"To persevere, trusting in hopes he has, is courage in a man."
Virgil Vandagriff has been in the law enforcement arena and has seen and heard enough drama in his life as a Marion County sheriff to immediately spot trouble lurking in the shadows around the corner. He began his successful private investigations firm in Indianapolis in 1982, conducting that business part time until he retired from the county in 1989. Since retirement, his firm, located on the west side of town, operates virtually around the clock. He is one of the most respected people in town; hi-tech and astute, the graying and dignified Vandagriff has a reputation for getting the job done.
One of his more popular cases is the locating of missing persons. "The way it works here in Indianapolis is that persons are not classified as missing until they are gone 24 hours," he explains. "The case then goes to a district detective and if they dont find them in 30 days it travels to the Missing Persons Bureau for them to investigate. Now, to the general public, this seems like a lot of red tape and highly absurd. Parents dont want to wait to find out what happened to their kid, and wives dont want to wait to see what happened to their husband. They come to me."
When the mother of 28-year-old Alan Broussard approached him in early June of 1994 to tell him her son was missing, Vandagriff didnt alarm. Many cases, he states, usually turn out to be mere runaways with little or no foul play involved. He nevertheless began to investigate the case. Alan Broussard, he learned, had had his share of troubles. A heavy drinker, he was also gay in a community that pretty much shunned that lifestyle. He was last seen, in fact, leaving a gay bar called Brothers. Virgil issued posters throughout Indianapolis and elsewhere that ran Alans photo and asked for information from any citizen who might have seen him.
If Vandagriff at first perceived no ill intent behind Alans disappearance, his perception of what most likely did happen to the man changed quickly. Before the end of July, he became convinced that, as he puts it, "Indianapolis had a serial killer on its hands." Three incidences occurred, tumbling on top of each other.
First, Vandagriff learned that an Indianapolis police detective named Mary Wilson was working on the disappearance of other gay men throughout the area, all similar to the Broussard mystery. Even their physical appearances and ages paralleled.
Second, he came across a small article in a magazine called Indiana Word about a man named Jeff Jones who had disappeared mid-1993, a year earlier. This gay lifestyle publication, which Vandagriffs investigators picked up while scouting the gay bars for information on Broussard, reported that Jones, 31, had evaporated into thin air from the streets of Indianapolis. Vandagriff, in researching Jones, discovered that the prodigal shared a background of like social indifference and wayward habits as the others.
But, what convinced Vandagriff to regard these vanishings as more than circumstantial was the event of yet another disappearance. The latest took place in July. This time, Roger Allen Goodlet, 34 years old, left his mothers place, where he lived, to visit a gay bar on 16th Street. As with the other two men, roughly the same age and with the same casual approach to life, Roger was swallowed into oblivion.
As with Mrs. Broussard, Goodlets mother came to Vandagriff because she didnt want to wait the obligatory legal period. She "wept as she told Virgil about Roger, his childhood demeanor, his trusting nature, his tendency to drink too much the whole litany of factors that made Roger vulnerable alone out on the streets," to quote the book Where the Bodies Are Buried. To Vandagriff, listening to her recite "felt like a repeat... of (those) sessions with Alan Broussards mother."
"The fates of these three men were too close to ignore," he notes.
Vandagriff and his investigator, Bill Hilzley, scoured the gay bars in town, but didnt come up with much. Owners and frequenters of the establishments seemed too frightened to talk. They did learn, however, that Goodlet had left Our Place with another man (whose description remained vague) in a light blue car with an Ohio license plate.
Unfortunately, Vandagriff found the police "disinterested" in the information he supplied. But, the private detective was not to be discouraged; he knew he was on to something important and had enough experience under his belt to comprehend the logic in a case like this. Sometimes breakthroughs come from the strangest places and in the most unexpected fashions and, as he surmised, one indeed presented itself in August, only weeks after he entered the case.
A fellow named Tony Harris (real name withheld per his request) had known Roger Goodlet from the gay bar scene. He had seen Vandagriffs posters and believed he had stumbled onto some information that might solve the puzzle over Rogers whereabouts. His story was incredible, but he swore it was true: He had been with a man whom he was sure was a serial killer. When he tried to tell the local police, they treated him like he was crazy; the FBI suggested he had been on a drug trip. Phoning Rogers mother, she put him in touch with detective Vandagriff.