1979 Interstate murders: 'Where do I start, and where do I finish'

1979 Interstate murders: 'Where do I start, and where do I finish'

PAXTON — In her first year on the job as an Illinois State Police crime-scene technician, Jodi Barth investigated dozens of homicide scenes, including 32 in the first month alone.

"I'd seen and done a lot," Barth said.

But the homicide scene Barth was called out to on April 7, 1979, was different. Among the victims of the bloody gunfight on Interstate 57 south of Paxton were two police officers.

Initially, Barth didn't realize the scope of what she would encounter at the 259 mile marker on I-57 that Saturday night. All she knew, based on what a District 6 dispatcher had told her, was that there was an "officer-involved shooting."

Barth received a page from the District 6 dispatch center around 9:30 p.m. while she was having dinner in Bloomington, and it took her about an hour of driving before she arrived at what clearly was one of the most horrific homicide scenes she'd seen at that point in her young career.

"When I was a few miles out, I could see the squad lights, and I knew I had something more than just an officer-involved shooting. I could just see lights — red lights, white lights — as far as you could see," recalled Barth, who writes about the investigation in her recently released book, "CSI Old School: Reconstructing Nightmares."

Driving an unmarked squad car, Barth was directed to the scene by her state police colleagues, who had already closed off the southbound lanes of I-57 and were busy rerouting traffic. Barth got out of her car and saw two dead bodies on the pavement. Others had already been removed.

At that point, Barth and the other officers at the scene were unaware that a murder suspect was still on the run.

"We didn't know about Monroe (Lampkin) then," Barth said, noting that in a time before cell phones, the police responding to the scene had not been fully informed of what had just taken place.

No time to waste

Barth's attention, of course, was on processing the scene itself. It was the state police detectives' job to investigate the crime.

With the threat of storms coming, Barth had no time to waste.

"Big storms were predicted to hit the area, and I had almost a quarter-mile of scene (to process)," Barth said. "I had multiple (shell) casings; I had cars; I had bodies ... and I couldn't get any help. All of the crime-scene techs that could help me were busy.

"It was an outside scene, so it wasn't like we could just wait for morning. We knew we had storms coming in, so I had to get started."

The first thing Barth did was a walkthrough with her hands in her pockets — "just to get a general idea of what I'm facing, what happened, what does it look like happened, where do I start and where do I finish."

Barth then took triangulated measurements and photographs of the scene, breaking it up into 13 smaller crime scenes.

Barth started with a Ford Thunderbird that was parked just south of an overpass above the interstate. She would later find out that the Thunderbird was the car that Lampkin was riding in. It was being driven by Monroe's brother, Cleveland, who was pulled over for speeding, along with three other vehicles, by Trooper Michael McCarter.

Starting with the Thunderbird, Barth took measurements. She then worked her way to the north, moving on to McCarter's car. She then moved on to Paxton police Officer William Caisse's squad car, which was behind McCarter's, before moving on to a pickup truck that had been driven by another Lampkin brother, David.

Barth noticed there was a big gap between the truck and where Paxton police Officer Larry Hale's squad car was parked to the north. It later became known that Hale had parked behind three of the vehicles that had been pulled over — two of which had left the scene when shots started being fired.

The four Lampkin brothers, from Michigan, were headed to Mississippi for their grandmother's funeral. Police said they were part of an auto-parts theft ring based in Detroit, and it is believed the brothers feared police would find the weapons they had in their vehicles, so they fired on the officers.

Clyde and David Lampkin are believed to have been in the pickup truck behind Caisse's car, while Monroe and Cleveland were in the Thunderbird.

Blood stains

While doing her initial walkthrough, Barth had noticed some blood splatter that "didn't match what I was told had transpired."

"It just didn't make sense to me, so I knew it was something I had to explore but I wasn't sure," she said.

After she finished taking measurements and photos, Barth began checking out the blood droplets more closely.

"They started in the passenger compartment doorway of the Thunderbird, and they trickled into the grass there (to the west side of the interstate), and it looked like it went up the hill (to the overpass area)," Barth recalled. "So we started exploring that area to the west of the crime scene up the embankment, and that's when we found a hat with blood stains in it.

"And there was a fence that separated the highway section, or the embankment, from the farmland next to it. There was a fence that went up that entire embankment to the road. And right at that fence we found a bunch of casings with blood on it — a bunch of unused cartridges, live cartridges with blood on it. And we just followed those up to the top of the road, and then we found additional casings up there where it looked like somebody had dumped a cylinder of casings out."

Barth also discovered a watch with a bullet hole in it.

"It was at that moment that we knew we had one individual missing — at least one individual that we knew of was missing — and that he was probably wounded in his wrist and was armed, because we knew that we had ammo from a gun that we had not recovered. So it was at that point we knew we had somebody on the run."

That person was Monroe Lampkin.

"We immediately called in canines," Barth said, "and unfortunately the rains were coming fast. The canines did get a (scent) taking us south toward the creek area, and there we found a foot bridge that we think he crossed as there was some potential blood (found) there. But the downpours then started, and the canines lost the scent."

A wounded Lampkin was captured the following day walking on the outskirts of Paxton. He was suspected of shooting at officers from the overpass area. The gun he used was never recovered.

It was his brother, David, who police think fired the bullets that killed Caisse and McCarter, along with McCarter's brother-in-law, Donald Vice, who was riding along with McCarter.

David Lampkin also shot Hale in the chest and right leg. Hale, however, returned fire and killed him. Also killed in the shootout was Cleveland Lampkin, presumably by McCarter.

Clyde Lampkin was never implicated in the incident.

Testifying at trial

Monroe Lampkin was eventually charged with the murder of McCarter and McCarter's stepbrother. After two overturned convictions, Lampkin was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1991 — a sentence upheld by an appellate court in 1993. Now 82, he remains at Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet.

Barth testified and presented evidence at all three trials.

"It was virtually a 15-year process to get him put away forever," she said. "My testimony alone in each case was over eight-and-a-half hours each time. A lot of people think it's like on TV, where you read from reports, but you don't get to do that in court; you have to remember stuff; you have to testify from your memory."

With the victims being fellow police officers, Barth said the case became personal to her.

"You don't ever want it to be personal — you really don't — but at some point it becomes that," she said.

Will Brumleve is editor of the Ford County Record, a News-Gazette Media community newspaper. For more, visit fordcountyrecord.com.

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