The House at Heartland Crossing

When a male couple in their 70s were brutally killed in their Indiana home last fall, it seemed like a clear-cut hate crime. No one suspected that the killer might be a man whom one of the elderly victims had met while cruising online.

BY Tim Murphy

April 05 2009 11:00 PM ET

To get to the house where the terrible thing happened, you leave behind the small-scale, mid-century charm of downtown Indianapolis for I-65 South, merge onto I-70 West for a good eight miles, then turn south on IN-67 down a five-mile, nondescript strip of fast-food chains, gun shops, and car dealerships. Turning left past a giant shopping plaza called Heartland Crossing, you come to a fairly dense development of nearly identical, vinyl-sided, box-shaped, two-story homes that stretch flat as far as the eye can see. There, at 9160 Middlebury Way, two men who were certainly intimates and may once have been lovers -- Milton Lindgren, 70, a semiretired accountant, and Eric Hendricks, 73, a retired mapmaker disabled by neuropathy -- were brutally murdered last October. Before their deaths, their cable and phone lines had been cut twice and a note reading fags was left on their door.

At first the murders appeared to be a hate crime, and they intensified a call from activists to pass a law enhancing punishments for such offenses in Indiana -- one of five states without a hate-crimes law and one of 19 without hate-crimes protections covering sexual orientation. But on November 15 the very man who found the bodies -- then–56-year-old Michael Brown, whom the two men had befriended and taken in several months earlier, and who attended Lindgren’s funeral on October 30 -- was arrested and charged with the murders. Suddenly an obvious-seeming hate crime became something much more complicated. If the men weren’t killed explicitly because of their sexual orientation, did their being gay have anything at all to do with the tragedy?

Lindgren, at 6 foot 10, and Hendricks, at 6 foot 6, were both very tall men. Lindgren, who collected toy trains and Wizard of Oz dolls, grew up in a conservative Lutheran home in Minnesota, eventually becoming an accountant for GTE and settling north of Indianapolis with his wife, Mary Ellen, and their two adopted daughters, Shahannah and Maria. He and Mary Ellen divorced in 2003, after 30 years of marriage, when Maria, snooping on her father’s computer after she and her mother became suspicious about his behavior, discovered he was meeting men for sex. Hendricks was a hobbyist writer who grew up in Atlanta, attended the University of Georgia, and worked as a mapmaker for Rand McNally. He and his partner of 25 years, Tom Hitchner, lived all over the country until Hitchner died of AIDS-related complications nearly 20 years ago. Hendricks then moved to Indiana to be with a man he’d met online; their relationship lasted three years.

According to Hendricks’s brother and sister-in-law, Steve and Sharon Hendricks, who live in Massachusetts, Lindgren met Hendricks in a gay chat room sometime in 2002 and moved into Hendricks’s Indianapolis apartment the following year. In July 2004 the men bought and moved into the two-story, two-bedroom house at Heartland Crossing, with their beloved dachshunds, Strudels and Sebastian, in tow. They joined a sprinkling of other gays in the placid, middle-class development.

Tags: Crime

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