WAYNESVILLE — Authorities investigating the deaths of four people in a Bartholomew County home are remaining tight-lipped about their investigation even as some nearby residents have taken to sleeping with guns at the ready.
The May 11 slayings of Katheryn Burton, 53; Thomas W. Smith, 39; and Aaron Cross and Shawn Burton, both 41, rocked the small community of Waynesville and have raised questions about where police stand in their investigation.
"We're scared to even stay at home, because they won't tell us anything. And it's just kind of ridiculous it's been this long," said Misti Murray, 29, who has a 6-year-old daughter with Shawn Burton and lives in Seymour, about 12 miles south of Waynesville.
Experts tell The Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/ZMb9VW ) that the silence on investigators' part is a deliberate strategy that's especially common in small communities, where the suspect could easily find information that is revealed. And detectives can't afford to lose potential leads.
"All those intimate details — that's gold to me as an investigator," said Ken Lang, a former Maryland homicide detective and crime author.
Ballistics tests and toxicology reports could provide key evidence in the case, including who was shot first and whether more than one suspect was involved.
Bartholomew County coroner Larry Fisher said he believes there was a scuffle between the victims and suspect and that all the victims were shot in the head; Katheryn Burton also was stabbed. But he hasn't offered any other details.
"We don't want to screw this up," Fisher said. "But we have been diligently working on this. It's not something we just let slip away."
The sheriff's office, which is leading the investigation, has sought help from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as it investigates more deaths in one day than it's investigated in several years.
Steve Garner, a former homicide unit supervisor with the Indianapolis Police Department, said many small police departments seek help from larger agencies in such investigations.
"I'd much rather call somebody who's done it 100 times than somebody who's done it once or read the book," said Garner, now the chief of the Indianapolis Public Schools police force.
That's little reassurance to Murray, who has spent the past month sleeping in the living room with her children, a shotgun next to the front door.
She and her husband have taken turns sleeping and barricaded the doors with plywood. The windows have been padded with cardboard and blankets.
Murray dated Shawn Burton for about five years. She's struggled to help her daughter, Hydie Burton, understand that he's gone.
"There's some times she wants to talk about it," Murray said of her daughter, who wears a necklace holding some of his ashes. "And then other times when I ask her she covers her ears and doesn't want to. But then whenever I'm not prepared, she comes up with questions I don't have the answer for."