This is a story about connections. Two young women, a potential serial killer and what might have been had it not been for the quick-thinking of a young store clerk and the actions of an officer with the Kokomo Police Department.
When 19-year-old Indiana State University student Pam Milam was found killed after attending a party on campus in 1972, investigators immediately began to search for her killer but didn’t have many leads. Technology like DNA analysis didn’t exist at the time, and the case eventually went cold.
It stayed that way for 46 years, until modern technology allowed investigators to put a name to her killer — Jeffrey Lynn Hand, a delivery man who investigators said had no ties to the Terre Haute community.
Police believe Hand had no ties to the Kokomo community either, but it was in the City of Firsts that his life — full of various crimes and brushes with law enforcement — ended on a cold January day in 1978, after police said he tried to abduct his next victim.
KPD Mjr. Jim Calabro, though not on the department at that time, recently shared some of the details from that day with the Tribune.
Jan. 24, 1978
It was a Tuesday morning, and Greentown resident Susan Matlock, 25, had stopped to do a little shopping at Block’s department store — most recently Carson’s — before heading back home.
As she left the store, she noticed Hand standing nearby, and she told police at the time that she acknowledged him with a polite smile.
Hand then began to follow Matlock as she walked back to her vehicle, weaving his way in between cars before eventually attacking and pushing her into her 1977 Pontiac Thunderbird.
Inside the store, a clerk named Kathy Graham saw the event unfold and called KPD, telling them that she believed she just saw a possible abduction.
Police testimony by Matlock at the time described the scene inside the car as somewhat frantic, with Hand telling the young woman that he had a gun and knife, and he wasn’t afraid to use either one. He also told her that he had just robbed someone.
With Hand weighing his options and wanting to get to South Bend, Matlock offered to drive him to the nearest bus station. Hand declined.
Around that time, a KPD squad car driven by Officer Jerry Kassel drove up beside Matlock’s vehicle, and that’s when Hand began to drive away in the direction of 17th Street.
Kassel followed Matlock’s vehicle and called for back-up as he continued the pursuit.
Howard County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Vernal Baugh was off-duty at the time but heard the call come across the scanner and decided to provide assistance.
As the pursuit continued onto State Street, Hand lost control of the Pontiac and slid into a nearby snowbank, where he then fled the vehicle and began running away from the scene, leaving Matlock behind.
As Kassel tended to Matlock, Baugh caught up with Hand in a nearby alleyway, where the deputy apprehended the alleged suspect and ordered him to stand in front of the police vehicle.
A few moments later, Hand reached for a gun and shot Baugh in the right hand. A couple moments later, Hand fired again. This time, a bullet struck Baugh’s left side.
Baugh fired back at Hand, hitting his shoulder and puncturing a lung.
Hearing the shots and Baugh’s exclamation of “I’m hit,” Kassel noticed the deputy on the ground and Hand running down the railroad tracks and away from the scene.
Calabro said Kassel fired three shots in Hand’s direction that day.
It was that third shot that proved fatal.
Police ended up locating a long piece of rope in Hand’s coat pocket, along with clothing, sock caps, masking tape, bandages, ammunition and extra sunglasses, flashlights, leather gloves and pictures of recently engaged couples clipped from the local newspaper in his abandoned vehicle.
“He’s a hero”
Calabro sat in his second-floor office at KPD last Thursday and began to rock back and forth as he thought about and discussed that incident from 41 years ago.
“He’s a hero, no doubt,” Calabro said, referring to Kassel. “But then again, everyone that day was a hero. Susan Matlock is a hero. Kathy Graham is a hero. Vernal Baugh is a hero. All the guys that responded to that scene were heroes. When you look at everything he [Hand] had in his car, he was just trolling for victims. He definitely had eyes on that woman [Matlock] and had intended to hurt her.”
Which is why if you see something, say something, Calabro said, because you never know when you might find yourself in a similar spot as Graham was that January night.
“I hear people say all the time that they don’t want to look stupid [by reporting a potential crime], but you never really know,” he said. “I’ve heard several times on the radio in my career that someone’s been abducted, and it turns out it’s just a husband and wife in an argument. Ninety-nine times out of 100, it is probably nothing, but what happens when you witness that one exception? So if you’re suspicious about anything, call us. That’s what we’re here for. It’s that simple.”
“I’m sure [Jerry] Kassel would have loved to have gone about his business and taken a report about a husband and a wife having an argument and been done with it instead of having to end someone’s life,” he said. “But he [Hand] was not only a threat to society, he was a threat to law enforcement. That’s the thing that you have to remember is that if a person is willing to shoot at another person that has a gun, do you think he really cares about anybody else?”
“What could have been”
According to police, Milam and Matlock were not Hand’s only victims either, as he was also arrested for the torture and murder of a man in 1973 — where he was later found not guilty by reason of insanity and later released from a mental institution on a technicality. Police are also currently looking at the possibility that he was involved in another murder in Wisconsin, and Calabro said it’s always possible he could be tied to more incidents across the region.
“So who knows what could have been [if he hadn’t been killed],” Calabro said. “He had a knife, a gun and a rope. He had already strangled one victim and shot another. And he had a whole bag of tricks in his car.”
Speaking about the incident last week to Kiwanis, Calabro reiterated that point, saying that Terre Haute Police Department Chief Shawn Keen believes that Hand was likely a serial killer and that “his death, though tragic, may have saved the lives of many women.”
The Tribune attempted to reach out to Kassel, Matlock and Graham for this story. Those attempts were unsuccessful.