Sarah McClennan was driving home from Brigham City after a full day of teaching on April 23, 1974, when she heard on the radio that several people were heinously tortured and killed at the Hi-Fi Stereo Shop the day before.
“I thought who would do that? What kind of folks would do something so cruel?”
Police and prosecutors later revealed that two black men — Pierre Dale Selby, 21, and William Andrews, 19, who were stationed at Hill Air Force Base at the time — went into the shop, located at 2323 Washington Blvd., with the intention to rob it. Aside from taking about $24,000-worth of property, they murdered three white people and seriously injured two more.
Among the dead were Carol Naisbitt, 52, Stanley Walker, 20, and Sherry Michelle Ansley, 18. Courtney Naisbitt, who was the 16-year-old son of Carol, and 43-year-old Orren Walker, the father of Stanley Walker, were injured but survived. Walker was able to give a suspect description to the police, which sparked a statewide hunt.
The men were convicted of the murders and executed years later. A third black man, identified as the getaway driver, was also convicted and imprisoned.
The gruesome incident shook the whole community but had a particularly scary effect for African American people, like McClennan, who were living in the area at the time.
McClennan came to Utah in 1966 from Jacksonville, Florida, and taught biology and math at the Intermountain Indian School from the year she arrived until 1984. She’s now 76-year-old and lives in Riverdale.
Her 16-year-old son, who was a student at Bonneville High School at the time, had friends all over Weber County. He also had a car.
Police pulled him over to find out why he was in the area for no other reason than him having dark skin, McClellan said.
“There was a lot of profiling going on back then,” she said. “...There seemed to be a lot of hostility back then.”
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.
Beesley said he and other reserve members were also told to patrol the Eccles Community Art Center, where a group of women were having a social event the night after the crime. One of the victims who died was a close friend with several people in the group.
“People were really nervous,” Beesley said.
He said he was one of the officers at the base when Selby and Andrews were arrested. Once they were in jail, Beesley said most people calmed down.
Even 42 years after the murders, the incident still upsets McClennan and she refers to what Andrews and Selby did as “inhumane,” — but she said it should not have resulted in the entire African-American community taking blame.
“Those men were not even from around here,” she said.
In 1974, Jim Gillespie, an African-American, was working at Utah’s Liquor and Narcotics Enforcement agency. Before that, he had worked as a police officer with Ogden Police Department.
Gillespie said there was a “heightened awareness” of possible danger in Ogden after the murders happened.
“Yes, the African-American community felt picked on then because they would get stopped for driving on Washington Boulevard for no reason,” he said.
Though Gillespie, now 70, wasn’t involved in the Hi-Fi investigation, he still crossed paths with the aftermath of the case several times over the next two decades.
Jury selection began in the fall of 1974 in Farmington — they moved the trial from Ogden because of all the publicity — and Gillespie was summoned to appear for jury duty.
The first potential juror called was the Centerville police chief, who was quickly excused, Gillespie said.
Gillespie was questioned about his work history and if he knew anyone involved in the case. He answered with his police and state employee work, and said he know just about everyone tied to the case — the prosecutor, the judge, the police officers who did the investigation, and Dr. Bryon Naisbitt, who was the husband and father of two of the victims.
Then he was then asked if he could make a fair decision on the guilt or innocence of the defendants based solely on information and evidence presented in the courtroom.
“I had to be honest. I believed I could,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie said he expected to be excused right away because of his connections, but he wasn’t. He and the other potential jurors were excused for lunch. When they returned to the courthouse, Gillespie said someone reported seeing a napkin with a stick figure and the words “Hang the (n-----)” drawn on it at the diner. None of the jurors, including Gillespie, had seen it but that part of the day has stayed in his memory anyway.
Toward the end of the day Gillespie was dismissed from jury duty.
Given that he’d made it so far into the selection process despite his connections and work history, he believed for years that he was dismissed because he was black.
“I really didn’t know why,” Gillespie said.
He learned just before the executions it was Weber County Attorney Robert Newey who had Gillespie removed — and it had nothing to do with his race.
“He said he was afraid the defense would use me as grounds to appeal the case because of who I knew and (Newey) didn’t want to risk it,” Gillespie said.
Selby and Andrews were executed after they had exhausted their appeals. Gillespie had become the deputy director of the Board of Pardons and Parole and was there for both executions. He also announced to the media when Andrews was pronounced dead.
EXECUTIONS AND MORE RACIAL TENSION
On Aug. 28, 1987, Selby was the first person in Utah to be executed by lethal injection.
Andrews was executed on July 30, 1992.
Earlier that year, four white Los Angeles police officers were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King. Racial tensions were high, riots broke out and resulted in the deaths of 53 people and over 2,000 injuries in California. Some held concerns that Andrews’ execution would draw violence to Utah.
Retired Standard-Examiner reporter Tim Gurrister was one of nine journalists selected to witness Andrews’ execution.
Gurrister said Utah’s law enforcement community was concerned that people from California would make a trip to Utah just to start riots.
“There was an incredible police presence (at the prison) such as I never saw before or ever since,” Gurrister said. Officers, dressed in camo gear, with dogs, assault rifles and riot gear, covered the prison inside and out.
“There was a lot of talk at the time of his execution that William Andrews had found God, became a religious person,” Gurrister said. “That may have been true, judging by how calm, even cheerful, he was as he died.”
Andrews’ arms and legs were strapped down to a gurney, but he could still move his head freely.
“His head kept coming up smiling as he would blow kisses and mouth the words ’I love you’ to the two aunts who raised him,” Gurrister said. “This was as the chemicals were flowing into his arms.”
He said it was ”quite eerie.”
“Then (Andrews) went still, you could see his Adam's apple had stopped moving,” Gurrister said. “After that it was maybe another 20 minutes watching the chemicals in the tubes flow through the IVs before they pronounced him dead.”
More than four decades since the crime, it still ranks as one of the worst in Utah’s history. While Gurrister, Gillespie and Beesley had direct connections to the case, many in the community are like McClennan — they still remember how their world changed after April 22, 1974.
Thursday, April 21, on the eve of the 42nd anniversary, dozens of people left messages with the Standard-Examiner about what they remembered from the Hi-Fi murders.
Susan Coffey said via Facebook: “Dr. Naisbitt was my OBGYN at this time while I was pregnant with our first child. He stayed focused, compassionate, and strong, while seldom never missing an appointment. He realized how everyone was thinking about him and his family and was humble and grateful. He truly is a remarkable man and showed such faith through such a huge storm.”