2004-10-28 19:49:56 UTC
By Joanne Hammer & Brittany Edwards
A Rockville woman who spent her life supporting victims of crime died
Tuesday. Betty Jane Spencer, the sole survivor of the infamous
Hollandsburg murders, died of lung disease in a nursing home Tuesday
at Clinton. She was 71.
Spencer lived 27 years of her life with the memory of her four sons
executed on the floor of her home, then spent a lifetime as a victim's
Early Valentine's Day 1977, four men entered Keith and Betty Spencer's
home. After taking a few insignificant items, the gunman forced
Spencer, along with her son Gregory Brooks, 22, and stepsons Raymond
Spencer, 17, Reeve Spencer, 16, and Ralph Spencer, 14, to line up and
lie face-down on the living room floor.
Two gunman stood at their feet and two stood at their side, said Mike
McCarty, who researched Spencer's life for about 10 years. His book
about the murders, Choking in Fear, was released to the public in
Spencer was shot in the back and pretended she was dead. The killers
kicked her, realized she was alive and shot at her head, McCarty said.
Her wig blew off and the assailants left. She suffered gunshot wounds
in her back and the back of her head. Her home's telephone lines were
cut, so she went to a friend's house and called police.
On March 9, four Montgomery County men were being sought in the
Hollandsburg murders. Soon Roger Drollinger, 24, Waynetown; Daniel
Stonebraker, 20, Darlington; David W. Smith, 17, Wingate; and Michael
Wayne Wright, 21, Crawfordsville, were charged with the murders and
sentenced to life in prison.
Spencer transformed her fear into action that helped many victims
across the nation.
"I had to make up my mind when I was in the hospital that I was going
to be a useful human being and continue or whether I was going to
dwell on murder and continue the way I was," Spencer said in Feb. 11,
1978 Journal Review story.
Those who knew her saw her as a strong woman who did much good for
"She endured more pain and suffering than any one person should have
to," said Bob Howenstine, owner of Bellmore Country Store. Spencer
worked at the store for more than 10 years until her retirement about
three years ago. She also spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with
Howenstine's family. "One of the main things she wanted to have a
legacy for was to make sure the boys never got out of prison," he
Spencer founded the Parke County Victims Advocate Foundation and was
"She was a special person to the victim's movement," said Kenneth
Coleman, director of the foundation. "She dedicated her life to help
victims and fought for state and national victim's rights." The
foundation assists victims through crisis counseling and keeps them
notified of court dates.
"She wanted to be known as a survivor," Coleman said. "She is a loss
to a lot of people."
Those who knew her described her as small in stature, but that did not
deter her advocating for others.
"She poured her heart into making sure these guys did not get out and
this would not happen to anyone else," McCarty said, calling her a
pioneer in the victim's rights movement. "That was her life."
She served on Florida Governors 70 percent by 1990 seat belt
compliance, coordinating council for victim's rights and services and
the Florida Victim Witness Board. She was a member of National
Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA), where she served six years
on the board of directors; a national speaker on victim's rights;
lobbied six years for stronger criminal and crime victim laws and
helped change 56 Indiana laws. She was a charter member of Protect the
She had articles published in Wayne Law Review, Bereavement Magazine
and USA Today. She received many local, state and national awards for
her service and was awarded by President Ronald Reagan three times.
Funeral services are scheduled 10 a.m. Saturday in Rockville Christian
Church. Friends may call 4-8 p.m. Friday in Gooch Funeral Home, 112
Howard St., Rockville.
" 'The Hollandsburg Murders' or 'The Second Valentine's Day Massacre,'
whichever you choose to call it, taught me that I am not afraid to
die," Spencer wrote in a February 1988 Bereavement magazine article.
"But more than that, I have learned that I am not afraid to live!"
FROM: The Indianapolis Star ~
Services for Betty Jane Spencer, 71, Clinton, formerly of Rockville,
who survived a heinous act of violence against her family, will be at
10 a.m. Oct. 30 in Rockville Christian Church. Calling will be from 4
to 8 p.m. Oct. 29 in Gooch Funeral Home, Rockville.
Burial will be in Mount Moriah Cemetery, north of Hollandsburg.
Mrs. Spencer died Oct. 26 in Heritage Nursing Home, Clinton.
Her son and three stepsons were killed Feb. 13, 1977, in what became
known as the Hollandsburg Massacre.
Four men stormed into her mobile home in Parke County. The men lined
up Mrs. Spencer and the four others face-down on the floor, then fired
11 shotgun rounds at them. The last blast blew off her wig; not
knowing it was a wig, the killers thought she had died, too.
Instead, she was the only survivor. The others -- son Gregory Brooks,
22, and stepsons Raymond Spencer, 17; Reeve Spencer, 16; and Ralph
Spencer, 14 -- died where they lay.
All four killers -- Roger Drollinger, David Smith, Daniel Stonebraker
and Michael Wright -- were sentenced to life in prison.
At Drollinger's murder trial, Mrs. Spencer recalled the scene.
"I heard this horrible noise, and I realized it was blood rushing from
our boys," she testified. "I don't know how to describe it. Almost
like a waterfall."
In 1994, she appeared at a parole hearing to successfully argue
against Smith's release.
"I just beg of you, keep him where he is. That's where he belongs,"
Mrs. Spencer also became a victim's-rights activist and was honored at
a White House ceremony by President Ronald Reagan.
She founded the Parke County Victims Advocate Foundation and was a
member of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, serving six
years on its board of directors.
She had articles published in "Wayne Law Review," Bereavement Magazine
and USA Today.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Parke County Victims
Advocate Foundation, 217 E. Ohio St., Rockville, IN 47872.
Survivors include a stepdaughter, Diane Kissick; brothers Roger Dale
and Herbert Miller; sisters Dorene Nyce and Mary Ellen Hutson; and two