Jail death spurs inquiry and opens a racial rift
By Andrew H. Malcolm - The New York Times
January 21, 1984
Federal investigators today began trying to reconstruct
the events leading to the death of a young black who had been
accused of murdering a white newspaper editor and his family.
At the same time, a Federal conciliator was trying to
reopen a fragile dialogue between blacks and whites in this city,
who have been divided by suspicions that the black was murdered in
jail. The suspect, Calvin D. Perry 3d, 18 years old, was found dead
in his cell Tuesday morning, a day after he was formally charged
with killing Dan and Jane Osborne and their 11-year-old son Ben with
a baseball bat on the night of Sept. 17.
The Osbornes' dog was also killed and a 2-year-old
daughter sexually molested and clubbed. The case stirred a wave of
fear through this aging northeast Indiana city of 170,000 people. Mr.
Osborne was the editorial page editor of The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel.
His daughter now lives with relatives in another state.
Mr. Perry, who lived within three blocks of the
Osbornes and had a history of violence, was tracked down Jan. 6 by
General, a police dog that followed the scent and footprints in the
snow of a man wanted for assaulting and robbing another woman in her
home. While he was being interrogated that day, Mr. Perry confessed
more than a dozen other felonies against whites and blacks,
including rape, robbery and murder, the authorities said.
Suspect Is Quoted: 'I Know'
At one point, they said, a detective asked if there was
anything else Mr. Perry wanted to say, and that Mr. Perry replied,
''I know what you're talking about,'' and confessed what he called
''the big one,'' the Osborne slayings.
Over the next two days he made long statements that
were videotaped, reiterating these confessions under oath and
providing considerable detailed information on the crimes, the
police said. He was said to have mentioned gently prying open the
Osbornes' door, leaving marks in the wood that investigators found
only after his confession.
Mr. Perry also directed officials to a screwdriver he
used, and it matched the marks. He also passed a polygraph, or lie-detector,
test on his involvement in the Osborne killings, and wallets and
credit cards belonging to the victims were found in his home.
On Tuesday Mr. Perry was found hanging close to the
floor between an upper bunk and the bars on a low window. Strips of
a canvas-like mattress covering were around his neck and ankles.
Around the body there were no signs of violence, the authorities
said. Several messages to relatives denying any murders were on the
bed, the wall and floor, they said.
Many blacks in Fort Wayne, including the victim's
mother, Charlene Corey, are suspicious about Mr. Perry's death. The
Rev. James Fincher, who visited Mr. Perry in jail four days before
his death, said the young man feared for his life and said his
confession had been forced.
Doubt Expressed on Suicide
''There has been a murder committed in jail,'' Mr.
Fincher said in an interview. ''I believe the police can't solve the
Osborne killings so they picked a man already in community trouble
and forced him to confess.''
He said he could not believe that Mr. Perry had killed
himself. ''It is all but impossible for him to have done this to
himself,'' Mr. Fincher said, ''Black people do not commit suicide
much and when they do, it is not slow. They shoot or cut themselves.''
The Rev. James W. Bledsoe, president of the
Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, a group of 31 black
members of the clergy, led a meeting Tuesday to protest the death.
He said that he had ''mixed emotions'' over it and that such
automatic suspicions sprang from a history of poor racial relations
nationally and in Fort Wayne, where about 30,000 blacks live.
''Fort Wayne is an ultraconservative city,'' he said in
an interview, ''and, you know, we blacks come from a background of
where lynchings have followed us down through the centuries.''
After a meeting Thursday night with Patricia A. Glenn,
a conciliator from the Justice Department's Community Relations
Service in Chicago, the alliance agreed to suspend further action
until an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation is
In a statement read to reporters at the altar of St.
John's Baptist Church, Mr. Bledsoe's parish, the ministers said they
reserved the right to pursue legal remedies later through the
Justice Department's civil rights division. They indicated they
would not be satisfied with any investigation that did not find a
violation of Mr. Perry's civil rights.
They rejected an invitation to meet with the Allen
County Prosecutor, Stephen Sims, to review the evidence and the
videotaped confessions. ''There is nothing to be gained from such a
meeting,'' said to J. B. Pressey, president of the area's branch of
the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Mrs. Glenn said she hoped, through a series of sessions
with city and community leaders, to end ''rhetorical dialogues'' in
the news media by both sides and reopen lines of substantive talk.
She met today with city officials and one subject she discussed with
them was a lack of blacks in higher municipal and county posts.
Coroner Roland Ahlbrand and Sheriff Daniel L. Figel
have officially ruled the death a suicide, and the Osborne- Perry
cases are closed. Mr. Perry's two public defenders, Charles Leonard
and Barrie Tremper, said at a news conference today that they had
seen all the videotapes and police logs, attended the police lineups
and interviewed detectives and technicians.
The lawyers said that while they might later have filed
an appeal based on certain procedures when witnesses viewed Mr.
Perry and others in a lineup, at no time had Mr. Perry's rights been
violated. They said that they found no evidence of coercion; that
the tapes showed Mr. Perry acknowledging six readings of his
constitutional rights in the first three hours of interrogation
alone, and that he refused legal counsel until the confessions were
They also said his demeanor on the videotapes was clear,
forthright and there was little actual questioning. ''There was
almost a camaraderie,'' Mr. Leonard said, ''with police saying 'Mr.
Perry, tell us your story,' and Mr. Perry going on at great length.''
The lawyers said that while they had no opinion on Mr. Perry's guilt
in the various crimes to which he confessed, they noted his detailed
knowledge of the victims, their homes and their activities. Mr.
Leonard said Mr. Perry accurately recounted the contents of a
victim's refrigerator and the interior decoration of rooms; he also
described the crimes against the Osbornes in graphic detail as well
as the design of their house. Mr. Leonard said he stopped counting
after Mr. Perry correctly described more than 50 details about the
The lawyers also said that, to protect client
confidentiality, they would never divulge anything Mr. Perry had
told them. Representatives of the minister's alliance said that was
part of a cover-up.
Calvin Perry, accused of murdering IN newspaper man and family,
reported hanging self in jail cell
Tuesday, Jan 17, 1984
(Fort Wayne, IN) Beating deaths of Daniel, Jane and Benjamin Osborne
and survival of their daughter Caroline, beaten and raped, last
September recalled; films shown.
Perry's recent arrest and his alleged confession noted; apparent
circumstances of his suicide discussed. [Coroner Dr. Roland AHLBRAND
- is confident Perry's death was suicide.]
Area ministers noted claiming Perry's confession was extracted under
duress. [Reverend Hugh GUY, Reverend James FINCHER - claim Perry was
murdered rather than suicide victim.] [Mayor Winfield MOSES, Junior
- explains his call for grand jury investigation into Perry's death.]
Perry's suicide note quoted.
M RACE: B TYPE: T MOTIVE: Sex./Sad.
Rapist home invader; bludgeoned victims 11-78.
DISPOSITION: Confessed prior
to jailhouse suicide, January 1984.