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A Sister’s Walk for Justice: The Delphi Murders [EXCLUSIVE]

“I can’t wait for the day we find justice. If you’re reading this, we will find you and you messed with the wrong sister!” Kelsi German

As I walked into the pub, my eyes naturally scan the room. But this room was different than most. The killer could be here. I believe there is a good chance he is in town this weekend. It’s the anniversary of the Delphi murders and he must still take pride in the fact that he has gone uncaptured, unidentified, and unnoticed.

My eyes fix on a man wearing the same type of cap I think the killer is wearing in the video, with a dark jacket, goatee, and weak chin.

I’m here with a group of dedicated volunteers who will use their expertise to try and help find this killer. The group at the table is Ret. Homicide Detective Christine Mannina, Detective Dawn Higgins, trauma nurse Sharlene Bowen, Kaleb Siebert, Sue McDowell, and Kelsi German, the victim’s sister.

Kaleb is Kelsi’s boyfriend and Sue is married to Dawn Higgins. Both wanted to be here today as much as the experts. This is not our case officially. We are not paid or provided any incentive for our quest to help this community and this town, and mostly help this sister find a killer.

After we are seated and exchange pleasantries for a moment, I ask Kelsi how she walks around every day knowing the killer could be right here.

I point out the man that first caught my eye in the booth behind her and she says, “I saw him. Yes, I look everywhere I go. I wonder all the time is he here, have I talked to him. I wonder if he might have walked up to me during the search and talked to me. It’s awful not knowing”.

For four years, Kelsi German has wondered if her path has crossed with the killer. But, overwhelmingly and almost debilitatingly, she knows the killer crossed paths with her baby sister Libby German on the Monon High Bridge near downtown Delphi on February 13, 2017.

I asked Kelsi at lunch what advice she would give to rookie police officers or new detectives and she said without hesitation and a haunting sadness, “Don’t call off the search.”

I wanted to come on this date because that the date the killer selected. This is the place he selected and the time of day he selected.  I needed to see it first hand to walk it and to hopefully gain more of an understanding of him.

My sister Sharlene and I have already seen parts of the outline of town as well as the highway leading us to town. There is no way a stranger to these parts found this bridge. 

Photo courtesy of Sheryl McCollum

Delphi is remote. The bridge is more remote and isolated. This killer knows this area and knew this bridge. On February 14, 2017, the bodies of Abigail Williams and Liberty German were discovered 50 feet from Deer Creek and almost half a mile from the east side of the Monon High Bridge Trail. The young girls had gone missing from the same trail the previous day.

Libby and Abby were close friends. They decided to walk the trail and the bridge. They took selfies and photographs and posted them on Snapchat. But this typical fun afternoon with friends was turned into the most horrific event in Delphi history. 

After lunch, we head to the bridge just as they did on that fateful day. As we cross Freedom bridge, I feel like I’m walking into a postcard. It’s beautiful. Snow covers the ground and the bright blue bridge towering over the roadway. 

Photo courtesy of Sheryl McCollum

 The day of the murders was unseasonably warm but today is cold. For me and Sharlene, two Southern girls from Atlanta, it’s freezing! The cold will not deter us, any of us. 

We arrive on the other side of Freedom Bridge and I notice a sign hanging across the path to the Monon Bridge that reads “Closed Unsafe Trail.” I’m fifth in line as our group hikes up toward the sign.

I stop to take a picture of the sign as my sister passes me headed straight to our destination  I smile at the thought of the police or rangers being called. I hurry to catch up to my group because they are already talking about observations and theories.   

The trail is narrow where the path has been worn down in the snow. I can hear the snow crunch with each step I take. We stop once just to observe the area and the woods are silent. It’s beautiful and pristine. You get the feeling you are all alone, but at the same time, you realize how many places the killer could hide and stalk his prey.  

The woods are thick with Eastern White Pine trees and river birch, but you can easily see through them in the winter. This area would make the perfect backdrop for a family Christmas card picture. As we traverse the path toward the bridge I’m struck by the homes, barns, and sheds we are passing. Prior to this visit, I did not realize there were private homes lining the trail system. 

Photo courtesy of Sheryl McCollum

 My sister, Sharlene, turns to me and says, “Could he live there or work there?  Look how close these homes are. He could have just walked home.” 

She’s right. The homes were close and within walking distance. That’s just one new component to this scene that we would learn. It’s further from the parking area than I originally thought. Then, we come upon a fence that is placed across the path warning us to not go further. We were now trespassing. Again, none of my group hesitated.  

At this point, we were on ice and Kaleb helped all of us navigate the steep grade around the fence. Several times one or more of us almost fell and slipped on the snowy icy path. I told Kaleb that it was Valentine’s Day and for the rest of the trip he would be my boyfriend and had to hold me up. Kaleb has a sweet, natural, and caring demeanor. He was happy to help this southern belle stay upright.

Photo courtesy of Sheryl McCollum

There are several trails in this system. The killer could have taken any of them and passed the girls at some point. In doing so, he took a great risk in being seen by others that were enjoying the warm day.   

Here’s what we know for sure: 

  • The girls were dropped off by Kelsi at around 1:30 p.m.  
  • A sign reads it takes 501 steps to reach the bridge.  
  • The bridge is 853 feet across.  It’s 1.5 miles to the bridge from the drop-off.
  • The girls made it to the bridge. 
  • Libby posted pictures of Abby on social media.  
  • The killer crossed paths with the girls on the Monon Bridge.
  • Libby stunningly and bravely took a photograph of a man walking toward them.
  • Libby turned on her video and taped this phantom of a man, then placed the phone, still recording into her pocket, and captured his voice.

Just four words, “Guys…….Down the hill”!  And then with the video still going, Libby recorded her own murder, and the murder of her friend Abby.

 The best evidence we have on this case came from Libby! She gave us his picture, what he is wearing, where he met them on the bridge, and a video and his voice in real-time at a known location. 

Mannina said, “Libby did her job. I’d love for our team to be able to do ours. Every expert I know is willing to help!”

The bridge has gaps and missing boards. It’s 63 feet high over Deer Creek. The water in February, if not frozen, must stay 40 degrees or colder. The killer is walking on this bridge with his hands in his pockets. He’s not out of balance. That to me means he has navigated this bridge many times. He has no fear of height or disrepair.

Police Handout

There are 9.8 miles of trail in this trail system. Deer Creek runs under the Monon Bridge. The water levels change at different points from chest high to ankle-high. It’s up to all of us to find him.   

We come to a small bend in the road and just as we clear the turn there is the bridge. The bridge that we have seen numerous times but still it’s shocking once it’s in view. It’s almost oddly out of place.

I take my time to walk to the edge of the bridge because I want to take in all aspects of the area. This is where the girls started, is this where the killer started? Did he have the bridge planned out as the kidnap spot  Did he approach them after watching them cross most of the bridge? 

The killer could have watched from the bridge or the ground. He could have camped in the woods and waited until the victims literally walked to him. This crime was one high risk. Standing on the bridge’s edge, I factor in the height of the bridge, condition of the bridge, broad daylight, cell service, others in the vicinity, and visibility of the killer from the bridge and from the ground and rough terrain.

The killer had to hike in and out with limited time. This tells you that the killer was either skilled, desperate, or mentally ill. 

The direction he took them after abducted them was pre-planned. He knew exactly where he wanted them to go. Did he have items there to help facilitate the crimes?  I believe possibly he had a weapon in his pocket but had other items in the fanny pack to help control them such as flex cuffs. 

At the scene, he could have had duct tape, a change of clothes, or any item that he selected to carry out this crime.

I’m watching my group members at the scene. I see Mannina gently talking to Kelsi, who stops short of reaching the bridge. I see Kaleb who has never been to the bridge walk out on it even covered in snow and ice without fear. He describes the missing boards and spacing between steps.

I see my sister standing as close as she can and is contemplating stepping onto the bridge.  She wants to go exactly where they went.
Sharlene looks at me and says, “This makes me sick to my stomach. Those poor girls were just out having fun. And to think Libby lost a shoe which means she had to walk without it on rocks and sticks; its pitiful.”

“I understand why the girls were allowed to go there. Kids have been going there since 1962. There is a bench on the trail in memory of the 1962 high school graduating class.”

Standing on that bridge, it dawned on me that every one of us visitors were sisters. One sister connected with Kelsi because she is an older sister too.  Another connected with Kelsi because she saved her sister from a man with a gun and she knows Kelsi would have done everything to save her sister.  And one sister connected with Kelsi because she buried a sister too.

Every one of us knows that bond of having a built-in best friend. Literally the day I was born I had four best friends.

(L to R) Sharlene Bowen, Sheryl McCollum, Kelsi German, Detective Dawn Higgins, & Christine Maninna [Photo: Sheryl McCollum]
Sisters are a rare combination of confidant, caregiver, counselor, coach, partner, mom, and companion. I stood next to my sister and looked out where the girls were murdered, and I could not fathom what Kelsi must be feeling in this place.

A place that was once a special hangout spot, a spot for prom pictures, and some day, engagement photos, was now where Kelsi’s baby sister was brutally murdered. I secretly wished he had been there at the end of the trail at the bridge. None of us are 14 and none of us are afraid of him.

To the killer: I think you are weak and pathetic man who stalked, ambushed and murdered two of our most innocent victims. – Sheryl ‘Mac’ McCollum

Det. Mannina said, “When I left and after seeing the bridge and where they were killed I felt empty and frustrated. With all of the good work Kelsi has done, law enforcement left them at the bridge.”

I don’t know what I would have done if this had happened to one of my sisters when we were young, but I like to think I would be like Kelsi: brave, strong, and devoted to seeing justice done.

Kelsi has literally changed the course of her whole life.  She no longer studies communications. She has changed her major to psychology with minors in forensic science and law. She’s considering pursuing a master’s degree in social work so she can help others for the rest of her adult life.

 

Detective Dawn Higgins, Sheryl McCollum, and Kelsi German [Photo courtesy of Sheryl McCollum]
I told her our friend Nancy Grace did the same thing after her fiancé was murdered. She no longer wanted to be a schoolteacher. She went to law school and became a prosecutor and still spends every day championing for the victims of violent crimes.

I told Kelsi I had no idea why this horrible crime happened to Abby and Libby, but I do know what is going to come from it.  Kelsi will change the lives of hundreds of people.  She will help and advocate for thousands. And millions of people will support her, rally for her, and pray for her life’s work.

I know for the sisters on that bridge today we will forever support Kelsi German in her fight for finding her sister’s killer.

I had the opportunity to speak with former District Attorney Robert Ives. I did not call him until after I had been to the scene because I wanted my thoughts and feeling to be mine and not influenced by an expert local’s point of view. 

He was kind and open about his thoughts on the case. He said right off the bat, “Nothing about this case makes sense.”

He is right. One would think no kidnapper would select that bridge.  No child molester would select that steep grade.

No killer would select two victims in broad daylight out in the open where he has to hike in and out of the scene and with other hikers/witnesses around. Ives went on to say there were at least three different signatures.

This means the killer did something unique that was not necessary for the commission of the crime. I asked him straight out could there have been two killers.

He said, “No, I don’t think so. This was one person.”

A killer leaving at least three different signatures leads me to think there is some distinct mental illness that he would not be able to hide from others. We don’t know if these signatures were pre or postmortem. Ives said it’s not like any other crime he has been to.

Law Enforcement has not released that information or facts about the manner or cause of death.  This is the right call but it makes it harder for us to know more about him.     

It’s baffling to think we have a specific area of the country, a town, a remote bridge, a video, and his voice, yet we have been unable to locate him in four years. But there is hope.

Everyone in our group is hopeful. We believe as veteran investigators that items left at the scene, the signatures, possible similar transactions, and new advances in crime detection will play a part in capturing this monstrous killer.

We know for a fact Kelsi is keeping this case on the national front. She has done a remarkable job reaching a national audience at CrimeCon, talk shows, and podcasts. 

“While this case is perplexing, it is absolutely solvable,” Ret. Detective Dawn Higgins said. “We are at a disadvantage looking at this outside in. But, the solution is within reach. I just know it”!  

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[Feature Photo: Libby and Abby/FBI]