Episode 489: Rainbow Family Murders
In the summer of 1980, nineteen-year-old Nancy Santomero, and two friends, twenty-six-year-old Vicki Durian and nineteen-year-old Liz Johndrow, left Durian’s parents’ home in Iowa to hitchhike to West Virginia to attend a gathering of the Rainbow Family. Five days later, Santomero and Durian’s bodies were discovered in the woods in West Virginia, shot to death just hours before being found, and Johndrow was nowhere to be seen.
More than a decade after their bodies were discovered, police in West Virginia had identified several suspects and eventually charged thirty-four-year-old farmer Jacob Beard, who was convicted in 1993 and sentenced to life in prison. Upon appeal, however, it was revealed that the investigation into Beard was rife with dubious circumstantial evidence, police misconduct, and perjury, which led to a new trial and Beard was exonerated.
Thank you to the lovely Dave White for research assistance
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—. 1992. "Arrests in women's deaths 'witch hunt' attorney says." The Daily Progress , April 25: 7.
—. 2000. "Jury finds man innocent in Rainbow murder trial." The Roanoke Times, June 1: 21.
Behrens, David. 2000. "Too many years without answers." Newsday, February 16: B6.
Daily Press. 1980. "2 murdered women in 'Rainbow Family'." Daily Press, June 27: 44.
Danville Reigister and Bee. 1993. "Jury deliberating in slayings case." Danville Register and Bee, June 4: 10.
Darling, Lynn. 1980. The Rainbow People. July 7. Accessed August 7, 2023. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1980/07/07/the-rainbow-people/80aadbf3-ef61-4d43-9d62-766d4d01fc56/.
Horn, Dan. 1997. "Franklin's boasting may unlock convict." The Cincinnati Post, April 18.
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—. 1980. "Two women slain near 'Rainbow' camp remain unidentified." The Roanoke Times, July 10: B-8.
Possley, Maurice. 2012. Jacob Beard. July 30. Accessed August 8, 2023. https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/casedetail.aspx?caseid=3963.
State of West Virginia v. Jacob W. Beard. 1998. 24644 (Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, July 15).
State of West Virginia v. Jacob W. Beard. 1995. 22504 (Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, January).
The Gazette. 1983. "2 West Virginia men charged in death of Wellman woman." The Gazette, April 8: 14.
—. 1992. "4 charged in Wellman woman's 1980 slaying." The Gazette, April 17: 10.
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Wallace, Terry. 1992. "Seething hostility led to killing of hitchhikers." The Daily Progress, April 20: 1.
West Virginia Public Broadcasting. 2020. Two Women Murdered Traveling to Rainbow Gathering. June 25. Accessed August 8, 2023. https://wvpublic.org/june-25-1980-two-women-murdered-traveling-to-rainbow-gathering/.