On the evening of November 18, 1987, police found the body of Ruby Elaine Dardeen, she was beaten so brutally that she had gone into labor and the killer or killers had also beaten her newborn to death.
Everyone suspected her husband Russel Keith Dardeen, but on November 19, the following day, Keith’s body was found, he had been shot and his genitals were mutilated. Further examination showed that he had been killed within an hour of his family.
The Dardeen Family murders were considered too brutal to be reported on daytime TV.
Who was Dardeen Family?
The Dardeen family consisted of Russell Keith Dardeen, 29, and his wife Rudy Elaine Dardeen, 30. Keith and Elaine also had a two-year-old son Peter, they were ready to welcome another child and decided to name it either Ian or Casey, depending on whether it was a boy or a girl.
Keith bought a trailer in 1986 after completing the training required for his job as a treatment plant operator. Keith and Elaine rented the land it sat on from a nearby farming couple. nestled among woodland beside Route 37, just outside Ina, Illinois, with their 2-year-old son, Peter.
Keith worked at a treatment plant and Elaine worked at an office supply store in Mount Vernon. In their free time, the couple played in the musical ensemble at a local baptist church. Elaine and Keith considered moving to a better place as they were welcoming their new child, they had put their mobile home up for sale, but this wasn’t the only reason they wanted to move.
The Dardeen family did not like staying in the area because the area had been becoming increasingly violent and the couple wanted to move somewhere safer for their children. There had been 15 homicides in Jefferson County, during the previous two years.
As a result Keith became so protective of the family that one night a young woman came by asking for a mobile phone to make a phone call, but he reused to let her in.
What happened to Dardeen family?
On November 18, 1987, Keith who had been a reliable worker at the treatment plan didn’t show up to work, nor he had informed anyone, and calls to his house went unanswered all day. Keith’s supervisor called his parents but neither of them knew what happened to their son.
Keith’s parents became concerned and called the sheriff’s office and agreed to drive down to Ina with the house key and meet the deputies.
No one had a hint of what was inside, once inside, they met a horrid scene that would mentally scar them for the rest of their lives. They found the bodies of Elaine, her 2-year-old son, Peter, and the newborn baby, and all lying in one single bed.
Elaine and Peter had been bound and gagged with duct tape, both of them had been beaten so severely that Elaine who was pregnant at the time, went into labor and delivered a girl, but the killer or killers took no mercy on the newborn either and killed the newborn too. They were beaten with a baseball bat, it was a birthday gift from Keith to peter earlier that year.
“Elaine suffered a blow on the right top of her head which fractured her skull and 2-year-old Peter suffered numerous abrasions and contusions, his skull was also fractured.”
Three members of the family were slain to death, but Keith was missing along with their car, there was no hint as to where he could’ve been. Investigators assumed that Keith had killed his wife and children and ran away.
A team was assigned to search Keith, but their search was cut short the following day after Keith’s body was discovered by a group of hunters in a wheat field not far from the trailer. Keith had been shot three times, on his skull, right side of his face, and on his left cheek. His penis had been also chopped off.
Keith’s car was found parked outside a police station in Benton, around 11 miles away from his family house. The inside of the trailer was spattered with blood, indicating that Keith had been murdered there. Autopsies of the bodies weren’t enough to conclude who was killed first, it was determined that they were all killed within an hour or two.
As the news of Dardeen family homicides circulated around the area, locals were left even more fearful than they already were. There was a rise in gun sales as well as sales in security systems. Before the incident, the locals left their door unlocked, but now they double-checked to make sure they were locked.
A total of 30 detectives worked full-time on the case, interviewing 100 people but nothing proved to be helpful. Investigators were bound to find the motive behind the murders.
Determining the motive behind the murder was difficult in the case, the back door was unlocked; there was no evidence of forced entry and a VCR and portable camera were in plain sight in the living room. Cash and jewelry were equally accessible in another room. Keith was sexually mutilated, investigators ruled out a sexual motivation.
Investigators couldn’t find any extramarital affairs involving either Keith or Elaine, which could’ve resulted in a jealous rage, nor they could find any grudged or debt troubles.
A stack of papers with sports scores found in the house led them to wonder whether Keith might have been in gambling debts. However, Joeann Dardeen, Keith’s mother told the police that her son was so frugal that he raised his young son’s college fund by reselling 50 cent cans of soda at work for a small profit.
Inside Keith’s trailer, police found a small amount of marijuana but never found conclusive evidence that they were a drug dealer. Keith’s mother suggested that marijuana may have belonged to the killer or killers.
Joeann said later that “I think someone wanted Keith to sell drugs, and he refused.” Several years later in 1997, she said, “or there’s a possibility someone like Elaine, and she wouldn’t accept his advances and he took out his rage on both of them… We just don’t know.”
The murder of the Dardeen family was so brutal that some believed that it may have been a work of a cult trying to appease the devil, but no symbols related to a ritual were found in the trailer. However, investigators did not believe that they were randomly chosen, “I believe it was a very personal, deliberate thing.”
As time passed, the case grew colder and colder, but Keith’s mother made sure that the authorities don’t forget the brutal murder. She continued pressuring the authorities to try to solve the murders of her son and his family, she gathered more than 3000 signatures in an attempt to get The Oprah Winfrey Show to telecast a segment on the murders, but the producers turned her down, saying the crime was too brutal for the daytime television.
America’s Most Wanted had a similar reaction at the beginning, but they changed their mind in 1998 and telecasted a segment. The show however, was unable to generate any new leads.
Tommy Lynn Sells confession
The most promising lead came in 2000, when serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells was arrested for cutting the throats of Kaylene Harris, 13, and Krystal Surles, 10 near Del Rio, Texas. After his arrest, Tommy claimed that he had carried out the Dardeen Killing along with other 70 unsolved murders.
Sells was confirmed to have committed at least 22 murders, but the investigators were unable to link him to the Dardeen family murders. He gave statements but nothing matched the evidence.
Sells claimed in 2010 that he met Keith at a truck stop, and while telling the story again he said he met him at a local pool hall, in both versions he said that Keith invited him for dinner and a three-way with him and Elaine. Keith’s mother discarded his claims and said Keith was far too protective of his family to do such a thing.
When Tommy Sells first confessed to killing the Dardeen family, Joeann was convinced of his guilt but as Sells was interviewed he was found less reliable. When asked how Elaine’s body was positioned, he answered that incorrectly, before finally guessing the position correctly. While he answered some of the details correctly, but those details could’ve easily picked from the media.
Sells said in his 2010 interview: “I know people got their doubts, They say there’s no physical evidence tying me to Dardeens, but there wasn’t for any of them because they wasn’t looking for me. I moved. I was always a transient.”
Sells was put to death in 2014, and nobody has ever been charged with the murders of the Dardeen family. We will never know whether Tommy Sells was involved in the murder of the Dardeen family or he was trying to avoid the death penalty by confessing to crimes he had not committed and taken advantage of the judicial system’s gratitude.
Dardeen Family murders theories
There is a reason why this murder is unsolved for over three decades, whether it was the murder of all the family members or no motive was found behind the killing. However, there is no strong theory, that gives the motive behind the brutal killing of the Dardeen family.
Keith’s mother Joeann said that someone wanted him to sell drugs and maybe Keith refused them and he or they may have killed his family. Someone from Elaine’s past, her stalker, or someone she refused?
Keith’s friend told that Kieth had become so protective of his family that once when a girl asked to use their phone he didn’t let her in. This might be farfetched, but what if that woman returned and killed the Dardeen family?
However, three decades later, the murder of the Dardeen family is still unsolved and looks like it will remain the same way.
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