Black community members recall backlash in wake of horrific Hi-Fi murders

Sunday , February 11, 2018 - 5:00 AM9 comments

OGDEN — Whatever modest progress whites and blacks may have made in the Ogden area during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, those fragile race relations almost came undone in a single April night back in 1974.

On April 22 of that year, two black airmen from Hill Air Force Base walked into the Hi-Fi Shop in downtown Ogden with the intention of robbing the retail home audio store. Over the next couple of hours they brutally tortured five people — forcing them to drink drain cleaner and eventually shooting them in the head. One victim had a ballpoint pen stomped into his ear. Another was raped. Three of the five died.

Dale Pierre Selby was put to death for the crime in 1987. William Andrews was executed five years later.

RELATED: Ogden Hi-Fi murders still fresh memories for community, investigators

As word spread of the gruesome crime — two black men, possibly more, who tortured, raped and killed a group of whites — fear gripped the community.

“I guess they were worried about a race war — afraid we might be attacking whites,” recalls Sarah McClellan, director of the Northern Utah HIV/AIDS Coalition, in Ogden.

RELATED: Throwback Thursday — The Tragic Hi-Fi Murders

But whites weren’t the only ones who were afraid. Blacks feared racial backlash from the murders.

“It was a very trying time for most of us,” said Darnel Haney, of Washington Terrace. “We didn’t feel safe in this community. We were blamed for the actions of these two men.”

RELATED: Forty years later, Ogden Hi-Fi Murders are still the worst

Haney, who was associate dean of student affairs at Weber State College at the time, said he’d tried to be a good resident and contributor to the community, but suddenly black members of the community were looked upon with suspicion.

“I felt if I walked the streets, somebody could shoot me and feel vindicated,” he said, adding: “It’s not much different now, with all the hate being perpetrated today by the leadership of our country and communities.”

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Haney remembers the late-night anonymous phone calls made in the aftermath of the Hi-Fi murders.

“People were threatening my life, saying, ‘You N-words gonna get yours,’” he said. “We were pointed out as guilty for a crime that none of us committed — just from the color of our skin.”

Even his children were treated poorly. Haney says, “They’d run my kids off their lawn, little things like that.”

Rev. Charles Petty, pastor of Ogden’s Second Baptist Church, says he came to Utah for an internship at Hill Air Force Base shortly after the Hi-Fi murders were committed. He hadn’t even heard of the crime, and one day in May or June of that year he and a couple of black friends went to the Hi-Fi Shop to look at stereos.

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“Everybody stopped doing what they were doing, and just gazed us up and down,” Petty said. “I didn’t understand it at the time, but it was just basically feeling the atmosphere being different. I’m not sure they were saying ‘I dare you to come in here,’ but the feeling was strange.”

Later, when Petty learned what had happened there just a month or two earlier, the odd looks they’d gotten made sense.

Many black members of the community say they felt profiled by police at the time.

A 2016 Standard-Examiner story looking back on the murders noted:

“One of those involved in the manhunt for Andrews and Selby after the murders was Jim Beesley. He was a squad leader for the Ogden City Reserves, a volunteer group of 50 men who worked with regular police officers, and recalled the active search for the suspects.

“‘Every car that had more than one black person in it was pulled over,’ he said.”

McClellan says the racial profiling extended beyond that, and lasted well past the initial manhunt. Her stepson was attending Bonneville High School at the time of the murders, and she says his little Chevrolet was routinely pulled over by South Ogden Police.

“He’d be driving home from school, and he’d get stopped all the time,” McClellan said. “I guess they were scared or something. They would just stop him, but he never got a ticket. To me, it was almost like harassment.”

McClellan said she finally had to threaten the police with a lawsuit, telling them: “Unless he’s doing something wrong, you better stop pulling him over. I know you guys are angry because of what those two black airmen did, but unless he’s doing something you better leave him alone.”

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Bob Gillespie, of Ogden, remembers the moment he heard the news of the murders. He, his older brother and some of their friends were all driving vans at the time, and Gillespie had heard on the radio that the suspects had fled the scene in a van.

“So when I got home I called everybody and said, ‘Do not go anywhere, because they’re looking for some black guys in a van,’” he said.

Gillespie also said a lot of gawkers were stopping by the Hi-Fi Shop in the days after the murders, and he and a buddy went downtown to check it out. Some people were gathered out in front of the store, and Gillespie and his friend walked up to see what was going on.

“One gentleman had a pipe in his hand, and he said, ‘We’re going to put an end to this right here and right now,’” Gillespie recalls. “He didn’t realize, for some reason, that I was black. He was talking about going out and ‘getting’ black people, but he was too upset to look around and realize I was there.”

Haney remembers having trouble moving into a white neighborhood.

“When I moved into my home in Washington Terrace, three families moved out,” he said.

And in 1972, when McClellan was in the market to buy a house, the real estate agent kept trying to steer her toward homes in the “black” part of town.

“He had the book with all these houses, and when we’d say, ‘What about that one?’ he’d say, ‘You can’t afford that one,’” McClellan said. “He kept showing us houses on Wall and Lincoln (avenues). He was bound and determined we were not going to live on the other side of Washington Boulevard. So we just fired him.”

The McClellans got a new agent, and he sold them a house in Washington Terrace. After they moved in, McClellan learned a couple of people tried to stop her family from moving there.

“The (LDS) bishop and somebody else on the street got together a petition to try and keep us out of the neighborhood,” McClellan said. “I didn’t know about it until after we moved in.”

Despite this early trouble, McClellan said neighbors quickly accepted her family.

“They found out I wasn’t going to run down the neighborhood, and I was going to mow my lawn and keep the house up,” she said. “I’ve had these neighbors for 40 years.”

LaSalle Turner, of Riverdale, remembers the overt racism of the 1950s in Ogden, when blacks had to stay on the south side of the street whenever they walked down 25th Street.

“The north side was for whites,” he said.

And he remembers the time immediately after the Hi-Fi murders. It was another dark time in the community.

“They were stopping every young black man in Ogden and intimidating them,” he said. “Pastors at church had told everybody to be cool. They’d tell us, ‘You’ve got to do what they ask you and try to stay calm.’”

Turner remembers getting pulled over by police after the Hi-Fi murders. His young son was in the car with him and later asked, “Daddy, why did he stop you? You didn’t run no red light.” Turner simply told him, “I don’t know why, son.”

At that time, Turner says police would get angry if you asked why they pulled you over, so you never did.

In the end, Bob Gillespie says relations between blacks and whites calmed again.

“I think, as a whole, we all settled down — as much as thinking that it was a racial thing,” he said. “We just realized it was a horrifying event that took place, and there happened to be black people involved.”

For Haney, his moment of clarity and healing over the Hi-Fi murders came a year or two later, when he was teaching a “human potential” class at Weber State. Several black students were in the class, along with one of the two survivors of the 1974 crime.

Haney says it had the potential to be an incredibly awkward situation.

“They’d poured acid in his throat, so he had difficulty speaking,” according to Haney. “He said, ‘I’m not angry at any black people, but I hate those guys.’”

Haney says everyone in the class hugged this survivor.

“I cried in my heart,” Haney said. “He had an opportunity to be hateful toward the whole world, but I witnessed a fantastic young man who represents the good in people.”

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at Facebook.com/MarkSaal.

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