‘If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere’: Sullivan County grapples with Lowell Badger murder 8 years later

Special Report

SULLIVAN COUNTY, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Dec. 8, 2012 started out like any other Saturday in Sullivan County, Indiana, but the morning quickly took a dark turn for the Badger family.

Lowell Badger’s son, Alan, and daughter-in-law, Audrey, were on their way to a funeral when they stopped by his house to drop off a trailer. When Audrey tried to go inside, she noticed the door was still locked.

“And that was really strange for nine o’clock in the morning,” Alan recalled.

When Alan made his way inside, he found his father dead on the floor; murdered in his own home.

“You just don’t ever foresee yourself walking into a situation like that,” he said. “And, um, experiencing that, you know, the, the brutality behind it just continues to amaze me.”

If there is one thing Alan is thankful for about that day is that he is the one who walked into the house instead of someone else.

“Clearly there are things that I will never unsee,” Alan noted. “But then again, you know, I’m glad that I am the one that saw him than somebody else. You know, it’s a lot to carry, but yet that’s okay. I’m good with that.”

It’s been over 8 years since the 85-year-old farmer was murdered; over 8 years, and the case is still unsolved.

“You find yourself kind of getting on a mountain side, thinking, boy, we’re close, we’re close, we’re close,” Alan said, “And then, you know, the rug gets pulled out from underneath you and trying to learn and figure out how to stay on an even keel has been very challenging.”

Sullivan County is a typical small, farming community. The local historian Donna Adams described it as a place where the residents are laid back and high school sports bring the community together on Friday nights as the Golden Arrows take the field.

“We’re not a high crime rate, like some areas,” Adams said, “But it does stain our community in a way, it does.”

Adams noted that much of the crime stems from drugs and alcohol use.

“I feel that these, you know, these kinds of people just don’t have any thoughts on what they’re doing,” she said. “If they’re on drugs, then that’s their, that’s their goal is just to get their next fulfillment for themselves.”

Badger’s murder is not the first unsolved murder in the community. In January, 1981, Sarah Benson was murdered in her Farmersburg home. The 40-year-old murder still brings people to the Sullivan County library for information.

While the Benson murder has long since gone cold. The community seems unwilling to let that happen again.

“[When Badger was murdered], it just devastated people. And it really, um, really scared people,” Adams said. “So people were like, well, you know, this could happen anywhere if it happened here, it could happen anywhere.”

According to Indiana State Police Sgt. Matt Ames, unsolved murders normally become cold cases after roughly five years. Badger’s murder investigation, however, remains extremely active.

New evidence in the case was released around the 8-year anniversary of the murder in December 2020, with ISP sharing a video clip that included a vehicle and two different persons of interest. This, coupled with the continuation of tips and interviews, has kept the case active.

“Since the beginning of the crime, we’ve received over 250 tips, we’ve done over 150 interviews,” Ames said, “We still believe that someone in the community here in Sullivan County knows what happened that evening.”

Badger was well known and extremely active in his community, serving on several local boards. And, according to Alan, he was always willing to help those in need. Alan even recalled people often stealing food from a freezer he kept in his shed.

“My mom would get a little bit wound up over that,” Alan said. “And my dad always said, ‘well, obviously they must’ve needed it worse than what we did.'”

The family “kind of laugh about that” now, Alan said. “We remember that fondly, because dad truly would have given anybody anything if they’d ask and if they just showed that they needed it.”

Over the past 8 years, the community has tried to return the favor. Most recently, a sign campaign sprang up in 2019 to keep the case in the public eye.

Alan said members of Kingsley Memorial Church, where his father was a longtime member, were instrumental in getting it started.

“You know, things got a little bit quiet there, and the church decided that they wanted to put these signs out,” he said.

There is also a $30,000 reward for information that leads to a conviction in the Badger murder case, and some locals are now efforting to increase that to $50,000.

“Why we got involved in this was just to try to find some, um, closure or peace for the Badger family,” Randy Pigg, one of the individuals hoping to increase the reward amount, said.

Closure and peace; two things the Badger family, and Sullivan County as a whole, are missing as long as the case remains unsolved.

“You know, it’s real easy to talk about closure and until you’ve been, I guess on the other side of the equation, you don’t understand what that means,” Alan said.

For the family, closure will come with the answers to the many questions they still have.

“The end result is my dad is gone. My dad’s not going to come back,” Alan said. “And, you know, my dad lived a really good life up until that point. Um, so, you know, he would say, ‘Don’t worry about me. Don’t cry for me cause I’m in a better place.’ But yet for those that are left behind, there’s just so many unknown questions, um, that would help us to be able to have a little bit of peace with what has taken place.”

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