YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Bizarre Baby-Snatching, Dual Murder Leave Rural Area Abuzz

February 07, 1988|TOM TROY | United Press International

HAZLETTVILLE, Del. — The biggest problem is that police just don't know how it happened. They don't know how the Lynches knew the Gibsons, or how they knew Beverly had given birth just a few days before.

They don't know if the Lynches entered the Gibsons' mobile home as guests or as intruders. They are not sure what happened once they were inside, or how the bodies ended up where they did.

They do not know whether they plotted to kill the young couple for months in advance or the shootings were a last-minute twist to a baby-snatching plan gone awry.

What the police do know is that on the morning before Christmas, 5-year-old Rebecca Gibson woke up and found her father face down in the hall. When she couldn't wake him and couldn't find her mother, she tried to make a call. She reached a wrong number, but the story she told the party on the other end was sufficiently frightening that the party immediately called police.

A Grisly Episode

What unfolded after that is one of the most bizarre and grisly episodes to befall this quiet, rural area in a long time:

Joseph Gibson Jr., 32, face down in the hall, gunshot to the side and another to the head. Beverly Gibson, 27, clad in a nightgown and slumped over in the car outside, gunshot to the back and another to the buttocks. Rebecca unhurt. Another child, John, 1, unhurt.

The infant, 9-day-old Matthew, was gone.

As news of the slayings spread shock and grief through this largely Amish farming community, 30 miles away in the village of Houston (pronounced House-ton), Richard Lynch was spreading the joyous news that his wife, Joyce, had given birth to a son.

A social column in the weekly newspaper announced the birth and congratulated the family. No one in Houston connected the two events.

It was not until state troopers and FBI investigators traced records of phone calls from Gibson's parents' home to the Lynches' brick house in Houston that the puzzle finally came together. At the Lynches' home they found Matthew alive and well.

'Easier Ways' Than Murder

Yet, as one official would sum it up later: "There are a lot of easier ways to get a baby than murdering the parents."

Before Matthew was found, there were wild rumors about sinister undercurrents to the case. Was there some kind of underworld vendetta against the Gibsons? Had Beverly Gibson been a surrogate mother and refused to surrender the child? Had Matthew been sold on the black market?

Kent County authorities, however, held to a simpler course.

"I didn't feel somebody had come from another state to do this," said Lt. Mark Bundek. "That (Gibson home) is a hard place to find. We felt that our best bet would be somebody who was in Delaware.

"I felt all along the child had been taken away safely, that it had probably been cared for, even though it was very bizarre to discover a crime where the child had been taken away with that much violence."

The people of Houston, in whose midst Joyce Lynch was celebrating having a child, had no such confidence about the tragic events over at Hazlettville (pronounced Hazelville).

'In Our Backyard'

"We figured the baby was dead or out of the country," said Mabel Moore, owner of the Houston Mini-Mart. "We never would have thought it was right here in our backyard."

Nevertheless, just seven days after New Year's, Joyce Lynch, 35, and Richard Lynch Jr., 26, were taken into custody and charged with first-degree murder.

Police concede that the strongest piece of evidence they have against the Lynches is that the child was found in their home. Important questions remain unanswered. What was the link was between the two couples, and just what happened in the Gibson home on the night of the killings?

Neighbors reported hearing gunshots and the sound of a car roaring away, but they didn't report it at the time.

Police had few clues at first. As the days turned into weeks, frustration mounted. A $20,000 reward yielded no new information, but investigators did have two leads to work on.

One was a vague report about a woman motorist stopping a pedestrian in Hazlettville to ask directions to the Gibson home several days before the killings.

Visitor Asked Directions

Police also knew that a woman who called herself "Dawn" and said she had befriended Beverly Gibson in the maternity ward had called the nearby home of Joseph Gibson Sr. several days before Christmas and obtained directions to the younger Gibson's trailer.

The arrests came rapidly after police obtained records from Diamond State Telephone Co. on Jan. 7.

That morning, investigators traced the call from "Dawn" back to the Lynch residence in Houston.

When they visited the home that afternoon, police said Joyce Lynch "cordially" invited them in. They saw baby toys scattered around.

"She told them about the child and said he had dark hair like her husband," one investigator said. She also said the child was delivered at home by a midwife on Dec. 23.

Los Angeles Times Articles