Small towns in Illinois are generally thought of as so safe that residents frequently do not lock their doors at night. This was certainly the case in Beason, IL. That all changed in 2009 when the bodies of five family members were found brutally slain. This is the story of the Gee Family Murders.
Raymond “Rick” Gee was born in Decatur in 1963. Rick married Ruth Ann Constant in Beason, IL in 1997. The family would become a large, blended family with Rick’s three children from a previous relationship and Ruth Ann’s children Justina and Dillen Constant. In 1997 when they married, Justina was just four and Dillen two.
Together, Rick and Ruth Ann would welcome a son Austin in 1998 and named him Austin. The couple would later welcome a daughter named Jessica. Unfortunately, Jessica suffered from a severe brain injury resulting in profound disabilities. She was eventually put in to DCFS custody and admitted to a long-term care facility as a ward of the state. Rick and Ruth Ann completed their family in 2006 with the birth of their daughter Tabitha.
This blended family continued to grow as Rick’s adult children moved forward into adulthood. Rick’s daughter Nicole married Christopher Harris and the two had a daughter in the late 1990’s. The couple’s relationship was tumultuous and resulted in a divorce. However, by 2009 the couple had reconciled and welcomed a son to the growing family. No one knew that this family was about to be shattered.
On September 21st, 2009, Rick’s stepfather went to check on the family after Rick failed to show up for work. What he walked into was nothing short of horrific. After calling 911, police and emergency medical services arrived at the Gee home in Beason, Illinois to find five family members dead in a bloody and gruesome crime scene. Rick, age 46, Ruth Ann, age 39, Justina, age 16, Dillen, age 14, and Austin, age 11 had all been bludgeoned and were deceased. Three-year-old Tabitha was found alive but severely injured with a fractured skull and arm. She was airlifted to a hospital in Peoria, Illinois and placed under protective custody.
Who would want to hurt the Gee family? That was the question investigators were challenged with. Sherriff Steve Nichols said, “We’re not going to quit” (Guetersloh, 2009) in a press conference just days after the murdered bodies were discovered. Families in the small town of 250 were instructed to keep their downs locked and be on guard. Many people were on edge, fearful that this could happen to their family. No apparent motive was clear, and people were scared.
Rick had recently started his own construction company after previously working for his stepfather (Coulter, 2010). Ruth Ann was a stay-at-home mother. The family had no known enemies and were not by any means wealthy. Justina was a typical sixteen-year-old starting high school and beginning to date. Dillen was a wrestler for his middle school team. Austin was a typical eleven-year-old who loves sports. What motive would anyone have to wipe out nearly an entire family?
Neighbors share with investigators they saw a primer-gray pickup truck with unusual exhaust was at the house early on the morning of September 21st (Brady-Lunny, 2010). The truck seems to be the only clue to this mystery and is quickly recognized by others in the community. However, before a suspect was identified, the Gee family was laid to rest on September 28th.
Over the next week, the police search the property of Christopher and Jason Harris several times and seize the pickup in question (Brady-Lunny, 2010). On October 1st, 2009, thirty-year-old Christopher Harris was arrested and charged with five counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder, and several other charges in relation to the Gee family murders (Barlow, 2009). Christopher had been living up the street from the Gee family with his ex-wife, Nicole Gee, who is the daughter of Rick.
Many people were in disbelief following the arrest. “He didn’t do it. The family is trying to hire a lawyer from Chicago because he didn’t do this” said Jennifer Earnest, the girlfriend of Chris’s brother Jason (Barlow, 2009). Nicole Gee also supported Christopher posting “All this is such a mess and its not right at all. Now not only has my children lost 5 very close family members but their daddy is being set up and taken away this is too much” on her MySpace page. (Smith, 2009).
It wasn’t very long before others were also arrested including Jason Harris, Jennifer Earnest, and Jennifer’s mother Sara Duncan (Brady-Lundy, 2010). The three were charged with obstructing justice. However, the following day Jason Harris is also charged with murder and attempted murder. On October 28th, the Harris brothers were charged with more than 50 counts including murder, attempted murder, home-invasion, residential robbery, and criminal sexual assault (Brady-Lunny, 2010). Earnest and Duncan were accused of providing false alibis, burning clothing, concealing a laptop computer, and lying to police (Brady-Lunny, 2010).
The case against the Harris family started to mount. A tube of antibiotic ointment found on Nicole Gee’s table as well as stained tennis shoes and a tire iron found near Jason’s home were collected and sent for DNA analysis. Shoes confiscated from the Harris brothers matched bloody footprints at the scene. Bloody handprints at the scene matched Christopher Harris. A laptop computer was also found that belonged to Rick Gee. (Brady-Lunny, 2013).
At this point, one of the brothers cracked and confessed to his role in the crime. Jason Harris told investigators that he and Chris were out drinking, smoking weed, and doing lines of cocaine the night of the crime. He said they had tried, without success, to hook up with some girls his brother knew. At that point, they decided to go the Gee family home. The reason for going to the Gee home, according to Jason, was to talk to and possibly hook up with Justina Constant. Jason later stated they went to the home to buy weed from Rick Constant and to steal a computer. (Kravetz, 2013).
Jason went on to explain that Chris, armed with a tire iron, entered the Gee home while Jason waited in the vehicle. Jason did say he witnessed Dillen Constant being beat to death by his brother Chris with the tire iron. He then admitted to providing Chris a false alibi and concealing evidence (Brady-Lunny, 2013). Jennifer Earnest, who has a child with Jason, and her mother Sara Duncan helped destroy evidence and provided a false alibi as well.
(Left to Right: Jason Harris, Jennifer Earnest, & Sara Duncan)
As the time passed awaiting the murder trials of Christopher and Jason Harris, the town of Beason had to move forward. Tabitha Gee recovered from her injuries and was placed in foster care pending a custody case between her grandmother and DCFS. The tiny town of Beason pulled together to cope with this tragedy. The town constructed a playground to honor the children and entitled it the Gee-Constant Memorial Playground (Coulter, 2010).
Meanwhile, Sara Duncan was given 24 months of probation and a $2,500 fine for her obstruction of justice charge (Brady-Lunny, 2013). It would be 2013 before the rest of the suspects’ fate would be decided. Jason Harris agreed to testify against his brother in exchange for a plea arrangement. Christopher Harris went on trial first in 2013.
Christopher Harris would use a self-defense claim at his trial. He claimed that he walked into the Gee home around 1 am on September 21st, 2009, to find Dillen Constant murdering his family. He claimed to have killed Dillen in self-defense (Smedley, 2012). Dr. Craig Anderson, a professor at Iowa State University, testified as an expert witness. He said Dillen, who was fourteen, displayed anti-social behavior, low intelligence, poor school performance, and was from a broken home (Kravetz, 2013). Dillen had once allegedly said “I can’t wait for the school to blow up” after failing a test (Kravetz, 2013). However, several teachers claimed Dillen was not violent and mostly got in trouble for not turning in assignments.
The defense also pointed to violent video games such as Mortal Kombat that were found in Dillen’s room. Studies showing a link between violent video games and violent behaviors were discussed at trial. Dillen had a history of treatment for behavioral health issues (Kravetz, 2013). The defense placed the blame only on Dillen for the deaths of the rest of the Gee family.
Jason Harris testified against his brother Christopher, recounting his confession and details of the night in which the Gee family was murdered. The motive was now primarily presented as being for robbery, citing the stolen computer. However, investigators explained that the computer was linked to cameras in the home that would have proven who killed the family, had the computer not been destroyed (Kravetz, 2013). Jason testified that his brother told him he killed the family to because he didn’t “want to leave any witnesses” (Kravetz, 2013).
Christopher Harris was found guilty on all counts. On July 19th, 2013, the sentencing hearing for Christopher began. Tabitha Gee delivered an impact statement that is nothing short of heart breaking. “I am 7 and it still breaks my heart, and I wish you were dead and my brothers and sister and mommy and daddy were alive” she said through a written statement. She continued “You don’t sneak up on other people… you have to say sorry because do you know how badly that broke my heart?” (Brady-Lunny, 2013). Chris Harris continued to deny his own guilt. Nicole Gee no longer supported her former husband and stated she and her children wanted nothing to do with him anymore. Christopher Harris was given five consecutive life sentences with no chance of parole plus eighty years for the attempted murder, robbery, and home invasion charges (Bruce, 2013).
(Above: Christopher Harris)
Jason Harris’s murder charge was dropped as part of his plea arrangement. He pled guilty to concealment of homicide, delivery of a controlled substance, and obstruction of justice (Brady-Lunny, 2013). He received twenty years in prison for his role in the murders with credit for time served. In September 2013, Jennifer Earnest pled guilty to obstructing justice and was sentenced to 24 months of probation, 120 days in Logan County Jail, $1,000 fine, and 100 hours of community service (Wright, 2013).
The town of Beason has had to cope with this tragedy as a community. The home where the Gee family lived and died was burned down in 2014 (Brady-Lunny, 2014). The controlled fire served as a new beginning for the town and a chance to put the brutal murder behind them. The victims are remembered, however, and the Gee-Constant Memorial Park serves to honor them. Tabitha Gee now lives with her grandmother and continues to move on from the tragedy that changed her life forever and nearly took her life.
Christopher Harris has not been successful in his appeals and currently resides at the Pontiac Correctional Facility (IDOC). Nicole Gee later married and divorced again. She eventually lost custody of her children after multiple drug charges were brought against her as well as accusations of abuse and neglect (Illinois V. Buckner, 2017).
No one will ever know for sure why Christopher Harris and Jason Harris went to the Gee house that night. It is unfathomable how anyone could commit such a heinous and violent crime against people they knew and considered family. How a three-year-old child could be battered and left for dead for no apparent reason is beyond disturbing. But it happened. It happened in a small town that was considered safe. This story highlights the inconvenient truth that murder happens everywhere.
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