A Tragic Saturday That Shattered My Family
SATURDAY, April 27, 1968, began like any normal Saturday at our Catholic farm home near Mattoon, Illinois. As usual, my wife prepared a long grocery list. It took a lot of food to feed the 9 of our 12 children still living at home.
Our 16-year-old son Louis was getting ready to ride into town with my wife and me, since he wanted to purchase a new belt. He and his 15-year-old brother Timothy, along with an 18-year-old youth named Charles Fuller, had been working to make an old car into a dune buggy. Charles was dating Louis’ twin sister, Louise, and would often come out to the farm on Saturday.
On this particular Saturday, our 14-year-old, Patty, and her 12-year-old sister Billie Colleen were expected to spend the day doing chores. Our little girls, Theresa Jean, 10, and Mary Katharin, 9, were anxious to get out-of-doors into the sun. Our 7-year-old, Gary, had asked me to take him fishing. However, I was able to get him to settle for a day later in the week, since I planned to work on the truck. Kenny, 5, the baby of the family, was delighted to have his older brothers and sisters home with him for the day.
Little did we know that this Saturday would change the rest of our lives.
An Innocent Beginning
Between eight and nine in the morning, my wife and I and Louis left for town. While we were gone, Charles Fuller arrived, and he and Tim went out hunting. The boys were back by the time my wife and I and Louis returned from shopping.
After lunch, Tim and I left to go to my brother’s house to work on the truck. I asked Charles if he wanted to go along, but he declined. As I waved good-bye, I noticed Louis, Gary, and little Kenny spading up a spot for a flower bed. Theresa and Mary were playing on the car the boys were making into a dune buggy.
About three o’clock that afternoon, Louise thawed two pies for an afternoon snack. Charles always seemed anxious to help Louise, and we were impressed by his gallant attitude. Patty, who was doing chores that day, got too close to the stove. In an instant her blouse was on fire! She was burned so badly that my wife took her to the hospital. Louise and Billie Colleen were instructed to clean the kitchen while they were gone. As nearly as Louise and Billie can recall, Charles Fuller and Louis went outside about the same time. What happened during the next hour or two, we can only speculate.
About five, Charles came inside and asked Louise when she would be finished. According to Billie, he said: “I’ve killed five little birds. Come on out and see.” But Louise didn’t go, telling him that I didn’t approve of killing birds. Shortly afterward, my wife and Patty returned from the hospital, and Charles went out to the car and asked for a ride back to town, about six miles (10 km) away. He said to tell Louise that he would be back later.
Discovering a Tragedy
It started getting dark, and my wife realized it was time for the children to come into the house. Billie was sent to call for them. When there was no answer, Louise went with Billie to look for the children. They found the bodies of Theresa and Mary about 200 yards (180 m) from the house in the corncrib. Running back to the house, they reported: “The girls must have fallen from the rafters.” I was phoned and told that the girls were dead. ‘Maybe hurt but not dead’ were my thoughts as I hurried home.
When my brother and I drove up, Billie was by the road trying to flag down help. She told me to go to the corncrib. I knew at once that it was worse than I had thought. The bodies of the girls were cool as I picked them up, and I realized they were dead. Running to the house, I asked where the boys were. “They had talked about going fishing,” my wife replied. I didn’t realize I had run right by their bodies on my way to the house, only about 15 feet (4.6 m) from the corncrib.
I remember very little else about that night, except that the yard was full of people, and red lights were flashing everywhere. A policeman asked me if I owned a gun. I still didn’t grasp what had happened. We learned later that Charles had shot all five children—Louis, Gary, and Kenny, as well as Theresa Jean and Mary Katharin. He had planned to kill the entire family except for Louise. To him, she was a goddess, and he wanted her to love only him.
Charles had written how he was going to kill the family. His plans were to get Louise and Patty into town to a movie along with another boy. It was then his plan to pretend to go to the lobby for popcorn and drinks. Instead he would go to our home and kill all of us. Next he planned to return to the movie, tell Patty she was wanted at home, and when they arrived at the house, kill the boy and Patty. Then he intended to put the gun in the boy’s hand. He wanted to make himself look like a hero to Louise, claiming that he killed the boy in an attempt to stop his massacre of the family.
Searching for Answers
The next few months were a nightmare for all of us. There were so many questions on my mind. Why would God let something like this happen to our children? Was Louis, our 16-year-old, in heaven or in hell? Were the other four in heaven, since they were too young to be accountable for themselves? Everything I had lived for seemed gone. I began to wonder if I really wanted to keep on living. But I had the other children and my wife; these were the reasons I kept going.
I began to search for answers by visiting our Catholic priest. He told me that I had five little angels in heaven. But that only raised more questions in my mind, such as: If our children are in heaven, why do we have to pay to have prayers said to get them out of purgatory? No one could give me a straight answer.
Also, since Charles Fuller had cold-bloodedly murdered our children, shouldn’t he have been executed? As it was, he was sentenced to prison, and for many years now it has been very trying for my family and me to go to prison each year to stop his being paroled. ‘Vengeance is mine, says the Lord,’ I was told. ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ But I felt that ‘life for life’ seemed a more appropriate application of Scripture for this horrendous crime.—Romans 12:19; Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 19:21.
One day while talking with a friend about the death penalty, he encouraged me to look up Genesis 9:6. It says: “Anyone shedding man’s blood, by man will his own blood be shed.” When I read that, my belief was reinforced that the boy should have been put to death for his crime. How thankful I was to find the answer to one of my questions!
As I learned later, while vengeance is God’s, yet God has given earthly governments the right and the responsibility to execute judgment against evildoers. (Romans 13:4) All of this caused me really to dig into my Bible to try to find other answers to my questions.
Disappointment—Then True Comfort
I began going to various churches and taking Bible study correspondence courses, hoping to find the answers I so desperately needed. I prayed to God for help. All I got from the churches and the studies were things I had heard before, such as: ‘The soul is immortal, it does not die. The dead are living on somewhere as angels,’ which I later learned the Bible definitely does not teach.—Ecclesiastes 9:5; Ezekiel 18:4, 20.
Then one day, 11 months after the death of my children, a letter came from someone in California who had read about the murders in the paper. Along with the letter, the woman sent a little blue book called The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life and a year’s subscription to the Watchtower and Awake! magazines. I will never forget the day that letter came. It spoke of the hope of the resurrection for the dead. I looked up all the scriptures quoted, including John 5:28, 29. I was so happy that I cried!
I remember running into the room where my wife and my daughter Louise were, saying: “Look, the Bible says that if we live a good clean life, we can see our dead ones again, not as spirits as we have been told but as real people. Ones we can hold and love just as we did before they died.” To my great surprise, my wife wanted nothing to do with the things I was reading. Her hostile reaction, however, did not dampen my desire to learn more.
I sat down and read the little blue book through and found the answers to the questions that had plagued me. I got in touch with Jehovah’s Witnesses, and a Bible study was started at once. My family thought I had lost my mind. My wife burned all my literature and called the priest to have him talk with me.
When the priest came, he warned me to stay away from Jehovah’s Witnesses. I replied that I felt I was being taught the truth about the only true God and that Jehovah’s Witnesses showed the love for one another spoken about at John 13:35. The priest said he had a 2:00 p.m. appointment, but he would see me again soon. That was 16 years ago, and he has not been back. However, since our daughter Billie was going to a Catholic school, he would send home with her tracts against Jehovah’s Witnesses.
But that was only part of the campaign to dissuade me from studying the Bible with the Witnesses. One of my brothers was a Baptist minister, and he spent three hours trying to tell me how to be a good Christian and to stay away from Jehovah’s Witnesses. My father said that the Witnesses would brainwash me, to which I replied that my brain needed a good washing, since I had been taught so many untruths for so many years.
Also, my mother, who was a Pentecostal, had her minister come and try to talk me out of my new religion. He gave a talk in his church about Jehovah’s Witnesses and sent a copy of his talk to me. However, through all the opposition I received, I did not give up what I knew to be true teachings from the Bible.
Not only has our family been the victim of a vicious crime but we have also been victims of vicious rumors. For instance, my daughter Louise was accused of helping to kill her sisters and brothers. And I was accused of being a drunk and a woman chaser. Such an accusation once had a quite humorous twist.
A friend and I were sitting in our vehicle when a man came out of the house and began talking with us. He noticed the Watchtower and Awake! magazines in the car and asked who was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. When I replied that I was, he began saying how Pastor Russell, the first president of the Watch Tower Society, was an immoral man.
I was trying to think of how I could refute him so that my friend could see that he was not telling the truth. But then he started telling about the Witness William Cox, saying that he was a woman chaser and a drunk. He claimed that the night the Cox children were killed, William was uptown with a woman in a tavern. My friend knew that I was not that kind of person.
I asked the man if he would know Mr. Cox if he saw him? “Why, yes, I’ve known him for 20 years or more.” By now my friend and I were about to die laughing, so I asked my friend if he’d like to tell the man whom he was talking to. “I sure would,” he said, “Mister, you’re talking to William Cox.”
Even though my experience has been a tragic one, it has worked to my benefit at times, allowing me to witness to people who otherwise would not have listened. I recall one month when I was able to obtain over 50 subscriptions to The Watchtower and Awake!
What has been the outcome for my family? My wife has come to appreciate the Bible teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the attitude of my children has changed tremendously. When my wife asked to have her name removed from the church membership roll, Patty and Billie Colleen had their names removed also.
My fervent prayer is that some day my entire family will become dedicated to Jehovah and have the same hope I have, that of being able to see our little ones when they are resurrected into the Paradise earth. There, no longer will violence and death plague us. (Revelation 21:3, 4)—As told by William Cox.
[Blurb on page 13]
“I’ve killed five little birds”
[Blurb on page 15]
I felt that ‘life for life’ seemed a more appropriate application of Scripture
[Blurb on page 16]
I was accused of being a drunk and a woman chaser
[Picture on page 13]
My wife and I
[Pictures on page 14, 15]
Louis, age 16
Theresa, age 10
Gary, age 7
Mary Katharin, age 9
Kenny, age 5