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Sandra Cheskey: The Brave Girl

On the 17th of November in 1973, a quintet of adolescents hailing from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, found themselves assailed whilst situated in the Gitchie Manitou State Preserve located in Lyon County, Iowa. Tragically, the four young gentlemen amongst them were subject to an act of homicide, whilst the only remaining female was subjected to a heinous act of both kidnapping and rape. The names of the hapless victims were Roger Essem, aged 17, Stewart Baade, aged 18, Dana Baade, aged 15, Michael Hadrath, aged 15, and last but not least, Sandra Cheskey, aged 13, who tragically survived the ordeal but was subjected to the heinous crime of rape.

The trio of siblings who perpetrated the heinous act hailed from the vicinity of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Allen Fryer, a 29-year-old man, David Fryer, aged 24, and James Fryer, aged 21, were roaming around Gitchie Manitou that fateful night with the intention of poaching deer, when they stumbled upon a group of five adolescents who had gathered around a blazing campfire. After closely observing the teenagers for a while, they inferred that they were indulging in the consumption of marijuana, and consequently, decided to appropriate it for themselves. Subsequently, the Fryer brothers returned to their vehicle and procured their shotguns.

Instead of approaching the teenagers, the Fryers sat down on a nearby ridge and fired at them while they were gazing over the campfire. Roger passed away immediately. Stewart suffered a laceration. The other three teenagers sprinted for shelter into the nearby tree line.

The surviving teenagers were yelled at by the Fryers to emerge from their hiding places. Dana left by herself. Together, Michael and Sandra left the building and enquired of the Fryers who they believed they were. Michael was shot in the arm by Allen Fryer in response, who then identified himself as a drug enforcement official. Sandra fell to the ground alongside Michael, but she was unharmed. Allen kicked at them and advised them not to act like they were deceased.

The three teenagers were then told to proceed up a path that led away from the campfire. After a while, he stopped them and discreetly addressed his brother David before departing with the teenagers. Allen told the teenagers to keep walking the path after he left. Soon after, he ordered them to cease. He left them with David again for a short while. He moved them again along the path until they were close to the road, then he stopped them and yelled “over here” to someone. The truck that James Fryer and his siblings had driven to the park arrived.

After a brief conversation with James, Allen tied Sandra’s wrists behind her back, placed her in the truck, and then he and James went back to the trail while Sandra remained inside. Allen came back a short while later and began the truck to leave. Sandra came across Michael Hadrath, Dana Baade, and Stewart Baade as they were walking away. Stewart Baade had evidently been brought from the campfire at some point while the others were hiking. As they stayed there with James and David Fryer, it was the last time she would see them living.

James and David Fryer shot all three of the teenagers after Allen and Sandra departed, then abandoned them on the trail.

For a short while, Allen Fryer chauffeured Sandra while impersonating a police officer and claiming to be attempting to keep her out of trouble. She was informed by him that he was in charge and that the other two would follow his orders. He eventually crossed paths with David and James once more while driving and stopped to have a brief conversation with them. They all then climbed back into the vehicle and drove to the deserted farm, where James sexually assaulted Sandra.

Allen drove Sandra home early the following morning after filling the pickup with fuel from a sizable red fuel tank on the property. Sandra was “too young to get busted,” he said while continuing to pose as a police detective.

The following day, a couple from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who had arrived at the park while out for a drive in the new car they had bought, found the three bodies on the path. Roger Essems’ body was still back at the campfire spot where he had been shot, and it wasn’t found there until the next day.

Sandra turned out to be a great witness for the defence. Regarding what had transpired with the killings and her rape, she was cool-headed and honest. Multiple interviews and a polygraph test revealed that her recall of the specifics was very sharp and reliable.

On November 29, 1973, Lyon County Sheriff Craig Vinson took Sandra on a search for the farmhouse where she had been held captive and sexually assaulted. Sandra had informed them she had been taken through the area. She recognised the red gasoline tank next to the garage of a farmstead close to Hartford, South Dakota, as they were driving. The farm belonged to a local farmer who hired Allen Fryer, it was discovered.

Allen Fryer ran into the sheriff in the same blue pickup truck that he and his siblings had driven the night of the murders. Sandy immediately identified him.

Allen was then taken into custody after the sheriff radioed the position and description of the truck, ordering other officers to pull it over. David and James were both taken into custody shortly after that.

In his initial police questioning, Allen claimed that Sandra’s friends had fired at them and that they had killed someone unintentionally. Eventually, he acknowledged that they had shot the teenagers because they were high on marijuana and alcohol and were trying to take it from them. David initially told an identical story before giving in and telling the truth.

Sandra Cheskey recognised David and James Fryer from a group on November 30, 1973.

James Fryer approached his police interviews differently than his siblings did. He didn’t lose any time in assigning blame to both of his siblings. However, he insisted that Sandra had been laughing and having a good time with him and his brothers, even voluntarily having sex with him, while Allen had pretended they were drug officers and that they had discovered the teenagers smoking marijuana.

He insisted that his siblings were responsible for the deaths of all four of the boys. James was enrolled in a work-release programme at the time while he was already spending his sentence in the county jail. David Fryer phoned the jail the night of the killings while posing as James’ superior.

James stayed in Sioux Falls because he was still completing his jail term there, but Allen and David were transferred back from Sioux Falls to the Lyon County jail. The three siblings were arrested and charged with four counts of murder on December 1, 1973. The price for each bone was $400,000.

David Fryer entered a plea of guilty on February 12, 1974, to three counts of first-degree murder and one case of manslaughter. The charge against David and James for the death of Roger Essem had been dropped because Allen had already admitted to the crime. When given a life sentence without the possibility of release, David responded:

“No. I’ll literally write the governor and request the death penalty if all of my appeals are unsuccessful. I won’t spend the rest of my days in prison. Not even life in prison will be able to undo what occurred. It is unable to bring those individuals back.

His strategy didn’t turn out as he had hoped. In 2016, after testimony from Sandra Cheskey and Mike Hadrath’s sister, Lynette, David petitioned the parole board to reverse its decision to deny parole.

After a psychiatric evaluation determined that Allen Fryer was competent to stand trial, his trial started in February 1974. He was convicted of four first-degree murder charges on May 20, 1974, and given four consecutive life sentences in jail. The two brothers managed to flee, steal a car, and leave the country a month later, on June 18, 1974, after his brother James had been returned to the Lion County Jail for his trial. Their detention took place in Gillette, Wyoming.

Lyon County’s prosecution against James for the killings started on December 3, 1974. James had behavioral problems that were not well-controlled and an IQ of 85, according to a psychiatric evaluation. He was convicted guilty of three counts of first-degree murder and one count of manslaughter on December 30, 1974. He received a life sentence without the possibility of release. Sandra Cheskey was never charged with rape because the district attorney felt there was no need to do so because James was leaving for good.

All three of the siblings tried to appeal their convictions but were unsuccessful. Allen is incarcerated in Anamosa, Iowa, where he is receiving a life sentence. In Fort Dodge, Iowa, at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility, David and James are completing their sentences. Behind cells, they will all pass away.

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