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From the archives: Ten years have passed since Dan, Jane and Ben Osborne were beaten to death in their South Harrison Street home

Taken in 1983, this photo is outside the Osborne family home in the Harrison Hill neighborhood in Fort Wayne. (From The News-Sentinel archives)
Taken in 1983, this photo is outside the Osborne family home in the Harrison Hill neighborhood in Fort Wayne. (From The News-Sentinel archives)
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Fort Wayne community cannot forget that horrible crime

Wednesday, September 18, 2013 12:01 am
Editors Note: This story was orginally published on Thursday, Sept. 16, 1993. For most Fort Wayne residents, it was just another Friday in September.

Downtown, iron workers were busy erecting the framework of the as-yet- unnamed Grand Wayne Center. On Harris Road, a fellow named Keith Edwards was wrapping up his first week as the new anchor for WPTA, Channel 21. Out south, Police Chief Dave Riemen was speaking on crime prevention to a meeting of the Harrison Hill neighborhood association.

But for three members of a family that resided on South Harrison Street, the day would be unlike any other they'd known. This Friday - Sept. 16, 1983 - would be the last day Dan, Jane and Ben Osborne would spend alive.

The following Monday, the bodies of the two adults and their

11-year-old son were found after Dan Osborne, The News-Sentinel's editorial page editor, failed to show up for work. And while a brutal triple homicide was hard enough for the city to accept, another aspect of the crime made it even more despicable - the couple's 2-year-old daughter, Caroline, had survived the attack and wandered about the grisly scene for two days before being discovered.

Less than four months later, police arrested 18-year-old Calvin Perry III, who confessed to not only the Osborne murders but also 14 other assaults, rapes and burglaries. But in a final, bizarre conclusion to the case, Perry committed suicide Jan. 17, 1984, a few days after his arrest, by hanging himself in his jail cell. His death denied the community the trial many people insisted would provide the only definitive answer to his guilt or innocence.

The immediate impact the case had on the city was apparent.

In the weeks and months following the murders, some local gun shops reported sales up by as much as 25 percent. One locksmith said he had 90 jobs lined up in the neighborhood around the Osborne's home. There was a sudden demand for guard dogs in some areas, and in others, residents talked about hiring private security patrols.

More than a dozen citizens' crime watch programs popped up around the city, and in at least one neighborhood - South Calhoun Place, next door to the Harrison Hill area where the crime took place - residents cited the killings as a reason for starting their own neighborhood association.

Now that a decade has passed, though, many people familiar with the case maintain it did little to change life in Fort Wayne. In the South Calhoun Place neighborhood, for example, association President Shirley Cox says crime is still a major concern, but so is trash pickup.

''We were really nervous right after the murders, but we got through the next year without any problem," Cox said. "I guess we're like anybody else. We just got apathetic, and the crime watch went by the wayside."

There are others, though, who say the killings produced a significant change in the city, at least among one segment of its population.

Perry was black, and his victims were white. His arrest and subsequent suicide, said former City Council member Charles Redd, marked one of the first times many blacks "stood up and said, 'Why should we believe what you say?' " to the white establishment.

''It wasn't the first time blacks had challenged something - the school boycott in 1969 had more support," Redd said. "But it was the first time we'd demanded proof instead of just an explanation."

The man who served as one of Perry's court-appointed attorneys agreed.

''There was a lot of concern about the racial aspect of the case," attorney Charles Leonard said. "It's my first recollection of running across the group known as the ministerial alliance. They seemed to present a consolidated front for the first time, and became more credible as a result."

''Most blacks felt it was just going to be another case of business as usual," said J.B. Pressey, then-president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "But some of us weren't going to let that happen. We told the prosecutor and the police we weren't going to accept something just because they said it."

Those demands had a positive effect in the long run, Pressey said.

''For one thing, it changed how we try to deal with political issues," he said. "It made us less reluctant to ask questions, and it showed us we can develop a greater dialogue."

But Pressey's sentiment isn't met with unanimous agreement.

''This was not a racial incident, it was an incident involving a man who was an animal," Dr. Roland Ahlbrand, the Allen County coroner at the time of the slayings, said. "The unwillingness of some people to accept that, and this man's role in it, polarized this community," Ahlbrand said. "It caused considerably more fear when the town was unable to actively accept that and pursue it" because of insistence in some circles that Perry either was not the killer or did not act alone.

Like almost all authorities who had a role in the case, Ahlbrand is convinced Perry told the truth when he confessed to the Osborne murders. "There should be a flat-out statement there does not exist any doubt as to this man's involvement or his suicide," Ahlbrand said. "I would appreciate it if, when you write about him, you do not use the term 'alleged' in the article."

Those reluctant to accept his explanation of the case aren't the only target of Ahlbrand's criticism. He insists the concerns raised by some blacks - especially some members of the Black Ministerial Alliance - caused the city's two newspapers to take an overly-cautious approach to covering the story, and led to one-sided coverage that shied away from detailing the scope of what authorities said was Perry's involvement.

''I once called this a 'paralysis of conscience,' and that's just what it was," Ahlbrand said. "The newspapers lost track of the fact that here was a crime that needed to be condemned. They allowed doubt to ferment. They failed to categorically state what had happened, and instead, gave voice to all of these contrary remarks."

''In the end," Ahlbrand said, "the newspapers failed to give the public the objective reporting that clearly substantiated the overwhelming evidence that Calvin Perry committed these crimes."

Craig Klugman, editor of The Journal-Gazette, said that while he disagrees with Ahlbrand's assessment of his newspaper's performance, "he's clearly entitled to his opinion.

''The Journal-Gazette reprinted the transcripts of the police interviews with Calvin Perry in which he admitted his guilt," Klugman said. "It's hard for me to understand what more we could have done to convey to the public what the police had done to investigate this crime."

''Given the evidence against him, there was never any doubt in my mind that Calvin Perry was guilty," Joe Weiler, then-managing editor of The News- Sentinel and today its executive editor, said. "We recognized the impact this story had. Our coverage, and the weight we gave it, shows we didn't hold anything back. We gave the readers everything we could about the case."

Ahlbrand said the crime left a mark on the city, but he maintains it isn't an indelible one.

''There were terrible crimes before this one, and there have been worse ones since," Ahlbrand said. "Just look at all the drive-by shootings today, or the kidnapping and murder of those two young girls (Sarah Bowker and April Tinsley).

''The Osborne case left a negative impression, but today, we're known as the crack capital of the Midwest. Does anyone think that's a better reputation to have?"

Caption: Law enforcement officials gather outside the Osborne's home after three members of the family were found dead in September 1983. News-Sentinel file photo

Community activist Agnes Hopkins, center, speaks out at a meeting after Calvin Perry III committed suicide. Hopkins is Perry's second cousin.


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