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Your insider to one of the most mysterious and inexplicable cold cases we have ever seen; the Prom Night Murders.

Before I start this rollercoaster of a series, I need two things from you: buckle up, and hold on tight because this series is going to be a long and bumpy ride.

For all the crime fanatics out there, I feel you. This series is especially made for you. Each month, I am going to talk about one absolutely, gut-wrenching cold case that will leave you begging for more. Are y’all ready for a crime-filled ride? 

To start off this series, I want to talk about a universal mystery of a small town, Catholic driven family: the Pelley family. This case, although simplistic in its nature, is far from straightforward. Let me introduce the family. We have Bob Pelley, the father of the clan, Dawn Pelley, wife of Bob, Janel and Jolene, Dawn’s children, and Jacque, Jeff and Jessica, children of Bob.

 To set the scene, this close-knit family lived in a small town called Lakeview in Indiana. With a town as small as Lakeview, everyone knew everyone; nothing went unnoticed. Bob Pelley was a reverend for the local church so he was very well-known in his community. When Bob and his family didn’t show up to church on Sunday, April 30th in 1989, parishioners knew there was something wrong. Bob, Dawn, Janel and Jolene were found shot dead in their home.

Now, some may look at this situation from the outside and say this is a common case. However, after looking into the smallest details, you’ll see this case is very intricate. When Bob, Dawn, Janel and Jolene were found dead, Jacque, Jeff and Jessica were out of the house. Now, I won’t take too much time focusing on where Jacque and Jessica were, due to their appropriate alibis. However, one alibi that didn’t sit right with many people involved in this case was Jeff’s. Flashback a couple of weeks before the Pelley murder, Jeff pleaded with his dad, Bob, to let him go to the after-prom party. With much deliberation, Bob said no to Jeff because of church that next morning. Bob even took a part out of Jeff’s car just so he couldn’t go. This is where things get weird.

After Bob Pelley and the others were murdered, Jeff was found with his friends at the after party. So, this means either two things: Jeff changed his mind last second, or Jeff murdered his dad. A couple hours before the police called Jeff to inform him of his dad, Jeff’s girlfriend at the time, Darla Adams, told the police that Jeff was acting strange. At one point in the night, Jeff looked at Darla with a transparent face and said, “Something seems off. Something doesn’t seem right. I think there’s something wrong.” When Darla continued to drill Jeff with questions, Jeff brushed it off and said nevermind. 

This could just be some mere coincidence. However, the story is just starting. If we look at every single detail of this case, we would see that Jeff Pelley would only have 20 minutes to murder Bob and the others, clean up, get dressed, wash his clothes, get rid of the gun and get to prom. Let’s debunk some of these points. First, we’ll look at the timeline of the murder. Bob Pelley wants some of Jeff’s friends to come over so Bob can take pictures of them before they head off to prom. The kids come around 4:30 P.M. However, when the kids are taking pictures, Jeff is seen without his tux on. Weird? Kind of. Next, around 4:45 P.M.,Matt, a friend of the kids, arrives. However, he shortly leaves to grab his corsage that he forgot at his house. At 4:50 P.M., the kids leave the Pelley house for prom, but Jeff stays back. Also weird? Maybe. Jeff recalls to the police that he had left from prom around 5:10, and had gotten to the gas station at 5:17 P.M. However, when Matt drove by the Pelley house, he swore to the police he saw Jeff’s car in the driveway. Now that is definitely weird. Why are there so many inconsistencies? What really happened that night of the Pelley Murder? Let’s dig into what Jeff Pelley would have to do in order to kill his father and the three other girls and make it to the gas station at exactly 5:17 P.M. When the kids leave at 4:50 P.M., this gives Jeff about 20 minutes to kill part of his family. Is it doable? That’s the issue. No one knows. Jeff would have to have gone inside, grabbed Bob Pelley’s gun, shoot his father twice, gone downstairs, use three shots to kill Dawn, Janel and Jolene, take his clothes off to put them in the washer, grab all the shell casings, take a shower, lock up the windows and doors, grab his tux and make it to the gas station at 5:17 P.M.

Although there are so many more details to this story, this is where we have to stop. All we know is that a decade later, Jeff Pelley was arrested and convicted of the murder of the Pelley Family. How was he convicted with such little evidence? Are we completely ruling out a case of police involvement in the murders? What actually happened on Sunday, April 30, 1989? No one knows. Except for Jeff, maybe. 

Next month, I will go into another extremely wicked cold case that is horrifyingly known as the JonBenét Ramsey case. Are you ready?

*The podcast Crime Junkie is a common source throughout the entirety of this article. I encourage you to listen!

Jayden Hoover

Wisconsin '25

Jayden is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and studying Legal Studies and Political Science.
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