By Norman V. Kelly
Jimmy Ray Pitsonbarger was winding down a drinking spree that early morning of August 26, 1987, hopping from one tavern to the other. He found himself racing down a rural road near Edwards, Illinois, virtually out of control. He ended up in a ditch wondering what happened. Out of the car now, he walked toward a house, entering through an unlocked rear window. He raided the refrigerator and searched the house finding a rifle, a pistol and a shotgun. Next he went to the house next door at 5615 West Southport Road. Inside, asleep, were the owners, Alta and Claude Brown who were unaware of the evil that was coming their way.
Finding his way in from a rear window, Jimmy Ray stood there alone in the darkness listening. Suddenly a light went on as Claude and Alta walked into the kitchen. Pitsonbarger quickly fired his weapon, killing Claude almost instantly. Alta screamed as she watched her husband fall to the floor. Jimmy Ray ran towards her screaming at her to be still. Here is what the killer later told police. “She kept pleading with me…you know not to rape her. Finally I told her I would not rape her. I shot her instead.”
Free to Flee
Jimmy Ray stepped over his victims to search the house. Soon he was racing off with the Brown’s pickup truck, money and guns toward whatever came his way. Hell, he was a happy camper. He had some money, a vehicle and the open road. Here is what he would tell police later. “I just wanted to have some fun before I got caught.”
The lucky neighbor, once she had seen that her house had been broken into, called the Peoria County Sheriff’s office. Prints found at the murder scene and discovery of the killer’s abandoned Mercury soon had the officers zeroed in on their suspect. As the little town of Edwards, Illinois mourned the loss of their neighbors police all over the country were on the look out for Jimmy Ray Pitsonbarger.
Meanwhile where was Pitsonbarger? Why he was having a good time in Columbia, Missouri. He even signed his real name on a guest book at a motel then he headed for the nearest bar. It was there that he spotted his next victim, Mr. Gordon, a vacuum cleaner salesman. Soon the two men were driving along a rural road. Pitsonbarger pulled out his handgun and shot the man several times. He robbed him, dumped him out of the car and headed west. Jimmy Ray was back on the road, a little bit richer, and still having fun.
Go West Young Man
Jimmy cruised along, stopping here and there, always looking for another victim. He pulled into a gas station in Verdi, Nebraska where he had the attendant fill up the gas tank. Pitsonbarger then pulled a gun on the man and robbed him of $200.00. Police were amazed to hear that he had not killed the man. Now Jimmy was even richer, but the attendant had given police the description and license number of the Nisson he was driving. Jimmy Ray abandoned the Nisson in Boontown, Nevada and hitchhiked his way to Reno, Nevada.
Pitsonbarger checked into a fancy motel, again using his real name and went to sleep. Less than an hour later police had surrounded Jimmy’s little nest. Officers had quietly evacuated the rooms near the suspected killer and were near his room door when it opened. A lady stepped out in the hall, her head was bloody she was nude and obviously terrified. Calmly the officer in charge went into the room next door and phoned the suspect’s room. Moments later Jimmy was in cuffs and surrounded by police.
Trials and Tribulations
Much later a judge in Nevada sentenced Jimmy Ray Pitsonbarger, now age twenty-five, to 139 years in jail without the possibility of parole. Back in Peoria, Illinois, the murder trial was conducted in front of Judge Calvin Stone without a jury. In September of 1989 Jimmy Ray was in Peoria for his sentencing hearing. From Peoria he went to death row where he would be the 119th person in Illinois awaiting death by lethal injection. Of course that never took place, but all of his victims are still gone from us forever.
Editor’s Note: Norm is a Peoria Historian. firstname.lastname@example.org