Updated: May 14
If you’ve ever driven through Illinois, you’ve probably noticed a lot of corn fields. Farming is a big part of life in the Midwest. In the 1970’s, farmer Fred Grabbe and his wife Charlotte owned and operated an eight-hundred-acre farm near Marshal, Illinois. The couple had an enviable life with their property, beautiful home, and two all American children. However, the picture-perfect family would crumble to pieces in the 1980s. This is the story of the The Farmer’s Family.
Fred and Charlotte Grabbe
Charlotte Sue Gore was born in 1942 in Sullivan County, Indiana (FindaGrave). She married Fred Grabbe and the two had two children, a son and daughter. Fred Grabbe was a large man, standing 6’4” and weighing 280 lbs, whereas his wife was a small petite woman. She was not weak or delicate, however, as she frequently worked the fields right along with her husband. Due to a large inheritance Charlotte received, they built a beautiful home on their large property. From the outside, the wealthy farmers seemed to have it all. It’s always another story behind closed doors.
Charlotte Grabbe and her husband had a turbulent marriage. Fred was frequently unfaithful to his wife, which led to a divorce early on in their marriage. However, the couple later remarried. Fred was known to be physically abusive and aggressive with his wife. Between the physical abuse and infidelity, the couple’s marriage started to crumble in the early 1980s. In the summer of 1981, Charlotte asked Fred for a divorce and kicked him out of the family home. He remained living in another small house on the farm.
On July 24th, 1981, Charlotte was out driving her tractor and working in the fields. She never came home. Her children were frantic, as this wasn’t normal for their mother. Charlotte’s uneaten lunch was found in her tractor and her purse was found in the barn. She would never have left without her purse and medications for migraines. Fred Grabbe provided an explanation for her sudden disappearance.
Fred claimed that during the day, he and his estranged wife had an argument in the barn about their impending divorce. He claims that Charlotte jumped in her car and he followed her in his vehicle until she turned on the interstate, headed towards Indiana. Her children had their doubts, as they didn’t believe their mother would just disappear or leave without her purse. Her vehicle was missing too, leading some to believe Fred’s version of events.
A neighbor provided a statement that she had seen Charlotte Grabbe’s car leave the farm the day of her disappearance, but she did not think the driver was Charlotte. She described the driver as a woman with short curly hair. She also said that Charlotte’s car was following Fred’s truck, not the other way around. Charlotte’s car was found a few days later outside a bar in Terre Haute, Indiana. There were no signs of Charlotte.
Her children remained very skeptical. They stated that their mother was very afraid of their father and feared something bad would happen to her. They suspected their father of harming their mother almost from the beginning. Charlotte also left letters in a safe deposit box about her fears and that she did not believe she would survive the divorce (Forensic Files, 2001). The notes also described the stealing of assets by Fred Grabbe during the divorce process.
Despite their suspicions, Charlotte’s case grew cold. No one knew where Charlotte was and there were no signs of foul play or a struggle. Her children were not ready to give up on finding their mother, however. In 1984 they hired a private investigator. The investigator went to work immediately, talking to Fred Grabbe’s ex-mistress whom he was seeing at the time of Charlotte’s disappearance.
Vicki, the ex-mistress, was angry with Fred Grabbe. He had not treated her well and eventually left her. She was ready to share what she knew. She told authorities that on that July day in 1981, she was in the barn with Fred Grabbe when Charlotte caught them together. She said that an argument started, and she watched in horror at what happened next.
Vicki stated that he watched as Fred Grabbe grabbed Charlotte by the neck and strangled her. He strangled her until she began to lose consciousness, released her neck, then strangled her again. According to Vicki, he did this several times and enjoyed watching her suffer for each breath. She then witnessed Fred fill the orifices of Charlotte’s body with oil and place her in a barrel. She admitted to driving Charlotte’s car, following Fred’s truck, to the banks of the Wabash River after the murder.
At the river, Vicki said Fred lit Charlotte’s body on fire under a tree with diesel fuel. When all of her remains except her skull her disintegrated, Fred allegedly threw her skull in to the river for “fish food” (Forensic Files, 2001). The two then dropped Charlotte’s car off at the bar in Indiana.
Given the tumultuous split between Vicki and Fred, authorities knew they would have to find evidence to support Vicki’s story. They went to the area on the river where she said the body had been burned, but no remains could be found after a few years. However, authorities thought maybe they would find evidence of the diesel fuel in the soil. Unfortunately, flooding had washed away this evidence as well.
Investigators were determined to find the evidence they needed. They decided to consult an arborist to see if the tree near the crime scene could prove Vicki’s story. When the rings of the tree were examined, they noticed one ring was much smaller than the others. This meant that for one year, the tree had stunted growth. Counting back, this year was noted to be 1981. Diesel fuel in the soil would have caused the stunted growth pattern.
Some of the limbs of the tree were also examined. They were ground down and lab tested, revealing they contained diesel fuel. However, not all the branches showed this finding. The only branches that showed diesel fuel were the ones on the side of the tree where Charlotte’s body had been burned. This evidence further support Vicki’s story.
In 1985, Fred Grabbe went on trial for first degree murder. Jurors heard Vicki’s story straight from her. She also told them that Fred had admitted to killing someone at age fourteen after they hurt his dog (Forensic Files Now). Jeff Grabbe, the Grabbes’ son, testified about the violent physical abuse he and his mother both endured at the hands of Fred Grabbe. The forensic evidence was explained to the jury in great detail.
The defense centered around Vicki’s story. The defense claimed it was fabricated after Fred dumped her for another woman, Barbara. Vicki also received a twenty-five-thousand-dollar award sponsored by Charlotte’s children. She was granted immunity for her testimony. The wife of Fred’s friend also claimed to have seen Charlotte in Indiana after her disappearance, suggesting she willingly left and was alive.
On June 24th, 1985, Fred Grabbe was convicted of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (Forensic Files Now). While awaiting transfer to the prison system, Barbara Graham, Fred’s current girlfriend, attempted to break him out of Clark County Jail. She showed up at the jail, fired five shots, and one hit an officer in the leg. Her attempt was not successful at freeing Fred. Instead, she received sixteen years in prison.
Why were these women willing to go along with things such as murder and an attempted jail break for Fred Grabbe? According to his daughter, he is a very charismatic man with a violent temper. In fact, she told reporters that Charlotte went on a date with Fred at fifteen years old, he was nineteen. On this date, Fred apparently raped Charlotte and she became pregnant. According to her daughter, it was expected that they marry and so that is what Charlotte decided to do (Forensic Files Now). He was charismatic enough to convince her to remarry him after they split a few years into their marriage. Vicki and Barbara were likely also interested in the fortune Fred Grabbe had after his wife’s death.
After Fred’s conviction, both of the homes on the Grabbe property, now occupied by the Grabbe children, burned to the ground. Fred Grabbe was in prison at this time, but many people suspect he was involved in the suspicious fires. His daughter believes it was retribution for her and her brother seeking justice for their mother. The fires were ruled arson, but no one was ever arrested in connection with the incident.
In 1987, Fred Grabbe was granted a new trial based off evidence that the jury was improperly instructed (Forensic Files Now). Jeff and Jennie, Charlotte’s children, were devastated but determined to seek a conviction once again. Jeff was now living with his wife and two young children but was planning to once again provide testimony against his father. He disappeared in March of 1988.
Jeff Grabbe was not a man without fault. He had not held a steady job since his mother’s death and had previously been accused of attempted burglary but was never charged. Cindy, Jeff’s wife, told authorities he had went to California for a business matter. She had called him several times as their infant son was ill, but he suddenly stopped responding to calls. On March 21st, 1988, Jeff’s body was found floating in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California (Forensic Files Now).
Jeff’s cause of death was ruled a homicide caused by multiple gunshot wounds. According to an article in Mattoon’s Journal Gazette from 1990, California authorities believed they knew who was responsible for the crime but did not have enough evidence to make an arrest (Journal Gazette, 1990). According to the Los Angeles Times by Richard Beene, Jeff Grabbe’s murder was a result of his attempt to double cross accomplices in a money laundering scheme (Beene, 1988). Some people believe Fred Grabbe may have orchestrated the murder, but no evidence supports this theory.
(Right: Charlotte & Jeff Grabbe)
Fred Grabbe was once again found guilty of murder and this time sentenced to seventy-five years in prison. The eighty-one-year-old is still in prison, currently residing at the Dixon Correctional Center (IDOC). However, this story doesn’t end here.
Jennie, the Grabbe’s daughter, would later tell more of the family’s secrets in interviews. She claims Fred Grabbe sexually abused her starting at age five (Forensic Files Now). Jennie has had to cope with the trauma her father caused her personally as well as the deaths of her mother and brother. She credits her faith for her healing and resilience.
In a bizarre twist, Jennie’s son Adam was arrested in Jerusalem in 2014 for plotting terror attacks (Hartman, 2014). He was arrested after acquiring explosives in a failed attempt to bomb Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem (Hartman, 2014). Adam Livvix had a long criminal history in Illinois and Indiana and had a warrant on drug charges at the time of his arrest in Jerusalem (Tribune-Star, 2014). He was found to be psychotic and held in a mental institution after being held in Israeli jail awaiting trial. In 2015, he was released and returned to the United States (Maddaus, 2015).
(Everette Adam Livvix)
Fred Grabbe created a family scarred by trauma and abuse. It’s no surprise that Jeff Grabbe may have been involved in some shady business leading to his death. Jennie struggled most of her life to deal with the trauma she endured as a result of her father’s actions. Her son then continued the family legacy of crime and violence in his own arrest. This story should serve as a reminder to us all that our actions affect our families. We can either chose to perpetuate a cycle of trauma or ensure that cycle stops.
(Above: Fred Grabbe)
Journal Gazette (1990) Strangest murder in memory marked decade; Journal Gazette; Retrieved at: 12 Jan 1990, Page 17 - Journal Gazette at Newspapers.com
Forensic Files (2001) Root of All Evil; S.6 E. 19; Available on Spectrum on Demand
People V. Grabbe (1986) People V. Grabbe; Illinois Appellate Court; Retrieved at: People v. Grabbe, 499 N.E.2ds 499, 148 Ill. App. 3d 678 – CourtListener.com
Carlton, J. (1988) Slain man was going to testify at father’s murder trial; Los Angeles Times; Retrieved at: Slain Man Was Going to Testify in Father's Murder Trial - Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)
Tribune-Star (2014) Update: Livvix has extensive criminal history in valley; Retrieved at: Update: Livvix has extensive criminal history in Valley | Local News | tribstar.com
Hartman, B. (2014) U.S. fugitive indicted for plotting terror attacks on Muslim sites has troubled family history; The Jerusalem Post; Retrieved at: US fugitive indicted for plotting terror attacks on Muslim sites has troubled family history - The Jerusalem Post (jpost.com)
FindAGrave (accessed 2021) Charlotte Sue Gore Grabbe; Retrieved at: Charlotte Sue Gore Grabbe (1942-1981) - Find A Grave Memorial
Jeffery Leon Grabbe; Retrieved at: Jeffrey Leon Grabbe (1958-1988) - Find A Grave Memorial
Forensic Files Now (Undated) Fred Grabbe: Update on an Ogre; Retrieved at: Fred Grabbe: Update on an Ogre – Forensic Files Now
Benne, R. (1988) Man killed after double-cross scheme, police say; Los Angeles Times; Retrieved at: Man Killed After Double-Cross in Scheme, Police Say - Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)
Maddaus, G. (2015) Everette Adam Livvix, figure in Israeli mosque plot, is released from mental facility and returned to U.S.; LA Weekly; Retrieved at: Everett Adam Livvix, Figure in Israeli Mosque Plot, Is Released From Mental Facility and Returned to U.S. - LA Weekly
IDOC (2021) Fred Grabbe; Retrieved at: Offenders (illinois.gov)