October 29, 2004 by

Betty Jane Spencer


Categories: Heroes

Betty Jane Spencer, the lone survivor of the 1977 Hollandsburg murders, died on Oct. 26 of chronic lung disease. She was 71.

On Feb. 14, 1977, four men carrying shotguns entered her home in Hollandsburg, Ind., about 50 miles west of Indianapolis. The robbers pocketed a few items and $40 in cash, then ordered her and her four children to lie face-down on the living room floor.

That’s when the shooting started.

Spencer’s son Gregory Brooks, 22, and her stepsons Raymond Spencer, 17, Reeve Spencer, 16, and Ralph Spencer, 14, were executed. Betty was also shot in the back, but she survived the wound and pretended to play dead. Determined to leave no witnesses behind, one of the robbers kicked her and shot her a second time. That bullet grazed her shoulder and skull, and blew her wig off. Assuming she was dead, the gunmen left.

The telephone lines were cut so Spencer trudged through the snow and called the police from a friend’s house. Authorities eventually apprehended Roger Drollinger, 24, Daniel Stonebraker, 20, David W. Smith, 17, and Michael Wayne Wright, 21, and charged them with the slayings. Spencer’s testimony helped convict all four men of murder; they were later sentenced to life in prison. The notorious crime was chronicled in the 2004 book “Choking in Fear” by Mike McCarty.

The experience of surviving an armed robbery and losing her boys left an indelible mark on Spencer, one that inspired her to become a champion of victim’s rights. Over the next three decades, she helped change 56 Indiana laws and founded the Parke County Victims Advocate Foundation, an organization that provides crisis counseling to crime victims and keeps them notified of court dates. Spencer also joined the National Organization for Victim Assistance, the Protect the Innocent Foundation and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan honored her efforts at a White House ceremony.

Spencer’s resolve to keep her sons’ murderers in jail never wavered. Each time the men applied for clemency, she would appear at the hearing and testify against them. Last week, Spencer videotaped her plea to the parole board for use in future hearings.

“It is her dying wish that none of the four men ever get out of jail,” said her friend Kenneth Coleman. He plans to take up Spencer’s fight and argue against parole for the Hollandsburg killers for as long as he lives.

20 Responses to Betty Jane Spencer

  1. John Bardos

    I did not know Betty jane, but just the thought of living through such a traumatic experience is indeed a miscarriage of the meaning of life.

  2. Doris Tropf

    I knew Betty Jane when she was the Administator for Mothers Against Drunk Driving for the state of Florida. She was a wonderful lady. My heart breaks at the great loss her death brings to everyone who had the honor to know and love this wonderful, strong woman as our family did. Good bye Betty , may you know peace.
    Your friend in MADD Doris

  3. Tony & Kristine Irelan

    Our Hearts And our sorrows go out to those boys and there mother who were tragic stricken on that day in 1977. Although neither of us new them nore were we alive we still as kids growing up in Greene township Indiana Heard of This horrible tale and living very close by we feel it is part of us (Community and Freinds and Family). Also my Aunt and Uncle Have Bought and Rebuilt There home and live happily still in it in Green Township. God Bless and God Speed!

  4. Sherry Lasser

    Betty was my hero. In 1984 I was a victim of a violent crime. She helped me survive. She was at the hospital when I got out of the emergency room. I don’t know what I would have done without her through the years. I am going to miss her. I love you Betty. I know you now have happiness, your with your boys.
    Your friend always,

  5. David L. Blue ISP (ret)

    I never had the privledge of really getting to know Betty except through the investigation of the crime against Betty’s family and herself. I do know, however, that Betty helped at lot of good people recover from the tragic ordeals that affected their lives.

  6. Mark O'Leary

    I am a distant relative of(and about the same age as) the victims of this crime. I heard about it many years ago but could discover very little information because I live in New England, where the case did not receive much coverage. I am proud to be related–however distantly– to this brave woman. I plan to learn more about the case and tell my family about it.

  7. Teresa Eversole

    God bless Mrs. Spencer and her boys. They are all together in glory now. I was just out of high school when this happened. It was and is heartbreaking that anyone can be so cold blooded as the people who killed her sons. Wish I had known her, she sounds like a heck of a lady. God Bless you, Kenneth Coleman, for speaking for Mrs. Spencer now that she can no longer speak out against the horrible men who committed such a heinous crime against her and her family. May her soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.

  8. Tonya Shelp

    I met Mrs. Spencer on Christmas Eve 2003. I felt the urge to take her a Christmas card out to her apartment. I walked up to her door and she let me in. I talked to her for about thirty minutes and I told her about some of my troubles that I had been through in my life, (which doesn’t even come close to hers) and she comforted me! She was such a strong person. I loved her to death and we kept in touch up until she died. She called me a week before she died from the rest home that she was in. I was just glad that I got to meet her and hug her. Everytime I think that my life couldn’t get any worse, I think of Betty’s and how she survived. I loved her and I will miss her so much.

  9. Katie Chapman

    Betty Jane was my grandmother. I loved her very much. I remember when she showed me the scars on her back and what it meant to be strong. I learned so much from her. On my last visit to my grandma in the rest home, I promised her that I would help Kenny keep those men in jail for the rest of their lives. I also promised to carry on where she left off. If anyone has any infomation about her work or the contacts she made, I would be very appreciative. I regret not having asked her more about these things before she passed on.

  10. Lisa Hunt

    I never knew the Spencer family, but I remember how awful my sister and I felt at the time of the shootings. We were both young and stupid, with her driving our fathers car, we came to Crawfordsville searching for the murderer’s thank God we never found them. I am thankful for the MADD and Mrs. spencer.

  11. Lisa McCollum

    I never met Betty Jane Spencer, but I know David Smith. I would like to clarify something…..David is a good man then made a very big mistake 29 years ago. I’m not the same person I was 29 years ago. I’m very sorry for the families pain.

  12. Linda

    I grew up in Parke County, and my parents knew Betty Jane. Later, she and my sister became good friends. She must be the strongest person I have ever known of.
    At the time of the murders, I had a small child. I remember reading her testimony with such horror that I had nightmares and tears.To this day I don’t know how she kept her sanity.
    I just learned this weekend that she is buried in front of her sons, and within feet of her friend, my sister. God has a way of doing little things to bring us comfort.
    God bless her dear soul. Rest in peace and joy with your children, Betty.

  13. Melissa

    It’s August 5th 2007.I was laying in bed unable to sleep and full of memories of a special woman who was there for me during the most terrifying and vulnerable time in my life.I was 17 and felt very alone.Very scared.This rock of a woman gave me a vision of a future I could hardly imagine.Twenty years,one amazing marriage and six children later I ran a search and see,to my deep regret,that I will never be able to thank in this earth the one who gave so much for me.She held me when I cried.She challenged me to heal.It’s our turn now.Thank you Betty Jane.Sleep well

  14. carolyn

    I am from Crawfordsville and have seen Betty Jane but regretably did’nt get to talk to her.How well I remember the horror of what happened to her family.WE all lived in fear until those responsible were arrested.I to this day lay awake at night and think of the horror that family went through.I get sick of people saying what good men the killers are now.Good for them,but unfortunately that cant change the past and bring those precious boys back to life or erase the terror a community felt.When David Smiths mother died he wanted to be at her side.Unfortunately,her sons did’nt have that opportunity.Rest in peace,Betty Jane Spencer.

  15. greg a. perrin

    i remember when this happened as i was 14 yrs old and living in indianapolis. roger drollinger is nothing more and never has been but a scumbag who should be eliminated from society completely.

  16. Beverly Steinberg

    I was honored to know and work with this incredible woman when she was MADD FL Administrator. I learned so much from her and value to this day all that she taught me. She was the strongest woman I have ever known and she was so loving. I miss her so much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *