New tip reopens 45-year-old cold case of murdered paperboy

Jerry Michael Bayles
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It was a murder that frightened families and shocked police: a young Indianapolis newspaper boy, kidnapped and killed on his paper route.

The case went cold for 45 years, but the dedication of a stranger and a brand new tip could help solve this murder mystery.

Among pages of nameless, forgotten faces in his grade school yearbook, Will Ott recently stumbled upon a memory.

"I found a signature, or a name that I did not recognize as being a classmate or anything," Ott said.

Scrawled out in pencil, faded near the seam, was one name without a face, that suddenly brought everything back from the fall of 1970.

"Actually, it's the only signature in the book. It says 'Jerry Bayles'," Ott explained. "Over the years, I lost the name but always remembered the case. I just knew there was a newspaper boy who was abducted and murdered and body was left in a cornfield."

That murder had the Indianapolis community on edge. It also made a huge impression on Will Ott at the time.

"It happened on the other side of town, but as a kid, you didn't really understand how big Indianapolis was. My friends and I formed groups and searched the neighborhood and the field around our school, looking for the suspect's car," Ott said.

He also collected the headlines back then about the child around his same age: Jerry Michael Bayles, who everyone called Mike.

The ten-year-old redhead never got to grow up.

"He was the perfect little kid it seems. He just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time that morning," Ott said. "It was scary. I mean, you have a child abductor, murderer that could be living in the neighborhood at the time."

Nearly 45 years later, the killer still hasn't been caught. When Ott rediscovered that name in his old yearbook, he felt it was fate and made a promise to seek justice for Mike.

"Why I'm doing it? I don't know. I just know I have to - anything I can do to help Mike. I visited Mike's grave a couple times and I swore on his grave that I wouldn't forget him again and that I'd do my best to try to help solve the case," Ott explained.

So he started constructing timelines and maps, pinpointing the key locations of the crime. He spent hours at the library, collecting articles and documents. He also tried to talk with anyone who still remembered the murder.

It was tedious, time-consuming work.

And it was frustrating.

"You'd get a little information here and here but you can't connect anything," Ott said.

Ott also contacted Indiana State Police Detective Sgt. Scott Jarvis, who agreed to reopen the time-tattered file.

"There's a lot of the handwritten notes in here," Jarvis said, flipping through the yellowed pages of the case report. "There are cassette tapes with interviews, hand-drawn maps. Anytime there's a child that's a victim of a crime, it's...you just want to do everything you can to solve it. I hold the hope that one day we will figure out who did it."

Here's what investigators know for sure about the murder on October 3, 1970:

Mike Bayles' big brother was sick that day, so Mike agreed to take his early morning paper route on Indy's near west side. It was a short bike ride from their Jackson Street home.

"From the best we could tell, he'd delivered two of his papers that morning. It was about 5:00," Jarvis explained.

"He delivered his first paper, crossed the street to 12 South Harris, delivered that paper and that's it," Ott said. "Witnesses in the neighborhood said they heard a scream that morning."

His damaged bicycle along with the rest of the newspapers were still in the Harris St. driveway.

But the young boy was gone.

Just four hours later and 50 miles away, a farmer discovered Mike's body in Henry County, north of Knightstown.

"The farmer had been feeding his cattle and saw a small body laying in a ditch," Jarvis said.

Mike Bayles had been stabbed multiple times and stripped of all but his socks. His time of death: an hour after delivering that final paper.

But a weapon, Mike's clothing, a motive - those have never been found, despite approximately 3,000 man hours put in by police.

RELATED: Indiana State Police Cold Case Investigations

Investigators did make an arrest, months after the murder. He was a resident of Central State Hospital and a known pedophile, but that suspect was never charged and has since passed away.

"That case went to a grand jury and there was not an indictment made," Jarvis said. "There's not much in the report and not much in the files to lead us to say this guy either did or didn't do it."

But within the past year came a new and unexpected lead. Ott received a phone call from a woman who saw his website.

"She told me she was the daughter of the witness that morning," Ott said.

A man who lived down the street at the time was the only witness who said he actually saw the killer abduct Mike Bayles. That witness has since passed away, which is the reason his daughter said she called.

She shared a startling story with Will Ott and then with police.

"She basically broke down in tears when she told me that her father was the murderer," Ott said. "The father had threatened her over the years, 'If you mess up, I'll do to you what I did to the newspaper boy'."

"You know, it'd kind of been a dark, dark family secret and, you know, they didn't feel comfortable coming forward while he was still alive," Jarvis added. "According to them, he admitted to being involved with this crime and a couple other crimes also. We're kind of focused in that direction now.  That's kind of the avenue we're taking with the investigation is trying to confirm what they told us."

The witness's family members told Det. Sgt. Jarvis their father had a temper. That morning in 1970, they said he snapped.

"Family says the witness had a cup of coffee and Mike had came from the bank to 12 South Harris and rode out in front of him. The witness slams the brakes, spilling his coffee. According to the daughter, her father was very short-tempered and basically abducted Mike at that point," Ott explained.

Police say confirming the story isn't easy.

"It's true, you know, the odds of actually arresting someone or convicting someone is pretty low," Jarvis said.

But investigators say it's a start - the first fresh lead in 45 years.

"Being able to close it and being able to say for sure we know what happened, you know, it would mean something," Jarvis said.

It might mean even more to Will Ott, the man who forgot, then found, a name from childhood. Solving this case would fulfill a promise he intends to keep.

"I just think anything I can do to help Mike," Ott said. "I know I have to do it and I made a commitment on Mike's grave that I would, that I'd never forget him again."

Eyewitness News spoke with the witness's daughter in this case, the one who recently told police her father was Mike Bayles' killer. She shared other startling details about the crime, including seeing the murder weapon firsthand.
    
She also explained why it took so long for her family to tell detectives and for police to take them seriously.

"We were just kids - meant to be seen and not heard. I tried. I really did. But also, the fear from what happened to Michael, there's no way to put in words the fear that my dad put into us on what he did to that boy," she said.

Tuesday on the Nightbeat, hear more from the woman who caused police to reopen this cold case.

You can also read more about the murder and what Will Ott discovered here.