The teenager discovered the body of her pregnant neighbor 36-year-old Erin Vanderhoef. Vanderhoef was found bound by her hands and feet. The teen described Vanderhoef as being tied up with a green extension cord and saw a white piece of fabric, possibly a scarf, around the victim’s neck.

The teen rushed next door to call the police.

When police arrived at the residence it was clear this was one of the most brutal killings in the history of Springfield. Police discovered three more bodies in the home which were later identified as Vanderhoef’s children. Two of those children were gagged.

  • 8-year-old Darlene Vanderhoef
  • 10-year-old Chris Franklin
  • 11-year-old Jimmy Vanderhoef

The bodies were found in different locations in the house and some of the children were still in their pajamas with cords still around their necks. Investigators didn’t find a lot of visual trauma to the bodies other than marks around the necks due to strangulation.

Police also discovered Vanderhoef was just days from giving birth to her fourth child.

It only took a few days before a suspect was arrested–34-year-old Richard DeLong. DeLong was charged with five counts of murder for the death of Vanderhoef, her unborn child, and her three children.

It was later determined that DeLong was also the father of the unborn child.

Outrage soon swept through the community that DeLong would not only kill a mother and her children but kill his own child. Prosecutors said there was only one sentence that would suffice for this crime– the death penalty.

DeLong’s murder trial took place in 2001, and it was revealed DeLong had a meth addiction when he killed Vanderhoef and her children. Dr. Nancy Hornstein, a psychiatrist who testified at Delong’s sentencing, explained DeLong had a psychotic episode the morning of the murders.

According to Hornstein DeLong was abused by his father and due to the abuse, received head injuries. Hornstein also said DeLong suffered from chronic depression, ADHD, and other mental disorders. However, the prosecution would argue DeLong’s brain was completely normal on the day of the murders.

As more and more details surfaced, it was discovered that Vanderhoef had sexual relations with DeLong while his girlfriend and mother of his child, Stacie Leffingwell was out of town. The child DeLong and Leffingwell shared was named Scooby. According to court documents, Vanderhoef drove from Springfield to Joplin to meet with DeLong on several occasions while Leffingwell was out of town. When Leffingwell found out about the affair she decided the only course of action was revenge.

Leffingwell, who was dying of AIDS, was afraid Vanderhoef would eventually replace her as Scooby’s mother.

“Because (Ms. Vanderhoef’s) children would be witnesses to the event,” the court decision said, “DeLong and Leffingwell also intended to kill the children. They asked Harold Lingle if he wanted to participate”.

At first, Lingle was against the idea, but after being promised he would receive some methamphetamine he agreed to help DeLong and Leffingwell. Lingle was against having any part in killing the children so instead on Tuesday, January 19, 1999, he lured Vanderhoef away from the children. Lingle convinced Vanderhoef to leave the children and go to a grocery store to buy doughnuts. While Lingle and Vanderhoef were out of the house DeLong and Leffingwell strangled the children.

Once Lingle and Vanderhoef returned to the house, the three (DeLong, Lingle, and Vanderhoef) sat on the couch to watch T.V. According to court documents, DeLong told Vanderhoef the children had to be disciplined and were sent to their rooms. While Lingle and Vanderhoef were on the couch DeLong moved behind Vanderhoef on the pretext of putting a necklace on her.

DeLong attempted to wrap a cord around Vanderhoef’s neck but she grabbed the cord and DeLong and Vanderhoef fell onto the floor. Vanderhoef fought against DeLong until he was able to grab her hands and that is when Leffingwell stuffed a rag in Vanderhoef’s mouth so she couldn’t scream.

Court documents state Delong and Leffingwell wrapped the cord around Vanderhoef’s neck and tied it off. DeLong continued to hold Vanderhoef down as she struggled to breathe. After about 10 minutes Vanderhoef passed out.

DeLong and Leffingwell bound Vanderhoef’s feet with another cord, pulled them up tightly behind her back, and wrapped the end of this cord around her neck so the weight of her feet and legs would help suffocate her. It took another 10 minutes for Vanderhoef and her unborn child to die from asphyxiation. 

Leffingwell died in October 1999 from complications of AIDS before she could go to trial

Lingle was convicted of five counts of murder in 2002. Prosecutors did not pursue the death penalty against him.

Prosecutors did seek the death penalty for DeLong, but the Platte County jury decided to spare DeLong’s life. He was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole.