Are some people just born evil or do bad parents create monsters? Is it possible that some individuals can’t fight the compulsion to harm others even though they know it is wrong? This is the story of a serial killer who, unbelievably, was given not just one extra chance but two, despite his pleas to stay incarcerated. The system failed, giving David Maust repeated opportunities to commit heinous murders.
David Edward Maust was born in Connellsville, Pennsylvania on April 5th, 1954. He was the second oldest of four children, including two sisters and a younger brother. His parents divorced early in his childhood and his father abandoned the family when he was seven years old. Both David’s mother and father had troubled childhoods. His father was put into foster care at age 12 and grew up in the foster care system. His mother, Eva, was known to be psychotic and narcissistic.
According to David’s mother, he was in trouble from a very young age. She claims he used to throw toys at his sister’s head when he was just two years old. She said she tried to teach him right from wrong, but others always interfered with her parenting attempts. David’s younger brother believes David was molested as a small child and remembers his older brother being very problematic as a child. He remembers his brother smashing a squirrel with a baseball bat at one point. His mother said he tried to drown his younger brother multiple times.
When David was nine years old, his mother sent him to a mental institution in Chicago, IL. The single mother and her children were living in Cook County at the time. According to many sources, the institution was a dumping ground for unwanted children. In one instance, it is said that a child was brought there every summer while his parents vacationed. David’s mother stated she did not dump David there, but she just needed help with her son who was out of control. “I did love him. I put up with him for a long time”, she said.
His institutionalization had a profound affect on David’s life. He felt abandoned. Staff said he would frequently wait by the windows for his mother to visit. When she would not arrive, he would make excuses for her such as “her back is hurting” or “she’s really busy today”. “I never understood why I was put there until now, but back then I thought it was for running away from home, or for taking something from a store, or for just being a bad kid”, David later wrote in his journal.
When he was thirteen, David was released from the institution. However, his mother did not allow him to return home. Instead, he was sent to a children’s home. At the home, another boy propositioned David for sex. David said he didn’t want to do it, but he eventually gave in when the boy threatened to tell the other kids that David had been in a mental institution. After that, David became very angry and ashamed.
In 1969, when he was fifteen years old, David was playing with another kid at the children’s home and started to strangle the boy. He stopped before the boy was seriously hurt. “For no reason at all I started to choke him. I told him I was sorry, and he said it was ok… that was the first person I hurt” David later wrote in his journal. In another incident, he strangled a boy with a rope while the two were watching television. “I could not stop, and I had no reason to be doing this to him. I told myself this is enough, and I quit and let go of the rope” David wrote. He said he felt like she was trapped inside his body while someone else was hurting his friend.
When David was seventeen, he ran away from the children’s home. He returned to his mother’s home, which was just blocks from the children’s home. Unfortunately, she did not welcome him with open arms. Instead, she chased him with a knife and told him to stay away from her house. She encouraged David to join the military. At age seventeen, David enlisted in the United States Army.
After basic training, David was stationed in Frankfurt, Germany. He was working as a cook on an army base. He befriended the child of two other Americans living on base. Thirteen-year-old James “Jimmy” McClister was born October 27th, 1960. According to David, he woke up one point with Jimmy lying naked in his bed. David doesn’t remember how he got there, but said he was naked too. David said this incident upset him greatly and he decided he needed to kill Jimmy.
A month later, David said he was riding on a moped with Jimmy and he pulled out a knife. He led Jimmy out into the woods where he tied him to a tree. David later admitted to beating the boy with his fists and a board. “He was a very good boy and did not deserve what happened to him on that sad night in May”, David later said. He said he was angry with himself for hurting Jimmy but knew he couldn’t help him. He carried the boy deeper into the woods and said Jimmy died in his arms. David covered him with leaves and left his body in the woods. David later admitted that he decided to kill Jimmy seven months before, promising himself he would carry out the crime once the boy’s hair was grown out.
Jimmy McClister’s body was found a month later, on June 25th, 1974. David was immediately suspected of the killing and arrested. David was court marshaled for the murder of Jimmy McClister, but he had a good defense attorney. His defense attorney claimed that David was innocent and only covered the body out of fear. According to the defense, Jimmy died after crashing the moped and David simply freaked out and hid the body.
The prosecution could not find any witnesses, and apparently the forensics were not strong. As a result, David Maust was convicted only of manslaughter and sentenced to a minimum of three years in Fort Leavenworth Federal Prison. David was up for parole in 1977. He actually requested not to be released. David said he could not control his actions upon release. Despite this, he was paroled in 1977.
David was right. He should not have been released. In 1979, he was arrested in Chicago for stabbing his friend while the friend slept. Maust was charged with attempted murder. He later admitted that he lied on the stand and denied stabbing his friend. Due to lack of evidence, David Maust was acquitted of the crime.
Two years later, in 1981, David decided to kill the man that had molested him while they were both children in the children’s home. He could not find the man, however, so he found someone else to take his rage out on. David lured fifteen-year-old Donald Jones into his car. He drove the car out to a quarry in Elgin, Illinois. Then, he stabbed Donald. “I can still hear Donald Jones saying to me, ‘I am only fifteen years old, please don’t kill me” David later recalled. After stabbing Donald, David drowned the boy in the quarry.
Following the murder, David left for Texas. While in Galveston, David stabbed another teenage boy in a hotel room. He was convicted of that crime. While incarcerated, he made incriminating statements about his involvement in the Donald Jones murder. In 1983, David was extradited back to Illinois to stand trial for the murder of Donald Jones. He wrote a letter to the prosecution, stating, “I have been thinking about Donald Jones a lot, and what I did to him on that Sunday, in August, and I have been thinking about the bad things I did in my life, and now I would like the death sentence. I would like to die”.
David Maust was found unfit to stand trial, however, due to mental capacity. He was placed in the care of the Illinois Department of Health and Human Services and institutionalized. In 1985, he was re-evaluated and once again found unfit. In 1987, David attempted to escape the medium security institution where he was housed. As a result, he was transferred to Chester Mental Health Center in Chester, Illinois. This facility provided more security. David’s defense later filed motions claiming staff at the original institution assisted him in escaping in an attempt to have him transferred.
David Maust remained in the custody of the state for eleven years before he was found fit to stand trial. In 1994, David plead guilty to first-degree murder. He was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison with credit for time served while awaiting trial. David Maust became eligible for parole just five years later in 1999. David asked the Illinois Department of Corrections not to release him in a five-page letter. He did not believe he was safe to be paroled. The prosecutor agreed and asked that he be kept in custody or civilly committed. An Illinois Department of Corrections spokesperson said, “He did not meet criteria to be placed in any other kind of facility”. David was released on parole in 1999.
David later said, “When I got locked up in the Army, and then especially when I got locked up in 1981, I knew I should never be let out again. I didn’t know how to act around other people, and I was never taught how to make friends and keep them. When an inmate says he doesn’t want out, I hope that somebody listens”.
In 2001, while on supervised parole, David hit an acquaintance six times in the back of the head with a metal pipe. Despite being on parole, David was not charged or arrested. The victim declined to press charges and David remained free. His supervised parole ended in 2002, at which time David moved to Hammond, Indiana. David rented an apartment and began working at Trophys Are Us. He lived in relative anonymity in his new community.
On May 2nd, 2003, nineteen-year-old Nick James disappeared. Nick worked with David at Trophys Are Us. Originally thought to be a run-a-way, there wasn’t a strong effort to locate the young man. On September 10th, 2003, thirteen-year-old Michael Dennis Jr. and sixteen-year-old James Raganyi disappeared from Hammond, Indiana. The boys left notes for their mothers, stating they were running away.
Despite the notes, the boys’ parents did not believe their sons disappeared. They had been hanging out with an adult male in Hammond. Police ran the name of their adult friend through their system and found that David Maust had been twice convicted in the deaths of young boys. David became the prime suspect. Detectives were not sure if the boys were killed or if he was simply aiding them in running off. They questioned him, but he denied any knowledge of the boys’ disappearance. He did admit to giving them money, however, and being friends with the boys. He said they often played video games together.
After questioning David multiple times, David’s stories started to contradict each other. This gave probable cause for a search warrant of his apartment. In the basement of the building, police found freshly poured concrete. On December 5th, 2003, police began excavating the basement. On December 9th, 2003, two bodies were found beneath the concrete. The next day, a third body was found. The bodies were positively identified as Michael Dennis, James Raganyi, and Nick James. On December 11th, 2003, the State of Indiana charged David Maust with murder.
Once again, David Maust asked for the death penalty for his crimes. He had strangled the three boys before burying them in his basement and covering them with concrete. He was getting better at his craft and knew he should never be free again. He didn’t think he had the right to live. In November of 2005, David Maust plead guilty to the three murders and received three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. He was sent to the Indiana Department of Corrections where he agreed to serve his sentence in segregation.
A month later, in January of 2006, David Maust hung himself in his prison cell. He was transferred to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a neck fracture and significant brain damage. He was removed from life support and died on January 20th, 2006. He was fifty-one years old. David left a suicide note in which he said he was remorseful for his crimes. He wrote, “Life in prison is not what the parents wanted and the Indiana taxpayer does not want to pay the bill. The families wanted me to receive the death sentence and so do families and parents across America. Dying is not my first choice, but it is the right thing to do”.
Following the Hammond murders, Indiana enacted new legislation that requires murders to register on a violent offender registry similar to the sex offender registry. Illinois now also has a similar registry. In theory, had the general public knew of David Maust’s background, perhaps they would not have allowed their children to socialize with the man that killed them.
David Maust is different than most serial killers in that he expressed remorse. However, he was unable to overcome his compulsions and made attempts to cover his crimes. His mother and brother have told various media outlets that he was born evil and pushed away from the family in order to protect themselves. Others, including Maust’s defense attorney, believe that the abandonment from his parents and his mother’s own mental illness caused David to become the monster he was. Some theorize that David’s mother made up the stories about his childhood in order to justify her abandonment of her son.
Regardless of what caused David to become a monster, he indeed became a monster. David could not control his compulsions and knew he was a danger to society. If only federal authorities had listened to him in 1977, or the State of Illinois had listened to him in 1999, perhaps the three Indiana murders may not have ever occurred. I agree with David, if an inmate says they don’t want out, our government should listen.
Robinson, Ruthann (2006) Maust attempts death. The Times. 20 Jan 2006
David Edward Maust, Plaintiff-appellant, v. Dennis E. Headley, Superintendent, Forensic Program, Elginmental Health Center, Stephen L. Hardy, Dr., Superintendent,chester Mental Health Center, and Cynthia Dennison,employee, Forensic Unit, Elgin Mental Health Center,defendants-appellees, 959 F.2d 644 (7th Cir. 1992) :: Justia