Mascoutah Prom Night Murders
Prom night is a right of passage for most teenagers, at least it was before the pandemic changed everything. Before post prom lock ins were in existence, most teenagers celebrated with their own parties after prom night. This was true in 1969 for the teens attending the Mascoutah High School Prom in Mascoutah, Illinois. This prom night, however, would have a shocking ending that no one would forget.
Michael Morrison was born on November 9th, 1950 to William Morrison and his wife Anna. William was a member of the United States Air Force. The Morrison family, like most military families, moved around frequently through out their marriage. They had five children, Mike being the second oldest. In the mid 1960’s, the family found themselves stationed at Scott Air Force Base, just outside of Mascoutah, Illinois.
Debra Means was born on in 1953 and her father was also in the Air Force, stationed at Scott Air Force Base in the 1960’s. Debra was described by her friends as vivacious and spunky. She began dating Michael Morrison in high school. Mike was two grades ahead of Debbie, and he was a senior in high school in the spring of 1969. Mike was on track to graduate co-valedictorian of his senior class and was a gifted athlete.
The couple attended the prom on May 3rd, 1969, along with their group of friends. The “Moonlight and Roses” theme must have been very romantic for the young couple, who were very much in love. After the dance, the couple headed out to a rural area outside of Mascoutah with a group of their friends. They were the first of their friends to leave the party in the wee morning hours of May 4th, 1969. That was the last time anyone saw them alive.
Mike’s brother, Ed Morrison, wrote a book about that fateful night in May of 1969 entitled Bad Moon Rising; The Prom Night Murders Memoir. The book, which is a fantastic read, described the events from his perspective and follows along with his journey to learn the truth about his brother’s death. In the book, Ed remembers his mother being frantic waiting for Mike to come home after having an ominous dream about a car accident.
Mike, like many teenagers, had been drinking on prom night. It was possible that an accident could have occurred. By the afternoon after prom night, neither Michael nor Debbie had returned home. Mother’s intuition told Anna Morrison her son was gone. The police were called after the Morrison and Means families failed to locate their children by calling friends and searching themselves. The police initially believed the couple ran off to get married.
The search was on to find the young couple. The Morrison family vehicle, which Mike had been driving, was found abandoned on the side of the road with the doors open. However, there was no indication of where the couple was at first. On May 5th, the search continued and someone flying over the rural area where the couple were last seen south of Mascoutah spotted something he believed to be a body. Police and investigators rushed to the area. Near an abandoned strip mine the bodies of eighteen-year-old Michael Morrison and fifteen-year-old Debra Means were found deceased.
Michael Means was found fully clothed with gun shots to the head. Debra Means was found about thirty feet away from Michael’s. She was nude and gagged with her own underwear. Her hands and feet were bound with clothesline which was also around her neck. Her mutilated body showed possible signs of sexual assault. Her cause of death was strangulation.
The deaths were shocking to the small town of Mascoutah and the fear would not dissipate as long as a killer remained on the loose. The investigation was put into high gear looking for a suspect. Two people would report possible clues that would lead to the identity of the perpetrator.
A young man from East St. Louis was pulled over for speeding and told the police a shocking story. He had heard about the Mascoutah murders and was rattled because of an experience he had less than two weeks prior. He told the police that he had been attending a dance at the American Legion Hall in Breese, Illinois in April. A girl was having trouble with her car, so the two left together to check out her car. They were driving northeast of Breese, near Shoal Creek, when the couple were forced off the road by a vehicle.
The person who ran them off the road, a man in his thirties, forced the eighteen-year-old boy into the trunk of the car by gunpoint. The boy could hear the girl, who was approximately sixteen years old, being raped violently. The man then let the boy out of the trunk and forced them to perform sexual acts on each other while he took pictures. Finally, he threatened to come back and kill them if they ever told anyone. The couple returned to the American Legion Hall following the traumatizing event.
Police suspected that the man responsible for the rape in Breese was also responsible for the murders of Michael Morrison and Debra Means. They didn’t know his identity, however, until a man who runs a mobile home court in Shilo came forward about one of his employees. The employee, Bill Nickerson, showed up to work on Monday May 5th with scratches all over him and a busted lip. He looked like he had been in a fight. Adding to his suspicions was the fact that the man left the area just four days after the murder, claiming a family member had died.
Leaving town for a funeral may not seem odd, but Bill Nickerson didn’t have a phone and his employer was suspicious of the claim. At the same time, a phone call was received at the Saint Clair Count y Sherriff’s office stating “I am the one who killed them, and I will do it again. I was bit around the mouth area” (Morrison, 2019). Debbie’s mother also received a letter in her mailbox addressed to “The Murdered Girls Mother”. The letter was immediately given to authorities because it described the crime in detail and seemed to have been written to inflict additional pain on the family. Inside the envelope was also Mike’s identification cards. The letter had to have been from the killer. The letter, which I won’t share in its entirety, is disgusting and disturbing. The killer describes raping Debbie and said that Debbie bit his lip, causing a wound.
After receiving the tip from Bill Nickerson’s boss and hearing the story of the rape in Breese, authorities tried to find Nickerson. They eventually learned his real name was Marshal Wayne Stauffer. His boss also learned that Stauffer had purchased items shortly before the murders using a co-worker’s name and charging it to the company. The items included rope and tape. They searched his trailer home and found more evidence including bloody cigarette butts, possibly from where his lip was bitten.
Marshal Wayne Stauffer was born in Dixon, Illinois in 1930. As a teenager he had been arrested for burglary. Soon after receiving probation from these charges, he was arrested in Alabama for stealing a car. He was sentenced to a year in an Alabama prison, but escaped shortly after. He was again apprehended. He was then sentenced to five years for his Illinois burglary charges as he had violated his probation. He was sent to Pontiac State Prison to serve his time.
After this arrest, Stauffer enlisted in the United States Air Force, but went AWOL shortly after completing basic training. He was sentenced to five years of probation and dishonorably discharged. However, he stole another car while on probation and was sentenced to five years in federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas. In the late 1950s, Stauffer continued a life of crime with growing violence and sexual tones.
He was arrested in 1958 for lewd acts in Chicago. He was charged for “theft by false pretenses” (Morrison, 2019) in California shortly after and for more fraudulent crimes in Illinois in 1960. Stauffer was a career criminal and becoming a master manipulator. He was serving time in the early 1960s for forgery in Los Angeles, California when he once again escaped. He was caught again and sent to Folsom Prison for a very odd sentence of one year to life in prison (Morrison, 2019). Stauffer was released from Folsom in 1965.
By the end of May 1969, warrants were issued for Marshal Wayne Stauffer for the rape and kidnapping incident in Breese in April and the murders of Mike and Debbie after the prom. He was on the run, but eventually went back to his former employer in California seeking employment. The employer recognized him as a wanted man and notified authorities. It would turn out the Stauffer was also wanted for a similar rape case in Hannibal, Missouri and a kidnapping in Wichita Kansas (Associated Press, 1969). In September of 1969, he was questioned in the murder of newlyweds Robert and Bobbie Swanson in Missouri (Associated Press, 1969).
In the fall of 1969, Stauffer suddenly changed his plea in the Clinton County rape and armed robbery case to guilty. He was sentenced to fifty to fifty-two years for the rape and thirty to fifty years for the armed robbery, with sentences to run concurrently. Stauffer was off the streets, and the St. Clair County District Attorney speculated he would be put away for at least fifty years. For this reason, he announced, the murder charges against Stauffer were dropped.
The community of Mascoutah was furious with the decision not to try Stauffer for the murders of Mike Morrison and Debra Means. A town hall meeting was held with Robert Rice, the prosecutor, in which he told the residents that “the dismissal was part of a deal which included a guilty plea on the Clinton County charges” (Breese Journal, 1969) and that the murder case lacked evidence. However, a grand jury had found sufficient evidence to indict on the charges.
To the horror of the Breese and Mascoutah communities, Stauffer was released from prison in 1990 after serving twenty-one years. The community feared for the safety of young women and men everywhere as this psychopath was let back out on to the streets. Stauffer had been suspected in several “lover’s lane” types of murders. He was young enough at the time of his release to continue his reign of terror and he did just that.
Within two years of his release, Stauffer was once again arrested for three violent rapes occurring in Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon. This time, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He died at age seventy-one in 2002 while serving his life sentence. Had Stauffer been tried for the Mascoutah Prom Murders in 1969, perhaps the atrocities he committed after his release would have been prevented. Stauffer is truly a monster and predator who preyed on young people and destroyed many lives along the way.
For a more in depth look at this case, I highly recommend Ed Morrison’s book Bad Moon Rising: The Prom Night Murders Memoir.
Morrison, E. (2019) Bad Moon Rising: The Prom Night Murders Memoir; Available for purchase on amazon here: Amazon.com: Bad Moon Rising: The Prom Night Murders Memoir eBook: Morrison, Ed: Kindle Store
Maddox, T. (2019) Mascoutah residents still haunted by 1969 murder; Belleville News Democrat; Retrieved at: 24 Feb 2019, A13 - Southern Illinoisan at Newspapers.com
FindAGrave (2021) Debra J. “Debbie” Means; Retrieved at: Debra J. “Debbie” Means (1953-1969) - Find A Grave Memorial
Michael Patrick “Mike” Morrison; Retrieved at: Michael Patrick “Mike” Morrison (1950-1969) - Find A Grave Memorial
Associated Press (1969) Quiz man in slayings; Quad-City Times; Retrieved at: 04 Sep 1969, 3 - Quad-City Times at Newspapers.com
Breese Journal (1969) Mascoutah protest questions dropping of murder charges; The Breese Journal; Retrieved at: 23 Oct 1969, 7 - The Breese Journal at Newspapers.com
Associated Press (1969) Nab suspect in Illinois murder case; St. Joseph Gazette; Retrieved at: 30 May 1969, 2 - St. Joseph Gazette at Newspapers.com
Breese Journal (1969) Warrants issued for man charges with rape near Breese; The Breese Journal; Retrieved at: 29 May 1969, 1 - The Breese Journal at Newspapers.com
St. Louis Post Dispatch (1969) Missing teen-age pair killed; East side officers seek clues; St. Louis Post Dispatch; Retrieved at: https://www.newspapers.com/image/?clipping_id=77633985&fcfToken=eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJmcmVlLXZpZXctaWQiOjEzOTg1NjM0MiwiaWF0IjoxNjIxMjEwMTgxLCJleHAiOjE2MjEyOTY1ODF9.sug65BMet_jRfPgUGPBGiiB_3vU4HBmxIBCONkGweOE