CARL JUNCTION, Mo. — The moon, just out, hung over the Ozarks like a pale opal. Soon families would be saying grace over Sunday dinner; children would be clamoring to turn on the Christmas lights. It was time to go home.
But in the darkening woods, four teen-agers lingered, enjoying the rush they always felt when they killed something. A kitten lay crumpled nearby. Sharing some unspoken secret, the boys exchanged furtive glances in the fading light. They were growing edgy. Suddenly, Jim Hardy heard a voice give the command:
"Do it now!"
Jim felt his baseball bat smash into Steven Newberry's face and saw Steve's eyes widen in terror as he cried out, staggered, then turned to run. The others gave chase, sneakers scrabbling madly through the loose gravel and dead leaves. Steve was big and slow. He wheeled around to face his friends as they closed in.
"Why me, you guys?" he begged. "Why me?"
Backing away, Steve tripped. As he fell, he heard a familiar laugh and the answer to his question--a reply bewitchingly soft in the December dusk.
"Because it's fun, Steve."
Knowing, as they do now, how brutal and how pointless the murder of Steven Newberry was, the people in this remote speck of southwestern Missouri are filled with grief. There is guilt as well, because it is also clear that his death really was foreseeable.
It took the police, after all, less than a day to follow the whispers and warnings that led to Jim Hardy, Pete Roland and Ron Clements, who admitted almost matter-of-factly that they had clubbed Steve to death with baseball bats, tied a 200-pound boulder to his body and dumped him into a well.
They did it, they said, partly out of curiosity: They simply wondered what it would feel like to kill someone. But they also did it out of devotion, for Steven Newberry was dying proof, that winter's eve, of his young friends' faith in Satan.
He was a human sacrifice.
Harder to explain is why no one stepped in to save him.
Aftermath of Guilt
"Everybody is guilty. Everybody is hurt. Everybody feels responsible," Penny Baert said a few days before her son, Pete Roland, began serving time for first-degree murder. "You feel like there's just some small thing you should have done that would have changed everything, and you don't know what it is."
Even now, the people of Jasper County wonder how this Bible Belt hamlet became the moral battleground of a deeply disturbed adolescent subculture--noticed but never really challenged--that still survives.
They blame the heavy drug use, the violent music, the forbidden books, the gory movies. And they blame themselves--all the friends, families, teachers, counselors, police, ministers, neighbors and classmates who unwittingly watched three 17-year-olds slip over the edge.
The clues had been mounting for years, telltale signs big and small that stacked up like building blocks. Interviews, police records, public and confidential documents, trial testimony and confessions tell the story.
Many trace the trouble to the day, five years ago, when James Hardy moved his family from Joplin to neighboring Carl Junction, a sleepy suburb whose rambling farms, blue-collar tracts and country club estates brush up against the Kansas border. Hardy was a certified public accountant. He and his wife, Nancy, had three boys and two girls. Their new split-level was surrounded by piney woods and verdant fields. It was a fine place to raise a family.
Start of Rebellion
Jimmy, the second oldest, had been an altar boy and honor student before his grades and behavior took a sudden tumble when he was 11. The nuns at his parish school suggested professional help, and Jim had sulked through a few sessions at the Ozark Mental Health Center in Joplin before his exasperated parents gave up.
Nancy and James Hardy had been going through a separation, and assumed the family turmoil had triggered Jim's outbursts. It was the perfect excuse, and no one guessed the truth.
Jim Hardy was a drug abuser and a sadist. He had been popping pills since the sixth grade. He had been mutilating animals for even longer. These secrets both thrilled and tormented him.
At 13, Jim began getting careless about hiding both his drug habit and his violence. When James Hardy confronted his son about his marijuana use, Jim smashed a baseball bat into his bedroom door with such force that chunks of wood flew into the hall and hit his retreating father.
Outbursts of Temper
The tension between them peaked one day when James Hardy, puttering in the garage, griped about his son's misplacing a tool. Jim stormed cursing into the side yard, where he grabbed a heavy log from the wood pile. He turned to his father.
"I'm going to kill you!" he screamed. He heaved the log against the side of the house and picked up another as his father walked away. This one shattered the sliding glass door.
Remembering this rage brings tears to Jim's eyes now, tears he does not shed when he talks about what he did to Steve Newberry.