Double Murder in the Heartland

Date Published 10.15.07
It was just after 5 p.m. when the man returned home from work. He’d last seen his wife and son when he’d come home for lunch earlier that afternoon. Living in Franklin, Indiana is like that – it’s only twenty miles south of Indianapolis, but small town values prevail. Crime is low, white picket fence construction is high, and workday lunches often consist of driving a few blocks home for an hour or so of family time.

Which is why neighbors were stunned when the man they’d just seen pull into the driveway at his usual time came frantically running outside. They knew the man as a deeply religious Christian and buff former Marine who exuded strength and stoicism. His name was Sean Dickus, 33, and he'd moved into the newly built house just a month before with his second wife, Chynna; a young son from his previous marriage visited occasionally.

Dickus vomited on the ground and fell to his knees. My wife and son are dead, he screamed.

Paradise

Like many young couples, Dickus and Chynna, 26, had long dreamed of owning their own home, and friends said they were thrilled to move into 1188 Aberdeen Drive in the summer of 2006. Dickus nicknamed his bubbly, tender wife “Betty Homemaker” and delighted in her decorating plans. They weren’t rich, and reportedly had to stretch to make ends meet, but they were happy.


Sean Dickus

The young couple had recently returned from a mission to El Salvador with their Pentecostal church. They were both taking night classes and working toward their degrees at a local college. Most important to them was ten-year-old Blake, Dickus’ son from his previous marriage. Dickus got along well with his ex-wife, and they shared custody of Blake, a regular kid who loved cartoons and video games.

Dickus and his son spent the weekend before the murders at the County Fair. Up until Monday, July 24, 2006, life was paradise, Dickus said.

July 24, 2006

The Franklin Police Department has been extremely tight-lipped about the Dickus case, but some facts are known. On the day of the murders Chynna made a call around 11 a.m. to a neighbor. Around 1 p.m. Dickus arrived home for lunch. At 1:30 p.m. Chynna spoke to her mother on the phone, though it’s unclear for how long. Dickus left the house and headed back to work at 1:40 p.m.

The murders apparently took place sometime between 1:40 p.m. and 5:14 p.m., when Dickus made the 911 call.

Reports indicate the crime scene was bloody and extensive. Chynna was stabbed repeatedly. Blake was stabbed, beaten and asphyxiated. The coroner’s report cites a blow to Blake's head as the most damaging. A 2X4 with blood on one end was found inside the house, though police aren’t saying whether or not it came from there.

Blake’s mother, Christina Dickus, may have inadvertently revealed something about the highly classified crime scene when she was quoted as asking:
Who would do something to a little boy screaming for his life and trying to get out? Why? All I have to say is why?
Police won’t confirm Christina Dickus’ account. In fact, despite what they characterize as a wealth of “great” and “vital” trace evidence, police refuse to comment on any of the following subjects: method of entry, possibility of sexual assault or robbery, time of death, or type of weapon.

One of the few things police will say has locals, at least the ones who populate message boards about the case, frustrated and confused: they don’t believe Sean Dickus did it.


Chynna and Blake Dickus

Suspicions

Suspicion about Sean Dickus began the moment he fell to his knees and screamed his wife and son were dead. Message boards with threads about the case came alive with posts that alluded to O.J. Simpson, Susan Smith and Scott Peterson. One person left a brief but pointed message: “Most cases of this nature it is usually the family who has committed the crime.”

Observers watched Dickus’ expressions and parsed the meaning of his words. Some thought it was strange that he mentioned the family’s financial problems right away. Others thought he appeared too calm, or too upbeat, or too demonstrably religious in his press interviews. Still others questioned his decision to stay living in the house. “Who would do that?” one local asked.

Locals may have wondered about Dickus, but Franklin police did not. They issued a statement saying that after an exhaustive investigation he was not a suspect. They confirmed reports that Dickus had passed a polygraph test administered by the FBI.

“He’s been nothing but helpful since day one,” Franklin Police Chief John Borges told True Crime Diary. “I really feel like we’ve done our due diligence on this case, and we have no reason to believe he’s anything but a tragic figure here.”

And with that the conversation turns to what case followers simply call "the break-ins."

The Break-ins

The Dickus’ neighborhood is in a newer subdivision, and the one thing everyone seems to agree on about the area is that construction is constant. Houses are going up quickly; a new high school is being built nearby. The area is so new that there are two empty lots on either side of the Dickus’ house and one across the street.

The neighborhood is popular with young families and considered safe. But right before the murders as many as four break-ins were reported in the neighborhood. The most significant one occurred just four houses away on the very same day as the murders. A resident returned home to find his house had been ransacked sometime after he left for work.

The burglary is puzzling. The intruder trashed the rooms, and left with a high school ring, some Bicentennial coins, and, most curiously, a Tupperware one-gallon pitcher full of lemonade.

Are the break-ins connected to the murders? Chief Borges would only say the burglaries remain "unresolved." Faced with his silence, one must read between the lines: the last few times the police have talked to the press about the Dickus case it’s been to release details about what was taken in the burglary down the street. Clearly they don’t believe it’s a coincidence.

What does that say, if anything, about the killer? What kind of person steals a pitcher of lemonade? A young, unsophisticated person might - a teenager with no particular plan but rifling through houses who acts impulsively on his thirst on a hot summer day. A younger, criminally unsophisticated suspect would also make sense of one strange aspect of the murders: the overkill of ten-year-old Blake. It seems significant that Blake was the center of so much rage. An adult male would likely not focus so much violence on a child; Blake wouldn’t pose a threat to him. But a kid a few years older than Blake - fifteen, or even seventeen or eighteen, but emotionally immature - might be easily rattled by a boy in the house. Sean Dickus mentioned in an interview that his son had started to do martial arts and work out. Did Blake try and protect his stepmother?

The other kind of person who might steal a pitcher of lemonade is someone who is not a criminal by trade, but for whatever reason he’s unraveling and acting out. He works very close by. He’s a familiar sight in the neighborhood and doesn’t stick out. Maybe he toils under the hot sun and is angry and thirsty. Maybe he didn’t think anyone was home at the Dickus house, or he meant to target Chynna and didn’t expect Blake to be there. The 2X4 would fit into this scenario because, as a construction worker, it’s something he uses everyday at work.

Chief Borges won't comment on a possible motive or suspects, but he says he's optimistic the case will one day be solved. They retrieved good physical evidence from the scene.

For most of the interview Borges is politely distant and terse. It’ s when he’s asked about Franklin and the effect the murders had on the town that a wall breaks and emotion creeps into his voice. “Tore this place apart,” he said.


The Feed

RT @emilynussbaum: The artful @hodgman's straightforward case for Hillary: https://t.co/ijA8xHJ8Tm
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Know what he does believe in? PAC $. Took 10K from HRC pac 2006. That means he's in her pocket.#BSLogic
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Good one. Unfortunately Bernie on record as not believing in charity.
@johnlevenstein Thanks for asking, btw. That's the kind of elevated discourse missing lately. A lot of mud slinging. #I'mNotAboveItEither
@johnlevenstein Can't convey it all thru Twitter but yes, she has flaws. Too poll-driven, burned needed bridges, trouble owning mistakes.