Virtue & Mischief: Two girls and a stranger


I went to see my mom and dad this past weekend. I had not checked in on them since Thanksgiving weekend, so a visit was long overdue—particularly in light of the fact that my mother has endured some rather serious medical challenges in the intervening weeks.

They live in a splendid retirement community in West Lafayette, Indiana, where I grew up and where they’ve resided since 1962. When I arrived Friday evening I wasn’t sure what I’d encounter. Mom’s “medical challenges” were life threatening and her recovery has been uneven and difficult. Dad is exhausted, I think, from both the physical and emotional toll it’s taken on him.

I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least. They looked well rested and seemed generally upbeat. Dad’s famous (infamous?) sarcasm was back in full bloom. Mom was functioning well, her appetite was strong, and she was more energetic and hardy than I’d anticipated. Our initial conversation upon my arrival veered in all sorts of fun and fascinating directions.

They caught me up on the latest goings-on with different family members and old, local friends. I regaled them with the latest tales of the amigos and Krista.

Then my mother hit me with, “Tim, have you heard about the two teen-aged girls in Delphi?”

Delphi is a town of about 3,000 residents, perhaps 20 minutes northeast from West Lafayette.

“I did hear something about that. They were out hiking or something, right? And went missing? Did they ever find them?”

“Oh, yes. It’s very sad and very scary. Two young girlfriends were dropped off by one of their mothers at the start of a popular hiking trail up there. They made arrangements to be picked up at a location further down the trail in a couple of hours and the girls never showed. One of the girls had a cellphone, but she must not have answered when the mom called. Eventually the involved parents contacted the sheriff’s department. Something like 24 hours later their bodies were found not far from where they started, I gather down by the edge of Deer Creek, close to an abandoned railroad track where they were originally dropped off. So very, very sad.”

I shuddered. Our own teen-aged amigo, Abby, loves to wander through the local hiking trails close to our home. I ALWAYS give her my approval whenever she asks to go for a walk during the daylight hours. Exercise? Communing with nature? Indulging in a little peace and quiet, away from the madding (Swensen) crowd? Absolutely! “Knock yourself out,” is my standard reply.

“What on earth happened?” I asked. “Have they caught whoever did it?”

My father chimed in. “They’re not saying very much—no details about how they were killed, the time of death, what evidence they’ve acquired up to this point. They did release a pretty grainy picture of a man they think was involved, and a few seconds of audio. Apparently, one of the girls took some video of the guy with her phone—probably very shortly before she and her friend were killed—and the authorities recovered it and publicized it, hoping for others to come forward.”

“I do seem to remember seeing a picture, now that you mention it,” I replied, my blood running even colder. “Good Lord,” I added. “Tiny Delphi. I mean, it’s smaller than Greenville. The entire community must be completely devastated. If stuff like that can happen there….”

“Oh, Timothy, ‘stuff,’ as you put it, is always happening and it can and does happen everywhere. No place is immune from bad things happening, whether by accident or by evil. Not West Lafayette, not Greenville, Ohio, not Delphi, not Chicago, not anywhere. Still, you can’t live in a bubble. Well, I suppose you could, but it’d be a lousy way to live. On the other hand, you shouldn’t take stupid chances and you should probably walk your kids through all sorts of scenarios so they have some idea what to do if they ever, God forbid, confront something like this.”

I had a hard time sleeping that night and the next. Was the man in the grainy photo a killer? If he was alone, how did he subdue both girls? And then, of course, there’s the ubiquitous and haunting question, “Why?” I’ll readily grant that it’s something of a superficial detail, but it didn’t help my mental state that one of the victims was named Abigail.

When I returned home Sunday evening, I chatted with Krista about the case and my conversation with my parents. We sighed together, shook our heads, and mentally went places no parent wishes to go. I looked at her. She looked at me.

“Abby!” we called in unison, and then commenced a conversation I never dreamed of having and whose content I pray never moves beyond the abstract.

By Tim Swensen

Virtue & Mischief

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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