Note: Welcome my friend, Janis Thornton as today's guest blogger. Janis releases her new book, a true-live mystery about the sudden death in 1965 of her Tipton High School classmate. The launch is 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4 in the Tipton County Public Library, 127 E. Madison St., Tipton, Indiana. Janis is getting statewide media notice about her update to this still-unsolved mystery. She will be speaking and fielding questions on Saturday, along with signing books. Yours Truly will emcee the program. Maybe we'll see you in Tipton.
Pursuit for truth, justice unfold in 'Too Good a Girl'
by Janis Thornton
I’ve never forgotten Saturday, Oct. 16, 1965. It was supposed to be special, full of happiness and renewal of old friendships.
Tipton High School’s homecoming celebration was that weekend. My boyfriend, a year ahead of me in school, came home for the first time since moving to Bloomington to attend college. That Saturday, we went to dinner with my just-married friends, who recently had settled into their first home and were already expecting their first child. We had lots to feel joyful about.
Unfortunately, the day turned out anything but joyful. Instead, for me and the entire Tipton community, Oct. 16, 1965, became synonymous with profound tragedy and despair. It was the night Olene Emberton didn’t come home.
Olene was a quiet, well-mannered, studious, 17-year-old Tipton High School senior. That night, she dropped off a friend at his house and drove away, headed for home, a journey of only six blocks. Inexplicably, she never arrived. The next day, her car was found parked and locked at a four-way stop three blocks from her house. The day after that, her body was found discarded alongside a remote, Tipton County road.
The autopsy revealed no cause of death. The investigation by local and state police proved fruitless. The sudden, unexplained death of Olene Emberton has never been solved.
Her death was especially difficult to process because she was a member of my class. We had attended school together since fourth grade. We lived just a block-and-a-half apart. And even though we weren’t close friends, growing up in Tipton in the 1950s and ’60s provided countless shared experiences. I often look back and wonder how her life might have played out had it not ended that October night in 1965.
The notion of researching and writing about Olene’s case first occurred to me some 30 years ago, long before I had the skills to undertake such a sensitive, emotionally- riddled subject that was certain to ruffle feathers, stoke anger, and hurt feelings.
Someone needed to set the record straight. Why not me?
Fast forward to 2004. I had been a staff writer for The Times of Frankfort, Indiana, for five years. That’s when I made the decision to dive in, to honor my classmate by telling her story and preserving her memory.
So, off and on for the next 14 years, I pored over court records, combed through news articles, tracked down and interviewed law enforcement officials, sent Freedom of Information Act requests, picked the brains of forensics experts, studied criminology, attended conferences, surveyed my classmates, talked with Olene’s friends and remaining family members, and followed all the loose ends, and snapped the puzzle pieces together.
The result of my long pursuit for the truth has manifested in a book, “Too Good a Girl,” which launches Saturday, Aug. 4.
Did I solve the mystery? No, but I did weave all the strands of Olene’s complex story together so readers can make their own tapestry of truth and discover their own conclusion.
In the almost 53 years since Olene Emberton’s mysterious death, her friends and loved ones have never stopped asking, “What happened”? Unless someone steps forward soon with a sudden recollection or a confession, it’s likely we will never know. However, even without that closure, we can take satisfaction in pulling together to honor her name and her memory.
When Olene was a freshman at Tipton High School, she authored a brief autobiography. In it, she noted her plan for the future. She wrote, “I want to attend Ball State University … and after I graduate, I want to be a teacher.”
Sadly, Olene was not able to follow her dream. But I believe there is still a way she can help future graduating Tipton High School students achieve theirs.
The Tipton County Foundation has agreed to establish the Olene Emberton Memorial Scholarship. When fully funded, the scholarship will benefit college-bound, Tipton High School seniors who, like Olene, plan to pursue teaching.
Reaching the fund-raising goal of $25,000 by the end of 2018 will ensure that the fund is permanent, so an award of $1,000 can go to a deserving student in Olene’s memory every year.
I invite you to visit www.tiptoncf.org and consider making a gift. In addition, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of my book will go to the fund, and every donor of $100 or more will receive a complimentary copy with my gratitude.
“Too Good a Girl” will be available for purchase at www.janis-thornton.com and Amazon beginning Aug. 4.