INDIANAPOLIS – When three men were found murdered inside 1318 North LaSalle Street on Dec. 1, 1971, investigators had no shortage of potential suspects with motives.
“Over time they eliminated one suspect and they would bring in two more,” said retired Indianapolis Police Department Captain Robert Snow, author of Slaughter on North LaSalle, a book that seeks to solve the 41-year-old case.
“There were just too many suspects. I think that was the problem. They just couldn’t narrow it down.”
That’s because there were literally dozens of people who could have had a motive to want Robert Gierse, Robert Hinson and James Barker dead.
Gierse and Hinson were roommates and business partners, launching a microfilm firm. Barker was their friend who happened to stop by that night.
All three were involved in a private contest to bed as many women as possible in 1971 with a steak dinner for the winner.
“They actually had a scorecard at the house where they wrote down the names of who they slept with and I think it ended up being 63 women,” said Snow.
With that many jilted lovers, and angry husbands or boyfriends around, detectives found themselves overwhelmed with potential suspects.
“These three guys were brawlers,” said Snow, who oversaw IPD’s homicide detectives in the early 2000s. “These guys liked to go to lowbrow bars and fight. They loved to go pick fights at bars.”
Original investigators also determined that Hinson and Gierse had stolen money, equipment and accounts from their former boss, a businessman named Ted Uland of Jasper, Indiana.
“There was quite a bit of cash missing,” said Snow, who had access to the original investigators’ files. “Apparently these three guys had been ripping off Ted Uland for cash. They had been writing checks to people and cashing them themselves.”
Uland had $150,000 worth of life insurance policies on Gierse and Hinson that were due to expire within a week of the murders.
“Uland was always right on the edge of insolvency,” said Snow. “He never had enough money to keep going.”
Even though detectives knew Uland had a key to the LaSalle Street house, and admitted he knew the men were stealing from him and trying to ruin his business, Uland was cleared as a suspect and collected the life insurance payments in late 1972.
Gradually the detectives ran out of leads to chase down. The case went cold.
In the 1990s, a freelance journalist stirred up the investigation again.
Her information led to a Marion County Grand Jury indictment against Carroll Horton, ex-husband of one of the girlfriends, and an acquaintance, Floyd Chastain, who was serving time in Florida for murder.
Prosecutor Scott Newman later dropped the case over lack of evidence.
In 1999, a man named Fred Harbison—an employee of Ted Uland’s in the 1970s—died in Gibson County.
In 2000, while searching papers found in her father’s safety deposit box, Harbison’s daughter found a sealed letter than admitted his role in the murders.
“In late 1971 I Fred Robert Harbison was hired by Theodore B. Uland to kill two men in Indianapolis so Ted could collect the money on an insurance policy he took out on them,” read the letter which was written in 1992 after Uland’s death.
“These two men I killed in their beds by cutting their throats and there was another guy who wasn’t supposed to be there but I had to kill him too because he showed up,” the letter continued. “Ted was supposed to pay me when he got the insurance money but he kept putting me off because he said he had lost some money, but he said he would pay me as soon as he could.
“The paper said that a yellow Oldsmobile was seen at the place where I killed them but it was really my yellow Plymouth Road Runner. I buried my boots because the tracks they found ‘em ‘cuz I knew they could match up on the prints on my boots.”
Snow said veteran homicide detective Roy West confirmed the authenticity of the letter with Harbison’s family and his reputation as a man who carried out tasks for Uland.
Witnesses told police they had spotted a yellow car with Gibson County license plates parked outside the LaSalle Street house on the night of the killings.
Harbison’s wife confirmed he told her he buried a pair of his boots.
“Fred was upset,” said Snow. “Fred went and killed these three guys and didn’t get anything. He took a big chance killing these three guys.”
“It’s not exactly the kind of legacy you want to leave your family.”
West is currently an investigator for the Marion County Grand Jury and told Fox59 News that Snow’s account of his investigation and findings is accurate.
A top prosecutor sent West an email in 2003 acknowledging that he agreed with West’s conclusion and that he considered the case, “exceptionally closed,” though it could never be tried as Uland and Harbison were both dead.
IMPD said it still considers the case open.
Retired Marion County Sheriff Joe McAtee told Fox59 News that he stills consider Carroll Horton, one of the men indicted in 1996, as the killer.
Horton is now dead.