Frauds and Fakes: The Continuation of the Prom Night Murders

This blog post isn’t going to make sense to you if you haven’t read my May 4th blog titled, “Normal Nevermore: The Prom Night Murders.” But if you did read it, then welcome to the conclusion, albeit long. I’m gonna jump right into it because I still have so much to cover. 

The one person who has been most haunted over the years by Jeff’s conviction, besides his family, is Alan Baum. Alan says it’s the one criminal defense case he’ll talk to anyone about, but it’s also the great failure of his legal career. Alan has never been able to understand why the jury didn’t find Lois Standbury’s testimony powerful enough, or why they weren’t impacted by Alan’s dissection of Dr Rick Hoover’s failures at the crime scene. Lastly, Alan says that at a minimum jurors should have considered the washcloth expert testimony as grounds for reasonable doubt. Alan’s lamenting aside, there’s nothing HE could do now. But, there’s someone else who can…

Enter Frances “Fran” Watson, Jeff’s current lawyer. She’s a clinical professor of law from Indiana University McKinney School of Law’s wrongful conviction clinic. She has promised that she has gotten ahold of new evidence that would argue for Jeff’s innocence. In her conference room, Frances has collected rows upon rows of boxes containing files of Jeff’s case. It’s basically a war room, and it just goes to show that she’s willing to put in the hard work to dissect the case down to its bare bones. Since taking on Jeff’s case over a decade ago, Frances has filed three different versions of PCR (petition for post conviction relief). It’s a legal brief required to try and get Jeff a new evidentiary hearing in front of a judge. In Indiana, a post conviction hearing isn’t heard in front of a jury- it’s heard in front of a judge. Fran has been working tirelessly to prove that four things occurred that violated Jeff’s rights during his murder trial. 1- Ineffective assistance of counsel: in reference to the fact that Alan Baum never questioned the blue jean evidence as being fraudulent; 2- Prosecutorial misconduct: in reference to the blue jeans being mislabeled, aka completely fabricated. When Fran started going through trial depositions and began interviewing law enforcement that handled Jeff’s case throughout the years, she learned something so aggravating that it made her head spin. When she questioned John Botich (the lead investigator from 1989) about the fact that there wasn’t a bloody trail from where the shooter walked between the upstairs hallway to the basement, and from the basement to the bathroom, John explained that he now believed that it was possible that the shooter DIDN’T get bodily fluids such as blood and brain matter on him after all, thus it’s possible he didn’t have to wash up after. John made that statement in order to explain how the blue jeans might not have been washed. Fran was completely mind blown, because in his trial depositions and basically anytime he was asked about it before, John claimed that the shooter definitely had blood and bodily fluids on his person and was forced to have cleaned himself up. Not only that, but Fran looked at the crime scene photographs and noted the amount of blood and brain matter all over the walls, floors, tables and other furniture. She concludes that there’s no possible way that the shooter didn’t end up covered in blood. She asked herself- why after 32 years is the lead investigator now all of sudden contradicting himself?  3- Right to a speedy trial: the fact that Jeff had to wait four years for his trial to even begin; 4- New evidence: Fran claims she has evidence of a third party, outside of the Pelley family who had motive, means and opportunity to commit the murders of Bob, Dawn, Janel and Jolene. 

In the mid 80’s before Bob was gunned down in the parsonage in Lakeville, Indiana, and before he became a minister, Bob Pelley was somewhat of a computer whiz. If you had read my previous blog then you’d know that Bob Pelley once worked for a large financial institution in Florida, called Landmark Bank. Bob was the facility’s lead supervisor, and oversaw thousands of banking transactions, investments and transfers. He also monitored all computer activity of Landmark Bank’s statewide branches. Every day, Bob was privy to a lot of sensitive and confidential information involving millions- and I mean millions of dollars. Jacque Pelley, Bob’s surviving daughter, has distinct memories of Bob’s old job. Bob made good money and lived comfortably. Bob also side hustled- often consulting his good friend, Phil Hawley.

Bob and Phil had become close while attending church in Fort Myers- where Pastor Michael Ross worked. Jacque remembers seeing the Hawley family frequently. The Hawley family was always at church and Jacque assumed that her father met Phil at church because she doesn’t know how else they would have met. Jacque says that on Saturdays Bob would head over to the Hawley residence to work on their computers, but also helped at the Credit Bureau. As far as everyone knew, Bob’s job at Landmark Bank, as well as his side hustle with the Hawley family was going well when 1986 came to a close. Everyone however, except for Pastor Michael Ross. 

Pastor Michael Ross has recently revealed that Bob Pelley was tormented by something he had uncovered at Landmark Bank in 1986: criminal financial fraud. Bob had approached Pastor Michael Ross in confidence and told him that he discovered improper handling of funds, and wasn’t sure of what he should do. Pastor Ross and Bob discussed the matter, and it was shortly after that exchange when Bob told Pastor Ross about wanting to move to Indiana. Pastor Ross suspects- no, knows that Bob was scared and that Bob wanted to get as far away from Florida as possible. Bob made it clear to Pastor Ross that he was concerned about who was involved with the fraud at the bank and that it was a lot of money that had been abused, or misused, or swindled. Pastor Ross admits that Bob wasn’t just scared of his life, but he was also scared for his children’s lives. Pastor Ross says that Bob was put between a rock and a hard place because the people that Bob suspected of the fraud were his close friends, and because of that Pastor Ross suspects that Bob never told his bosses at Landmark Bank about what he knew. Pastor Ross adamantly thinks that Bob’s discovery of the fraud is the sole reason as to why the Pelley family abruptly moved from Florida to Indiana. What’s more?… Pastor Ross claims that Bob wasn’t even an ordained minister when he took the job at Olive Branch Church. When asked how Bob was able to get the job at Olive Branch without being ordained, Pastor Ross says that he doesn’t know how that was made possible. 

In the two and half years in Lakeville before the murders occured, Jacque Pelley remembers occasions when Bob would suddenly become paranoid. Jacque says that Bob had told her about three separate occurrences of how he thought someone had broken inside the church. Not only that, but Jacque says that although Bob was not an emotional guy, she found him once weeping and it immediately struck her as odd because it was so unlike his character. Jacque also remembers that Bob would occasionally tell her that if anything bad was to happen to him, where she was supposed to go. As a kid, Jacque didn’t realize how troubling those conversations were, but now looking back, she realizes that they were blatant warning signs.

Fran Watson believes that Landmark Bank is vitally important to understanding what Bob uncovered- both on a local level but also on an international level. In the end, Fran claims that “there was a whole lotta bad” going down at Landmark Bank that “never came to the light of day.” 

Things began to go sideways for Landmark Bank in 1984. That year, Landmark became Florida’s fifth-largest bank, and by 1985 it had $3.8 billion in assets and almost 2,000 employees, one of which was Bob. Trouble was brewing beneath the bank’s surface though, and throughout the 80’ the FBI, IRS and DEA had begun to monitor the bank’s records, transactions and employee’s. In an investigation known as Operation Greenback, the government began inditing bank employees and local clients, as well as drug traffickers from South America who were using the bank’s branches to launder money. The epicenter for a lot of the fraud occurred at Landmark’s main branch in Fort Lauderdale. Two men who worked at that branch pleaded guilty to four different schemes that included creating fake loans worth millions of dollars, issuing cashier’s checks to non existent people, and producing fake property appraisals to boost the value of real estate for profit. You’re probably wondering- why am I telling you this? Well, the core processing center where all the fraud was funneled though would have passed in front of the eyes of Bob Pelley. There’s no way of knowing if Bob knew the depth or magnitude of all of the financial fraud, but it’s clear based on what he told Pastor Ross, that Bob knew at least some of it. In the wake of the government’s flurry of indictments, Landmark imploded and by 1986, a company from Georgia called Citizens & Southern (CNS) bought the bank and renamed it. Fran doesn’t believe that Bob’s story to Pastor Ross was entirely accurate- she believes that Bob was complicit with the fraud, and “looked the other way.” Fran thinks that Bob moved the family to Indiana (or were possibly sent away) because he wanted to save himself. Fran thinks that Bob was running from his past and believed “out of sight, out of mind.” Fran is certain of this reasoning because of one person, a woman by the name of Toni Beehler- who blew this case wide open.

Apparently… the prosecution from Jeff’s murder trial already knew all about this Toni Beehler. In 2007, on behalf of the Pelley family, Gary Dunne (a private investigator) interviewed Toni in a private deposition. Her story is incredible. Toni says in February or March of 1989, (just a few months before the murders) she was a saleswoman for a company called United Church Directories. She and a photographer visited churches and offered to take pictures of members as part of a package deal. In spring 1989, Olive Branch Church was one of Toni’s newest clients. On the day she and her photographer showed up to take family pictures, Bob Pelley pulled her aside. He told her that he didn’t want the church directories made because “he had a life before the ministry…” He told her about his situation, but because so many years had passed since she had spoken with Bob, her recollection was a little fuzzy. All she remembers was that Bob’s “previous life” was in finance and it wasn’t in Indiana. Bob told Toni that he had people looking for him and knew that if they found him, they’d wipe out his entire family. Toni remembers that she asked Bob if he’s ever killed people for a living, to which Bob responded with, no- just that he moved their money and because of that he was hiding out as a minister in a country church in Lakeville, Indiana. Toni remembers that Bob was extremely matter-of-fact during the entirety of the conversation. She remembers that he stood in front of her- looking at her through his glasses with his hand on the bible. Bob told her that what he was telling her was the most sincere thing he’s ever said to someone. Toni wondered why Bob was unloading all this information onto her, thinking that if he wanted out of the church directory, then so be it. Toni turned around and told her boss that Bob didn’t want the church directory made. However, Olive Branch Church’s board of elders already voted to purchase a directory package from Toni’s company, so Toni’s boss made her take the pictures anyway. The Pelley family picture for the directory was taken, and that’s the iconic family portrait that has been associated with this case. According to Toni, the directory the Pelley family picture was featured in came out in early or mid March of 1989. It’s one of the last formal family photos taken of the Pelley family before the murders. Toni explained to Gary Dunne that she came forward with her story in 2003- after news of Jeff’s arrest in 2002 made headlines. Toni felt like law enforcement needed to know what she knew. What’s interesting, is that in May 2003, an investigator from the Metro Homicide Division in Saint Joseph County, named Timothy Decker interviewed Toni for a total of 23 minutes. Toni remembers that conversation well. She said it took place in a small and relatively dark room and Timothy Decker was on one side of a desk while she sat in a chair across from him. During that conversation she had the distinct feeling that the investigator didn’t believe her and she got the impression that Timothy took her as some wacko mother that watched one too many soap operas. Toni pressed on though, and told Timothy the harrowing conversation that she had with Bob in 1989. She made sure to tell the detective that Bob was adamant that if anyone found him or his family, then they would all be dead and no one would ever know the truth. Toni says that the investigator just sat across from her and looked at her… then asked, “Why are you telling me?” Toni was floored. She couldn’t believe that Timothy Decker was being so nonchalant about what she was telling him. At the end of the conversation, Timothy asked Toni if there was anything else that she had to “share”. Toni replied that she told him everything she knew, and then the detective told her that he would get back to her. Toni never heard a single thing after her 2003 half hour conversation with Timothy Decker. 

During the years that Alan Baum was putting together Jeff’s defense (which included getting and receiving information to & from the prosecution), Alan never heard a word about Toni Beehler. A memo that prosecutors filed in 2003 states that their staff sent Toni’s interview to Alan, but the document isn’t dated and the items never made it to Alan’s office. (SHOCKER 🙄) Fran Watson alleges the state’s failure to give Alan Baum Toni’s videotaped 2003 interview and coinciding report before trial was a huge error. To date, Fran is still trying to obtain Toni’s 2003 taped interview from the Saint Joseph County prosecutor’s office. Toni is living proof that Bob Pelley was fearful of someone much worse than his 17 year old son Jeff. Alan says that had he known about Toni Beehler and her claims, he would have offered it into evidence and would have called her as a witness to testify at trial. Here’s the thing- if the prosecutor’s office knew about Toni’s interview and purposely left it out of the evidence that they had to hand over to the defense, then that’s called a Brady violation and would constitute Jeff getting a new trial, basically, right on the spot. By the time 2007 rolled around, and Toni was having her deposition with Gary Dunne, she heard nothing from police and at that point, Jeff was already convicted of the quadruple homicide and was serving time in prison. During her interview though, Toni explained that she didn’t come forward to protect Jeff or even claim that he was innocent. She just wanted someone to know the burden of the information she knew. To this day, Toni is more adamant than ever about her story. Because Fran Watson plans on calling Toni Beehler as a witness in Jeff’s future post conviction proceedings, Toni has hired a lawyer and cannot speak more about it. Toni Beehler’s story is a puzzle piece that has been excluded from a very large complicated narrative. A narrative that leads right back to southwest Florida. And another murder of a man in Fort Myers who had deep connections to what Bob was caught up in- and who ran in the same social circles. It’s almost beyond belief in a way. Remember Steve Diller? He’s the guy that sold Bob the 20-gage shotgun in 1987, and who claims he saw Bob on the day the murders supposedly took place. Steve was never sure Jeff committed the murders and claims that the truth is in Florida.

In the late 1980’s Bob Pelley wasn’t the only person connected to Landmark Bank who died an execution-style death. There was another man- Eric Dawson, who had a lot in common with Bob Pelley. I’m going to dive into Eric’s case a little bit because it does tie back to the Pelley murders, so bare with me. Because Eric’s story is important to understanding the bigger picture and all of the characters involved. 

In the mid 1980’s, Fort Myers, Florida and the surrounding area was booming. Developers from across the country were racing to the area to build golf course communities, condos and strip malls. One man who had his sights on getting a piece of the pie was Clarence “Eric” Dawson. In 1983, Eric was 38 years old and wanted to make a name for himself as a land developer. Eric’s background was in insurance, estate planning and selling security, but his real passion was real estate. After serving in the military in the 60’s, Eric had picked up golf, moreso as a hobby which ended up being another passion of his. By the 80’s, Eric was a semi-pro at the sport. Eric’s endgame was to move his wife Susan and their three kids from the suburbs of Detroit to sunny southwest Florida. 

In 1981, Eric started raising capital to build a hotel in Lee County. His plan was to put the hotel near the Southwest Florida International airport and call it the Airport Sheraton Hotel. Eric, and five other men from Michigan took the plunge, and formed a company called Greentree Properties. They put $850,000 of investor’s money into the hotel project. However, within a year things went south. Eric and the other men struggled to pay the hotel’s 4.3 million mortgage and the bank foreclosed on it. A few months later, another developer ended up buying the hotel at auction and renamed it the Airport Armada Hotel. When the dust finally settled, Eric and the others were left in financial ruin. The men argued, and eventually disbanded the investment firm. 

By the time Eric and his family had moved to Lee County in late 1983, he had filed for bankruptcy, the bank had taken their home in Michigan, and to make matters worse, the National Association of Securities Dealers had fined Eric $30,000 for selling securities he misrepresented to investors. Eric remained headstrong and didn’t let all the negativity stop him from achieving everything he had ever hoped for. In 1985, Eric created his own company called Enterprising Developments, INC. He was determined now, more than ever, to succeed in Florida. 

By 1986, Eric had raised enough capital from investors to get a half a million mortgage on a 72-acre tract of land on a major thoroughfare in Fort Myers called Winkler Road. The area is just a few miles from the Gulf of Mexico and the posh Sanibel Island. Back in the 80’s, this area was ripe for residential development. One by one, Eric continued collecting properties and taking out million dollar mortgages on large parcels of land. He promised his investors double return on their money when the projects were completed. By spring of 1987, Eric held the deeds to three major properties in southwest Florida. 1- the Winkler Road project; 2- land on Fort Myers Beach which was slated to become a condo complex; 3- a swampy patch of land off of Corkscrew Road in South Lee County. His plans for the Corkscrew Road area were to develop it into an Christian residential community and planned to call it FamilyLand. Things were looking good for Eric, except for one thing. He still had the $30,000 fine to pay off, and he was dodging it like the black plague- or in our current times, the Coronavirus. 

In 1987, Phil Hawley’s business- the Fort Myers Credit Bureau had been hounding Eric to pay off his fine. For months, Phil and his sons who worked at the Bureau had been trying to get Eric to pay up, or at least schedule payments. Tired of the nonstop calls, Eric eventually went to the Bureau office in person to address his debt. Phil and Eric ended up striking up a friendship after Eric committed to making small payments. Over time, Phil became interested in investing in some of Eric’s land projects. Eric and Phil’s relationship was turning out to be mutually beneficial. By summer 1988, Phil claimed that he invested $2 million with Eric to develop two large properties. Between 1987-1988, at least three of Phil’s five sons- Danny, Paul and David also invested with Eric too. $10,000, $20,000 and even more. The Hawley family also owned a construction company, so as part of this mutually beneficial relationship that Eric and Phil had created, Eric drew up documents that ensured the Hawley’s would be an official contractor. 

It wasn’t just finances and promising investments that brought Eric Dawson and Phil Hawley together. They were both devoutly religious. Both men claimed to be Christians with good character, who were active in their communities and churches. They were both viewed as honest men when it came to their business dealings. Phil and his family attended Fort Myers Church of the Nazarene- where they were close with the Pelley family. Eric and his family attended McGregor Baptist Church in Fort Myers. Eric was very charismatic about his faith- even going as far as praying with potential investors before sealing deals, and would often promise people that their decisions were the Lord’s will. A majority of Eric’s investors were people from his church, or other religious organizations in Lee County. He also had clients living in nursing homes that invested thousands of their estates. Phil on the other hand, didn’t really mix his religion with business. Phil and his sons operated 17 separate entities in the state of Florida. Most of the entities were collection agencies, construction firms, investment companies, corporations and a private investigation firm. Phil’s main business, the Fort Myers Credit Bureau pursued debtors for delinquent accounts. For every payment they received, the business earned a commission. Like a lot of creditors, it wasn’t a trade based on grace or mercy. But just because Phil and Eric had different approaches to their careers, didn’t mean their two families weren’t close. Phil’s sons- Pierre, Paul, Danny, David and Martin were close to the same age as Eric’s kids. Eric’s oldest son, Robert, was 19. Then there was Barbara and Jason who were a few years younger. 

Jason Dawson claims that he’s technically Eric’s only child. Eric had adopted Robert and Barbara when he married Susan. Jason says that from the moment Eric adopted Robert and Barbara, Eric considered them his and made sure to show it. Jason says that Eric was always involved, either coaching, or at least, always being at games. But… on September 9th, 1988, Eric wasn’t there for his family. Eric Dawson had vanished.

Jason says that it was a Friday night when he had come back home from playing basketball at a neighbor’s house. Eric was supposed to have come home from work so he could attend a dinner with friends. By the time 7, 8, 9, 10pm rolled around, the family knew that something was wrong. Jason remembers that the atmosphere felt dark and says that he felt it in his bones that something wasn’t right. He remembers vividly the panic that set in. Susan called the Lee County police that night to report Eric missing, but was told that she had to wait 24 hours to file a missing persons report. (I should mention this- having to wait 24 hours to file a missing person is not a thing. You don’t have to. And that goes for everywhere.) Unfortunately for Susan Dawson though, she listened to what the police had told her and waited until Saturday evening on September 10th to file the missing persons report. Despite the 24 hour delay in getting Eric’s missing persons report into the system, the family spared no time in launching their own search. Susan called Eric’s car phone over and over again, but never got an answer. After a while, she decided to stay at home with Barbara and Jason, hoping that Eric would return. 19 year old Robert went searching for Eric, accompanied by members of the Hawley family. 

Susan and the family last saw Eric at 4:30pm on Friday, September 9th. He had come home from work, and quickly changed his clothes before telling Susan he had a business meeting. Eric had told her that earlier in the day, a man had phoned his office telling him that there was an interest in purchasing the Corkscrew Road land. Eric didn’t tell Susan who that person was, but insisted to her that he had to meet the potential buyer promptly at 5:45pm at the property for a showing. Eric promised Susan that he would be back home before their dinner plans. Jason remembers hugging his dad goodbye and watched him zip outta the driveway in his dark colored Datsun 280Z sports car. 15 hours later, Robert and the Hawley’s searched for Eric at his office in Fort Myers, but neither he nor his car were there. Next, Robert and the Hawley’s headed to the Corkscrew Road land which was still undeveloped with nothing for miles in any direction. The area in which I’m talking about was basically a glorified dusty trail in the middle of cypress swamps and brush at the time Eric had vanished. The search group looked in the vicinity of the undeveloped land, but didn’t find Eric or his car. Because the property was so close to the airport, Jason says that Robert made the suggestion to check the airport. And… bingo. Just like that came a clue. 

The day after Eric Dawson had vanished, his son Robert and a few members of the Hawley family went to the airport in search of Eric and/or his car. To their dismay, the car was parked at the airport. A few hours after the discovery of the car, Lee County Sheriff’s deputies finally stepped in and began investigating. Eric’s sports car being at the airport told them all that they needed to know- that Eric clearly left southwest Florida. One look into his current business dealings confirmed to police why the 43-year-old-father would want to disappear. In the spring and summer of 1988, Eric’s investment deals and projects were falling apart. By all accounts, Susan Dawson and the kids had no idea that multiple people had filed lawsuits against Eric leading up to his disappearance. And, old investors from Detroit were hounding him. The rest of the Dawson family also had no idea that Eric defaulted on the mortgages on all of his Florida properties. Eric was very, very much in debt. So, right away, investigators believed that Eric was very much on the run. For months, that’s what the rest of the community assumed happened. Everyone however, except for Susan. She insisted to anyone and everyone who would listen that Eric would not have left her or their children on his own free will. Susan said that Eric loved his children more than anything. Jason felt the same. 

In the weeks that followed Eric’s disappearance, news reports detailed his questionable investment strategies and how much money he allegedly swindled from investors. Unfortunately, Robert, Barbara and Jason bore the brunt of the community’s judgement. Jason remembers how he would go to a friend’s house to play and his character would immediately be questioned. Jason says that at 11 years old, it was tough for him because all he wanted to do was to be a kid. Mix in the fact that he had lost his father; Jeff was struggling. He remembers that it was a “shitty experience.” Law enforcement kept Eric’s case open, but they weren’t really working it. The more and more bad news that came out about Eric, the more deputies became certain that he skipped town and was gone from Florida forever. But… as fate would soon reveal, Eric Dawson was much closer to home than anyone thought. 

On November 21st, 1988, hunters walking through flat, damp brush off of rural Corkscrew Road in Lee County, Florida, were hot on the trail of a team of wild hogs. The two men had been tracking hoof prints for miles, and finally had managed to corner the pigs in a large clearing surrounded by cypress trees. It was muggy and muddy, and the men were ready to aim their muzzles. But, just as the two hunters got within range of the hogs, they realized that the pigs were unusually huddled together and were digging at something in the ground. With each step towards whatever the hogs were trying to get at, the hunters began to see shreds of what looked like rags lying around. It wasn’t until they shooed the hogs away and were standing over the ravaged ground, that they realized the hogs weren’t getting at trash or an animal carcass- but were eating the upper half of a human body. 

A few hours after the hunters made the grizzly discovery, Lee County’s Sheriff’s detective Tom Kontinos parked his patrol car on the side of a dirt road, off of Corkscrew Road. The hunters escorted Tom and another deputy to the cypress clearing. Tom remembers seeing human bones with clothing attached, and that was when Tom realized that he was dealing with “a pretty significant crime scene.” Tom remembers that the human remains were pulled out of a purposely dug hole. Upon approaching the body closer, Tom noted that the body was encased in cement and shrubbery. Tom says that human remains were that of a white male, and was either in his late 40’s or early 50’s. Tom and other crime scene investigators spent hours processing the crime scene. At first sight, it was pretty obvious that the human body had been decomposing for weeks. Tom sent the remains to the medical examiner’s office. The next day the body was positively identified. The dead man, who was found still wearing a pair of cowboy boots and an expensive watch, was none other than 43 year old Eric Dawson. He had been shot execution-style in the back of the head with a .22 caliber handgun. After being shot, Eric’s body was dumped into the hole, then covered with concrete. Tom and other investigators deduced that the killer had come prepared- and counted on Florida rainstorms to create the perfect catalyst for Eric’s body to become entombed in the landscape. The killer also placed cinder blocks on top of the body to weigh it down. According to Tom, it became pretty clear fairly early on in the investigation that whoever was resposible for Eric’s murder was involved in the construction business in some way or another. At the time, Tom knew, albeit vaguely, that Eric was a missing person, but since September, Tom was like any other member of the community- he thought that Eric had run off to escape his financial troubles. Now that Tom knew Eric was a murder victim, he started his homicide investiation. His first stop was having to break the news to Susan, Robert, Barbara and Jason. 

When Jason learned of his father’s murder- and that it happened on his own property, he was absolutely devastated. At just 11 years old, Jason spireled in the aftermath and was unable to deal with his loss. Jason remembers that he did a lot of acting out, and that he was “a little asshole.” Jason says that he got in trouble quite a bit at school and with friends and credits basketball as being his saving grace. Jason wasn’t the only one that had a difficult time dealing with Eric’s murder- both Robert and Barbara also took the news poorly, and they too also acted out to an extent. However, Jason says that Robert had to step up, and took on that father-figure role. A few years after Eric’s murder, Susan and the kids moved away from southwest Florida and Jason says that they moved from the area because it had gotten too difficult, especially with constant news reports about his dad. A lot of the news reports stated that although Eric was a murder victim, he was also a full-time swindler and that he basically got what he deserved. Sheldon Zoldan, a former editor for the Fort Myers News Press, covered the murder and investigation into Eric Dawson in 1988 and the years afterward. Sheldon said that Eric knew what he was doing (in regards to swindeling people out of their money) but claims that Eric didn’t know how far deep he was until it was too late. Sheldon says that Eric being found with a bullet to the back of his head and encased in cement meant that it was big news that caught everyone’s attention and wasn’t a normal homicide. 

It was clear to everyone in southwest Florida that Eric had made his fair share of enemies. Most of them being investors who had lost large sums of money. There were also rumors that Eric owed money to men in Detroit, and his death was a result of a mob execution. Sheldon says that the mob execution rumor sold a lot of newspapers. Tom Kontinos had to wade through the salacious rumors- and every inch of Eric’s financial history. Tom says that there were so many corporations and shell companies that Eric was involved with; finding out who he was associated with, who were his partners, who were his investors… and Tom says that it got really difficult at times trying to figure out who was who and who did what and how. Suspects were popping up left and right- and with the pool of potential perpetrators growing each day, Tom made the decision to start where the evidence was telling him. Because there were so many legal documents involved in Eric’s case, Tom relied on attorneys and lawyers to help get a better understanding of Eric’s real estate schemes. The state attorney’s office dedicated an investigator to aide Tom in better understanding Eric’s contracts and documents. 

Tom’s first hurdle back in 1988, was that evidence in the case was slim. Eric had gone to the Corkscrew land to show someone the property- that we know for sure. The question was, who was it that called Eric on Friday afternoon? According to Tom, the number that called Eric’s office line led back to nowhere. So, Tom had to turn to Eric’s abandoned car for clues. But, suspiciously, the car was a dead end. The car was clean. Tom and other detectives knew for certain that Eric did NOT drive the car to the airport based on the seat being found pushed all the way up to the steering wheel. They knew this, because Eric was quite tall and needed to have the seat pushed all the way back. Tom’s last option was to start eliminating people closest to Eric as suspects. The only person that Tom and his team eliminated pretty quickly was Susan Dawson. This was because Susan was a stay-at-home mom, and Eric was the sole breadwinner of the family. Mix that with the fact that Susan had no idea as to how bad Eric was in financial trouble. Tom came to the conclusion that Eric’s death HAD to have been part of a scheme or business dealing that went bad. Tom admits that at the beginning of his investigation he thought of Eric as a crook. But as time went on and as his investigation continued, Tom determined that Eric was just trying to make something work and that Eric didn’t set out to steal from people. Eric just simply wanted to be a successful business man and just got caught up with the wrong crowd and was way in over his head. To figure out who that wrong crowd might have been, Susan told Tom to talk to the one man who knew everything about everyone when it came to business in Fort Myers. That person was Eric’s biggest investor- Phil Hawley. Tom though, was already one step ahead of Susan’s suggestion. Tom knew that Phil and his sons had initially searched for Eric back in September. Tom also learned that the Hawley family were the ones that spread the rumors that Eric had left southwest Florida to escape his financial situation. 

At this point, Tom zeroed in on the prominent Fort Myers family as viable suspects. 

Tom learned that immediately after Eric disappeared, Phil Hawley and a couple of his sons assisted Susan in cleaning out Eric’s office in Fort Myers. According to Susan, Phil had convinced her to fold Enterprising Developments, INC because the monthly rent was going to be due, and Eric clearly wasn’t around to pay it. Susan says in her bewilderment over Eric’s disappearance, she trusted Phil to take care of Eric’s interests. Fast forward two months. Now in November 1988, the Dawson family told Tom that the Hawley’s stopped coming around. Jason says that at first, Phil Hawley and his sons were extremely supportive. However, once Eric’s body was found, Phil Hawley and the rest of the family made an 180° turn. The Hawley’s stopped coming around almost immediately. Tom Kontinos found that information strange, but not completely incriminating. It was common knowledge in the weeks following Eric’s body being found that the ones who stood the most to gain financially from Eric’s death were the Hawley’s. Because Eric’s land deals and contracts were so convoluted, it took the state attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office several months to dissect all the information. Tom interviewed Phil and his sons on a few separate occasions, and each time they denied any involvement in Eric’s death. The Hawley’s insisted that Eric was murdered by the Detroit mob. 

But… by April 1989, Tom had found damning evidence against the Hawley family. First, Phil had appointed himself president of Backbay Condo club after Eric disappeared, which gave him total control of the Fort Myers beach project. Second, Tom learned eight days before Eric vanished, Phil and his family members filed a Quit Claim Deed in the Lee County Land Records department. That document transferred Eric’s ownership of a 72-acre tract of land worth nearly $2.5 million to one of Phil’s companies- Caribbean Industries International. A Quit Claim Deed is a legal document that transfers someone’s ownership stake of real estate from one party to another. It requires the signatures of both the true owner and the person the land is going to. The Quit Claim Deed filed at the records office had Eric’s signature, and signatures belonging to a Credit Bureau employee and two of Phil’s sons. The deed was officially processed by a Lee County land records clerk on September 6th, 1988- just three days before Eric vanished. Tom knew from interviewing dozens of Eric’s friends, real estate lawyers and office staff that Eric never- not once, mentioned giving any land to Phil Hawley. Tom and the state attorney’s office were convinced that Eric’s signature on the Quit Claim Deed was fake. On April 1st, 1989, Tom served two search warrants simultaneously. It was a real coordinated effort to do two search warrants at once, in hopes to prevent anyone from the Hawley family from destroying potential incriminating evidence. One was a raid on Phil’s home, and Phil was at home when the search occurred. Tom remembers that Phil was wearing a belt- and had a .22 gun stuffed into the belt buckle. Tom immediately remembered that Eric was killed with a .22, and thought to himself that he was on the right track. Tom seized the .22 gun from Phil during that raid. The gun wasn’t a match to the bullet that killed Eric, but Tom found other strange things inside Phil’s house that indicated the Hawley’s had plans to absorb all of Eric’s properties- and most importantly, had anticipated Eric was going to disappear. Tom says that Phil had five or six large safes inside of his home and instructed Phil to open them up. Phil refused initially. When Tom warned Phil that he was going to drill the safes open, Phil complied. Inside the safes were hundreds of Caribbean Industries International stock certificates with the Corkscrew land being listed on them. While the raid on the home was taking place, a second search was happening at the Credit Bureau office in Fort Myers. Investigators there found more incriminating evidence that the Hawley’s had falsely placed Eric’s signature on the Quit Claim Deed. Investigators learned that the filing of the deed was actually a photocopy- meaning that the deed wasn’t an original. Investigators seized almost everything from the Bureau office- which included strips of paper of Eric’s signature… one after another after another. This gave investigators the idea that the Hawley’s practiced Eric’s signature over and over again so they could forge Eric’s name onto the Quit Claim Deed. 

Something else disturbing, is that the Hawley family owned a construction business, and investigators found sacks of concrete at the Bureau office. But to Tom, it didn’t strike him that odd to find concrete at the Credit Bureau office because the Hawley’s businesses all seemed to intertwine together. Crime scene tech’s seized the cement though to test and compare it against the cement that was found on and around Eric’s body. Unfortunately though, law enforcement couldn’t positively match the samples of cement. Tom never found a murder weapon at the crime scene or in Phil’s home. So… Tom knew that his case was circumstantial, at best. Although unable to pursue murder charges against anyone from the Hawley family, prosecutors did pursue multiple felony forgery and land theft charges against Phil Hawley and three of his adult sons. The state attorney’s office in Lee County accused the Hawley’s of illegally stealing Eric’s land with a fake deed. That announcement sparked one of the most high profile trials in southwest Florida history. And… it revealed a lot more about Phil Hawley than anyone knew. 

In July 1989, 10 months after Eric Dawson had disappeared, Tom Kontinos charged Phil Hawley, Danny Hawley, David Hawley and Paul Hawley with several counts of felony grand theft, forgery, and lying to police. It had taken Tom nearly a year, but he finally had what he legally needed to arrest them for photocopying Eric’s signature on a land deed, then stealing that land three days before Eric vanished. But, despite uncovering that the Hawley family stood a lot to gain from Eric’s demise, Tom didn’t have enough probable cause to arrest them for murder. But, Tom still had his suspicions. Tom says that one doesn’t steal land worth almost $7 million three days before someone goes missing, only to find that person dead two months later. Tom says that if you think about it, it HAS to be connected. Tom says that if Eric hadn’t died in September, then he would have eventually found out about the Hawley’s stealing his land. So, in Tom’s eyes, he believes that the Hawley family stole Eric’s land, then murdered him and disposed of the body- hoping that it would never have been found. Tom and the state’s attorney both knew that rational made a solid circumstantial case for homicide charges, but at the time, they lacked the physical evidence that tied the Hawley family to Eric’s murder. No matter how hard Tom tried, he was unable to find a Hawley family member who would break. Tom came to learn pretty well that the Hawley’s were an extremely tight-knit family. Tom knew that it was going to be extremely difficult for a Hawley to turn on a Hawley. Tom knew and sensed it wasn’t in their nature. 

Lee County prosecutors told Tom that it was too risky to bring the Hawley’s to trial for murder because they would most likely loose. So, the better course of action was to indict them for the forgery and land theft crimes- and at least convict them on that. Each of the forgery charges carried a minimum of anywhere between 2-5 years in prison, while the grand theft charges carried a maximum of 30 years in prison. Phil, Danny and David were facing multiple counts each which meant that if jurors found them guilty they’d be going away for at least 15 years each, possibly more. Tom and the prosecutors were banking on that. Although it wasn’t a murder conviction, Tom and the proscutors figured that a possible 15+ sentence for each Hawley would suffice. 

When the trial began in October 1991, the stage was set for a showdown. Phil had hired one the most expensive defense attorneys in Fort Myers, and so had his three sons. The men claimed they had nothing to do with the forged deed, in spite of it having their signatures, along with Eric’s. On top of the forgery charges, the state had added on additional criminal usury counts after discovering the Hawley’s also altered mortgage agreements in relation to their business investments with Eric. The case seemed straightforward, but the prosecution faced a lot of challenges from the start. First, because of the high-profile nature of the case and the fact that the Hawley’s were a prominent family in southwest Florida, a few of the judges had to recuse themselves from overseeing the trial. After several delays, the court ended up bringing in a judge out of retirement to try the case. The second hurdle to the state, was that the defense lawyers had won a pretrial motion to exclude any discussion about the circumstances of Eric’s murder. That motion meant the prosecutors and witnesses were only allowed to mention the date that Eric had disappeared, when his body was found, and the fact that he had been shot with a .22 caliber gun. The judge banned any talk of how Eric was encased in a makeshift tomb and that he had been lured to the property. So, with those critical things out of the way, the prosecution had to carefully weave together their case against the Hawley’s without emphasizing that everything the Hawley family was accused of doing was also strong motive for murder. As the forgery trial dragged on for seven weeks, it remained the top news story in Fort Myers.

The most important witness who took the stand was a former FBI forensic handwriting expert. The defense attorney originally asked the FBI forensic handwriting expert to be THEIR star witness and hoped that the expert would explain Eric’s signature was not a photocopy. But, after studying the land deed in question, the expert concluded that Eric’s signature WAS a photocopy, and ended up testifying for the prosecution. It became clear after the expert explained how a person can transpose a photocopied signature onto a document- and that’s exactly what one or more of the defendants had done to the Quit Claim Deed. The expert said Eric’s signature from a document he had actually signed back in early 1988 (when he was alive) was photocopied onto the fake deed. When the expert compared the two signatures, he could tell without a shadow of a doubt that the signatures were an exact match. The expert further testified that an exact match of anyone’s signature is impossible because no one signs their name the same way every time. On top of that, the expert also showed how the defendants altered mortgage documents to indicate they invested more money with Eric then they actually did. For example, mortgage notes that the Hawley’s executed with Eric stated that the Hawley’s gave Eric $70,000 had been changed to $90,000. Prosecutors proved this because they found the original promissory notes while raiding Phil’s home and the Credit Bureau office. By the time the expert left the stand, he had given jurors a lot of solid proof that several of the defendants had committed forgery, criminal usury and grand theft. 

The other main charge the state wanted to prove was that the Hawley’s had knowling lied to law enforcement throughout the criminal investigation. Prosecutors needed to prove that Phil and his sons had known before they filed the Quit Claim Deed in September 1988 that Eric wasn’t operating above board, and they needed to recoup their losses. The state had to convince the jury that the defendants had openly lied to the police when asked about their knowledge of Eric’s business schemes BEFORE filing the deed with the Lee County land records office. To help prove that, Tom Kontinos had prepared a star witness- someone who had worn a wire inside the Hawley’s inner circle. A few months into Tom’s investigation, he finally got an insider from the Hawley camp that was willing to crack. It wasn’t a family member, but Tom figured this person was gonna have to be the next best thing. This man’s name was Barry Crowe. He worked for the Fort Myers Credit Bureau in 1988-1989. Barry was a witness to the Quit Claim Deed and was an innocent bystander. Barry admits to Tom that he witnessed the falsifying of the land deed. Barry had agreed to wear a wire for several weeks in hopes that Danny, David, Phil or anyone from the Hawley family would slip up. Both Barry and Tom knew that the mission came with a few risks. Barry had expressed concerns of his safety in regards to the Hawley’s, however Barry knew that wearing a wire was going to be his only way out because investigators had told Barry that if he wasn’t going to cooperate, they would seek charges against him. According to Tom, after hours of recording, Barry was able to get enough on tape to incriminate the Hawley’s for the forgery and land theft crimes. However, he wasn’t able to get anyone on tape suggesting they had killed Eric, or even hired someone to kill Eric. According to Barry’s pretrial deposition, at some point the Hawley’s suspected him of wearing a wire. He had said that anytime he came into the office, the Hawley’s would awkwardly hug him to check for surveillance. Barry believed that within the first week of him wearing the wire, the Hawley’s knew not to say anything about Eric’s death, but that didn’t stop them from speaking crudely or negatively about Eric. 

The last significant witness to testify at trial was a woman named Honor House. She’s now deceased, but back in 1988 she was Eric Dawson’s secretary. In her deposition, Honor stated she had known Eric since the early 80’s and had worked with him on several land projects. She said she didn’t know Phil Hawley and his sons very well because Phil would only come around sporadically to Eric’s office. She said that leading up to September 1988, Eric forbade anyone at Enterprising Developments, INC from discussing business with people from outside the workplace. Honor said that Eric became paranoid and secretive and she suspected that Eric was getting into unsavory business and not being forthright with clients. She said that she felt responsible to some of the investors, because she brought several of them to Eric to make investments. They were her friends and church members. Honor said that when her conscience couldn’t take it anymore she arranged a secret meeting with Phil Hawley. In July 1988, Honor said she met with Phil at a diner and told him everything she suspected Eric was up to. She revealed that most of the money invested in Eric’s land projects were unaccounted for in one way or another. Honor said that she trusted Phil, and because he was Eric’s largest investor, he should know what Eric was up to. Honor says that the reason she trusted Phil so much even though she didn’t know him at all, was because she heard he was a Christian and an upstanding businessman. Honor’s words about her secret meeting with Phil Hawley in July 1988 was proof that Phil had known Eric was up to something BEFORE he and his sons executed the forged Quit Claim Deed. A fact that Tom Kontinos says the defendants were not truthful about. This information was a critical turning point at trial, so much so that on November 22nd- nearly two and half years to the day the hog hunters had discovered Eric’s body- Phil, Danny, David and Paul were convicted of multiple felonies. Jurors found Phil guilty of 15 felony counts related to grand theft and forgery. David and Danny were also found guilty of a handful of felonies. Paul was convicted of three forgery counts. 

In January 1992, when Lee County Circuit Court Judge Elmer Friday typed up his final ruling for Phil, Danny, David and Paul Hawley’s sentences, the news shocked a lot of people sitting in the courtroom. Despite the jury finding all the Hawley men guilty of multiple felonies that were worth many years in prison, Judge Friday doled out EXTREMELY lenient sentences. Phil was sentenced to 120 days in jail, which he served mostly on weekends, and was required to be on probation for 20 years. However, the probation was officially terminated in 2004. The Judge gave Danny, David and Paul no prison time at all. This news bewildered Tom Kontinos. Almost immediately, Tom says investigators with the state attorney’s office became suspicious that Judge Friday was partial to the Hawley family. Even reporters like Sheldon Zoldan questioned the lenient sentences. Jason Dawson was devastated that the Hawley’s never served significant jail time for the crimes they were convicted of. Jason says it felt like “a slap to the face.” Jason says that clearly if you’re a well connected family living in a small community, you have advantages and says that’s exactly what happened with the Hawley’s. To this day, Phil, David, Danny, and Paul still have homes and businesses in southwest Florida. Every now and then, Jason bumps into them. Jason is convinced that someone from the Hawley family had some connection to his father’s murder- a crime for which they have been the only named persons of interest by local authorities. Though they’ve never been named official suspects or charged in connection to Eric’s murder, Jason still has questions for them. Tom Kontinos says that each year, each decade that passes, he realizes that Eric Dawson may never get justice. “Someone committed the perfect crime.” Because Eric’s murder is still labeled as unsolved, the Lee County Sheriff’s office and medical examiner claim it’s an active case and have sealed all the files related to it. Every few years Tom and Jason request updates, but the Sheriff’s office hasn’t responded to their inquiries in the last few years.

Back in 2018, Michael Braun, a reporter for the Fort Myers News Press began to re-investigate the unsolved murder of Eric Dawson. He spent eight months looking at the case and collected as many news clippings from his employer’s archives as he could. He published a long article about Eric’s case on the 30th anniversary of the murder. Michael says that he had received an email from Jason Dawson asking for him to look into his father’s murder and remembers that he wasn’t familar with it at first. Michael interviewed Jason, Tom and even spoke briefly with Phil Hawley on the phone. Michael says that Phil reiterated that he held no knowledge of the murder and claimed that it was very likely a mob hit. Phil told Michael that he was framed for the forgery and grand theft. Right before Michael published his article in the Fort Myers New Press, he visited the Corkscrew Road land site with Tom Kontinos and Jason Dawson. They wanted to try and find the cypress clearing where the hog hunters had discovered Eric’s entombed body. The three men had no specific placement telling them where the clearing was considering it had been 30 years since the murder and the land although still wilderness, had changed. The three men got out of the car and began walking around while talking about the case when all of a sudden a pickup truck approached them. Michael, Tom and Jason all looked at each other and wondered who the heck was out there with them. What happened next made each of the men stop dead in their tracks. Michael remembers that the man in the pickup truck seemed like he was trying to check things out and seemed like he wanted to know why the three men were aimlessly looking around. The man asked Michael, Tom and Jason if he could help them with anything. Michael introduced himself and told the man the reasoning why they were out there- that they were investigating a 30 year old cold murder case. Tom, Jason and Michael asked the man how long he had lived out there near the Corkscrew Road land. The man replied that he had lived out there for almost his whole life, probably around 20-30 years. Jason, Michael and Tom asked the man if he remembered when Eric’s body was found, seeing as how the man lived out there during that time. Jason, Tom and Michael also asked the man if he knew perhaps where the clearing was located. A huge silence fell over the four men who were gathered on the side of a dirt road. Suddenly, a smirk came over the man’s face and he said “Maybe we should start this conversation over again and let me introduce myself. My name is David Hawley.” Tom, Michael and Jason all exchanged glances. 

Sure enough, David Hawley owns a home on acreage off of Corkscrew Road, not far from where Tom remembers Eric Dawson’s gravesite being. Why would someone who was convicted in court of stealing from Eric right before his murder, live on land so close to where his body was found?? If it was me, I would want to be as far away from Corkscrew Road as I can get, but Tom says that David owning the home and stumbling upon the group in 2018 didn’t surprise him one iota. Tom says that the Hawley’s are “in your face kind of people.” In the end, the only thing that is provable – and proved in court- is that Phil, Danny, David and Paul were involved in stealing land from Eric and forged his signature on a fake land deed. But, I gotta agree with Tom here. David living on property near Corkscrew Road is a bold, and I mean BOLD move. Jason also feels like the run-in with David was more than a coincidence. 

So… what have Phil, David, Danny, and Paul been up to since their convictions? Phil Hawley now owns a foundation named FamilyLand. Does that sound familiar to you, cause it should. Because it’s the same name that Eric Dawson was going to name the Corkscrew Road land once it was developed. And.. it’s a recent development. You see, FamilyLand Foundation has a filing date of January 24th, 2020. Eric Dawson filed for the business name FamilyLand Foundation, INC in November 1987. After Eric’s death, it went dormant until April 1996 when Martin Hawley, Phil’s youngest son reinstated it. The FamilyLand Foundation Company shows reports as recent as January 2020. And the current registered agent is Phil Hawley. Again, I gotta ask, why would someone who’s been a person of interest in Eric’s murder want to have control over his dormant business name?? I will say, this information doesn’t necessarily prove that anyone from the Hawley was responsible for Eric’s murder, but it makes me question it entirely. 

Delia D’Ambra from CounterClock podcast met with Tom Kontinos recently and together they noticed something extremely interesting. They pulled a data report of Phil and his sons and noticed an all too familiar name. ROBERT JEFFREY PELLEY. Jeff Pelley’s name was listed as an association to Phil Hawley and his sons. Tom Kontinos had no idea the connection Jeff Pelley had with the Hawley’s, and how that connected to Eric Dawson. But… Delia did. She told him that Jeff Pelley worked for the Hawley’s in the early 90’s and remained good friends of the family for years. Delia told Tom that four members of the Pelley family had been shot and killed in their home in Indiana, five months after Tom began his homicide investigation into Eric’s death in Florida. Tom says that in April 1989, when he was building the case against the Hawley’s for Eric’s murder, he had no idea that the Pelley family had also been murdered. Tom says that had he known about the Pelley murders; it would have been interesting and he would have contacted Indiana authorities to find out the motive and circumstances because of the Hawley’s being tied to them as well. The longer that Tom spoke to Delia from CounterClock podcast, something triggered inside of his brain and he thought of something. He remembered that while he was investigating Eric’s murder and the Hawley’s potential involvment, he had traveled with another investigator to chase a lead. That happened in late 1988 or early 1989. Tom says he traveled to the Indiana/Kentucky border for something but couldn’t remember exactly why because it’s been over 30 years since that trip occurred. He remembers staying in Louisville and visiting a police department in Indiana. He says it was right across from the Kentucky border, but couldn’t for the life of him remember the exact town or why exactly he was there. He just remembers visiting a police department and it was in regards to his investigation involving the Hawley’s and Eric Dawson. The longer Delia and Tom talked; they narrowed the town where Tom visited as likely being Clarksville, Indiana. Even though we don’t know why Tom traveled to Indiana, the fact that he went there at all is incredibly interesting. Especially given the timing of his trip. You see, in December 1988, Tom was building his case against the Hawley family for crimes against Eric Dawson and thought he’d be able to nail them for murder. On April 1st, 1989, Tom raided Phil’s home and office. What was it that Tom found between December of 88’ and April of 89’ that would have made him travel to the Kentucky/Indiana border?? 

After Phil was found guilty of forgery and land theft, Phil filed for bankruptcy- and those bankruptcy records contain hundreds of pages of overdue expenses and bills. A statement of a credit card that was registered to Phil and his wife in 1989 was found, and according to the card’s transaction history, in 89’ someone used it in Louisville, Kentucky three times. One charge was for $420 at a Mobil gas station, another was for $570 at a Super America gas station, and the third was for $2500 at a Saks Fifth Avenue store. The credit card statement does not specify what month the charges occurred, but because Tom arrested Phil and three sons in July of 89’, and because their bail forbade them from leaving Lee County, it’s safe to say they didn’t make any trips to Kentucky after that. So, reasonably, the credit card transactions in Louisville likely occurred before July 1989. My question is- who had Phil’s credit card in Louisville, Kentucky in early 1989?? And, why were they spending so much money at gas stations and a department store?? Now. Remember, Martin Hawley told the Fort Myers News Press back in May of 89’ that he had been in Chicago during the weekend the Pelley’s were murdered. Maybe the credit card swipes happened when Martin was driving to Chicago? But again, the charges are for hundreds, even thousands of dollars, so that’s too much money for gas, or even snacks and gas for a car full of people. Perhaps, the charges occurred when the Hawley’s attended the Pelley’s funerals. But… according to Jeff and Jacque, the Hawley’s DIDN’T attend the funerals. So… what the heck!? Something just doesn’t add up. 

Throughout my research of the Pelley family murders, which led me into Eric Dawson’s murder, I’ve noticed that Bob Pelley and Eric Dawson have four things in common. 1- In the 1980’s, Bob Pelley worked as a supervisor in the core processing center for (the corrupt financial conglomerate) Landmark Bank, which later became Citizens & Southern Bank. 2- During the years that Bob worked at the bank, Eric Dawson ran a majority of his business dealings and transactions through the same institution. 3- Both men were murdered in cold blood, less than seven months apart. 4- In 1988 through 1989, both men had close and personal relationships with Phil Hawley. 

Phil Hawley told Delia D’Ambra from Counterclock that he knew Bob Pelley for quite a few years and said that Bob was “too trusting of people” and was the type of person to never lock his door. Phil adamantly believes that Jeff Pelley is innocent of his family’s murders, and in his opinion the evidence in the Pelly family murders doesn’t point to Jeff. Phil also revealed that on several occasions before Bob and Dawn Pelley were murdered, some of his sons drove to Lakeville, Indiana to visit the Pelley family. Jacque Pelley confirms this statement, because she has a picture from spring 1988 that shows Jolene Pelley sitting in a red wagon on the porch of the church parsonage, reading a children’s book with a little boy. That little boy is Nathan Hawley, who is one of Phil’s grandsons. The fact that Nathan is pictured with Jolene at the church parsonage just goes to show that the Pelley’s and the Hawley’s stayed in contact after the Pelley’s moved from Fort Myers, Florida- and that it was a close friendship, enough for the Hawley family to visit at least once. Phil says that he stayed in regular contact with Bob, and that they called each other once a week. In March of 1989, 17 year old Jeff Pelley had planned a spring break trip to Fort Myers so he could visit his friends- the Hawley boys. Fast forward to the May 1st 1989 interview Jeff had with investigators; Jeff spoke of that trip. According to Jacque, Bob knew all about the spring break trip and was well aware that Jeff was going to be staying with the Hawley family. Jacque herself went to Disneyworld with friends that same week that Jeff was with the Hawley’s. The reason why I bring this trip up, is because the time that Jeff visited was also during the time that the Hawley men were being investigated for Eric Dawson’s murder. If Phil and Bob were so tight back then, (based on Phil’s own claims) one would think that at some point during all those conversations (which were supposedly happening once a week via phone) that Phil would have brought up the fact that he was being criminally investigated. My question that I now have, is when was the last conversation that Phil and Bob had spoken before Bob was murdered- when did that happen? 

According to a Pelley family phone record with a billing cycle between the dates of April 20th-early May 1989, (which includes the time frame of the murders) someone used the Pelley’s phone line, and had placed calls to Phil Hawley’s home during that time. But… the calls weren’t placed when the Pelley’s were alive. According to the phone bill, on May 2nd, 1989, (two days after the murders) two calls were made from the Pelley’s line to the Hawley’s home. But, just to be clear, the parsonage had the same number as the church, so it is possible that whoever made the calls did it from inside the church. The phone calls were made on the same day- one at 12:30pm which lasted for three minutes, and another at 3:40pm that lasted for four minutes. 

On May 2nd 1989, the community was gearing up for the Pelley family funeral, which took place the following day. A logical explanation for the phone calls is that Jeff was on the property and figured to call Phil Hawley to inform him of the murders. However, Jacque and Fran (Jeff’s post conviction lawyer) have asked Jeff if he remembers making a phone call to the Hawley’s on May 2nd, 1989. Phil Hawley knows that Jeff was the one that informed him about the murders but cannot be certain of the exact day and time, but Jeff doesn’t remember at all giving Phil the news. Jeff thinks that Phil found out about the murders when everyone else did. Jeff has said though, that it is very likely that he did phone Phil, but isn’t remembering it right. So either way it’s this: either Jeff made the phone call on May 2nd 1989 and just doesn’t remember making it, or Jeff didn’t and it was someone else. What I can’t get out of my mind though is this: if Jeff DIDN’T make the phone calls, then who the hell did?? Fran is still trying to jog Jeff’s memory more, and the reason why she NEEDS to know about these two specific phone calls is because in her post conviction petition she suggests that the Hawley family is somehow connected to the Pelley family murders. 

Fran says that Jeff Pelley, and his wife Kim (who is Phil Hawley’s niece) are on board with that theory. Fran also suggests in the post conviction petition, that Bob knew about something nefarious was going on at Landmark Bank, and that members of the Hawley family were somehow involved. Fran doesnt think that it’s a coincidence that the police raided Phil’s home in the first week of April in 1989, and then suddenly Bob, Dawn, Janel and Jolene were murdered in the last week of April. Fran mentions that the degrees of separation do not exist and that everything is connected together. Bob Pelley is tight with Phillip Hawley. Phillip Hawley is tight with Eric Dawson. It’s all through the bank Bob Pelley was working at. Bang, bang, boom… right?

The only thing that gives a hiccup to this theory though, is Toni Beehler. Remember- she’s the one who Bob allegedly told that he was running from something, or someone bad from Florida. So… if you believe in what Toni is saying, then the Hawley family couldn’t be who Bob was afraid of- because of the proof that they were still friends and everything was kosher after the Pelley family moved to Indiana. Still though, Fran Watson still plans to bring witnesses and evidence to a hearing, likely this year, to prove her theory.

One person who thinks the Hawley family could be capable of violence, based off of personal experience, is Pastor Michael Ross. He knew both Bob and Phil very well while they attended his church in Fort Myers. At Phil and his son’s sentencing in Lee County on the forgery and grand theft charges, Pastor Michael Ross was asked to be a character witness for the family- but that he decided not to take the stand. Although he had a good rapport with the Hawley family, after he refused to testify he became public-enemy-number-one. He purchased a gun to use as self-defense, just in case anything occurred because his life had been threatened. Ross says the Hawley family were totally capable of murder… and that Bob Pelley knew that. He knows that he has no evidence to support that the Hawley’s had anything to do with the Pelley family murders, but just knows that the Hawley’s were massive manipulators and cruel. 

I know this next little bit isn’t going to sound like it’s connected, but again, bare with me. Around 4pm on Saturday, February 28th, 1976, a car began to sink to the bottom of St Carlos Bay, near Sanibel Island, Florida. The red 1967 mercury convertible was partially submerged in about five feet of water. When crews towed the car out of the water, no one was found inside. When the police checked the car’s registration, it came back to someone by the name of Harry William Stewart, who was from Fort Myers. Police could tell the car didn’t just roll off of the thruway- it had been launched almost 50 feet into the bay. Someone had to have been behind the wheel when the car went into the water. The car was never reported stolen, so to police- whoever was driving the car was the one who owned it. Police started up a massive search to find who the driver of the red mercury was. But, after days of diving and scouring the coastline, they were never able to find a dead body. Police were left trying to figure out who Harry’s family and friends were, to hopefully gather more information to help in their investigation. The sunken car with no body became a headline news story right away. According to a report in the News Press, Harry’s landlord called police the day after the car was found. That landlord’s name?… Phil-freakin-Hawley

In 1976, Phil called the Sanibel police because he was renting an apartment to a 28 year old man: Harry William Stewart. According to police, Phil was the only person who inquired about Harry- no family members or any other friends ever called into the police station. Phil explained that he had known Harry for 3 years and had done business together. A few weeks after the car had sunk, Phil had let police check the apartment in Fort Myers that he had rented to Harry. When officers made entry into the apartment, they discovered that there was little to no furniture in the apartment. Rat feces and filth were all over the place. There were no toiletries. Only one change of clothes was found, but they were tattered and completely unwearable. A stack of unopened bills were on top of the kitchen counter that were postmarked a year before. When officers asked Phil Hawley for the lease paperwork for the unit, Phil produced it. But oddly, Phil Hawley had signed it while Harry did not. Officers couldn’t find Harry’s signature on any mail/documents on the kitchen counter, or anywhere in the apartment. The case of the missing man whose car ended up in St Carlos Bay went cold… until a year later.

Insurance claim investigators visited Sanibel in 1977 to try and prove Harry Willaim Stewart was dead. Although presumed dead, it was now up to investigators to prove that. Claim investigators had been receiving calls from the beneficiary of three life insurance policies of Harry that equaled $86,000. That beneficiary?… Phil-freakin-Hawley. The police confirmed to reporters that Phil was attempting to collect on the insurance money of Harry’s death. The investigators wondered why a person’s landlord would be the beneficiary of their life insurance? What they found was an FBI investigation months in the making- and a missing person whose true identity was mystifying.

Insurance company investigators in 1977 didn’t know it, but a few months after Harry’s car sank off the Sanibel thruway, the Feds had started looking for him too. In June 1976- four months after the red mercury registered to Harry went for a swim in St Carlos Bay, a tall dark-haired white man using his name and date of birth applied for a passport in Miami. The FBI flagged the application because they cross-checked it with Harry William Stewart’s name/DOB with the Bureau of Vital Records and discovered that the information belonged to a baby who was dead. At the time, the FBI didn’t know that Henry William Stewart was missing from Fort Myers. Agents simply recognized the name and information on the passport application was fake. That discovery of fraud allowed the Feds to get an arrest warrant for the man whose photo is on the applicant form. Fast forward a year later, the FBI just can’t find the man who posed as Harry William Stewart. At the same time, insurance investigators in Sanibel realized they too had problems verifying the validity of their sunken car victim. The Feds and the insurance company investigators then realized that they were looking for an identity that didn’t even exist. The one thing that continually puzzled them though was who was the man who smiled for the passport picture? Who was the real man that Phil Hawley rented an apartment to- and was the beneficiary of his life insurance? Who was the man behind the face??

In order to get answers, life insurance investigators looked closely at the life insurance policies that were made out to the man. Two of the policies had been taken out via mail with no ability to trace. But the third was made out by an agent in Cape Coral, Florida. That agent was a close colleague and business associate of none other than Phil-freaking-Hawley. When investigators asked the agent if he remembered preparing the life insurance policy of Harry William Stewart, neither the agent- or Phil could recall. Phil never provided an explanation of the suspicious manner, and the investigation seemingly died down. By the time 1976 came to a close, it became glaringly obvious to authorities and insurance companies that the name Harry William Stewart- and the real person trying to use it was all a bunch of hocus-pocus… it was fraud. According to the Bureau of Vital Records, a baby with that name had really been born in 1940’s, but had died. Someone stole the baby’s name then used that information in February 1976. That was when the car was registered and the apartment lease began, and when life insurance policies were made. When the mercury sank the identity was made to appear as deceased, which allowed Phil to attempt to collect on the life insurance money. The identity was later revived in June 1976 by a man trying to obtain a passport. A real person was photographed- to which some believe was Bob Pelley. 

The man in the passport photograph has the same hair color, facial features and jawline similar to Bob Pelley. Even Jacque Pelley, Bob’s daughter, says the photo is uncanny to her father. Jacque doesn’t know what to make of the photograph, or about the name Harry William Stewart. Fran Watson obtained the original copy of the passport application from the FBI and on it states the purpose of the trip. It was for a 6 week vacation to Venezuela, Brazil and the Carribean islands. Fran too, sees a resemblance of the passport photo to Bob Pelley based on the eyes, hair and chin. Fran says what makes it difficult to know for sure is because Bob was never photographed smiling, thus making it hard to compare to the picture from the passport because the man was smiling. Fran thinks that the passport photo shows Bob Pelley was tied to the Hawley family even all the way back to 1976. She thinks that Phil and Bob were mixed up with this whole “Harry William Stewart” stuff together.

Remember- Phil Hawley spoke at Jeff’s sentencing in 2006 and claimed that he had known Bob Pelley since Jeff was five years old. This would have meant that Bob and Phil met sometime in 1976 because Jeff was born in 1971. In May 1976 Phil created a company called American Bureau of Citizenship, which just so happened to aid in passport and visa application services. That business was one month old when the man claiming to be Harry William Stewart applied for a passport in Miami. The signature on the passport closely matches Bob Pelley’s signature. Bob’s lower case L is similar to that of the passport in question. 

In September 1975, the registered agent for Carribean Industries, INC (one of Phil Hawley’s corporations) was none other than Harry William Stewart. So, this means that in 1975, a fictitious person was running one of Phil’s businesses. How that’s even possible; I don’t even know. My whole point in even bringing this all up is to show you what so many investigators over the years have been unable to see. Based on credible evidence, documents and circumstances, it’s more than conceivable that Bob Pelley knew Phil Hawley as early as 1976, and that Phil Hawley knew the identity of Harry William Stewart was bogus as early as 1975. If it makes it any better though, is that Phil never received the life insurance money from Harry William Stewart’s three life insurance policies. Fran Watson wants to know (in her defense for Jeff) if Bob and Phil were involved in illegal activity together back in the 70’s which later led back to Bob and contributed to his murder- and to the murders of Dawn, Janel and Jolene. Her biggest hurdle is finding physical proof that supports her claim that someone from the Hawley family is responsible for the quadruple homicide. Fake passports and raised eyebrows towards Phil Hawley aren’t enough because there’s nothing concrete that ties any member of the Hawley family to the Pelley murders. And because there’s so much evidence that Indiana police from 1989 didn’t investigate, it’s hard to know which way is up. For example- what happened to the film that was inside Bob’s 35mm camera that police seized as evidence? And what about the locket with the photo of the woman and man? Or the key that was found in a barrel outside the Pelley’s parsonage? Those items are literally documented in the police’s evidence log. Could the film from the camera provide more clues to the crime? Knowing the identity of the people inside the locket seems pretty important, to which we still don’t have any answers to. No one- not even Jeff’s murder trial defense attorney- Alan Baum, asked about those items. Fran says that the prosecution office told her the film was developed back in 1989, but said that the images were too blurry, so they destroyed the film. Fran says that the locket, and the keys are missing from the evidence boxes. Craig Whitfield, the investigator from 2002-2003 says that he never came across the locket or the set of keys. Again, this is so problematic to me. 

On top of the questions I have about the camera film, and missing keys and heart-shaped locket, why hadn’t police followed up on a report that they took from Ed Hayes- Dawn’s father. Back on May 16th, 1989, a little over two weeks after the Pelley murders, detectives from Saint Joseph County drove to Michigan to interview Ed for the second or third time. According to the police report, during that interview Ed told the investigators that after the murders, he had gone into the parsonage and found the family’s checkbook. Ed noticed that in the days leading up to Saturday April 29th, three checks had been issued from the Pelley’s checkbook. One was for $65 and written on the memo line was “prom things for Jeff.” The second check was for $45 and written on the memo line was “weekend spending money for Jacque.” The third entry was for a check written to cash for $120. Ed told the police the checks for Jeff and Jacque were in Dawn’s handwriting. But… the third check wasn’t in Dawn’s handwriting. Ed said the third check was suspicious because he had found out later that if the check had been cashed it would have overdrawn the family’s account and bounced. He had no idea if the handwriting on the third check was Bob’s or not, but all he knew was that Dawn didn’t write it- and that the police needed to investigate if someone had tried to cash it. However, if a follow-up was conducted it wasn’t documented… or it didn’t happen at all. Which again is a huge blunder on the investigation. Ed’s story about the checkbook is interesting, because upon doing further research, the receipt from Jeff’s tuxedo rental shop indicated that his tuxedo rental was for $65, so the check for his “prom things” adds up. Then there’s the check for Jacque’s weekend stuff. $45 makes sense too considering she’d need to eat for two days, and it took Bob a tank of gas to drop her off and drive back home. It’s the third check- not in Dawn’s handwriting- that is so bothersome. Who wrote that check, and why?? How did the police not think that this was important?? Detectives never mention in any of their reports that they did a forensic examination of the Pelley’s banking records, which nowadays is standard procedure- or at least should be. But… there’s one that tops them all. 

What happened to the Pelley’s .22 revolver after it left the parsonage in spring of 1988? Remember- after Jeff threatened to take his own life, (a year before the murders) both Jeff and Jacque stated that Bob took the revolver out of the parsonage and gave it to somebody. We know that it wasn’t to Thomas Kebb, but it was to somebody else for safe keeping. There is a police report that states Bob’s sister knew the .22 revolver went to someone for safe keeping in spring of 1988, but somehow, shortly before Bob died, Bob was in possession of it again. When Bob obtained the possession of the gun again is when he gave it to his sister to hold on to. So… where, or rather, to whom did the .22 revolver go to from April 1988 until Bob suddenly had it again, and asked his sister to keep it (which occurred shortly before his death) in April of 1989? Until now, no one has investigated how relevant the Pelley’s missing .22 revolver might be to the story’s big picture, especially when you consider the Florida facts. 

When you purchase a gun from a store, or even a private seller, there’s supposed to be a record of the transaction. US law requires that you fill out a federal firearms form. In the 1980’s, Bob Pelley didn’t have one of those forms for a .22 revolver that someone had given him and his first wife, Joy. According to Jeff and Jacque, one day their dad just suddenly had a .22 revolver. Bob told the kids a vague story- that a close friend gave him the gun. Throughout Jeff and Jacque’s childhood, Jacque remembers Bob kept the gun wrapped in a green cloth under his bed in the master bedroom. Jeff and Jacque say that while living in Florida, their family would go target shooting with the .22. Bob promised Jeff that when he turned 18, he would get the .22 as an heirloom. However, in April 1988 plans changed. 

Like I told you before, in Spring 1988 Jeff threatened to commit suicide. So, concerned for Jeff’s safety, Bob removed the .22 from the Pelley home and gave it to an anonymous person for safe keeping. According to police reports and eyewitness testimony, at some point between fall of 1988-spring of 1989, Bob also gave a sack of guns to Thomas Kebb. But, according to multiple interview transcripts, the .22 revolver wasn’t in that sack of guns. It was already gone from the parsonage. Somehow, according to Jeff and Jacque, by January 1989, Bob had possession of the .22 revolver again. We know this because Jacque remembers her father told her that he had it, but it just wasn’t in the house. What’s super interesting, is that a report claims that Bob gave the .22 to his sister in Ohio not long before he died. So, if you believe all these accounts, that means the .22 revolver disappeared from the parsonage in Indiana in spring 1988, then back in Bob’s possession eight months later. Sometime between January 1989 and right before he was murdered, Bob gave the .22 to his sister. My question is, where was the .22 from spring 1988-January 1989? When Bob told his kids that he had the .22 again but it wasn’t inside the house, where was it then? 

The reason why I believe the whereabouts of the Pelley’s .22 are important, is because based on information from the Lee County Sheriff’s office in Florida; that Eric Dawson was murdered with a .22 revolver in September 1988. Trust me, I know what you’re thinking. I know that there are plenty of .22 revolvers out in the world, but do you see why I ask the question? In light of the close proximity of all the characters in this story, I think the Pelley’s .22 is worth law enforcement looking into. If there is a universe where the Pelley’s .22 was the gun used to kill Eric Dawson, and then Bob got the gun back from the person who committed Eric’s murder, Bob would essentially be in possession of an actual smoking gun- Bob just might not have known it. Or… maybe he did. It is possible that Bob realized in January 1989 that the .22 was a murder weapon. That would explain why he made sure it was out of the parsonage in case Eric’s killer came looking for it. It could also explain Bob’s strange behavior leading up to the family murders. All of this would essentially explain away Bob’s paranoia and concern about what the kids should do in case something happened to him. The Lee County Sheriff’s office has nothing to lose if they test the Pelley’s .22 against evidence in Eric’s case. After all, Eric’s murder is still unsolved, and according to Tom Kontinos, detectives recovered the bullet that killed Eric Dawson back in 1988. So it seems to me that testing the Pelley’s .22 is worth a shot. However, the Pelley’s .22 is now unaccounted for. According to reports and interviews with family members, after the gun went to Bob’s sister in Ohio, the gun left her possession and the whereabouts of the gun got lost with time. However, those that are close to this case know where the location is, but are afraid to share this information publicly in case the gun is in fact of significant importance. 

Starting from the day Eric’s body was found in 1988, the Lee County Sheriff’s office has claimed a public records exemption on all of the documents related to his homicide. To this day, nothing besides his initial missing persons report is in public records. But, the Sheriff’s office can only claim a public record exemption if they are actually working the case. However, it was determined several months ago the investigation had stalled and was no longer being looked at. If you were to scroll through the Lee County’s unsolved murders page- even just a few months ago, there wasn’t a single mention of Eric Dawson, or even just his image. Crimestoppers of southwest Florida didn’t even have a profile of Eric in their gallery, which by the way is home to hundreds of southwest Florida’s unsolved crimes going back decades. So basically what I’m trying to say is that there had been zero recent activity in Eric’s case. In my book, that’s completely unacceptable, especially this day in age. 

Because of that fact, in January of this year, Delia D’Ambra from Counterclock pressed all the entities involved in Eric’s case to do something. She called the state attorney’s office in Fort Myers every day for weeks to have someone put her in touch with their homicide investigation unit. The state attorney in Florida is essentially a district attorney who oversees multiple counties. She wanted to put pressure on the Lee County Sheriff’s office to reopen Eric’s case. After all of Delia’s efforts, she finally got a response from investigators from the state attorney’s office who asked for her to meet them at their Fort Myers office. 

The investigator from the state attorney’s office wanted to hear what Delia had to say and what she had found that could potentially be crucial new information in Eric’s case. Prior to Delia’s phone calls, the investigator admitted that he was only minorly familiar with Eric’s case. He emphasized that to his knowledge, no one at the Lee County Sheriff’s office was currently assigned to Eric’s case. The reason why this is so interesting is because of the public records exemption. Delia had brought the original detective from Eric’s case along with her to this meeting, and for over an hour and half, Delia and Tom Kontinos filled the investigator in with everything they knew, and recommended that the investigator tell his boss- the state attorney, who holds more power- to pressure the Sheriff’s office into really investigating the case and potential suspects. During the meeting, Delia brought up the Pelley’s .22 revolver. A few weeks after that meeting, the investigator told Delia that until the Lee County Sheriff’s office recommends Eric’s case for the state attorney’s office to review, his hands are tied. So… I’m asking you readers to write, call or email the Lee County Sheriff’s office in Florida to reopen Eric Dawson’s case and work jointly with the state attorney’s office to find his killer. Contact information will be posted at the end of this blog. 

The traction that Counterclock podcast got from this case really prompted Crimestoppers in southwest Florida to get involved in drumming up new leads in Eric’s case. Their director- Trish Routte- sat down with Delia D’Ambra for an interview after she reviewed what little information the Sheriff’s office released to her. Trish is discouraged that the Dawson family has had to live so many years without justice. Because Trish is an aggressive advocate for unsolved homicides, and her years of running Crimestoppers in southwest Florida and helping to obtain leads that later contributed to solving cases, Eric’s case is one that deeply troubles and concerns her. Trish says that based on what she knows, it’s apparent to her that whoever is responsible for Eric’s death has been able to silence as many people who could identify them. She thinks that whoever committed Eric’s death has either done it since, or has the capacity to do it again. 

Eric Dawson is now one of the first profiles you see on the southwest Florida Crimestoppers page. Audiochuck even has a billboard of Eric’s case up in Lee County, just waiting for the right person to drive by, see it and come forward. 

As I wrap up this case, I don’t have as many answers as I’d like, and I personally don’t feel like I know one way or another if Jeff Pelley is innocent or guilty. There’s clear cut proof that he was given an unfair trial- that I can tell you for 100% is a fact, but that’s not enough to take his side. Phil Hawley has been writing Jeff Pelley letters while Jeff has been incarcerated in prison- a fact that Fran Watson wasn’t aware of until recently. It’s unclear if Jeff wrote back to Phil, but just the fact that they were in contact means a lot of things. Fran has been representing Jeff since 2009, and Jeff knows how Fran feels regarding the Hawley’s. According to Jacque, Phil’s letters to Jeff trickled, then stopped altogether when Phil learned that Fran named the Hawley family in her post conviction relief filing. 

On April 16th, 2021, Jeff and Fran had their first pretrial conference with a Saint Joseph County Judge and current county prosecutor. This was the first time that Fran was able to get on the docket after months and months of delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic. All the parties spoke remotely on a conference call- including Jeff who phoned in from prison. The meeting was to iron out two very important things. The first item of conversation was that the defense wanted an answer from Saint Joseph County as to where missing pieces of evidence are related to the case. Fran has specifically requested access to Toni Beehler’s recorded 2003 interview tape that the state claims is in their possession, as well as figuring out where the missing keys from the Pelley’s outdoor trash can are, the heart-shaped locket with the still unknown man and woman’s picture inside, and the film from Bob’s 35mm camera. Fran’s motion requests where the state’s items are, and wants them to be turned over to the defense. If it’s a situation where the state destroyed the evidence, Saint Joseph County has to produce proof of how and when those items were destroyed. The second item of conversation was setting a future date for a status hearing of Jeff’s case. Fran believes that Jeff is pleased to know that things are finally beginning to move forward- in reference to his post conviction relief hearings, and is hopeful that he’ll be granted a new trial.  

I’m left just like you. Wondering. Wondering where we’d be today if police in Saint Joseph County had done a better investigation in 1989. Wondering if Bob Pelley was a man of more secrets than anyone ever knew. Wondering if the Pelley family murders were really the result of an enraged teenage boy, or was it the work of a hired hit man who’s gone unnamed and unknown for 32 years. All we do know is that there’s evidence that points to those two scenarios. In the end, there’s five people dead who should still be here today. Dawn, Janel and Jolene were brutally slain for no reason- and a heartless crime that will forever haunt their only surviving family member- Jessica. Jessica deals with survivor’s guilt and says that she sometimes wishes that she was there that day her family was murdered because she wishes that she was able to protect them or could have done something. She wishes that her mother and sisters were there the day she got married, and wishes that they knew her children. She says that even in hard times she wishes that she could just pick up the phone to call them to ask for advice or vice-versa. She would love to have memories to talk about with them. Jessica now goes by the name Jessi- a new identity she’s given herself to cope with her dark past. The events of April 29th, 1989 destroyed her life. If you want to learn more about her story, check out her memoir, “I am Jessica.” 

Jacque Pelley’s life was also ripped apart by the 1989 massacre. She may have never understood her father or been close with Dawn and her girls, but she still wishes that they were still around. Jacque knows that for a fact, her father would have been a part of everything, and knows for certain that even the girls would still be a part of her life today. The only surviving family member Jacque has left is her brother Jeff- a four time convicted murderer who turns 50 this year and who will likely spend the rest of this life in prison. 

Then… There’s Jason Dawson, whose Dad, for all his alleged swindling and scheming, is still his hero, and a person Jason wishes he could have spent his life with. Jason wishes that his dad was there to witness his marriage and his children being born. Jason hopes that he’s made his father proud. 

I’ve worked really hard to present this case the best that I can, and trust me when I say it’s been my hardest case to write about to date. I know that there’s so many characters- almost too many to keep track. But, I hope that you’ve learned something new. Because Jeff’s post conviction relief status is still ongoing, I will be sure to update you on if, or when updates arise. And please, don’t forget to contact Lee County’s Sheriff’s Office to help convince them that they need to reopen Eric Dawson’s murder case. 

Lee County Sheriff’s Office Contact Information (Eric Dawson Murder)


Public Information Office (239) 477-1340

General (239) 477-1000


PIO General:

Sergeant Marsha Sutphin:

OR, Call SWFL Crimestoppers at 1-800-780-TIPS (8477), or email them at

Clarence “Eric” Dawson.
Eric and Susan Dawson’s wedding day.
Eric Dawson with his son Jason.
From left- Barbara Dawson, Robert, (middle, sitting) Eric and Jason (sitting on floor)
The Quit Claim Deed that Barry Crowe signed as a witness, and who later testified that the deed was a forgery.
Newspaper clipping from “A Trail of Broken Promises, Debt, and Death” by Peter Franceschina for the Fort Myers News-Press, dated October 6th, 1991. In this clipping is images of Phil Hawley and three of his sons that were all charged with the forgery and grand theft.
Mobil Oil gas station credit card transaction from Phil Hawley’s credit card.
Super America gas station credit card transaction from Phil Hawley’s credit card.
Saks Fifth Avenue credit card transaction from Phil Hawley’s credit card.
Eric Dawson’s Landmark Bank 1986 check- proving that he had a connection with Bob Pelley.
Images of the Pelley phone bill, proving that two phone calls were made from the Pelley phone line to the Hawley family residence, after the murders had occurred.
The sunken Sanibel car.
Bob Pelley’s real signature.
The signature from the forged passport that many believe is written by Bob Pelley. Although tough to make out, what is your thought on this?
The passport photo of the man claiming to be Harry William Stewart. Many believe this man is actually Bob Pelley. What do you think?
Eric Dawson’s SWFL CrimeStoppers profile.
“I Am Jessica” memoir written by Jamie Collins- Jessica’s cousin.
Frances “Fran” Watson, Jeff’s current post conviction lawyer who has been working on his case since 2009.
The court order of Jeff’s most recent hearing that was held via telephonic conference.
Delia D’Ambra from Counterclock podcast. Her reporting and investigation was a lot of this blog’s source material.

Published by caitiejobug

I’m a SAHM of one, a loving wife, daughter, and sister. Reading and writing are my favorite hobbies, along with watching true crime documentaries.

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