Convicted murderer Roger Clay Drollinger was found dead in his prison cell at Carlisle early Wednesday – almost 37 years after ringleading the violent Hollandsburg Valentine’s Day Massacre that left four people dead in Parke County.
Drollinger, 60, was found unresponsive in his cell at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Sullivan County as breakfast was being delivered around 6:45 a.m., according to the Indiana Department of Correction. Revival attempts failed and no foul play was suspected in Drollinger’s death, prison officials report.
An autopsy conducted Wednesday afternoon at Terre Haute Regional Hospital showed that Drollinger, who had atherosclerotic heart disease, died of a heart attack.
Drollinger was housed in a single-cell restrictive status housing unit at the maximum security facility at Carlisle. He was serving four life sentences for the Feb. 14, 1977, shotgun slayings of Gregory Brooks, 22, Raymond Spencer, 17, Reeve Spencer, 16, and Ralph Spencer, 13.
The four boys – along with Brooks’ mother Betty Jane Spencer – were shot while lying face down on the floor of their Hollandsburg home by four intruders wielding sawed-off shotguns.
The brutality of the murders shocked the rural Parke County community. Hollandsburg – a tiny village eight miles east of Rockville on U.S. 36 at Raccoon Lake State Park – became a focus of media attention for weeks as police sought the four gunmen.
Betty Jane Spencer survived the shooting and gave police descriptions of the four suspects who broke into her home and killed her son and three stepsons. She later testified against Drollinger and his three accomplices, and was a vocal opponent to clemency for the convicted killers whenever they sought release from prison. Spencer died in 2004.
Drollinger’s defense attorney, Nile Stanton, told the Tribune-Star via email on Wednesday that he had no comment on the death of his former client. Stanton published an online account (www.occasionaljustice.com) of his involvement in the Drollinger case in which he reported that he had known Drollinger before the Hollandsburg slayings because Stanton was defending him in other criminal matters.
In fact, Drollinger was on trial in a Montgomery County drug case when the slayings occurred. Stanton wrote that he had met with Drollinger in Crawfordsville on the day of the murders. Drollinger, 24, and his friends, 17-year-old David W. Smith, 21-year-old Michael W. Wright and 20-year-old Daniel R. Stonebraker, left that meeting with Stanton and drove around in a rented car. The foursome ended up in Parke County that Sunday night hunting for victims to fulfill what Stanton claims was a deadly blood oath the gang members had made to each other “just to see what it was like to kill someone.”
Police sought information about the suspects, and sketches of three of the four suspects were distributed nationwide.
A tipster interested in the $5,000 reward fund led police to Stonebraker, who was arrested at his home on March 8. He confessed and implicated the other men.
Federal agents arrested Wright in Santa Clara, Calif., on March 11. Police arrested Smith in Lexington, Ky., on March 31.
Drollinger surrendered to FBI agents in Indianapolis on April 11.
The murder trials of all four men were venued out of Parke County. On Sept. 21, 1977, a Blackford County jury found Drollinger guilty of four counts of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison for each of the four counts of murder. The other defendants also received life sentences.
Drollinger maintained his innocence through the trial and in the years after.
He was housed at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, where he was considered a security risk because of failed escape attempts. IDOC records show that he was transferred to the Westville Correctional Facility in October 2006, but was returned to the Michigan City prison in September 2007. In March 2012, Drollinger was moved to the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility on an “administrative decision.”
Rich Larsen, public information officer at the Carlisle prison, said that Drollinger had “reasonably good conduct” during his time at WVCF. However, an attempted escape charge in May 2013 landed Drollinger in the prison’s segregation unit, where he remained until his death.
No information was available on funeral arrangements for Drollinger, Larsen said.
As of Wednesday, accomplices Smith, Stonebraker and Wright continued to serve life sentences at the Pendleton Correctional Facility for their roles in the slayings.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.