Unsolved murder still haunts Tri-State family two decades later

Published: Nov. 16, 2007 at 9:04 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 27, 2007 at 7:01 PM CST
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Reporter: Stefanie Silvey
New Media Producer: Nick Storm

Saturday marks the 20 year anniversary of one of the Tri-State's most horrific crimes.

The Dardeen family was brutally killed November 17th, 1987 in the small town of Ina Illinois. More than a decade later a man would confess to the crime, but to this day the case still remains unsolved.

Illinois detectives say they feel confident they know who killed the Dardeen family but because he's sitting on death row in another state, they will likely never have the chance to prosecute him. Another frustration for a family who has suffered two decades of unanswered questions.

Joeann Dardeen and her son Keith shared a love of true crime stories.

Joeann Dardeen says, "He'd get a book and he'd read it and he'd say 'mom wanna read this?"

She could have never imagined Keith and his family would fall victim to one.

Joeann says, "I miss them. I miss my family very much."

Keith's wife, Elaine and their three year old son, Peter, were found beaten death in their trailer. She was seven months pregnant and gave birth to her baby during the attack. Her newborn baby girl was also beaten to death.

At first Keith Dardeen was suspected in the crime because he was missing.

Joeann Dardeen says, "I said there's no way he'd hurt them. He loved his family dearly."

He was found in a nearby field a day later shot and sexually mutilated.

Joeann Dardeen says, "You look and you think that person took this all away from us, they took their life."

In 2000, serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells would admit he killed the family.

Joeann says, "I'm 99 percent sure. There's just a little bit of doubt there, not that he didn't do it, I'm wondering if maybe somebody helped him."

She hopes to meet with him and talk face to face before he's put to death for other crimes.

Joeann says, "If I had a chance to talk to Tommy and he convinced me he did it, I think I could let it go. But I can't, I just can't let it go until I know for sure."

Painful reminders still haunt her 20 years late, like a website she recently saw glorifying Sells and other serial killers by selling figurines, clocks and trading cards.

Dardeen says, "People like that are just sick, they are like the ones in there killing people. Just sick, to make money off something like that, just, shew."

She says while time makes things easier the pain of losing her family will never go away.

Joeanne says, "You never forget cause there's always the thought 'what would Casey look like? what would Peter look like, what would they be doing? The thought is always there."

Tommy Lynn Sells was supposed to be executed in May of 2006 for the murder of a child in Texas, but the execution was stayed because of a question about Sells mental capacity.

A few months ago, his appeal was rejected by a higher court. A new execution date has not yet been set.