Guest Post by Kevin Sullivan
A Clews note: This article originally ran in the now-defunct Snitch magazine, and when I read the story of the drive-in, it sounded like something out of a Stephen King horror film. I asked Kevin Sullivan if I could post it here. It is a reminder of the sheer mundanity of murder, of how callously some very stupid people are willing to take the lives of people precious to their families and for how little lucre. It's also a tale of how easily policemen can be distracted. It has been abbreviated from the original piece, and a new update on the status of the pair of real stinking idiots who ruined several lives, including their own, appears at the end. Thanks, Kevin, for sharing it.
The theater, now only a memory, was at one time a popular spot for families and couples, and was located at 14700 Dixie Hwy. in Southwest Jefferson County (Kentucky).
As a ticket taker, Robbins occupied the small booth on the gravel road between the drive-in and Dixie Highway. In case of emergency, a buzzer situated next to the cash drawer could be pressed, summoning help from those working in the concession stand. As an added precaution - and perhaps for those with more time available to them - a telephone was within arm's reach.
About 10:55 p.m., the manager of the drive-in, Lucille Hornsby, stopped by the ticket booth on her way home and spoke to Rita, who was sitting on a stool with the door propped open. Hornsby told Rita that she was going home but would be returning in a few minutes. As she pulled away from the booth, she noticed a car entering the drive-in but paid little attention to it.
Perhaps within a minute of Hornsby driving away, concession stand worker John Southern walked out to the booth and gave Rita a 7-Up, setting it on the counter.
When Lucille Hornsby returned, between 11:06 and 11:07, the ticket booth was empty, and Rita Robbins was nowhere to be found. The 7-Up was still sitting onthe counter, and it appeared to be untouched. Lucille's husband noticed the cash drawer was empty.
Later, police would hear that Rita had been concerned because, for two consecutive nights, a car pulled in and stopped at the end of the gravel road, its headlights shining at the ticket booth, making it virtually impossible for her to see the driver, or what kind of car it was. On both occasions, however, after sitting there for a few minutes with lights blazing, the vehicle simply drive away.
As officers began their investigation, it was by no means clear to them whether they were dealing with an actual abduction, or yet another case of an unhappy teen-age runaway, who just happened to empty the cash drawer on her way out.
Yet the runaway theory should have looked highly unlikely from the beginning, for Robbins had not only left her purse behind in the booth, but she left her father's car on the property, just were she had parked it when she reported for work that evening.
Mrs. Hornsby, who had retrieved the purse when she found Rita missing, turned it over to the police when they arrived on the scene. Inside it, detectives found the usual items. Also found, however, was a pipe used for smoking marijuana.
When authorities interviewed Reid and Joan Robbins, they were told that Rita was a happy person, and that their daughter had never run away before or given them any kind of trouble. They assured police they had no knowledge of the marijuana.
Between June 4, and June 13, searches were conducted on the ground and from the air, but there was still no sign of the missing girl. None of Rita's friends had seen or heard from her, nor had she made any contact with her parents.
Then, on the evening of June 14, around 11:30 p.m., Ronald Shumaker, 21, a soldier stationed at nearby Ford Knox and working part-time at the Valley Drive-In, disappeared from the ticket booth, much the same way Rita Robbins had 11 days earlier.
Later that day an investigating officer from the Jefferson County Police raised the possibility that no abductions actually occurred.
"There was $62 missing from the cash register," he wrote. "The victim's car was left at the scene, as was Rita Joan Robbins' father's car. It should be noted that there is a strong possibility that Robbins and Shumaker are together. It has been established that Robbins used drugs, and it appears Shumaker is having domestic problems with his wife. This may be simply a planned plot between the two missing persons."
However, Cook concluded by saying: "It should be noted that there is no information to verify this assumption and the case should be continued as if foul play was involved until they have been located."
While it is true that Ronald and Connie Shumaker were having problems in their marriage, there were no obvious signs pointing to him wanting to vanish. On the contrary; Shumaker, who was due to be honorably discharged from the Army on June 22, openly expressed his desire to become a lawyer and was making plans to attend the University of Louisville in pursuit of that dream. He had also told some of his co-workers of his intention to remain at the drive-in, working part-time.
And, just like the night Rita Robbins disappeared, Shumaker reported to management that a strange car had been sitting near the entrance of the drive-in. Co-workers would also tell police that on the nights they disappeared, Rita Robbins and Ronald Shumaker seemed apprehensive.
Leona Sabins, who worked with Shumaker in the concession stand, explained to detectives that on that night, "Ron... was acting strange -- like he was sick or scared."
Sabins also said that, on the night Rita Robbins disappeared, she, too, seemed a little jumpy, even describing her as wearing a "grim face."
It must be noted here that by June 20, investigators had come up with the names of Danny Lee Tetrick and James A. Sefcheck. The initial leads came from people who knew the two men and told police they were the ones responsible for abducting and killing the two drive-in workers.
Three days after police received this information, Tetrick, 23, and a parolee from the Kentucky prison system, and the 19-year-old Sefcheck were arrested for disorderly conduct and armed robbery of a man for $210 on the highway, not far from the drive-in.
Then, on July 9, at 5:45 p.m., an anonymous call was received by the police, stating: "Danny Tetrick killed them and left one of the bodies at Valley Village field and the other at Weavers Run (Road)." The caller then ended by saying he hated Tetrick and calling him a "son-of-a-bitch."
The next day police would find the badly decomposed remains of Ronald Shumaker.
The following day, police would interview a 15-year-old girl who had been with the two men when they robbed, abducted and murdered Ronald Shumaker. Tetrick wanted to obtain bail money for the girl's 20-year-old sister and told her he planned to borrow the money that night. Before 11 o'clock, James Sefecheck, Danny Tetrick and the girl set out to "borrow" the money. Driving his mother's car, Sefcheck laid a sawed-off shotgun across his lap.
When Sefcheck turned into the entrance of the drive-in, the girl asked Tetrick if this is where he was going to borrow the money and he said yes.
But when they pulled up tot he ticket booth, and Shumaker came out to take their money, Sefcheck aimed the shotgun at his face and told him to get in the back seat an dlie on the floor. Shumaker obeyed, climbed inside the car and lay down on the floor.
Moments later they were gone, turning left onto Dixie Highway as they made their way to the secluded area off Weavers Run Road. According to the girl, as Tetrick held the shotgun, Sefcheck said: "Get the billfold." After robbing Shumaker, Tetrick made him walk toward the ditch. At this time, the girl said, she heard a shot, and Tetrick then attempted to return to the car, but Sefcheck shouted, "Shoot him again!"
Shumaker had already rolled down the hill, and this second blast, the girl believes, hit him in the legs. What the girl didn't know, and what Tetrick later confessed, is that besides shooting Shumaker, he also hit him in the head, and it would later be determined that it was the blow to the head that killed the young soldier.
On July 12, after Tetrick and Sefchick heard of the girl's statement to police, the walls of denial came tumbling down, and they made full confessions of their involvement in the abductions and murders of Ronald Shumaker and Rita Robbins.
One of the things they told police was that they planned to keep going back to the drive-in to rob -- if not abduct and kill -- subsequent ticket takers.
Tetrick, apparently feeling some degree of remorse for the killing of Rita Robbins, led authorities to her body. Detective John Spellman later testified that Tetrick said:
"...that he killed both these people. He told us how he did it, why he did it. He also seemed to be very disturbed by the fact that he had done it. With regard to the girl, Rita Joan Robbins, he stated that it bothered him that this girl was buried somewhere where the parents did not know where the body was ... and he would like to see her given a proper burial."
In describing the kidnapping of Rita Robbins, Tetrick said she was forced at gunpoint to lie down on the back-seat floor of Sefcheck's mother's car. And, as he would do with Shumaker, Sefcheck was responsible for robbing the cash drawer. Tetrick said "that they got the girl out of the car, that she helped them count the money that was taken in the robbery, and he said she didn't show any real fear of them; that she... was making a game out of the whole thing...."
Tetrick also said that Sefcheck made Robbins get undressed and then made her get into the car with him. When they emerged a short time later, he told Tetrick that the girl had to be killed, as she could identify them.
Tetrick said Sefcheck started hollering: "Kill her! Kill her! Kill her," and then grabbed Robbins's arms. It was at this time, Tetrick confessed, that he stabbed Rita Robbins.
Using the large knife, the two killers dug a shallow grave and placed Robbins in it. Because she had gotten blood ont he car when she fell against it, Tetrick said, they ran it through a car wash when they got back to Dixie Highway.
Danny Tetrick and James Sefcheck would eventually enter guilty pleas for the murders, and both would receive life sentences for their crimes. Today, they remain in the custody of the Kentucky penitentiary system.
Sefcheck, convicted of being an accessory before the fact, will be up for parole again sooner or later. Tetrick is ordered to serve out his sentence of life.