Good Friday: sacrifice, death, redemption

Dateline: Fri 29 Mar 2013

Does anyone else identify with what happened to Thomas B. Tefft, 67,and his wife Laura at 7822 Harcourt Springs Place on Friday, March 15?

The retired couple, who lived in a comfortable little brick home in a Northwestside development, near 79th and Harcourt Road, were enjoying their early morning rituals -- he was drinking coffee and watching TV, she was counting out her pills -- when a masked man came in through their patio-style door that opened to their screened-in porch.

Mrs. Tefft fled to the bathroom with her cell phone while her husband, a glazier from New York by trade, repeatedly pleaded with the bad guy: "Don't hurt my wife."

Mrs. Tefft quickly dialed 911. A dispatcher told her to stay put and not risk being hurt herself. She heard "something, a muffled sound," according to Detective Delbert Shelton, the Indianapolis Metropolitian Police Department homicide investigator on the case. 

Then she heard her husband moaning. And she heard the gunman run into the bedroom, where he grabbed the keys to their car and took off. Meanwhile the dispatcher stayed with her, urging her to remain in the bathroom until police arrived.

Mrs. Tefft said, "In five minutes, my life changed forever," according to City-County Councilwoman Angela Mansfield, who has lived in the development 23 years and now leads the neighborhood association. The Teffts, who moved to Indianapolis in 1996 from New York to be closer to family, formerly served on the association's board.

According to Indianapolis Star reporter Bill McCleery, the Teffts were, said Ms. Manfield, "super, super nice people...quiet...and willing to volunteer their time."

Detective Shelton confirmed what Ms. Mansfield told me: the couple had a cat, and they had let it out on the screened porch and left their patio door ajar. Police said the gunman cut a screen on the porch and entered the house through the open door. It was about 6:30 a.m.

What can we learn from this tragedy? First, Mr. Tefft was a heroic man; he saved his wife, who is a cancer patient. 

Ms. Mansfield said the neighbors recently had a meeting with police. They were advised that, if possible, to flee your premises if someone invades it. But Detective Shelton said, "There are so many scenarios... You may not be able to leave (or resist). At least Mrs. Tefft had a plan -- she did something. She called 911." And her husband, too, had a plan -- protect his wife.

On Monday, Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana ran a notice on Page A2 of the Star, seeking tips. This was after the couple's car, a black 2009 Hyundai, was recovered at 42nd and Rookwood in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood, several days after the crime. 

Police won't say if they are getting tips, but they suspect the gunman -- a black man in his 20s, wearing a gray hoodie, a black stocking cap and something over his face -- was likely alone. They also know the weapon was a small-calibre gun, and someone spotted the Hyundai being driven on the Eastside the day of the murder.

One practical lesson to take away is that we can never assume we are safe, even in our own homes. Keep your doors locked, always. Steve DuBois, an IMPD former homicide detective  on loan to Crime Stoppers as the coordinator of the program, also cautions people, including his wife and kids, "If you feel anything is wrong, don't enter your home. Exit and drive away and call 911."

But there are no magic answers. You also can't ever assume that the average person can confront a criminal and survive. "Even when policemen confront a bad guy, they can lose. Unless you are trained and have a mindset (that you are going to prevail,) you may be better off to back off," said DuBois. Obviously, though, Mr. Tefft's goal was to save his wife from harm.

Police are looking at the amount of foot traffic in the area, especially along 79th Street, and at other robberies or incidents in the neighborhood, which has had its share of low-level crime lately. 

Crime Stoppers is offering a reward of $1,000. A friend suggested that upping that amount would bring results, but DuBois says "enhanced rewards do not do anything, because a problem with that is that the reward is tied to conviction. Our reward is tied to an arrest....once the detective says, 'Hey, this tip is what led us to the arrest,' the tipster gets the reward."

No answers, many questions, and much sorrow and identification. Many of us share the lifestyle of the Teffts: we are quiet, we think we are safe, we let the cat in and out, all that.

All that is left is gratitude to a husband and father for saving his wife, and sorrow at the senseless loss of a good man's life. And, I hope and pray, the community will to find the person responsible.





Andrea Neal [unverified] said:

A powerful piece of writing, Ruth.

2013-03-29 19:53:08

ruthholl [Member] said:

Thank you, Andrea. Very affected by this couple's tragedy. And I send your column on mass transit to many, including members of St. Thomas. So much foolishness. Did you see the CNN Anderson Cooper bit on other cities? Good stuff. I can send to you.

2013-03-29 20:07:51

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

I agree with Andrea, Ruth.

When will the city of Indianapolis make public protection a priority? I read where an elementary school teacher (on the NE side) was mugged and roughed up on his way to his car after school - and he was probably very fortunate to have escaped with his life.

No one is safe in Indianapolis.

2013-03-31 13:27:12

hendy [Member] said:

It's not a switch. You can't flip it and make crime go away. There's a big drug problem. Same answer. Lots of poverty. Same answer. Longer sentences? Har. Amusing politicians think people think about the sentence before they do the crime. Most are pretty desparate. Why? They've been screwed. Maybe it was brains, bad parenting, and bad personal responsibility. People get desparate and do bad stuff.

We have lots of OCD people doing bad things, too. Homeless out on the streets because our mental institutions are closed. Why? So we could give Toyota more money to start a plant. Or sell tollroad leases so we could build freeways that go to nowhere.

It's a crazy world out there. Limit the guns first, so it's not the weapon of choice. Get the addicts off the street and out of jails and into rehab. Maybe actual justice might help.

2013-04-01 08:37:48

Jason [unverified] said:

Again we get the economics argument. Look, in the vast majority (I would say 90%+) of the criminal murders that happen in this city either the suspect or victim would still be in prison if we had truth in sentencing. It's not about the punishment being the deterrent, it's about protecting the public by keeping bad people away. The real tragedy comes into play when innocent taxpayers become victims.

Add to that the construction of our criminal justice system itself. Thousands of guilty people go free for every innocent person that gets convicted. People laud that, and that's great, it is. But high crime rates are THE primary consequence. People who think we have such a great system blame poverty, guns, loss of values, single-parent households, and everything else, but they don't look at the primary executor of justice in our society. If you do a horrible thing and get away with it, in my experience people don't think they'll never do it again, they'll think they CAN do it again and get away with it. And they do.

2013-04-01 09:16:44

hendy [Member] said:

Jason, your numbers are vastly over-inflated, in terms of capital crimes. Sentences are indeed deterents. No doubt about it. Now go down to Terre Haute and/or Sullivan and count the heads. Didn't deter THEM did it?

There are those in our society that feel no guilt or love. They are psychopathic, sociopathic, narcissicsts, and the drug-induced. People that can feel love and guilt also murder, too.

Let's talk about murder, murder in jealous rages, robbery, police stops, whatever. Disambiguate murder and manslaughter. Start to dig down and find out how people carried through with their crime. Some, afterwards, will feel guilt, and others don't. There are two classes of humanity in this way.

I blame poverty, inability to meet the basic needs of a human. I blame drugs. Easy to get, and you'll get strung out, and need more. Petty crimes become bigger. These are the fact, not just "feelings".

Personal responsibility is at an all-time low, IMHO. It's everybody else's fault. No one says: the buck stops here. I'm happy to provide the facts, which is why I'm a researcher for a living. They're easy to find. Much better than anecdotal statistics pulled out of a hat.

2013-04-01 12:25:13

Jason [unverified] said:

My statistics aren't anecdotal, they're culled from the days when IPD did suspect/victim surveys after homicides. I have a coupla liberal arts degrees so I'm familiar with the ivory tower missives, unfortunately most of those studies ineffectively isolate control groups and draw biased assumptions. Ditto statistics.

Of course criminology is a "soft" science. I can't speak for what's in the hearts and minds of every good or bad person that does a good or bad thing. All I can state with certainty is that in the murders which I have seen which WERE committed in THIS city, they wouldn't have happened if the offenders/offendees were still in prison. When a seven-time violent felon kills a four-time violent felon, it's hard to blame number eight on a failed attempt at number five. At one point our average sentence time for criminal homicides was three years. Sometimes it's just that simple.

Studies on recidivism don't tell you the whole story however, because it's only demonstrable in situations where a conviction was achieved in the first place. Prison surveys are obviously very sketchy (Red put it best when he said he was "-the only guilty man in Shawshank.") A far more accurate barometer is actually looking at the facts and circumstances of each criminal case, figuring out if they "did it," not if it was proven whether or not they did it or a charging affidavit had a typo or whatever snafu caused the charges to be dropped. Mistakes like these stimulate repetitive behavior. But hey, these folks need to put bread on the table and research like that it simply unable to be done even in this day and age. Oftentimes the studies that we cite rely on unwritten assumptions and focus on faulty "spheres of influence." We get things like gun control and poverty that we foolishly think we can completely eradicate and assume more laws equals more enforcement. Because let's face it, throwing your hands up in the air and saying there is no silver bullet is to admit *gasp* fault..

Instead we come up with sexy solutions like house arrest, and look the other way when a half dozen juveniles on house arrest for burglary cut off their bracelets and break into dozens of houses in Meridian-Kessler. We sentence drug dealers to twenty years of house arrest and poorly monitor them, throwing our hands up in the air when a grown man refuses to ground himself.

We can find common ground on accountability, and poverty is indeed a stressor on crime, but at the same time emphasis needs to be added that poverty in and of itself does NOT cause crime. Most people who are poor are NOT criminals. Just because somebody is poor does not give them an excuse to commit crime, and to do so demeans the rest of the poor in society.

2013-04-01 12:53:01

hendy [Member] said:

I never implied that correlation is causation. When you look at statistical weighting and sift through it, there are any number of conclusions that can be made.

With several friends in criminal justice, I can say accurately that violent death-- murder or manslaughter but not drunken driving and ODs-- have commonalities. Sifting through them, you find the sociopaths, psychotics, and other don't-care/will-never-cares that got caught. Then there are those that will flouder after prison release because they never received parenting, or an education, or got a break in life. Both the guilty and the unguilty will return, time and again.

They'll mix with the drug dealers, the fraudsters, pimps, the users, and a wide variety of people with boot prints on their lives. This isn't about being a bleeding heart liberal, rather, prisons don't work as they should, and are unlikely to, because the real cure takes time and money, and no one wants to spend that on proven criminals.

So it's nihilistic for us, IMHO, to talk about the causes when prisons don't work as a corrective mechanism for a civil society. They're merely sequestering devices, temporary ones, that are unlikely to work because they don't address the core problems.

The core problems are in no particular order, stupidity, irresponsibility, greed, vacuous/impaired judgment, and the inability to be stanched by the threat of imprisonment. Most are indeed poor, but some are not. The "sexy" solutions you mention aren't necessarily a bad idea. In one case I know, an alcoholic is still an alcoholic. She blows the breath analyzer and comes up zeros, but she drinks *A LOT*. Until someone gives her alcoholism treatment in a supervised situation, which is expensive, she'll drink herself, one day, to death. But house arrest for violent crimes is pretty rare. Violent offenders usually get hard time.

The system can be thrwarted, sometimes easily, and there aren't enough probation officers going around, because we're spending millions on Zoeller's lawsuit crapshoots, and other spendiferous plots.

Here in Bloomington, a homeless mecca has appeared because there are actually support services available; food, housing, and job search help is community-supported. For this reason, we now get most of the downtrodden parolees from Bedford, Owen, Green, Brown, even Orange and Bartholomew counties. Makes street crime here a bit tough. But they're doing something about it, rather than castigating it and looking the other way.

2013-04-01 18:00:26

Jason [unverified] said:

You didn't say a whole lot that I can disagree with, Hendy.

However, violent offenders almost NEVER get hard time, if we're defining it as more years than I have fingers on one hand. The opposite may be true in other places, but here in the Circle City it takes shock and awe to receive a lengthy prison sentence. There are multiple armed robbers, people convicted of murder in prison, and multiple convicted murderers roaming free around here (you would think murder in prison would be enough to keep them, but alas...) Bear in mind that in Indiana, seemingly "non-violent" crimes like cocaine dealing and burglary are classified as serious violent felonies. Add up the number of prison beds in this state and look at the per capita crime rate. Those people have to go somewhere (else).

I'll admit it's not really fair to classify probation and house arrest as not working, because they've never really been utilized per their description. Criminals may not be the sharpest lot, but they know they can violate the hell out of their terms without repercussions, so no wonder they recidivate. Ditto somebody committing a major felony and getting a whopping 4 years (do 2). It's hard to blame revenge killings when somebody who killed a loved one only missed two or three holiday seasons. I'd be pissed off too.

I was chatting up an immigrant fellow working at a CVS a few months ago. He explained that in his country when you get caught stealing they beat the hell out of you. He went on to tell me that they caught a shoplifter, who was arrested, and the next day the same shoplifter came back and stole again. It's not the exception, it's the norm. Again, changing hearts and minds is an argument delving into theory and phrenology and what-not, but as for that shoplifter, THAT day, maybe if they had sat in jail for more than 4 hours something would've sunk in. I don't know...

2013-04-02 08:51:38

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