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Satanists' Trail : Dead Pets to a Human Sacrifice

Satanists' Trail Next: The slaying and its aftermath.

October 19, 1988|TAMARA JONES | Times Staff Writer

"Maybe it was all the drugs and the suggestive music while I was on drugs. Maybe they planted something in my head, but it was also the evil force growing inside me.

"There was something definitely inside me."

Something was changing in Pete, too, and Penny Baert was worried. Her son now emulated Jim's and Ron's disheveled, heavy metal look. He insisted the gory images and satanic symbols on his T-shirts didn't mean a thing.

In his room, Penny came across crude weapons--broken glass, a stick with nails poking out. The posters on Pete's wall were hideous, like the album covers in his record collection. One showed a singer drinking blood from a human skull.

When she found a satanic bible in Pete's room, Pete quickly explained that it belonged to someone else. After that, it disappeared.

Orgies of Torture

The summer before their senior year, while Ron was away in Arizona, Jim and Pete grew closer. Joined occasionally by other boys in the party crowd--among them Steven Newberry--they tortured animals to death so many times they lost count. Sometimes there were three or four in a day. Occasionally, people might come across the pathetic carcasses, but they never reported it until the murder stirred up all that talk about satanism in Jasper County.

Pete and Jim even made up a ditty about their hobby, and each particularly savage episode would merit a new verse. "Sacrifice those babies to Satan. . . ," the chorus went. The inspiration had hit Jim and Pete one day after they burned a fluffy little dog alive inside an abandoned dryer they had stuffed with weeds and sprinkled with paint thinner.

"That dog was running around inside and it's the first time I ever heard a dog scream," Jim said. "It sounded just like a human screaming."

"We just started laughing," he added "That was like a game to us. See how long we could make them live . . . So we just stabbed it a few times and chucked it off into the weeds."

Denies Sacrifice Motive

Although he considered himself a devout disciple of Satan at the time, Jim denies the animals were ritualistic sacrifices.

And, while friends agreed that Pete seemed to be satisfying a lust for violence more than a debt to the devil, Pete would tell psychiatrists a different story before he came to trial.

Then, Pete reported that he, too, had heard voices inside his head instructing him to do evil, and that he would return to the woods and old mines where he and Jim butchered the animals to worship the decomposing remains. In exchange for a human sacrifice, Pete believed, Satan would appear and reward him with supernatural powers.

Dr. William Logan, the Menninger Foundation director of law and psychiatry hired as an expert witness for Pete's defense, diagnosed Pete as having a psychotic disorder induced by drugs, heavy metal music and Jim Hardy. His conclusions would fail to sway the jury.

Jim Hardy came up with a different diagnosis. "It's like, I guess . . . something inside me slipped out and grabbed onto Pete."

Satan Got the Credit

In fact, Jim's charisma had made him the big man on campus, and he attributed his new-found popularity to Satan "because I was growing in him."

It wasn't that Jim fit in so well, but that he stood out so much. His bleached hair grazed his shoulders and he wore shredded heavy metal T-shirts.

Jim, Ron and Pete liked to wear their freakiest clothes and toughest expressions at Joplin's indoor mall, where they would shout "Satan loves you!" to startled shoppers.

But Jim's most remarkable trait was his warped imagination and the guileless way he continued spouting ideas that became sicker and sicker. He thought he could "draw evil in" from the seemingly innocent world around him.

When student council elections came up, the stoners had a brainstorm. They would make crazy old Jim Hardy the most powerful kid on campus. What a joke! Jim laughed along at first, but being president of the 600-member student body held an appeal for someone who had worked so hard to escape being a nobody. Jim announced his candidacy.

"Everybody knew Jim was a rebel," recalled one popular girl in the junior class who supported him. "Everybody thought it'd be cool. The teachers would just freak."

Elected by a Landslide

His landslide victory still amazes Jim. "They just thought I had a demented mind, but they didn't care. They liked me no matter what."

Nancy Hardy was probably the only person who took Jim's campaign seriously. She regarded it as a sign that Jimmy was straightening up at last. Relations with his father were improving, and so were Jim's grades. He started talking about college and even curbed his drug use, making an effort not to come to school high anymore. After school, though, it was the same old story.

When the student council candidates gave their speeches, Nancy Hardy took time off from work to go. She was the only parent at the student assembly. Jim promised more pep rallies and dances.

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