Linda Tenopir’s family tried to shield her from Facebook on April 26.
News reports were released saying her stepsister’s murderer, Henry Hillenbrand, had been set free from prison on parole.
When she was finally told the news, she couldn’t hold back her tears.
“I lost it,” Tenopir said. “It brings back every single memory to 1970.”
Hillenbrand, 71, had been serving a 150-year and a 240-year sentence at Menard Correctional Center for the 1970 deaths of 22-year-old Vietnam veteran George Evans and Tenopir’s 19-year-old stepsister, Patricia Pence, both of Streator.
Hillenbrand was released from prison April 26.
He confessed to the murders. He snuck through a window and shot Evans in the head. Pence then locked herself in a bathroom, but Hillenbrand forced himself in, dragged her out and forced her into his car. When she tried to escape him, he shot her in the back, then four more times. He also crushed her head with his rifle stock.
The Prisoner Review Board voted 14-0 in favor of Hillenbrand’s parole. According to documents, the board, after “reviewing all factors available at this time,” concluded Hillenbrand is a “good risk for parole.”
The news is a shock to Tenopir, who referred to Pence as her best friend.
“How did he even get out?” she asked from her Arizona home.
Even beyond the shock, Pence’s family has questions.
Delores Pence, another of Patricia’s sisters who lives in Streator, wants to know why her family wasn’t notified of the parole hearing. Her family has participated in every hearing, either by giving testimony or writing a letter.
“They never contacted us,” said Delores Pence, who cried during a phone interview April 29.
“They used to contact us every time one was coming up until my dad passed. It’s been up to us to call when one is coming up, and last year, we gave them our address, our phone numbers. We made a promise to our mom and dad before they passed we would not give this up.”
The Times traded messages with the spokesman for the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, but was not able to speak with him prior to deadline.
On the agency’s website, it says victims and complaining witnesses can receive notice of a parole hearing by writing its office directly.
“This is the only way to receive notification of these hearings,” according to the website. “Signing up with victim’s services or other entities such as VINE currently does not mean you will receive notice of parole hearings. You must contact our office. You must also keep our office updated with your current contact information to ensure notification.”
The Pence family was not alone in feeling taken off guard.
LaSalle County State’s Attorney Karen Donnelly said she wasn’t told of the upcoming hearing, and the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office was notified one day in advance Hillenbrand was planning on moving to an address located on Silverspoon Avenue in Granville.
Both Delores Pence and Linda Tenopir have not slept well since the parole announcement.
Tenopir said she’s lived with the fear before, because Hillenbrand had escaped prior to his sentencing and lived in Missouri under an alias for 13 years. The fugitive was captured after bringing a bear hide into the United States from Canada and was returned to LaSalle County in May 1983.
She remembers Hillenbrand relayed threats through a relative when he escaped, including one that stuck with her: “Before this is over, you’ll all be dead.”
“I was constantly looking over my shoulder at night,” Tenopir said. “I was always scared, always looking. Now I feel that way again. And I know he doesn’t like me. What’s going to stop him now? He’s broke out of the county jail once, and nobody found him. How will they keep track of him?”
Part of Hillenbrand’s parole orders are he’s not allowed to contact the family of the victims and he must register as a violent offender, which he did April 29. The Putnam County Sheriff’s and State’s Attorney’s offices stated they were concerned about the proximity of him living close to two schools in Granville.
“The main concern of the sheriff’s office and state’s attorney’s office is the safety of our residents and children who attend these schools,” officials stated in a joint press release.
The state’s attorney’s and sheriff’s office said citizens with concerns should contact members of the Illinois General Assembly.
“Unfortunately, due to no restrictions under state law, a person convicted of two murders cannot be prevented from moving into our community,” the official said.
Documents in favor of his parole said Hillenbrand’s “faith had deepened, his work ethic strengthened, and he has worked every day to be the best person he can be and to try to atone for the horrible crime he committed so many years ago.” The documents also stated he had a strong plan and support group after he was released from prison.
He said his long-term goal is to move to Missouri and work in his son’s logging business.
Pence’s family described Hillenbrand as an evil person prior to the murders. He had violent episodes with Patricia prior to the murders, including one where she went to the police after he choked her.
The family is skeptical Hillenbrand has changed.
“I think he got one over on them,” Tenopir said of the Prisoner Review Board.
She’s also convinced even if he has changed, he doesn’t deserve his freedom because of the grief and fear he’s caused, and still causes today.
“I understand his family is upset when they say they can’t see him,” said Tenopir, who mentioned Hillenbrand and Patricia also had a daughter together. “How do they think we feel? We have to go to the cemetery to visit our sister.”