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Son of Slain Minister Returns to Home

May 2, 1989

LAKEVILLE, Ind. (AP) _ Worshipers at a rural church gathered to mourn Monday at the parsonage where their minister, his wife and two children were found shot to death.

″It’s just a small country church and everyone’s real close,″ said Roger Schafer, a member of the congregation.

The minister’s son, 17-year-old Jeff Pelley, returned to the house briefly to retrieve his belongings, then crossed the gravel parking lot of the church to console grieving members of the small congregation before leaving with friends.

The bodies of the Rev. Robert L. Pelley, 38, his 32-year-old wife, Dawn, and daughters Janel, 8, and Jolene, 6, were found Sunday morning after the family failed to appear for services at the Olive Branch Church of the United Brethen in Christ.

Police have ruled out burglary or theft, as well as murder-suicide. They have refused to discuss any motives they may be aware of.

The four victims all apparently were shot at close range with the same weapon, said St. Joseph County sheriff’s Sgt. Charles Feirrell.

Results from autopsies were not expected before Tuesday, said Feirrell.

The Pelleys had married after their first spouses died, congregation members said. Jeff Pelley and Jackie Pelley, 14, were Pelley’s children from his first marriage, and 10-year-old Jessica, Janel and Jolene were Ms. Pelley’s children.

Jeff Pelley was at an amusement park north of Chicago for a high school prom celebration when the slayings occurred, Feirrell said. His sister, Jackie, was attending church camp for the weekend, and stepsister Jessica stayed overnight with friends.

The Rev. Don Merrilatt, a United Brethren pastor from a nearby town, said Pelley had just written a paper on merging broken families for a counseling course the two attended at a church college. He said Pelley had talked about friction among the children in the new family, but declined to elaborate.

However, church member Beatrice Roush, 66, said she babysat frequently for the Pelley’s younger children and noticed no signs of strain. ″They all got along fine,″ she said.

The Pelleys had been married about five years, and had produced no children of their own.

At least 20 members of the congregation gathered Monday at the church in Lakeville, which sits about halfway between Fort Wayne and Chicago. Members of neighboring churches brought dishes of cold cuts and salads.

″You have a bond here that a lot of times you don’t find in a bigger church,″ said Richard Thorpe, a former pastor at the church who came from his home in nearby Kendallville.

On Sunday, when Pelley failed to appear for the 9:30 a.m. service, the nearly 70 congregants there thought he might be playing a joke, Schafer said. Another church member began the service, but all grew increasingly worried as Ms. Pelley and the children failed to appear.

Church trustee David Hathaway went to the parsonage and found the bodies.

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