt.

He said the man looked to be in his 20s.

Now, the other interesting thing that Alex noted was that the car seemed to have had a homemade paint job,

which is very consistent with the chalky, bad paint job that Marie described.

This was the same car.

This guy had been parked out front.

Was he watching her through the open curtains in the window?

Was he working up the courage to do whatever it was he had planned?

Police still didn’t know.

Investigators met that night to debrief on everything that they learned from the autopsy

and the other details that Alex had provided about their suspect and his car.

But at around 10.30 p.m.,

just as the police were wrapping up a game plan to ramp up their manhunt the following day,

another call came in.

The call was from a man who said that his friend might have had something to do with Darlene’s murder.

That’s next in Episode 4, They Left Town.

You can listen to that right now.