September 1, 1981
Beverly Shores, Indiana
Paul Witte (43) is fatally shot by his son Eric (15)
Paul was sleeping on the couch at his home when he was killed by a single gunshot wound to his head. His 15-year-old son Eric Witte admitted to shooting his father, claiming to have tripped over the rug while he held the gun as he approached his father to ask him a question about it. The trip ostensibly caused Eric to accidentally fire the gun. The death was ruled accidental but the case was not officially closed.
Three years later, Paul’s stepmother Elaine Witte (74) went missing. Eric Witte (now 18), his 14-year-old brother John Witte, and their mother Hilma Witte were arrested while attempting to forge Elaine’s social security checks. The family was questioned about Elaine’s whereabouts, at which point John “just blurted it all out.” Chief deputy prosecutor William Herrback told reporters, “[John] wanted to get it off his chest, and he did it voluntarily. He indicated to police that he had to tell someone, that he could not sleep and he wanted to get it out.”
John confessed to being a witness to his father’s shooting when he was 11, as well as to killing his grandmother on January 8, 1984 in her home near Michigan City, Indiana. According to John, he had shot Elaine in the rib cage with his crossbow. “My mom said I could strangle her or use my crossbow,” John explained. “It was up to me.” The family then dismembered Elaine’s body and further rendered some of the pieces down to make disposal easier. Elaine’s body was destroyed using various implements including a saw, knives, a chisel, the garbage disposal, the trash compactor, a deep fat fryer, and a microwave. Some of the larger pieces were stored in the home’s freezer for some time before they were scattered in various locations in Indiana, Illinois, and California.
During the course of investigation, it was revealed Hilma Witte had attempted to kill her husband with a mixture of rat poison and the sedative Valium which had been sprinkled into Paul’s food a month before his death. When the poisoning attempt proved unsuccessful, Hilma recruited her son Eric to shoot Paul, claiming Paul was going to divorce her and leave Hilma and her sons homeless. The family also later alleged Paul was abusive. Hilma later convinced John to kill his grandmother with a similar method, claiming Elaine was planning to kick the family from her home because she was, as John explained, “tired of us living with her and was going to kick us out in the street and we might as well do her in.” While it is likely Elaine was planning to ask Hima and her sons to leave, it has been speculated the sudden eviction was prompted when Elaine discovered Hilma was withdrawing money from her account.
John and Eric both pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and agreed to testify against their mother. Both received 20-year sentences, and both were released early for good behavior. Hilma was sentenced to 90 years for her role in the murder of her mother-in-law (60 for murder plus 30 for conspiracy to commit murder), to run concurrently with a 50-year sentence for her role in the murder of her husband. Her current projected release date is April 2027.
“Hilma M. Witte.” Indiana Department of Correction. DOC Number: 861597. Accessed: August 29, 2020. https://www.in.gov/apps/indcorrection/ofs/ofs?lname=Witte&fname=Hilma&search1.x=30&search1.y=11
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O’Brien, John and Baumann, Ed. “Double Murder: A Family Affair?” Chicago Tribune. June 13, 1985
Pliske, Thomas. “Paul Witte poisoning: Mother-in-law pleads innocent.” South Bend Tribune. May 24, 1985