A 17-year-old Indiana boy was charged Monday over the grisly murders of a young couple in what authorities say may have been a drug deal gone wrong.
Police said Connor Kerner shot and killed Thomas Grill Jr., 18, and Molley Lanham, 19, in his grandparents’ garage in Hebron in Boone Township. He then placed their bodies in their car, drove the vehicle to an empty field, and set it alight, according to an affidavit for probable cause provided to BuzzFeed News.
Porter County Sheriff David Reynolds described the deaths as “heinous” and a “tragedy,” adding that Kerner is being charged as an adult.
An attorney representing Kerner didn’t respond to a message seeking comment on Tuesday.
Police had been conducting a missing persons investigation into the pair, who were last seen alive Feb. 25, until two anonymous witnesses came forward to detectives at the Cedar Lake Police Department on Friday with a tip that Kerner had killed the couple.
Detectives subsequently identified one of the anonymous witnesses, who agreed to speak to investigators as a confidential informant. The witness told sheriff’s deputies that they were at Kerner’s home in Valparaiso in the state’s north on the evening of Feb. 25 and noticed the teen was “visibly upset.”
When the informant asked the suspect what was wrong, he allegedly replied, “I killed someone and I killed an innocent girl,” and named the victims. But the informant told detectives that they believed Kerner was joking, so they moved the conversation on to other topics.
It wasn’t until that night that the informant spotted a missing persons report for the pair. When they texted it to Kerner, he allegedly replied, “Jesus.”
On Thursday, Kerner allegedly shared details of the deaths with the informant, but threatened to murder them and their family if they told anyone.
The witness told investigators that Kerner said he had killed the pair after they came to buy drugs from his grandparents’ home while they were out of town. He said Grill had tried to rob him, leading him to open fire on the 18-year-old. “Grill fell to the ground and was begging for his life,” the probable cause affidavit reads. “Kerner advised that he panicked due to being out of bullets in the gun. Kerner then beat him with a pipe wrench until he died.”
Kerner was then alleged to have asked Lanham to come in from the car to see her boyfriend’s body. “[He] informed her that he was going to let her go, but if she told, he would kill her. Kerner advised that when she turned to leave the garage, Kerner shot her in the head, killing her.”
He then allegedly loaded the pair’s bodies into the trunk of their car, drove it two miles away to a wooded area, and set it on fire.
The informant said Kerner told them “he had done this before and knew how to cover up a murder and get away with it.”
On Saturday, authorities discovered the vehicle containing “two heavily burnt bodies, skull fractures to one and apparent gunshot wound to the head of the other.” Investigators believe the bodies belong to Grill and Lanham, although authorities are awaiting formal DNA tests.
In an interview with detectives Saturday, Kerner’s grandfather, Gerald Dye, said he had given the teen and his mother a key to their home so family members could feed their dog while they were out of town. Dye initially told investigators nothing was out of place, missing, or damaged in their home when they returned from their trip, including his three firearms.
But just 20 minutes later, Dye recanted his statement and admitted lying to investigators, according to the affidavit. He said that upon his return he had noticed a poorly patched hole in his garage that possibly came from a bullet, which he subsequently fixed further. He also said he’d noticed the garage floor had been cleaned, as well as possible bullet damage to his vehicles. Additionally, a 9 mm firearm that he’d left on a cooler in the garage was missing, along with two magazines and cleaning supplies for the weapon.
Dye told detectives he had called his grandson, who admitted to taking the missing weapon. He said Kerner told him he had wanted to go target shooting, but had mishandled the weapon and accidentally discharged it in the garage.
“Gerald [Dye] advised that he lied initially because he was scared when we told him what we were investigating,” detectives wrote in the affidavit. “He advised he was broken hearted. He then realized that he had to tell police what he knew.”
Both Grill and Lanham were 2018 graduates of Hanover Central High School, according to Superintendent Mary Tracy-MacAulay.
Grill’s friend Alex Bautista told CBS Chicago the teen had become mixed up with a bad crowd of people. “He meets a lot of different people,” Bautista said. “Tom’s just, like, all over the place. Nobody ever really knows where he is. That’s why nobody knew where him and Molley went.”
In a statement posted on Facebook on behalf of the family, Lanham’s sister, Lauren, said she will be “deeply missed by everyone that knew her.”
“Molley was so unapologetically herself. She was spunky, fashionable, and unique in every way imaginable,” Lauren wrote. “Molley will be remembered for her love and kindness for all, especially animals.
“Hug your kids, tell them you love them, and always cherish every moment you have with them.”