Murder Sheet

You Never Can Forget: The Backbone

December 01, 2020 Mystery Sheet Season 1 Episode 3
Murder Sheet
You Never Can Forget: The Backbone
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Murder Sheet
You Never Can Forget: The Backbone
Dec 01, 2020 Season 1 Episode 3
Mystery Sheet

Allen Pruitt was more than a witness in the Burger Chef case.

He told police in 1981 that he almost became a victim himself, saying that he barely escaped the two killers the day after the murders. He said that he ran for his life through the woods after Tim Willoughby and Jeff Reed lured him out to a lonely country road called the Devil's Backbone.

But a deposition from a different police informant concerning yet another unsolved murder upended Pruitt's version of events.

All these years later, questions still remain. Was Pruitt's initial statement a lie? Did he witness a missing man and the King of the Snake Pit abduct the four victims from the restaurant? What exactly did his eyes take in as he staggered toward the Burger Chef on the night of November 17, 1978?

Follow the Murder Sheet on social media for the latest on the Burger Chef murders and future episodes: 

And send tips to [email protected] 

Show Notes Transcript

Allen Pruitt was more than a witness in the Burger Chef case.

He told police in 1981 that he almost became a victim himself, saying that he barely escaped the two killers the day after the murders. He said that he ran for his life through the woods after Tim Willoughby and Jeff Reed lured him out to a lonely country road called the Devil's Backbone.

But a deposition from a different police informant concerning yet another unsolved murder upended Pruitt's version of events.

All these years later, questions still remain. Was Pruitt's initial statement a lie? Did he witness a missing man and the King of the Snake Pit abduct the four victims from the restaurant? What exactly did his eyes take in as he staggered toward the Burger Chef on the night of November 17, 1978?

Follow the Murder Sheet on social media for the latest on the Burger Chef murders and future episodes: 

And send tips to [email protected] 

Kevin Greenlee: A quick content warning before we started: This episode of the Murder Sheet contains graphic descriptions of murder and violence, and some language that some listeners might find offensive. 

*Sounds of crunching leaves recorded at the Devil’s Backbone*

Áine Cain: They call this place the Devil’s Backbone. Last autumn, we visited it with retired Indiana State Police trooper Jim Cramer. He took us there because we likely never could have found it ourselves — or if we did, we may not have found our way home again.

It’s a stretch of narrow country road, somewhere between Indianapolis and Terre Haute. But as we stand near an iron bridge, staring into the tangled woods that surround us, those cities seem far, far away. And if you stray from the path into the trees, it is not long before you start running into things like the decaying bones of what we think was once a coyote.

We are here because of Allen Pruitt.  

Kevin Greenlee: We introduced you to him last week. He’s the young redhead who stood in the parking lot of the Dunkin’ Donuts as the Burger Chef employees were being abducted next door. But we didn’t share with you all of the story he told, or how it ended with him here, running desperately for his life through the maze of grasping branches at the Devil’s Backbone 

*Eerie music plays*

Áine Cain: My name is Áine Cain.

Kevin Greenlee: And I’m Kevin Greenlee.

Áine Cain: And we’re the Murder Sheet. We’ll be taking a multi-part look into the Burger Chef murders. We’ll be presenting you with a new theory about what happened each week as part of our miniseries, "You Never Can Forget."

On a weekly basis, you’re going to hear from figures you’ve never heard from before. You’re going to hear about facts that you’ve never heard before. And hopefully, you’ll walk away with a better understanding of the sheer complexity of this awful crime.

Kevin Greenlee: We don’t just rely on what we’ve been told or what we’ve read. We have worked this case ourselves. 

We decided to do this podcast so we can tell you what we’ve learned and even clear up a few misconceptions. In this miniseries, we will give you the top theories about the crime. After we’re finished covering the Burger Chef case, the Murder Sheet will continue to investigate different restaurant related homicides for the rest of season one. 

Áine Cain: We’re the Murder Sheet, and this is “You Never Can Forget: The Backbone”

*Eerie music based on the Burger Chef jingle plays* 

Áine Cain: Last week we shared with you how Allen told police about what he said he saw happen on the night of the murders, how he claimed he saw Jeff Reed and Tim Willoughby abduct the Burger Chef victims. And we told you the story of Tim’s girlfriend Mary Ann Higginbotham — who was found dead and welded into a barrel in the summer of 1979.

Kevin Greenlee: Now it’s time to hear what Allen said happened the next day. I will read excerpts from his 1981 deposition and Áine will provide context.

*Eerie music based on the Burger Chef jingle plays* 

Áine Cain: On the day after the kidnappings, Allen said he slept in and then spent most of the afternoon working on his car. After a while, he decided to head over to the Dairy Queen in Avon, Indiana, an ice cream joint that served as a hang out for the young people in the area. 

Kevin Greenlee (speaking as Allen Pruitt): I was there approximately 10 minutes, I’d say, along in there, the same van I’d seen the night prior to that, the night of the robbery, the same van ... Tim [Willoughby] , Jeff [Reed], and Mary Ann [Higginbotham], was in it, they pulled up beside me.

Áine Cain: Allen hasn't caught any radio or television broadcasts that day. He had no idea what he had witnessed the night before, no idea that the four Burger Chef employees had been kidnapped and now lay dead in the woods of Johnson County.  

Kevin Greenlee (speaking as Allen Pruitt): Tim started talking to me, I mean like he’d never came on to me like he did that day, I mean that day he acted buddy buddy for some reason….He got out, talked for a minute and said, “Do you want to ride around and smoke a joint?” ... I said, “What was that fight all about up there at the Burger Chef last night?” And he said, “Why — was you there?” 

“Yea,” I said, “me and my friend were both up there at Dunkin Donuts…” That’s when he started acting real funny, he was all excited about getting me to go with him.. I got in the van …

Tim started rolling a joint … he took off driving down 36. Mary Ann was there, she was crying, acting hysterical. I could tell looking at her she was high on something. She started blabbing all this stuff. At first it didn’t make sense to me. 

The first thing she said was they was going to kill her. I laughed at her — well I didn’t laugh at her, but she said they was gonna kill her — I said, “What for?” She said that they was gonna kill her because they wanted her to shoot one of the kids because they knew    if she did she wouldn’t go to the police … 

Áine Cain: The idea was that if Mary Ann shot one of the victims she would be just as guilty of murder as Tim and Jeff-- and therefore could not turn them in without also implicating herself.

Kevin Greenlee (speaking as Allen Pruitt): She told Tim, she says, “You’d better quit doing this shit.” Like he had done it before… Tim kept turning around and said, “Why don’t you shut you crazy bitch.” All kinds of stupid stuff. Then he started getting kinda crappy with me. Started asking me questions about Jayne. 

[He] made a turn to a road there, called Backbone Road.… Went down that road, stopped there at that iron bridge, parked there on the left side of the road. 

[Mary Ann] said every time Tim was up there at the Burger Chef, Jayne would put him on, would say, “Well I’ll get it straightened out.” That’s all she kept telling him. … She said that the night they went up there, that Tim was pissed off, he was getting pressured by somebody else, she didn’t mention who. I’ve got my ideas though, but he was getting pressured, pissed off. Jeff was riding his ass. She said that Jeff was riding him and they   went there. 

I guess Tim was getting into it with Jayne, giving her a bunch of hell and that black boy tried to make a funny move, to try to act tuff or something. She said that him and Jeff got into it and Jeff threw him into the van, knocked him out, and he died. 

I don’t know if that’s why they went out there to Johnson County or what. She said they was supposed to go see somebody, but he got out there and Jeff started blowing off a bunch of shit, saying well if he’s dead then we’re in a spot... and that’s when the white boy and the white girl said I guess they probably screaming out saying, “Yea, we’re gonna tell the cops.” And … Jeff said, “Well hell. Better Whop ‘em."

Áine Cain: Allen started to get worried, especially after he noticed a gun laying on the console. The nickel-plated pistol — a .38 or a .32, he estimated — rattled around there with some spare change and a big bag of pot. 

Kevin Greenlee (speaking as Allen Pruitt): [Mary Ann] said they were going to kill me too… Tim got out, Jeff got out …. Got out when I got out I kinda sat out and looked around ... Tim was doing all the talking, he said, “Mary you sure you won’t change your mind about calling the cops?” She said, “There’s no way in hell, you’d better quit doing this stuff.” She was hysterical, I mean it was like she was almost dead then, I mean just of fright or something, like she’d been put through the wringer. Everything going back through my mind, I was starting to think about what she’d told me and then was Tim was acting and I started getting real paranoid. Damn, what the hell is going on? 

That’s when Jeff said, “What do you think I should do?” I guess he was talking about Mary Ann when he said that. Tim said, “I would blow the fuckin bitch away, if I was you.” That’s when she screamed at me, she told me, “Allen get the hell away from here.” And that’s all she wrote. It just scared the bloody hell out of me and I took off running… I ran down a little bit of the creek there and up the hill and into the woods there and I heard a gunshot, that’s all I heard, I didn’t turn around to look to see if they shot at me or her or what. 

When I got in the woods I ran for a long time, I stopped for a minute and looked around and didn’t see nobody took off again and it was just a matter of minutes before I hit 30 and I started walking down the road, watching for that damn van … this guy in a truck stopped and picked me up … 

*Eerie music based on the Burger Chef jingle stops playing* 

Jim Cramer: HE TOLD US ALL ABOUT IT AND THEN HE BROUGHT US RIGHT HERE.

Áine Cain: The state police took Pruitt’s story about his narrow escape at the Devil’s Backbone seriously. They scoured the area for bullet holes or any other evidence that would support his claim. 

They found nothing. 

Kevin Greenlee: This only reinforced the skepticism some of the troopers felt about Pruitt. Don Lindsay — who worked with Cramer on the Burger Chef case for the state police — did not but much stock in what Pruitt had to say.

Jim Cramer: HE THOUGHT HE WAS LYING FROM THE DAY HE MET HIM. 

Áine Cain: In the minds of some people, Allen Pruitt’s credibility took an even heavier hit when a woman named Karen Tucker came forward and gave a deposition in which she claimed that Tim Willoughby — who Allen said committed the Burger Chef murders in November 1978 — had actually been murdered in June 1978. 

Kevin Greenlee: Let’s take a look at the story she told-- and see if it sounds more credible than what Pruitt had to say. 

Áine Cain: This time I will read the excerpts and Kevin will provide the context and scene-setting.

*Eerie music based on the Burger Chef jingle plays* 

Kevin Greenlee: One night, Karen’s husband Jim Kellams did not come home. She assumed the worst — that he was out fooling around. But when he finally got back — with his friend Ronnie Tomasick at his side — she learned the truth of where he had been was much darker than she had imagined

Áine Cain (speaking as Karen Tucker): When he did get in, there he was soaking wet, he was a white color, funny looking, like he had really been scared to death. I was going on, I had no idea. Ronnie was real quiet and real passive and he was wet, the clothes were, stained, it looked  like it could have possibly been, oil or something real dark. Their boots were wet, soaking wet. They were cold, nervous, high strung,  really funny acting. Cause they’d turned around and they started to tell me, they act just like they had done something really bad.  Jim insisted I start washing those clothes immediately with every kind of ingredient that I could find. Ammonia, alcohol type things, strong soap, in it, vinegar, anything to kill the blood. 

He didn’t want to tell me why, he was just pushing me around, shoving me over to the utility room area, told me I had to wash these things, and of course, I was arguing with him. I wanted to know what the hell was going on, and he took me over to the side and he told me to shut up he'd just killed somebody and I ought to have a little bit of common sense to take care of him now. You know, he wanted a babying and pampering, he wanted me to mother him to death and tell him it was okay. Naturally I was very nervous and very upset and had no idea whether they had covered themselves well. 

I was full of questions. I wanted to know, where they were at, where they put them. How they did it. Was anybody around? And, this and that. I didn’t get a lot of answers at first. He was real reluctant to tell me. Different things, cause he didn’t want me to know, so I wouldn’t have to do a lot of lying to cops. Or trying to cover up lies or whatever. 

Kevin Greenlee: Karen was not too surprised to learn the identity of the people Jim and Ronnie killed.

Áine Cain (speaking as Karen Tucker): [The victims] would be Tim Willoughby. And his girlfriend, Mary Ann Higginbotham. 

They had told me…  something was going to have to be done to [Tim] Willoughby. 

They were using Willoughby’s [home] garage as a chop shop, to cut up stolen, cars, and they had taken this one stolen car  and were leaving the driveway, with it, and the car had fallen off the wheels, maybe there wasn’t enough bolts in the tire or something.

But of course when your running a hot car, you don’t have time to stand there, and put a wheel back on and take really good care of it like you would if you were in a wreck and you had wrecker come out, you got to hurry up and get this stuff out of your hands, so you don’t get caught.  
So, they decided that they were out on a country road where ever Willoughby lives, and uh, they were out far enough they could run it down the road and torch it and that's what they did. So when the fire department came out and were there taking care of this burning car, they found that there was a long line in the road that led right back to Willoughby’s driveway. 

Kevin Greenlee: We confirmed the details of that bungled arson with law enforcement, and found the incident even made the newspapers. Dragging a stolen car behind him, Tim had quite literally led police to his doorstep.

Áine Cain (speaking as Karen Tucker): Anyway, they put out the car and they took off. So meantime, Willoughby is supposed to be getting all the seats, and the things that belong in the car or that were in the car and get rid off of that stuff. And [get] the garage cleaned back up. [But] Willoughby decided he was going to make some money off those car seats, so he sticks them in his attic and he didn’t tell Jim or [Ronnie] about it. Well, meantime, I guess the police come back out to investigate and they found that long line I was talking about, And they decided that Willoughby had been in trouble before, and that they are going to get a search warrant and they went into his house, and searched his house  and there is where they found the bucket seats. 

So here’s Willoughby being arrested, right and uh, had already been in enough troubles, spent some time in prison, according to Jim, that this guy finally got bailed out and he was home. They went over and talked to him again...and...  Willoughby wanted paid off, so he could leave the state. [He] didn’t want to have do anymore time. So he was either going to turn state’s evidence for the cops, what you call flip on them, or they were going to have pay him off, so he could leave town.  

And, Jim and Ronnie, neither one of them had the money to pay him off. 

Kevin Greenlee: The men realized that even if they didn’t want to end up going to prison there was only one thing they could do.

Áine Cain (speaking as Karen Tucker):  So they talked off and on (and) said two or three different times, well Willoughby’s going to have to end up dead, but I never figured that Jim and Ronnie had the balls to do that. And if they were discussing it, you know, I might throw in a tidbit that you guys can’t do this or you’re going to have to do something really desperate, you’re going to have to put, you would have to put her, him in a place that you keep control of. You know, uh, you just can’t handle it. You guys just can’t do it.

Well, the next thing you know, it come time for uh, Willoughby to go to court. And he made a comment that he was just going to go ahead, they didn’t pay him, so he was going to go ahead and turn evidence, because he wasn’t spending any more time in jail.

Kevin Greenlee: So the men realized it was time to take action.

Áine Cain (speaking as Karen Tucker): They decided that Ronnie should be the one, to kill the girl. And, uh, I guess, that they thought maybe I would have hard feelings, if it was [Jim] killing the girl. And that Jim was going to kill Willoughby and, they, told me that they had gone over to the house with the full intentions of doing them, but they didn’t know exactly how they were going to do it. They were were just going to play it by ear.

I know they went into the house [with Mary Ann]. They told me they went in there and they stayed for a while and visited, acted like they was waiting on Willoughby to show up. He wasn’t there. 

Jim said he finally had to coax [Ronnie] into going on and getting it done. You know, had to nod his head at him to go ahead and get her. And  I guess when, when she had stood up, to from some direction and started walking away, that’s when Ronnie grabbed, and knocked her down and, he must had the gun to her head, and that was when she started begging and pleading and he told me how bad it sounded, 

It was really scary and it was really a nasty thing to have to listen to and go through. She was pleading for help. Finally he had knocked her down. I think he said he hit her in the head too. And then he turned around and he shot her and he told me about how messy the blood was, and how it was going everywhere and it was just, just one hell of a mess. And while she dying she was begging Ronnie to help her, “please don’t do this, Ronnie, you’ve got to help me.” And naturally, there was nothing they could do. It was too late. 

Kevin Greenlee: Then the men heard the sound of Willoughby returning home.

Áine Cain (speaking as Karen Tucker): They went on outside, and got him in the truck, and decided to take him for a ride and they were all going to discuss what was going on and Willoughby fell for it. And I don’t have any idea where it was at but they took him out, and Jim did tell me that he knew, or that Willoughby was acting funny and he knew something was going on, when they stopped on the side of the road. And it was his turn to, you know, go after him. I guess he had a struggle with him, and then he shot him in the head, too. Jim told me about how this guy was begging Ronnie to help him, too. Don’t let this happen, get me some help. Of some type, you know. “Please Ronnie help me.” Crying as he was dying. 

Kevin Greenlee: The men opened the hood of their truck, set Willoughby’s body on the engine and then forced the hood shut again. 

Áine Cain (speaking as Karen Tucker): They stopped to get gas, and Ronnie’s truck used oil, and the guy [giving them gas] says, you want me to check that oil, and Ronnie says yeah, Jim naturally hitting him in the side, they didn’t want that truck opened and Jim comes up with a story that they Hey, I just checked it, this, yesterday, you know, it’s okay no problem. And then they both giggled. They thought that was hilarious. That they were both so upset that they had forgot.

Kevin Greenlee: The men then returned to the Willoughby house to retrieve Mary Ann’s body. 

Áine Cain (speaking as Karen Tucker): They wrapped her up in a blanket and some type of tarpaulin type thing. Cause they had bound her, bound the blankets with rope. They didn’t bind her.  Then they had to go over to [that] car place out there, you know, where you buy all the second hand parts. And  they went over to that place, in the middle of the night, and put [the bodies] in the barrels, and sealed them shut, cause,  Ronnie was supposedly real good at welding.  And, then they decided to poke them with holes, cause they were going to take them out to a pit  called U S Aggregates.  And, there is a big, big hole there such as a great big pond, [where] a lot of people do a lot of fishing.  

Kevin Greenlee: That quarry is located off state road 67, near route 70. That’s about a seven mile drive from where the barrel containing Mary Ann’s body was found in Mooresville. 

Áine Cain (speaking as Karen Tucker): When they took them down there they had to  wait for a while, because there was people fishing, so they just had to fool around and wait, and then when the guys finally ended up leaving, then Jim and Ronnie took the barrels out of the truck and pushing them into the water. And Ronnie is the one that pushed them down to the middle, or is down as far as he could, cause I know he was telling me how bad it was, hard for him to breathe, and he didn't think he was going to get back up,  not being able to breath, and trying to push those barrels. 

*Eerie music based on the Burger Chef jingle stops playing* 

Kevin Greenlee: Karen’s story had some elements that seem difficult to believe. Could they really have placed Tim’s bloody body under the hood of their truck and how did the barrel containing Mary Ann’s body seep out of a quarry and travel so far down White Lick Creek? But her story was compelling enough for the prosecutor. He issued warrants and Jim and Ronnie were arrested on murder charges.

But the prosecutor dropped the charges shortly thereafter.

Áine Cain: The problem was Allen Pruitt. He told a story about seeing Tim and Mary Ann alive in November 1978. If that was true then the two of them certainly could not have been killed by Jim and Ronnie in June of that year. Without more supporting evidence, Allen’s story by itself was enough to create reasonable doubt that Jim and Ronnie were guilty of murder.

The prosecutor asked the Indiana State Police to keep working on the case, to either come up with more evidence against Jim and Ronnie or to build a case against someone else. 

But the police couldn’t find anything else on Jim and Ronnie. And no one else was ever arrested in connection with the death of Mary Ann or the disappearance and possible murder of Tim Willoughby. 

Cramer, though, continued to work the lead. One of his most significant finds was a former friend of Tim’s. 

In the winter of 1978, on the day she moved into her new apartment, she says she ran into Tim at an ice cream joint. She told him she heard the police were looking for him, that he should be careful. 

Kevin Greenlee: He told her not to worry, that he had a good hiding place down south. When Tim’s friend came forward to police, she couldn’t quite remember the date of that encounter, although she thought it might be late summer or early autumn. 

When Cramer checked the woman’s apartment lease, he learned that her move-in date was in early November 1978. If you believe her story, she therefore places Tim in the area — quite alive — just weeks before the Burger Chef murders. It seemed a point in favor of Allen’s story — but it wasn’t enough to prove it. 

Áine Cain: When Cramer got a chance to talk with Jeff Reed — the other man Allen named — he seized it. Reed was arrested in Hendricks County on an unrelated charge. 

Jim Cramer: ONE OF THE JAILERS IN HENDRICKS COUNTY KNEW I HAD SOME INTEREST IN HIM I CAN’T SIT HERE AND TELL YOU WHY HE KNEW. BUT HE TOLD ME HEY THIS GUY IS IN JAIL I WENT TO THE LOCAL AGENCY THAT GETS HOTEL ROOMS FOR TRANSIENTS. I GOT HIM OUT OF JAIL. WHEN HE WAS RELEASED I PICKED HIM UP. HE NEEDED A RIDE. I GOT HIM A ROOM. I PICKED HIM UP THE NEXT MORNING. I BROUGHT HIS BREAKFAST. I SAT AND TALKED WITH HIM FOR HOWEVER LONG IT TOOK FOR HIM TO EAT. HE KNEW WHO I WAS. AND THAT I’D BEEN INVOLVED WITH THIS CASE AND I WAS JUST BLUNT WITH HIM. WITHOUT READING HIM HIS RIGHTS WITHOUT ANYTHING I SAID HERE’S WHAT I THINK HAPPENED. I DIDN’T COME OUT AND SAY I THINK YOU DID THIS. I GAVE HIM ALL THE INFORMATION. SO HE COULD KNOW WE WERE LOOKING AT HIM HOT AND HEAVY. AND HE SAT THERE AND LOOKED AT ME. AND HE NEVER SAID ONE WORD. HE NEVER SAID, “I DIDN’T DO IT. YOU’RE WRONG.” HE JUST DIDN’T SAY ANYTHING. THAT DOESN’T PROVE A THING. IT WAS JUST CURIOUS TO ME. AND I GAVE HIM A RIDE UP TO INDIANAPOLIS. I DON’T REMEMBER WHERE I TOOK HIM. I THOUGHT IT MIGHT BE A WAY TO GET SOME INFORMATION ON THAT LEAD BUT IT FAILED.

Kevin Greenlee:  Jeff Reed died in 2011. Áine and I never got the opportunity to speak with him. Tim Willoughby remains missing. You can find his case listed on NAMUS. I’ve been trying to find Tim since he started investigating the case — following leads through places like Kentucky and Florida — but I haven't had any luck so far. Karen Tucker wouldn’t speak with us, nor would the men she accused of murder. 

But there is one person in this story who has sat down with us, in fact we’ve spent many hours with him. That would be Allen Pruitt. 

*Podcast promo*

Áine Cain: Let’s take a quick break from The Murder Sheet Presents: "You Never Can Forget” to tell you about a podcast investigating yet another unforgettable crime. 

The Orange Tree is a seven-part series about a 2005 homicide that happened near the University of Texas at Austin. The murder of 21-year-old Jennifer Cave, who was shot, dismembered, and left in a bathtub at her friend Colton Pitonyak’s apartment, continues to haunt the area to this day.

Kevin Greenlee: Like the Burger Chef murders, this case features plenty of twists and turns, including Colton’s flight to Mexico with another UT student Laura Hall. Both were later convicted in connection with the crime, although Colton has continued to appeal his verdict and claim innocence. The business student-turned-convicted-murderer now says that he doesn’t remember much about the night Jennifer died. 

Áine Cain: The Orange Tree is reported on and produced by Haley Butler and Tinu Thomas, who were both seniors at the University of Texas when they started the project.

Together, Haley and Tinu strive to piece together this tragic story in an in-depth podcast that features audio from courtroom scenes and interrogation rooms, prison phone calls, and exclusive interviews with both perpetrators and the victim’s family.

You can binge all seven episodes of The Orange Tree today on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. And now, back to the Murder Sheet.

And now, back to the Murder Sheet.

*End of podcast promo*

Áine Cain: Allen Pruitt is not what you might expect. He’s got a long beard streaked with white and orange, red hair, and a hoarse voice that can bellow when he’s excited or telling a raucous tale. When you visit him he is full of colorful stories about his past, like the time he wrestled with his Green Beret father or the time he got 13 traffic tickets in a single night. 

But it’s not all laughs. His life since the Burger Chef murders has been filled with tragedy. In recent years he lost a brother he loved to cancer, his daughter to an aneurysm and his son to a drug overdose. When we saw him again in October 2020, in a socially-distanced front yard meet-up, he seemed far less lively than ever, and he’d hacked his impressive red mane off, a sign of mourning. 

He lives in a modest house and he devotes much of his time and energy to caring for his pet rabbits. His favorite is Mouse, a pristine white buck who lives in a cage a level up from his harem of does. Allen loves animals. That goes back to the job he had at the time of the murders.

Allen Pruitt: I WORKED FOR A LABORATORY RAISING GUINEA PIGS RATS AND MICE FOR CANCER RESEARCH PROGRAMS CALLED MURPHY’S. OF COURSE BEING AN ANIMAL LOVER — ONCE THEY GOT ON THE FLOOR WE WAS SUPPOSED TO KILL THEM. I COULDN’T DO THAT. IF A RAT GOT ON THE FLOOR — A BIG RAT, AN ALBINO RAT — THEY’RE WHITE. I’D TAKE THEM HOME MAKE PETS OUT OF THEM, OF COURSE MY MOM WASN’T TOO HAPPY ABOUT THAT. 

Áine Cain: I’M SURE SHE WASN’T.

Allen Pruitt: I HAD ONE — I NAMED HIM CHARLIE. HE LOVED HERSHEY CHOCOLATE. 

Áine Cain: THAT IS SO CUTE.

Allen Pruitt: I HAD TO BUY HIM A HERSHEY BAR ALMOST EVERY DAMN DAY. AND FEED THIS SUCKER. 

Áine Cain: DID YOUR BOSS – WOULD THAT HAVE GOTTEN YOU IN TROUBLE IF THEY KNEW YOU WERE DOING THAT?

Allen Pruitt: NO. LIKE I SAID, WE WAS SUPPOSED TO KILL THEM. I DIDN’T HAVE THE HEART TO DO IT. NOW THE WOMEN THEY TAKE THE MICE HOME OR THE GUINEA PIGS BUT THE RATS- – WOMEN DIDN’T WANT NOTHING TO DO WITH THE RATS. 

Áine Cain: THEY’RE SO FRIENDLY THOUGH. THEY’RE SUCH FRIENDLY ANIMALS. 

Allen Pruitt: WHEN YOU TRY TO KILL A RAT THEY GET VERY DEFENSIVE. HAVE YOU EVER HEARD ONE BARK?

Áine Cain: NO.

Allen Pruitt: WHEN THEY GET UP ON THEIR HIND FEET, YOU BETTER LOOK OUT. AND THEY CAN JUMP STRAIGHT IN YOUR FACE.

Áine Cain: OH MAN.

Kevin Greenlee: Sooner or later, though, conversation always turns to the Burger Chef murders. Allen knew victim Jayne Friedt from high school, and beyond.

Allen Pruitt:
JAYNE WAS A VERY PLEASANT SWEET SPOKEN GIRL. SHE WORKED AT THE BURGER CHEF IN PLAINFIELD. YOU KNOW, I USED TO GET IN A LOT OF TROUBLE WITH HER. 

Áine Cain: REALLY?

Allen Pruitt: OH YEAH. I HAD A 69 CHARGER AND I USED TO DO BURNOUTS IN THE PARKING LOT. SHE’D HAVE THE LITTLE DRIVE UP WINDOW OPEN AND BURNT SMOKE WOULD GO ROLLING INTO THE RESTAURANT. SHE’D BE AT THE WINDOW DOING THIS STUFF. AND ONE DAY ME AND MY BUDDY WENT IN THERE TO GET SOMETHING TO EAT AND SHE GOES, “I’M NOT JUMPING YOUR BUTT BUT YOU KEEP DOING THAT AND YOU WON’T BE ALLOWED ON THE PREMISES.” 

Kevin Greenlee: When you ask Allen about Jeff Reed — the man he said he saw driving the victims to their deaths — the answer he gives might surprise you.

Allen Pruitt: JEFF REED WAS A BIG MUSCULAR DUDE LIKE A FOOTBALL TYPE. BUT ACTUALLY BIGGER THAN THAT. I CAN TELL YOU RIGHT NOW THAT WHEN IT COMES TO WHOOPASSING — EXCUSE MY LANGUAGE— HE COULD HURT YOU. BUT AS FAR AS BEING A KILLER? NO. I COULD NEVER SEE JEFF REED BEING A KILLER.

Áine Cain: Allen now says the story he told in 1981 was largely untrue — that he made most if not all of it up to try to get the police to stop bothering him. Back then he said he heard and saw a fight at the Burger Chef. Now he says he actually saw much less and can’t even be sure of what he saw. Here is the story as he tells it today.

Allen Pruitt: ME AND MY BUDDY WAS UP AT SPEEDWAY THAT NIGHT. AND WE WAS DRUNK, INTOXICATED. WE WAS AT THE GALAXY. 

Kevin Greenlee: The Galaxy was the under 21 club located in the shopping center across the street from the Burger Chef.

Allen Pruitt: AND I HAD NOT EATEN NOTHING THAT DAY. SINCE I GOT OFF WORK AND HE PICKED ME UP. IN HIS CAR. WE WENT TO THE GALAXY. HUNG OUT THERE AND LIKE I SAID WE WAS INTOXICATED AND THERE WAS AN IPD COP AT THE DOOR. BECAUSE I THINK BACK THEN THEY STAMPED YOUR HAND.

Kevin Greenlee: Allen was afraid because his friend was underage. If the police man noticed his friend was intoxicated Allen could get arrested for supplying alcohol to a minor. 

Allen Pruitt: SO WE GOT OUT OF THERE AND OF COURSE BURGER CHEF WAS CLOSED. BUT DUNKIN’ DONUTS WAS OPEN… WE WENT IN THERE AND I GOT A CUP OF COFFEE. AND A COUPLE OF DONUTS — I THINK THEY CALL THEM LONG JOHNS. SO I SCARFED A COUPLE OF THEM DOWN AND TOOK A FEW GOOD SWIGS OF COFFEE AND … WE GOT OUT OF THERE. 

BUT LIKE I WAS TELLING KEVIN WHEN WE FIRST PULLED INTO THE PARKING LOT I SAW A VAN SITTING OVER THERE IN THE BURGER CHEF PARKING LOT. AND I SAW TWO GUYS I THOUGHT I RECOGNIZED. I THOUGHT IT WAS TIM WILLOUGHBY AND JEFF REED. AS THE TIMES WENT ON MORE LATELY THE MORE I THINK OF IT I COULD HAVE BEEN REALLY WRONG AS FAR AS IDENTIFYING THOSE GUYS. 

Áine Cain: For the past few years, Allen has told different stories about the night of the kidnapping here and there. Sometimes he and his friend went into the Galaxy, other times they just hung around outside. Sometimes, he speculates — that Jimmy Friedt, Jayne’s brother, or other players in the local drug scene might have been involved. He expresses sympathy for the victims and their families — he himself knows the pain of losing two children. 

His recounting of that night is a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure story, maybe because of the years that have passed, or the booze that Allen drank that night and subsequent nights, or something else entirely. 

Kevin Greenlee: The last few times we’ve talked to him, Allen’s story has been pretty consistent. He admits to remembering glimpses. Maybe a flash of a van by the Burger Chef. But not much else. 

Jim Cramer: I KNOW HE’S RECANTED THAT STORY BUT IT’S TOO LATE. HE’S PROBABLY THE ONLY PERSON NOT PROBABLY. I KNOW THE CASE PRETTY WELL AND HE’S THE ONLY PERSON WHO EVER CAME FORWARD AND SAID I WAS THERE AT THE RESTAURANT AND I SAW WHAT HAPPENED WHEN THESE KIDS LEFT.

Kevin Greenlee: This puts us almost back to where we were at the beginning-- when Dononvan Lindsay and Jim Cramer got the call about Allen Pruitt. 

Áine Cain: Remember, police say an independent witness placed Pruitt and his friend at the Dunkin’ Donuts that night. Did Pruitt make it all up — pin the murders on a missing man and a local rowdy — to get police off his back? Could he have seen something, only to have the memory fade with his hangover the next morning? What did his eyes take in as he staggered through the parking lot on that November night? 

Kevin Greenlee: Pruitt’s lead could mean nothing-- or it could potentially be the key to unlock the whole case. We are still trying to figure out which one it is. 

Allen Pruitt: YOU THINK ABOUT IT AND LOOK AT IT FROM MY POINT OF VIEW AND FOR HOW MANY YEARS IT WENT AROUND IN A CIRCLE, A GIANT CIRCLE. NO MORE EVIDENCE. NO MORE NOTHING. IT’S JUST LIKE A GIANT HURRICANE AND IT’S FINALLY WHIZZLED ITSELF OUT OVER THE YEARS.

Kevin Greenlee: Next week, the hurricane starts spinning again as we meet the convicted rapist who confessed to the Burger Chef murders not once but twice. And we talk with the man who put him in prison

Tom Davidson: FORRESTER WAS – WHAT WAS THE NAME OF THAT SERIAL KILLER THAT THEY MADE A MOVIE ABOUT?

Kevin Greenlee: TED BUNDY?

Tom Davidson: TED BUNDY. FORRESTER WAS LIKE TED BUNDY.

Kevin Greenlee:  Thanks for listening to this episode of the Murder Sheet Presents: "You Never Can Forget." Special thanks to Kevin Tyler Greenlee, who composed the music for the Murder Sheet, and who you can find on the web at kevintg.com.  

Áine Cain:
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And please stay tuned for word from our friend Nina at the podcast Already Gone — a great podcast you should be listening to. She actually introduced me to the Burger Chef case with her 2016 episode on the crime. 

*Melancholy music plays*

Nina Innsted from “Already Gone”: Murder, missing persons, unsolved mysteries — ”Already Gone” explores lesser-known cases from Michigan and the Great Lakes region. I’m Nina Innsted, the voice behind the “Already Gone” podcast. Join me for a look at stories that will have you looking over your shoulder and locking the doors at night. Listen to “Already Gone” on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or your favorite podcatcher.