Chesterton Tribune

Liberty Township men charged with robbery/murder of convenience store clerk

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A Portage woman is dead and two Liberty Township men were in custody today, charged in connection with a robbery-homicide on Friday at the Luke Oil convenience store and gas station at 3 E. U.S. Highway 6 in Liberty Township, the Porter County Sheriff’s Police said.

Police identified the victim as Barbra Heckman, 42, the duty clerk at Luke Oil. Charged with murder and robbery are Bruce Guess, 18, of 51 E. U.S. 6, and Steven Jorden, 19, of 1118 Winterpark Drive.

According to the probable cause affidavit filed by Det. Tim Manteuffel of the PCSP, on Friday, shortly before midnight, officers were dispatched to the Luke Oil in response to an activated business alarm. They arrived at 11:25 p.m. and subsequently discovered Heckman, deceased, lying face down in the men’s restroom of the business, with massive blunt trauma to the back of the head.

Investigators subsequently discovered a red shirt wrapped around a mini sledge hammer in the manager’s office, blood spatter at the entrance to the business and leading from the front door to the cashier’s counter, and an open safe, Manteuffel stated. Cigarette cartons had been pulled from shelves and the video surveillance system in the manager’s officer had been tampered with in an apparent attempt to recover images, he also stated.

Investigators later interviewed another employee of the Luke Oil, who advised that earlier in the evening Heckman had called to ask for a key to lock the store on closing. That employee arrived at 11:20 p.m. and observed a skinny white male subject exit the front door carrying a garbage bag, Manteuffel stated. The male subject, wearing dark clothes and a hoodie, was then seen walking to a dark-colored minivan parked near the dumpsters on the north side of the building.

At that point the employee, accompanied by her husband, indicated to him that she could not find Heckman and believed that the business had been robbed. The employee’s husband then drove his own vehicle around the store to the minivan, which was unoccupied but filled with several more garbage bags, where he was approached by a heavyset white male subject whom he knows as Steve, who asked what was happening, Manteuffel stated. The employee’s husband told him that the business had been robbed. He then rejoined his wife inside the business, finally found Heckman in the men’s restroom, and on going outside again found that Steve and the minivan were missing.

Investigators later identified Steve as Steve Jorden and went to his residence at 1117 Winter Park Drive, Manteuffel stated. There, a woman who identified herself as Jorden’s girlfriend advised that she had information on the robbery and permitted a search of her own residence at 1118 Winter Park Drive, where a dark-colored minivan was parked. Recovered from beneath the mobile home were a knife, black garbage bags containing cigarette cartons, and coin rolls, while what appeared to be blood was observed on the door of the trailer, Manteuffel also stated.

In a further interview, the woman advised that at 9:30 p.m. on Friday Jorden had asked to borrow her minivan to see someone. While getting dressed to leave, she advised, Jorden was accompanied by Bruce Guess, whom she described as skinny. They left the residence and Jorden returned at 11:30 p.m. “pale, sweating, and out of breath” and mumbling “something about being caught and the law being after him,” she advised. Jorden then apologized to her and left.

Jorden and Guess were both located on Saturday morning and taken into custody, Manteuffel stated, and both advised that they had lured Heckman into the men’s restroom, where Guess struck her in the head three times with the sledge hammer.

Formal charges of murder and robbery were filed before Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford and an initial hearing on video has been scheduled for Tuesday. Jorden and Guess are being held at the Porter County Jail without bond.

Porter County Prosecuting Attorney Brian Gensel told the Tribune today that technically, under Indiana Code, a homicide committed in the course of a robbery is subject to a charge of capital murder. But Gensel said that no determination has yet been made as to whether to file such a charge against Guess and Jordan.

Lt. Chris Eckert, public information officer for the PCSP said that investigation--which he described in its initial hours as intensive and fast-moving--is ongoing. Porter County Coroner Vicki Deppe said that the autopsy was to be performed by Dr. Joseph Prahlow at the St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in South Bend.

The Luke Oil, located at the northeast intersection of Meridian Road and U.S. 6, is just across the street and kiddy-corner from the site of the former One Stop Food Mart where, on Aug. 10, 1999, Chesterton High School graduate Kathryn Pokorny, 18, was shot and killed in the course of a robbery while she was working the night shift as duty clerk. In November 1999 Reggion Deon Slater, 29 at the time, was charged with her murder, criminal deviate conduct, and robbery. Two years later he pleaded guilty to all charges in exchange for the state’s withdrawing its request for the death penalty. Slater was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Several years later the One Stop Food Mart was demolished and the site remains vacant.


Posted 12/22/2008