Falling Down The Rabbit Hole (The Epperson Murder Part One)

When Jeremy and I first moved to Champaign, one of the wives from the recruiting shop took us out to show us Champaign and to do some shopping. One of the shops we checked out was Jane Addams Used Book Store. While we were there, Jeremy found an interesting book called The Illinois Road Guide To Haunted Locations. Being new to Illinois it seemed like a practical purchase for a set of paranormal investigators.

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With everything going on to settle into the house, I didn’t get a chance to check out the book that much (or at all if we are being honest) until a couple of weeks ago. Once I got a chance to sit down and read some of the book, I was surprised to notice a handwritten note on the first page.

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Intrigued, I read through the book trying to figure out what the note was in regards to. Imagine my surprise that there was absolutely no mention of the murder in the book, the victim, or anything really. Stumped I tried googling it but all I could find was a picture of the headstone which was the information written on the note. No matter how I did the search, I couldn’t find out anything about the murder.

So I decided to head down to Mattoon to do some research. At the Mattoon Public Library, I met Barbara. She and Chris work in the historical department. She helped me go through their digital catalog of newspapers. All of the local papers had been scanned into a digital file which allowed to narrow down the searching. She was able to find eight articles for me about the murder and following the court case. As she read through the articles with me, she was getting just as upset as I was with what had happened.

According to the articles Roger Epperson was staying at his brother’s trailer in Charleston, Il (a town about 15 minutes from Mattoon) on Christmas Eve while his brother and sister-in-law were out of town. During the early morning hours of December 24th, 1971, James Galbreath came over to the trailer. Galbreath and Epperson got into a disagreement about something which lead to Galbreath stabbing Epperson five times in the throat. According to Galbreath, Epperson came at him with a butcher knife. Galbreath managed to grab Epperson’s wrist and then started kneeing Epperson in the groin. Somehow the motion of being kicked in the groin repeatedly caused Epperson to stab himself in the neck 5 times and severe his own jugular. I don’t understand how this would happen. I have even tried to reenact this with my husband to try and make sense of Galbreath’s version of events. It doesn’t seem like a likely situation.

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Anyways, back to the story, Galbreath went to the police station later that day to tell them what happened and to turn himself in. But the police weren’t the first on the scene. Galbreath’s father went in and started taking pictures of the crime scene before the police did. Then according to the articles, Galbreath received a plea deal (one of the first in Cole County). Because of the plea deal, he received probation for three years. Absolutely no jail time. While reading through the articles I found out that 3 weeks before the murder even happen, Galbreath had threatened to kill Epperson because Galbreath thought that Epperson was dating his girlfriend, Debbie Pearson. Both Epperson and Pearson denied that they had dated. Pearson even went on to say that she thought he was a homosexual. I don’t know if that fact is true or not.

After reading through the articles, Barbara suggested that I go to the Cole County Circut Court to see if I could get the case notes. She was just as stumped as I was about why Galbreath only received probation. Before I went to the courthouse, I decided to try and find Epperson’s grave. He was buried in Mattoon at the Dodge Grove Cemetery. It wasn’t very far from the library. I thought I knew where to look for his headstone because of GraveFinder.com but I wasn’t having much luck. So I drove up to the office for the cemetery to see if someone could point me in the right direction. I pulled up and met Rob. I asked him if he could help me find a grave. I gave him Epperson’s name and he immediately took a step back and gave me a weird look.

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“You mean the kid that was killed on Christmas Eve?” he asked.

“Yeah…? Are you familiar with the case?” I responded.

“My father-in-law called me this morning because he was walking his dog through the cemetery. He came across a stone that had murdered on Christmas Eve etched on it. He thought it was weird and had never seen that before on stone. It’s just kind of odd that you’re here now asking about it.”

I explained why I was interested in the person and how I had started researching the case. Rob seemed a little uneasy when I said that I had found Epperson’s information in a paranormal book. But he did help me locate the grave on a map. I drove back out to the area. Thanks to Rob’s directions it was really easy to find the headstone this time.

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While I was walking around the headstone I was surprised to see an inverted peace sign on the back of the grave. I have never seen that before. I tried googling it but got too many different meanings to make sense of it. I asked on social media in a few different places and most people said that it meant everlasting peace or life, beginning, and/ or protection. I’m still kind of stumped because that seems odd for a headstone symbol.

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After visiting Epperson’s grave, I drove by where he used to live with his parents and grandparents in Mattoon. I found the addresses in one of the articles. It was much larger than I was expecting considering the homes around it. I don’t know if it’s the same house as Roger lived in or not or if it had been added on to.

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At the courthouse, I was able to get the court documents. They asked if I was family and I told them honestly why I was researching the case. They let me print off every document that they had scanned into their system. Ninety-seven pages later I had all of the court documents. I haven’t had a chance to properly sit down and read them yet. I will probably do that on the plane, to be honest. When I get back from North Carolina, I’m planning on trying to find people still living that know about this case and interview them.

As I learn more about this case, I will share it with y’all. I know a lot of y’all are into true crime like me and this case is definitely an odd one. If y’all know anything about this case or have suggestions for me in turns of researching this case, please let me know. I welcome any help in this.

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