JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ill. (KFVS) - Dardeen. A family name forever tied to tragedy.
So many of us remember the horrific events of November 1987.
I recently met with Joeann Dardeen to talk about the murders of her son and his family, a serial killer’s questionable confession and how she’s still waiting for answers. Now, we take her concerns straight to investigators, and uncover new details in a crime Joeann asks us all to never forget.
“I can sit here and talk to you all night long about who I’ve talked to,” Dardeen said about her son’s murder case. For years, Dardeen kept in close contact with investigators. But that’s not the case today.
When asked if anyone was actively working the case, to her knowledge, she replied, “no.”
“They’re not. I’m sure," she said.
“It feels like it moves slow,” Detective Captain Scott Burge said of progress in the Dardeen case. “To me, even.”
Burge is with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. He’s in charge of the Dardeen case and recently worked to digitize the massive file.
“There’s actually 21 four-inch binders completely full just on this case.”
I recently met with Burge, Sheriff Jeff Bullard and Mike Anthis—who held Burge’s job in the fall of 1987. Anthis maintains a relationship with Joeann Dardeen. Burge and Bullard have not yet spoken to her.
"You have a family that’s been completely wiped out with no immediate or direct motive,” Anthis recalled.
He clearly remembers the gruesome discovery of Elaine and Peter Dardeen’s bodies, along with that of the couple’s unborn daughter in November 1987. The family’s red car was gone, but Keith’s truck remained parked outside their trailer in Ina.
“And then they move into the next mode of where is Keith?” Anthis said of the investigation.
Police scrambled to find him, even sending word to investigators in Colorado, where lifelong friend Kevin Harris had moved.
“They said, ‘Have you seen Keith,’” Harris said. “They said, ‘We’re told that he had mentioned he’d always wanted to come and see you.’”
“I mean, if the husband’s gone then he’s the first suspect,” Joeann said. “And Keith was. But we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he wasn’t.”
Seven hours after investigators opened the Dardeen murder case, they found the red car in Benton, Illinois, abandoned in a bank parking lot. You could clearly see blood inside it. The discovery of Keith’s body came later that same day. He’d been shot several times and castrated. Investigators would soon determine he’d been killed inside the red car.
“And now you really have to take the victimology of him and her,” Anthis explained. “And try to start linking together where they were. Who they saw."
“The leads all have numbers,” Burge explained as he shows me the binders full of leads, tips and interviews tied to the Dardeen case.
When asked if he believed the answer was somewhere in one of the books, Burge said, “Yes, and I hope so.”
I couldn’t help but notice the name Tommy Lynn Sells listed under the word “suspect” on the spine of each binder. While sitting on death row in Texas, Sells confessed to the Dardeen murders. But at the time, authorities said the evidence did not support the claims he made. It’s also worth noting Sells at one time confessed to the 1998 murders of Sherri and Megan Scherer. DNA evidence in that case proved Sells a liar.
Is he still considered a suspect? Are there other suspects?
“There are a lot of people that are persons of interest when I go through this," Burge answered. “He was one I could reference because he was listed as kind of a big suspect. There’s a lot of documentation on him and things like that. That’s why he’s currently listed as the only one on there. I could have put everything, but the book isn’t that tall.”
What about any new evidence? The family told me about a 2015 police report from the Dardeen’s hometown of Mt. Carmel. It detailed the discovery of some disturbing writing about the case found on the wall of a house, hidden under old wallpaper.
“I tried to talk to the State Police about it,” Joeann said of the strange message on the wall. “Because they’re the ones that come cut it out. And I couldn’t get anything out of him.”
Captain Burge said the wall did not produce any new leads, but remains in evidence.
Keith’s sister Anita Dardeen Knapp added to the list of current questions.
"I just asked her the other day, why haven't they done DNA? Did whoever, did they eat supper with them that night? As long as they were there, surely they opened the refrigerator. There has to be something."
We brought her question to Burge.
“We want to try to do some DNA testing on some items,” he said. “I think we can. But I need to see collectively where it has been before, to where it can go.”
“For me it’s not a question of who did it,” Keith’s friend Bill Reed explained. It’s the why they did it. I need that why."
The search for the why and the who continues. Burge stressed the Dardeen case remains open.
“Until we get somebody, or some people, in custody on this and we get them prosecuted or whatever else it’s going to remain open. And I want the family to know that, too.”
“There’s not anything out there that I haven’t done,” Joeann Dardeen said. “I’ve tried everything.”
At 81 years old, Dardeen continues to talk about her son’s case to anyone who’ll listen. She and Mike Anthis developed a friendship over the years, and it’s clear she’s always trusted his judgement. When I asked him about finally solving her son’s case, he explained it this way.
“I always used to refer to these types of cases as you’re standing in the center of a clock. And every minute on the face of that clock is another angle, theory, motive. And you go out that direction. And you follow it until you run it to ground. And it’s either it is, or it isn’t. And you come back to center again. And look for the next leads. And keep turning the rocks.”
Jefferson County authorities want anyone who thinks they know anything about the 1987 murders of Keith, Elaine, Peter and baby Casey Dardeen to contact their office.
Joeann Dardeen said you can contact her too, and she’ll get right on it. I have no doubt she will.