DELPHI, Ind. -- In warmer months, visitors flock to Delphi and Carroll County to walk the trail system that grew out of its proximity to the famed Wabash and Erie Canal to see plant life, wildlife, eagles and water.
“It’s a free activity,” said Julia Leahy, Executive Director of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a great way to get kids outdoors and then they get away from their electronic devices and really enjoy nature and so it’s a very popular thing for our community.”
That’s what Libby German and Abby Williams were doing on February 13, one month ago, on a day when school was out and they were dropped off near the Monon High Bridge Trail for some hiking in a wooded area east of Delphi.
There is no indication the girls intended to meet someone. Investigators believe instead they ran across a man wearing a blue winter coat and jeans who ordered the friends, “Down the hill,” and to their deaths.
Libby shot a photograph of the man and recorded his voice on her cell phone before she died.
Now, the Delphi tourist attraction’s claim to fame has brought attention of a tragic kind to the small city northwest of Lafayette.
“None of us wanted to focus on the impact it will have on us because the main focus is really getting justice,” said Leahy who deleted trail references from this month’s Carroll County tourism marketing plan. “But for the business owners, I’m sure they’re very concerned about how this is going to impact them.
“People come from all over the area to enjoy the trails, they go downtown, they eat some dinner, they go shopping,” said Leahy. “It’s going to have a big impact.”
Mindful of the security gap the killings have exposed along the trail system, a Trail Safety Task Force met to discuss what could be done to make the hiking paths that wind through the city and county safer.
“It has been an issue that has been long overdue, nothing like this has ever happened here, and it’s unfortunate that we had to deal with this,” said Leahy who explained it’s time to, “take back our trail. They’re going to be under our control again and we want people to go out and enjoy them.”
After the meeting, Carroll County Sheriff Tobe Leazenby agreed, but with only eleven deputies wearing badges, he doesn’t have the personnel to patrol the trails and said trail security may depend on volunteers.
“I think it would be great to have individuals like that on board,” said the sheriff. “Obviously we don’t want them to take any action on their own, but having a cell phone handy and then call 911, call our office, and that way we can have our deputies respond.”
Citizen patrols on four-wheel vehicles to car where patrol cars can’t navigate was one proposed solution.
So was better signage and surveillance trail cameras, though the task force members speculated it would take a major fundraising campaign to afford the all-weather video technology at trailheads where hikers park cars.
“Early on in this investigation I received a trail camera that a family had donated to the cause,” said Leazenby, “so I just presented that one of the Wabash Erie Canal representatives.
“It’s unfortunate that something like this had to happen in order to highlight it and look into this kind of improvement.”
Delphi Historic Trails is planning a 5K run June 3 and partnering with Security Federal Savings and Loan of Delphi and First Federal Savings and Loan of Greensburg to raise the money to seek matching funds for cameras and other trail maintenance.
More than 13,000 tips have been supplied to investigators and plugged into an FBI data system for evaluation and assignment to detectives.
The reward for tips leading to the arrest of the killer has topped $200,000.
The Delphi Homicide Tip Line is (844) 459-5786.
“There has been an increase in tips and leads coming in,” said Leazenby, “and at this point I am still confident, as sheriff of this county, that we will resolve this.”