The moon, just out, hung over the Ozarks like a pale opal. Soon families would be saying grace over Sunday dinner; children would be clamoring to turn on the Christmas lights. It was time to go home.
But in the darkening woods, four teen-agers lingered, enjoying the rush they always felt when they killed something. A kitten lay crumpled nearby. Sharing some unspoken secret, the boys exchanged furtive glances in the fading light. They were growing edgy. Suddenly, Jim Hardy heard a voice give the command:
"Do it now!"
Jim felt his baseball bat smash into Steven Newberry's face and saw Steve's eyes widen in terror as he cried out, staggered, then turned to run. The others gave chase, sneakers scrabbling madly through the loose gravel and dead leaves. Steve was big and slow. He wheeled around to face his friends as they closed in.
"Why me, you guys?" he begged. "Why me?"
Backing away, Steve tripped. As he fell, he heard a familiar laugh and the answer to his question--a reply bewitchingly soft in the December dusk.
"Because it's fun, Steve."
Knowing, as they do now, how brutal and how pointless the murder of Steven Newberry was, the people in this remote speck of southwestern Missouri are filled with grief. There is guilt as well, because it is also clear that his death really was foreseeable.
It took the police, after all, less than a day to follow the whispers and warnings that led to Jim Hardy, Pete Roland and Ron Clements, who admitted almost matter-of-factly that they had clubbed Steve to death with baseball bats, tied a 200-pound boulder to his body and dumped him into a well.
They did it, they said, partly out of curiosity: They simply wondered what it would feel like to kill someone. But they also did it out of devotion, for Steven Newberry was dying proof, that winter's eve, of his young friends' faith in Satan.
He was a human sacrifice.
Harder to explain is why no one stepped in to save him.
Aftermath of Guilt
"Everybody is guilty. Everybody is hurt. Everybody feels responsible," Penny Baert said a few days before her son, Pete Roland, began serving time for first-degree murder. "You feel like there's just some small thing you should have done that would have changed everything, and you don't know what it is."
Even now, the people of Jasper County wonder how this Bible Belt hamlet became the moral battleground of a deeply disturbed adolescent subculture--noticed but never really challenged--that still survives.
They blame the heavy drug use, the violent music, the forbidden books, the gory movies. And they blame themselves--all the friends, families, teachers, counselors, police, ministers, neighbors and classmates who unwittingly watched three 17-year-olds slip over the edge.
The clues had been mounting for years, telltale signs big and small that stacked up like building blocks. Interviews, police records, public and confidential documents, trial testimony and confessions tell the story.
Many trace the trouble to the day, five years ago, when James Hardy moved his family from Joplin to neighboring Carl Junction, a sleepy suburb whose rambling farms, blue-collar tracts and country club estates brush up against the Kansas border. Hardy was a certified public accountant. He and his wife, Nancy, had three boys and two girls. Their new split-level was surrounded by piney woods and verdant fields. It was a fine place to raise a family.
Start of Rebellion
Jimmy, the second oldest, had been an altar boy and honor student before his grades and behavior took a sudden tumble when he was 11. The nuns at his parish school suggested professional help, and Jim had sulked through a few sessions at the Ozark Mental Health Center in Joplin before his exasperated parents gave up.
Nancy and James Hardy had been going through a separation, and assumed the family turmoil had triggered Jim's outbursts. It was the perfect excuse, and no one guessed the truth.
Jim Hardy was a drug abuser and a sadist. He had been popping pills since the sixth grade. He had been mutilating animals for even longer. These secrets both thrilled and tormented him.
At 13, Jim began getting careless about hiding both his drug habit and his violence. When James Hardy confronted his son about his marijuana use, Jim smashed a baseball bat into his bedroom door with such force that chunks of wood flew into the hall and hit his retreating father.
Outbursts of Temper
The tension between them peaked one day when James Hardy, puttering in the garage, griped about his son's misplacing a tool. Jim stormed cursing into the side yard, where he grabbed a heavy log from the wood pile. He turned to his father.
"I'm going to kill you!" he screamed. He heaved the log against the side of the house and picked up another as his father walked away. This one shattered the sliding glass door.
Remembering this rage brings tears to Jim's eyes now, tears he does not shed when he talks about what he did to Steve Newberry.
Steve was one of the first to befriend Jim when he entered Carl Junction Junior High, but it was Ron Clements who quickly became the closest ally of the weird new kid with the spiked blond hair. Ron's mother was a waitress, and his father was a drifting drug addict who held 30 jobs in four years. Despite their disparate backgrounds, Ron Clements and Jim Hardy forged a blood-brother friendship. Heavy metal music, drug use--and, eventually, Satan--became their common bonds.
Each blames the other for instigating what became an obsession with the occult. It was all talk at first. Then they began poring over library books on witchcraft and satanism. They repeated chants in vain attempts to summon a demon. They drew pentagrams and other symbols, first on notebook paper, later on buildings. They mimicked the "horned hand" greeting their favorite metal stars flashed at concerts, with the pinky and index finger extended and the thumb clasped over the other two fingers.
Sermonizing for Satan
When the bus driver caught Jim preaching satanism to younger children, the school sent a note home, which came back with Nancy Hardy's signature. It didn't change a thing.
"I would kind of just pray to God and Satan at the same time to see who was more powerful, and little by little, I fell out of God and started falling into Satan," Jim Hardy recalled. "You can't just dabble. It sucks you in real quick."
In response, Jim thought, Satan gave him more of what he wanted most: Drugs and friends.
Ron was praying, too, splaying himself in an upside-down cross on his bed. Believing in Satan could give you so much power, Ron would say, that you could kill someone "with the blink of an eye."
He and Jim agreed that Satan ruled the world.
As sophomores, they grew cockier about their new-found religion. Each pierced an ear and wore an inverted cross. Jim's, entwined with a serpent, dangled nearly to his shoulder. Ron's was almost hidden by his long, matted hair.
By now, Jim and Ron were mainstays of the "stoner" crowd--the kids who followed the railroad tracks behind Carl Junction High to the woods, where they could sneak a few joints. In class, they were the zombies or the smart alecks. They often spent Saturday morning in detention and Saturday night partying in public parks.
Heavy Metal and Murder
Their favorite bands were the quasi-underground heavy metal groups with names like Megadeth and Slayer. The songs glorified a brand of rebellion that tore at the very soul of church-going communities like Carl Junction. The lyrics tell of seances and Black Masses, of torture and destruction, of Satan--and of sacrifice.
Jim and Ron talked about the macabre constantly, and classmates either laughed or walked away in disgust when those two started in. Murder intrigued them, and it was almost a competition to see who could come up with the most sadistic fantasy.
"Satan is my lord," Jim would proclaim.
In truth, Ron was starting to get scared.
Late that autumn of his 15th year, Ron came to believe that demons were trying to possess him. He was drifting off to sleep one night when his head began to throb, the pain pounding against his eyes like a jackhammer.
"I felt like there was someone else inside my head . . . but I couldn't understand what they were saying," he told close friends and, later, psychiatrists.
He was dropping out of the satanism thing. Jim was sympathetic. He thought he had been possessed himself half a dozen times.
Doodles of the Devil
But Ron's declaration had little effect on his life style. He still liked to party and thrash his head to the music. In detention hall, he filled a school work sheet with satanic pentagrams--five-pointed stars that stand on one point instead of two.
It didn't take Ron long to discover a replacement of sorts for Satan. He had rented the movie "A Clockwork Orange" in the fall of his junior year, then borrowed the Anthony Burgess novel from a friend who never saw it again. The story of teen-age sociopaths in a futuristic London excited Ron. He read it over and over, and turned in a book report about getting lost in a novel and becoming a player. Before long, Ron was effecting the Cockney accent and peculiar vocabulary of the novel's anti-hero, a 15-year-old named Alex.
"Alex is my new name and Ron is my forsaken name," Ron declared in the secret journal he was keeping. All entries thereafter were signed "Alex." In a careful, effeminate hand, "Alex" filled the snowy pages with some of the most savage lyrics of the heavy metal movement.
Now Ron claimed he could make out the words of the strange voice inside his head. "Watch out," it urged. "Kill someone." He wondered if it was Alex, and consulted a psychology text for symptoms of insanity.
Sent to the Office
To school officials Ron was a hostile, lazy underachiever who clearly had some psychological problems. Teachers sent him to the office on a regular basis.
Raymond Dykens, the principal at Carl Junction High, wondered why the boy didn't just drop out. Trying to discipline the stoners was an exercise in futility. When Jim Hardy was suspended indefinitely for smoking, leaving campus and other infractions, his mother read Ray Dykens the riot act and Jim was back in school the next day.
Denial was a standard parental reaction, Dykens found. "If you say you suspect a kid's on drugs, some parents threaten to sue you. When we sponsor an alcohol-free senior party at the end of the year, a week later some parent is sponsoring a keg party."
Diana Clements didn't deny that her son, Ron, had serious problems, but the professionals to whom she turned for help apparently did.
In April, 1987, Diana and Ron Clements went to the Ozark Mental Health Center for family counseling. Without testing him, the center told the dubious mother it wouldn't be necessary to admit Ron to the drug and alcohol rehabilitation unit, though Ron himself told counselor Randy Grauens in his first session that he wanted to get sober. Grauens doubted Ron's sincerity.
Confided Evil Fantasies
That first meeting, Ron also confided to Grauens--who was not a licensed psychologist in Missouri--that he was consumed by morbid thoughts and fantasies, such as kicking or beating people. Grauens would say in a pretrial deposition that he did not consider this "atypical with fantasy work in adolescents."
Ozark's initial interview also recorded Ron's fear that he had been demonically possessed, as well as his interest in Satan worship and the occult. This revelation was never explored further.
When Ron went to spend that summer with his father in Arizona, Diana Clements went snooping in her son's bizarre room. Ghastly heavy metal posters were plastered across every spare inch of wall space. Black cloth covered the windows. A stuffed wolf's head hung from the ceiling.
Diana came across Ron's journal. The graphic descriptions of violence and sexual fantasies were so alarming that she asked a friend at the Carl Junction Police Department what to do. The officer told her Ron needed help.
She took the journal back to the Ozark Center. Randy Grauens didn't find the vulgar entries out of character for a heavy metal fan. The counselors reassured Diana that Ron was just going through a normal adolescent phase. She should be glad he could get his aggressions out on paper. And she should stay out of his room. Privacy is very important to teen-agers.
The kids called their music "thrash"--speed metal so loud, so fast and so dissonant that it often takes 30 or 40 playings just to make out any of the lyrics. Parents would buy their children headphones to escape the din. Ron Clements and Jim Hardy listened for hours at a time and learned the words by heart.
The repulsive songs fed a raw, unspeakable hunger that had gnawed at Jim since he was small.
"I was fascinated by death," he recalled. "I always had this obsession with killing things. I don't know, really, what it was. Like, when I started out as a little kid, I couldn't just shoot a bird and watch it die. I had to tear it up.
"I just thought it was neat. I just wanted to see the death. I was infatuated by the death."
As a little boy, Jim loved to explore the woods behind his house. It was his own special world, a hiding place where he could satisfy his urge to kill.
But as Jim grew more popular, death was no longer a secret indulgence. One new friend in particular, Pete Roland, shared his compulsion. Pete's lawyers later would blame this in part on abuse during childhood. Pete was a strapping athlete whose wavy black hair and pale blue eyes earned him first place in the school's Most Photogenic contest, but his milk-fed good looks belied the cruelty within him.
The buddies with whom Jim and Pete got high would join the slaughter now and then, or just watch, and those who didn't were certain to hear about it at school, anyway.
Entertainment at Lunch
"Jim would pull a little group around him at lunch and entertain them, and they loved listening to him," said Ray Dykens. The principal regularly took his turn as cafeteria monitor, but apparently never heard just what was so enthralling at Jim Hardy's table.
Over sack lunches and cafeteria trays, half a dozen or so regulars would listen to Jim talk about torture, apparently never guessing that a few of the animals killed were their own missing pets.
Friends remember sitting in Jim's bedroom and laughing as they watched him drive screws through a Barbie doll's head, then burn the plastic face and wish out loud that it was human.
Jim's languorous drawl would leap an octave as he fantasized aloud. Pete, Ron and a few others would add their ugliest thoughts. What would happen if you poured gasoline over an old lady and set her on fire? they speculated.
"People would just trip on it," Jim said. "They thought I was joking, but in my mind, that was exactly what I wanted to do."
Sensed 'Evil Force'
"Maybe it was all the drugs and the suggestive music while I was on drugs. Maybe they planted something in my head, but it was also the evil force growing inside me.
"There was something definitely inside me."
Something was changing in Pete, too, and Penny Baert was worried. Her son now emulated Jim's and Ron's disheveled, heavy metal look. He insisted the gory images and satanic symbols on his T-shirts didn't mean a thing.
In his room, Penny came across crude weapons--broken glass, a stick with nails poking out. The posters on Pete's wall were hideous, like the album covers in his record collection. One showed a singer drinking blood from a human skull.
When she found a satanic bible in Pete's room, Pete quickly explained that it belonged to someone else. After that, it disappeared.
Orgies of Torture
The summer before their senior year, while Ron was away in Arizona, Jim and Pete grew closer. Joined occasionally by other boys in the party crowd--among them Steven Newberry--they tortured animals to death so many times they lost count. Sometimes there were three or four in a day. Occasionally, people might come across the pathetic carcasses, but they never reported it until the murder stirred up all that talk about satanism in Jasper County.
Pete and Jim even made up a ditty about their hobby, and each particularly savage episode would merit a new verse. "Sacrifice those babies to Satan. . . ," the chorus went. The inspiration had hit Jim and Pete one day after they burned a fluffy little dog alive inside an abandoned dryer they had stuffed with weeds and sprinkled with paint thinner.
"That dog was running around inside and it's the first time I ever heard a dog scream," Jim said. "It sounded just like a human screaming."
"We just started laughing," he added "That was like a game to us. See how long we could make them live . . . So we just stabbed it a few times and chucked it off into the weeds."
Denies Sacrifice Motive
Although he considered himself a devout disciple of Satan at the time, Jim denies the animals were ritualistic sacrifices.
And, while friends agreed that Pete seemed to be satisfying a lust for violence more than a debt to the devil, Pete would tell psychiatrists a different story before he came to trial.
Then, Pete reported that he, too, had heard voices inside his head instructing him to do evil, and that he would return to the woods and old mines where he and Jim butchered the animals to worship the decomposing remains. In exchange for a human sacrifice, Pete believed, Satan would appear and reward him with supernatural powers.
Dr. William Logan, the Menninger Foundation director of law and psychiatry hired as an expert witness for Pete's defense, diagnosed Pete as having a psychotic disorder induced by drugs, heavy metal music and Jim Hardy. His conclusions would fail to sway the jury.
Jim Hardy came up with a different diagnosis. "It's like, I guess . . . something inside me slipped out and grabbed onto Pete."
Satan Got the Credit
In fact, Jim's charisma had made him the big man on campus, and he attributed his new-found popularity to Satan "because I was growing in him."
It wasn't that Jim fit in so well, but that he stood out so much. His bleached hair grazed his shoulders and he wore shredded heavy metal T-shirts.
Jim, Ron and Pete liked to wear their freakiest clothes and toughest expressions at Joplin's indoor mall, where they would shout "Satan loves you!" to startled shoppers.
But Jim's most remarkable trait was his warped imagination and the guileless way he continued spouting ideas that became sicker and sicker. He thought he could "draw evil in" from the seemingly innocent world around him.
When student council elections came up, the stoners had a brainstorm. They would make crazy old Jim Hardy the most powerful kid on campus. What a joke! Jim laughed along at first, but being president of the 600-member student body held an appeal for someone who had worked so hard to escape being a nobody. Jim announced his candidacy.
"Everybody knew Jim was a rebel," recalled one popular girl in the junior class who supported him. "Everybody thought it'd be cool. The teachers would just freak."
Elected by a Landslide
His landslide victory still amazes Jim. "They just thought I had a demented mind, but they didn't care. They liked me no matter what."
Nancy Hardy was probably the only person who took Jim's campaign seriously. She regarded it as a sign that Jimmy was straightening up at last. Relations with his father were improving, and so were Jim's grades. He started talking about college and even curbed his drug use, making an effort not to come to school high anymore. After school, though, it was the same old story.
When the student council candidates gave their speeches, Nancy Hardy took time off from work to go. She was the only parent at the student assembly. Jim promised more pep rallies and dances.
The principal watched the charade with a mixture of resignation and bemusement. Ray Dykens regarded it as a well-orchestrated show of teen-age rebellion but hoped that, in the end, it might teach the kids a thing or two about responsibility. He considered Jim Hardy a con artist and a professional liar. Let them elect him, he figured, and live with the consequences.
He never guessed that one of the consequences would be engraving Steven Newberry's name on the plaque out front, the bronze Bulldog memorial to students who died before graduation day.
Classmates remember Jim signing their yearbooks, "In Satan's name we pray."
When their senior year began in 1987, the scene at the lunch table was much the same, but human beings began to figure more often in the gruesome "what if" conversations. Many heard the new student council president declare that his life would not be complete until he had killed someone.
The ultimate goal, Jim boasted, was human sacrifice.
Once he even blurted it out right in front of Pete's mom, saying he wondered what it would be like to kill someone.
Penny Baert thought Jim was just a scrawny kid acting tough. She shook her head. "I know you're not that bad, Jim," she said. He just grinned.
Teachers, if they happened to overhear him, had the same response. Just crazy old Jim at it again.
Fears of Insanity
Jim was starting to wonder if he really was crazy. He was asking Satan for more power, and began hearing what he would later describe as a voice inside his head. It told him that he had to prove himself.
One night, Jim became convinced that Satan was wrenching his soul from his body. He was so frightened that he climbed into bed with his dismayed parents. He was 17. "Just watch me during the night while I sleep," he asked, "and wake me up if it looks like I'm having any trouble."
Although his parents were puzzled, Jim made no secret of "the voice" at school. He told classmates who teased him about his "invisible friend" that it was no figment of his imagination. The friend, unbidden, would appear and make him do things, Jim said.
When one girl asked Jim if it was true that he sacrificed cats, he said yes, that he liked to taste the blood because it was sweet. What about dogs, she asked. Their blood was just as good. What about humans?
"Haven't got to them yet," Jim replied.
Jim now denies he ever drank blood and complains that many classmates gave false statements against him.
"They wanted in on the action, I guess," he says.