Peggy Carothers was only 15 years old when she was beaten and buried alive in the Indiana woods — and the culprit was someone close to her.
On April 30, 1997, a teenage girl from Hammond, Indiana was brutally murdered, and her death uncovered a disturbing trail of secrets that no one expected.
Peggy Carothers, the 15-year-old daughter of Melvin and Patty Carothers, was dropped off at Morton High School by her parents, Melvin and Patty Carothers, that morning. However, when Melvin returned to collect up his daughter, neither she nor her home could be located. Her five siblings asked her acquaintances if they had seen her since school earlier that day, but no one had seen her. It was out of character for Peggy, whose parents were notoriously severe.
Peggy’s parents filed a missing person’s report with the police after being advised to do so by school officials. The police then launched an investigation. The authorities questioned Peggy’s family and friends in pursuit of any hints as to what may have occurred. Everyone agreed that it was implausible that she would flee or have enemies who would wish her harm.
When the police looked into it more, they found that Peggy missed her sixth and seventh period classes, which were her last classes of the day, on the day she went missing. When police talked to her best friend, Sisk, they found out that Peggy had told her that she thought she was almost three months pregnant with a baby fathered by another student, Collin Merrill, and that she planned to run away to Florida. This was a secret that Peggy had asked her friend not to tell anyone else.
Sisk told producers, “I had to tell the detectives that I thought she ran away because she was pregnant.” “She told me she liked this guy and was falling in love with him. She wanted to get married to him because she thought they would be happy together.
The detectives found out that Peggy liked Merrill from the moment she met him. They dated for a while, but their young love didn’t last. In February 1997, Merrill broke up with Peggy, leaving her very sad.
Merrill told the police that he didn’t know where Peggy was and that he had broken up with her months before because her parents were so strict that it was hard for them to spend time together. He also said that he knew Peggy was pregnant, but he said that they weren’t dating at the time.
But detectives still thought Merrill was a suspect because he had missed his sixth period class on the day Peggy went missing, even though he went to his seventh period class. But Merrill told the police he had a good reason why he wasn’t there: he and another student named Corey were smoking in the boys’ bathroom. When police asked Corey about Merill’s alibi, he backed up Merill’s story. This put investigators back at square one, with no idea what happened to Peggy.
“Teenagers run away, but they usually come back home or get in touch with someone they care about,” Brian Miller, the Hammond Police Department’s Public Information Officer, told producers. “No one falls off the grid by accident, but this child did. Peggy Carothers has gone missing.”
But soon, two teens who were playing in the woods found something terrible. On April 30, 17-year-old Jason Branick went into a wooded area where local students like to hang out. While there, he and a friend saw a rectangle of raised dirt, which piqued their interest. They started digging, and when they found a piece of cloth and something that looked like skin, they were shocked. They were scared and ran away, but they didn’t tell anyone. A month later, when they went back to the spot, the hole had been filled in and the area smelled bad. Finally, the two kids were so scared that they called the police to tell them what they had found.
Investigators didn’t waste any time getting to the scene and digging up the body of a young woman who had been buried there with a steel pipe on top of her. She was wearing the same clothes that Peggy was wearing when she went missing: a pink and white dress shirt, grey corduroy pants, and sandals. Peggy’s school ID card was also in the pocket of the pants.
It was clear to the people looking for Peggy Carothers that the search had come to a sad end. The news broke the hearts of everyone she cared about.
“I just couldn’t believe she was dead,” Sisk said, adding later, “She was just so kind and happy. She would give anyone the shirt off her back.”
The next day, an autopsy proved that Peggy’s body was the one found in the woods. She died from head injuries caused by the pipe that was in the grave with her. The coroner said that she was hit multiple times in the back of the head. There was also dirt in her windpipe, which shows that she was still alive, even if she was asleep, when she was buried.
A surprising fact that came out of the autopsy was that Peggy was not actually pregnant.
When the police talked to the teens who found the dead body, they said they were in the wrong place at the wrong time and were afraid to tell anyone sooner. Since they didn’t have any proof, the police had to let the teens go and move on with their investigation.
Some teens called the police a few days after Peggy’s funeral to say that something strange had happened around the time of Peggy’s death. This led to a break in the case. On April 28, a group of students talked about the mafia in a class about current events. When asked how they would kill a woman, Peggy’s ex-boyfriend Merrill said he would lure her into the woods, hit her with a pipe, and bury her in a shallow grave. This was a disturbing answer that matched how Peggy would die just a few days later.
When the police got that tip, they talked to Sisk again and asked to see the notes she had written to Peggy. They found out that Peggy and Merrill were still seeing each other when she died, even though they had broken up months before. Peggy also told Sisk that on the day she went missing, she had told Merrill she was pregnant, which made him upset.
Tracy Maple, a reporter for The Times of NW Indiana, said, “It was pretty damning, but we didn’t know if that was reason enough for him to kill Peggy.”
Around that time, the police also found out that Merrill’s story wasn’t true. Corey, the classmate he said he was smoking with in the bathroom, told the police that Merrill wasn’t there that day and that he had told them that before because he was scared.
It was enough that the police could catch Merrill at home. Detectives said he didn’t show any emotion when he was being arrested. He quickly hired a lawyer and wouldn’t talk to police. After eight months, he was tried as an adult for killing Peggy. Prosecutors said that after he found out that Peggy was pregnant, he started to flirt with her and even took her shopping for a wedding dress while planning to kill her. On the day he killed her, he got her to go into the woods by saying they should talk about getting back together. Once they were there, he beat her with a pipe and buried her.
“He lied to her when she was young and in love,” Sisk said.
Even though Merrill said he didn’t kill Peggy, the jury found him guilty because of the evidence that pointed to it. He was given a 55-year prison sentence.