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The Delphi murders were a true crime obsession. Then came an unexpected press conference

A local man has been charged with two counts of murder in the long-running case of best friends Abby Williams and Libby German. Police spoke to the press this week about their ongoing investigation

Clémence Michallon
New York
Wednesday 02 November 2022 05:09 GMT
Missing Teens Indiana
Missing Teens Indiana

Abigail Williams and Liberty German — known as Abby and Libby — disappeared on February 13, 2017, aged 13 and 14 years old respectively. The discovery of their bodies the following day in Delphi, Indiana kicked off a murder investigation that remains ongoing to this day.

Abby and Libby were friends who went on a short hike across an abandoned railway track on the day that they died. When they didn’t return to a pickup point to be picked up by a parent, the alarm was raised. The fact that they disappeared in such a short space of time became a source of conversation. The unusual piece of evidence that they left behind made headlines.

Investigators released this evidence in a piecemeal manner after Abby and Libby’s bodies were found. First, they released a recording of the main suspect’s voice; then a photo; and, eventually, a clip from a video. The fact that those materials came from Libby’s cell phone only increased interest in the case: there was not much information about who had possibly caused the girls’ death, but it seemed that Libby, almost certainly sensing danger, had somehow had the presence of mind to record the likely perpetrator.

Then, on Monday (October 31), Indiana State Police held a press conference that had been five years in the making. They confirmed that a suspect had been arrested. Richard Matthew Allen, 50, was apprehended the previous Tuesday and has now been charged with two counts of murder.

Not much is known about the circumstances of Allen’s arrest, or the evidence against him. During Monday’s press conference, the most repeated line had to do precisely with this opacity. The investigation is still active, and tip lines remain open for information about Allen “or anyone else”. Therefore, investigators are keeping pretty much everything they know about the case so far under wraps. “While I know you are all expecting final details today concerning this arrest, today is not that day,” Doug Carter, superintendent of the Indiana State Police, told the press on Monday.

The charging documents and probable cause affidavit have been sealed – a move that Nicholas McLeland, the county prosecutor, described as “unusual” in the county, where they would usually be made public. Pressed on the matter by one of the journalists present, McLeland reiterated that “the investigation is still open, and while all cases are important, the nature of this case has some extra scrutiny with it.” A public hearing will take place to decide whether those records should remain sealed.

This image was captured on Libby’s phone on the day the girls were murdered
This image was captured on Libby’s phone on the day the girls were murdered (Indiana State Police)

The secrecy surrounding these documents and the strange nature of the press conference — in which police gathered media only to tell them repeatedly that they couldn’t share any details — has set off speculation. The still-open tip line and the mention of “anyone else” suggests police may suspect there could be others involved in the murders. It’s also reasonable to assume that law enforcement is treading extra carefully with a case that is known to have attracted global attention.

I don’t think the desire to know the details behind Allen’s arrest only comes down to morbid curiosity. A public thirst for information is not inherently sinister, even in the context of true crime stories. Law enforcement relied on the public to help solve this case. After the murders, police released the first photo of a person they said was the principal suspect, walking on a bridge, head down, hands apparently in his pockets. They later released the aforementioned audio clip, in which someone – presumably the same person as in the photo – can be heard saying the words “Down the hill.” And there was the short video of the suspect walking, the apparent purpose of which was to help the public identify him by his gait. Photos of the girls during their hike that day were uploaded to Snapchat before they disappeared, leading some to refer to the killings in Delphi as the “Snapchat murders”.

All this content spread far beyond the local community of Delphi – and far beyond Indiana and the US. We knew just enough to become captivated. Vast communities of people began to pore over the video, frame by frame. On Reddit, there are two communities associated with investigating what happened: the main subreddit, DelphiMurders, has just under 73,000 members; and a separate group, DelphiMurdersTimeline — with over 5,000 members — is dedicated solely to constructing a tight timeline of everything that happened on the day.

Richard Allen pictured in mugshot after arrest for Delphi murders
Richard Allen pictured in mugshot after arrest for Delphi murders (Indiana State Police)

I don’t fault anyone who has been Googling everything there is to know about the case. I certainly have. But Monday’s restrained press conference offered a chance to focus on the victims and their families for a moment, before our attention shifts – as it inevitably will – to the logistics of the case. Allen’s arrest is taking place at a time when conversations about true crime are abundant, particularly about how victims and their families fit within the genre. Ryan Murphy’s dramatization of the Jeffrey Dahmer case, released in September, prompted renewed discussions about what, if anything, true crime can bring to the table. Is it simply morbid voyeurism? Is it an excellent way to bring together a community of people who can help solve cold cases? Is it a bit of both?

During and after Monday’s press conference, attention was paid too to the local community, which is sure to be rocked by local resident Allen’s arrest. The prosecutor himself spoke of “mixed emotions”, describing the arrest as a “bittersweet” step “in the right direction.” Of Allen, he added: “It’s concerning that he’s a local guy.” According to NBC News, Libby’s grandparents told reporters that Allen was an employee at a local CVS store, where he processed photos for the girl’s family. (CVS told the platform in a statement: “We are shocked and saddened to learn that one of our store employees was arrested as a suspect in these crimes. We stand ready to cooperate with the police investigation in any way we can.”)

More details will undoubtedly become known in the near future. Allen has pleaded not guilty, and a trial date has been set for March 20, 2023. But Monday was about Abby, Libby, and the people who knew them. That is as it should be.

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