The Dardeen Family hom*cide

On November 18, 1987, in Ina, Illinois, United States, something terrible happened to Russell Keith Dardeen, his wife, and their son. Russell didn’t go to work that day, so the police went to their mobile home to check on them. What they discovered was horrifying. Both Russell’s wife, Ruby Elaine Dardeen, who was pregnant, and their son had been brutally b*aten. Ruby had been b*aten so badly that she went into labor, but sadly, the k*ller or k*llers also b*at the newborn baby to d*ath.

It seemed like the k*llings happened the day before. At first, the investigators thought that Keith might be the main suspect. However, the next day, they found Keith’s body in a field nearby. He had been shot and his private parts had been harmed. His car was found parked close to the police station in Benton. The forensic examination revealed that he was k*lled within an hour of his family.

After more than 10 m*rders occurred in Jefferson and Franklin counties within the past two years, the local residents were already living in fear. However, their fear intensified when the tragic quadruple hom*cide took place. In response, many residents armed themselves, while others experienced negative psychological effects due to the unsettling events.

Various rumors started circulating, suggesting that the k*llings were the result of Satanic rituals. However, the police quickly dismissed these rumors, along with other motives related to illegal activities like drug trafficking, infidelity, or gambling. The crime scene provided no evidence of s*xual as*ault or robbery, further complicating the investigation. With no clear cause or leads, the case remained unsolved, leaving the community in a state of uncertainty.

It wasn’t until the 2000s that a potential suspect emerged in the form of serial k*ller Tommy Lynn Sells. Sells claimed responsibility for the crime after being convicted and sentenced to d*ath for the m*rder of a teenage girl in Texas. However, due to restrictions imposed by prison authorities, Sells was unable to leave the state to assist the police in Southern Illinois with their investigation. Consequently, he was never officially charged, and both the prison authorities and the Dardeen family have doubts about his account of the k*llings. As a result, the case has gone cold, with no further progress in solving the mystery.

Dardeen Family


Both Russell Keith Dardeen and Ruby Elaine Dardeen preferred to go by their middle names. Keith, originally from Mount Carmel, purchased a trailer in 1986 after completing the necessary training for his job as a treatment plant operator at the nearby Rend Lake Water Conservancy District. Elaine, who hailed from Albion, moved to Ina later on with their 2-year-old son, Peter. They rented the land where the trailer was located from a neighboring farming couple.

Dardeen family

Keith held a job while Elaine found employment at an office supply store in Mount Vernon, which served as the county seat of Jefferson County. When they weren’t working, the couple actively participated in the musical ensemble of a small Baptist church in their village. Keith took on the role of lead vocalist, while Elaine showcased her talent by playing the piano.

In 1987, Elaine became pregnant with their second child. They had already decided on the names Ian or Casey, depending on the baby’s gender. The impending arrival of their new family member prompted Keith and Elaine to seriously consider moving. Towards the end of the year, they listed their mobile home for sale, hoping to find a new place to settle down.

However, their decision to move was not solely based on the impending arrival of their baby. Keith’s mother, Joeann Dardeen, revealed that Keith had expressed his desire to return to Mount Carmel, even if he couldn’t secure a job there. He regretted moving to Ina and believed that the area was becoming increasingly violent. The escalating violence was a major concern for Keith.

In the preceding two years, Jefferson County had experienced a staggering 15 hom*cides, beginning with a tragic incident involving Thomas Odle. Odle, a teenager from Mount Vernon, had k*lled his parents and three siblings as they returned home individually one night in 1985. While Odle and some other m*rder suspects had been convicted, the series of violent incidents had left the rural community filled with fear and anxiety.

A friend of Keith’s recalled that his protective instincts grew stronger after a 10-year-old girl was r*ped and m*rdered in the area in May 1987. Keith became extremely cautious about the safety of his family. One night, when a young woman approached their mobile home asking to make a phone call, Keith refused to let her inside, prioritizing the security of his loved ones.


Keith, a reliable worker at the treatment plant, didn’t show up for work on November 18. He didn’t even let his supervisor know in advance and didn’t respond to any calls made to his house throughout the day. Keith’s supervisor then contacted both of Keith’s parents, who lived close to each other in Mount Carmel even though they were divorced. Sadly, neither of them had any idea where their son could be.

Keith’s father, Don Dardeen, called the Jefferson County sheriff’s office and agreed to meet deputies at his son and daughter-in-law’s house in Ina. Don brought the house key with him. The house was located between Illinois Route 37 and the former Illinois Central Railroad tracks, which were now used by Union Pacific, just north of the Franklin County line. When they entered the house, they discovered the bod*es of Keith’s wife, Elaine, their son, Peter, and their newborn daughter. All three were found in the same bed. Elaine had been tied up and had tape covering her mouth. It appeared that both she and Peter had been b*aten to d*ath using a baseball bat found at the scene. Interestingly, the baseball bat had been a birthday gift from Keith’s father. Elaine had been b*aten so severely that she went into labor and gave birth to a girl who unfortunately suffered the same fate as her mother and brother.

Keith himself was nowhere to be found, and his car, a red 1981 Plymouth, was also missing. The authorities suspected that Keith had k*lled his family and was on the run. They even went to his mother’s house in Mount Carmel, fully armed, in search of him. However, the search came to an end the following day when a group of hunters discovered Keith’s body in a wheatfield not far from the trailer.

The wheatfield was located just south of the Franklin-Jefferson County line, near Rend Lake College. Keith had been shot three times, and his genitals had been severed. Interestingly, Keith’s Plymouth was found parked outside the police station in Benton, which was 11 miles (18 km) south of the Dardeen home. The interior of the car was stained with blood.


The local police and the Illinois State Police worked together to investigate the crime. A team of 30 detectives dedicated their full-time efforts to follow leads and interview around 100 individuals. Unfortunately, none of the information they gathered proved to be helpful. One man who was taken into custody early on was eventually released after being questioned. Similarly, a coworker of Keith’s, with whom he allegedly had a dispute, was cleared of suspicion.

Those who knew the couple had only positive things to say about them. Although a small amount of marijuana was found in the trailer, it wasn’t enough to suggest any involvement in drug dealing. The police even believed that the marijuana might have been left behind unintentionally by the k*ller or k*llers. The autopsies revealed that none of the victims had consumed drugs or alcohol.

The coroners determined that all the Dardeens had d*ed within an hour of each other. The bod*es in the trailer had been k*lled 12 hours before they were discovered, while Keith had been deceased for 24 to 36 hours when he was found. However, this raised the question of how the crime had been committed since Keith’s body was located away from the trailer.

It was possible that he was k*lled at a different location than his family. In the trailer, the k*ller or k*llers seemed to have taken their time, not only placing Elaine’s body in bed with her children but also cleaning up the scene. This suggested that they didn’t feel rushed to leave. The amount of effort involved led the police to theorize that the crime may have occurred during the night. Although the trailer was situated on Route 37, a busy state highway, it could still be seen from Interstate 57, nearly 2,000 feet (610 meters) to the west at the time. Another question that remained unanswered was whether there was one k*ller or multiple individuals involved.

Possible motives

Determining the motive behind the attack proved to be a challenging aspect of the case. The back door of the house had been left open, and there was no sign of forced entry. Surprisingly, valuable items like a VCR and a portable camera were left in plain sight in the living room, and cash and jewelry elsewhere in the house remained untouched. These facts made it unlikely that robbery was the motive. Additionally, Elaine had not been s*xually as*aulted or r*ped.

The police found no evidence of extramarital affairs involving Keith or Elaine that could have triggered jealousy or anger. They did come across a stack of papers with sports scores, which led them to speculate whether Keith might have accumulated gambling debts. However, Keith’s mother, Joeann Dardeen, informed the police that her son was extremely frugal and even earned a small profit by reselling 50-cent soda cans at work to contribute to his young son’s college fund.

Despite the widespread fear generated by the case, Lewis, the Franklin County coroner, believed that the Dardeens were not randomly targeted. He stated to the Post-Dispatch that he believed it was a deliberate and highly personal act. A police expert on cults dismissed the rumor that Satanists were responsible, explaining that such groups usually exhibit more extensive mutilation of bod*es, organ harvesting, and leave symbolic items and lit candles at the crime scene. None of these indicators were found at the Dardeen’s trailer.

However, the police did consider the possibility that while the Dardeens were intentionally chosen, it could have been a case of mistaken identity by the k*ller or k*llers. Joeann Dardeen later mentioned that she had contemplated other motives that someone might have had for k*lling her son and his family. She suggested that someone may have wanted Keith to sell drugs, and he refused, or that someone may have been attracted to Elaine and became enraged when she rejected their advances. The true motive behind the crime remained unknown.

Apparent Tommy Lynn Sells confession

In the year 2000, they caught a serial k*ller named Tommy Lynn Sells for hurting two young girls named Kaylene Harris, 13, and Krystal Surles, 10, in Del Rio, Texas. After he got caught, Tommy said he was responsible for the Dardeen K*llings and around 70 other m*rders. They knew for sure that Tommy had committed at least 22 m*rders, but they couldn’t find any evidence linking him to the Dardeen family m*rders. He said things, but nothing matched up with the evidence they had.

Tommy Lynn Sells

In 2010, Tommy claimed that he met a guy named Keith at a truck stop, but then he changed his story and said he met Keith at a local pool hall. In both versions, he said that Keith invited him to have dinner and engage in a three-way with him and Elaine. Keith’s mom didn’t believe him and said that Keith would never do something like that because he cared a lot about his family.

At first, Joeann believed Tommy Sells when he confessed to k*lling the Dardeen family. But as they interviewed him more, they realized he wasn’t very reliable. He got questions about Elaine’s body position wrong until he finally guessed correctly. While he got some details right, those details could have been easily learned from the news.

In a 2010 interview, Sells said, “I know some people have doubts. They say there’s no physical evidence connecting me to the Dardeens, but they didn’t look for me. I moved around a lot.”

Tommy Sells was executed in 2014, and until now, nobody has been charged with the Dardeen family m*rders. It’s still unclear whether Tommy Sells was involved in the m*rder or if he confessed to crimes he didn’t commit to avoid getting the d*ath penalty, taking advantage of the leniency of the justice system.

Doubts about truthfulness

Some investigators believe that when Tommy Lynn Sells was executed in 2014 in Texas, it brought justice to the Dardeen family, even though he was never officially charged with their m*rders. He was considered the main suspect by the state’s attorney and the sheriff, who claimed that he knew undisclosed details about the crime. However, there are doubts about Sells’ credibility because he was known to embellish his stories, which raises questions about the accuracy of his confessions.

While some investigators acknowledge that Sells’ account aligns with the known facts of the case, they argue that most of the information he provided had already been made public. When questioned about certain details that were not disclosed in media reports, Sells seemed less reliable. For example, his claim about where he was shot in Keith’s car contradicted the evidence, and he initially answered incorrectly when asked about Elaine’s body position, only correcting himself later, possibly through guesswork.

In a 2010 interview, Sells acknowledged that people had doubts about his guilt. He responded by stating that there was no physical evidence linking him to the Dardeen family because law enforcement was not actively looking for him. He claimed to have moved around frequently, making it difficult to trace his whereabouts.

Texas authorities confirmed Sells’ involvement in 22 m*rders but suspected that he was falsely confessing to crimes he didn’t commit, inspired by another serial k*ller who had done the same. They believed Sells was exploiting the judicial system’s appreciation for his cooperation to avoid the d*ath penalty. Illinois investigators wanted to bring Sells back to the crime scene to test his familiarity with the area and gather additional evidence. However, due to Texas law, prisoners on d*ath row cannot be taken out of state, and the authorities there were unwilling to make an exception. Consequently, m*rder charges couldn’t be filed against Sells in Illinois due to insufficient evidence.

The doubts about Sells’ confession extend beyond law enforcement. Friends and family of the Dardeens question some of his claims. They find it unlikely that Keith would invite a stranger from out of town to have dinner with the family, especially given the fear in the area after the previous k*llings. They also dispute Sells’ assertion that Keith made a homos*xual advance toward him, as they had never suspected Keith of having any interest in the same s*x, and the police found no evidence of it during their initial investigation.

Detectives who interviewed Sells believe that if he did k*ll the Dardeens, he added that detail to justify his actions, as he often included similar stories in his confessions to portray his victims as provoking him.

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Dardeen family hom*cides, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

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