Murders still haunt some in Beatrice

2011-01-20T06:00:00Z Murders still haunt some in BeatriceBy Chris Dunker/Daily Sun staff writer Beatrice Daily Sun
January 20, 2011 6:00 am  • 

The call came on Sunday morning. The date was Jan. 19, 1986.

Three people had been killed as they slept in their rented house in Beatrice. Two of the victims were in their early 20s, the other still in her teens.

When police arrived at the crime scene, 416 N. 13th St., they found the victims all with fatal gunshot wounds from a 12-gauge shotgun. One body was on the sofa in the living room. Two more were in the bedroom. The body of a dog was in the bedroom, too.

Wednesday marked the 25th anniversary of the murders, which remain one of the most brutal killings in Beatrice history.

The victims were 21-year old Bennett “Benny” Bartram, 21-year old Jerry Kechley, and his girlfriend, 18-year old Lisa Barrett.

Barrett had just started working at the Beatrice State Developmental Center. Bartram was a meat cutter at Price Chopper Warehouse Foods and Kechley had worked as a roofer but had been laid off for the winter.

The three had rented the home on 13th Street just a week before the shootings.

Across the street lived Lisa Barrett’s parents.

Phyllis Barrett, Lisa’s mother, said boxes in the house hadn’t even been unpacked in her daughter’s rental home.


The night before the murders took place, the trio had a party in their new home.

David Jacob attended, though he doesn’t remember it very well.

According to previous reports, Jacob went to the party with two friends, Kenneth Johnson and Dennis Stege. The three Lincoln men had driven to Beatrice earlier in the day because Stege’s ex-wife lived here.

They had been drinking and smoking marijuana before they left Lincoln.

After getting kicked out of a Beatrice bar, they went to a party at the house on 13th Street.

Both Jacob and Johnson got into fights while at the party. The trio was told to leave, so they did. They dropped Stege off at his ex-wife’s home and drove back to Lincoln to get guns.

Then they returned to Beatrice and broke into the house.

Jacob, currently serving three consecutive life sentences for second-degree murder in the Nebraska State Penitentiary, said he hesitated for a moment as they entered the house.

But Johnson told him it was too late, Jacob said.

“I just followed him in.”


The next morning, Joe Retchless, who also lived in the house but hadn’t stayed there the night before, found his roommates’ bodies.

As word spread throughout town of the gruesome murders, police received several tips about the party, and about strange cars seen around town.

Beatrice Police Captain Gerald Lamkin, then a sergeant, said another officer pulled him out of church Sunday morning to inform him of the homicides.

Immediately he began to assist in the interviews of neighbors, people who had the young men thought responsible for the act and others throughout the day.

Finally, as the crime scene was about to be wrapped up, Lamkin and then Captain Bill Fitzgerald, went to the house.

“It was one of the worst crime scenes I’ve ever seen,” Lamkin recalled. “To look at how the individuals methodically went through and committed the crime just left me speechless.”

“I’ll never forget that.”

Lamkin, who has been a Beatrice police for more than 30 years, said certain things make the profession “fun and interesting,” while others make it unpleasant.

“This was one of those situations,” he said.

Lamkin said the sight of Bear, the murdered Irish wolfhound, caused him to wonder what would have happened if an infant had been in the house.

“The whole thing was just a senseless act,” he said.

Johnson and Jacob were arrested less than 24 hours later. Jacob confessed and his original three charges of first-degree murder were reduced to second-degree charges in exchange for his testimony against Johnson.

In June 1986, Johnson killed himself in his jail cell with the cord from a TV in his cell. He was 27 and had a wife and two young children.

Jacob, then 25, pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree murder and began serving his sentence. He remains jailed at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, he will be eligible for parole Jan. 17, 2015.


Phyllis Barrett said her daughter Lisa had a mind of her own.

“Just like all teenagers,” she said.

Lisa loved animals and playing with her sisters. Although she was 18, she still played with dolls and house with her younger sisters. She wanted to be a nurse.

“She was a gentle soul,” Barrett said.

All that was taken from the Barrett family, Phyllis said, when Lisa was murdered.

“It’s been a struggle every day, especially since the younger children have gone their own way,” Barrett said.

While sisters Heather, Tiffany and Sydney and brother David all live in the area, Phyllis said she has coped with Lisa’s murder in a different way.

Like throwing a stone into a pond, the Barrett family’s lives continue to ripple to this day.

“Everyone remembers it a different way, they were so young,” she said.

Phyllis remembers saying that it would never be spring again.

“And it hasn’t been - it’s just good days and bad days,” she said.

The good days are normal days. Waking up in the morning, “doing what you’re supposed to be doing and being where you’re supposed to be” she explained.

The bad days are much worse. Phyllis said some days the pain of loss hurts so bad she has a hard time getting out of bed.

“I just want to be by myself, I sit there by myself and cry,” she said.

Finally, Phyllis got in touch with a national organization called Parents of Murdered Children. Through the group of “kind and understanding” volunteers, she has found some relief.

“I was angry and upset and they put us in touch with others to talk to which was very helpful,” she said.


Barrett said as the potential date for Jacob’s parole edges closer - the parole board will meet to discuss whether Jacob should have a hearing or not in August - she is fearful that one of the men responsible for her daughter’s death could one day be a free man.

“I fear that he will get out,” she said.

Barrett vividly recalls the last time she saw Jacob during a court hearing.

“I watched him wave and smile to his parents and it was just sickening,” she said.

When the time comes, Barrett hopes to have the support of family and friends, members of the Parents of Murdered Children and a petition full of signatures to block Jacob’s parole.

The group takes credit to more than 1,000 parole blocks since 1990, gathering 100,000 signatures in various states along the way.

“I would like to let him know how much he destroyed our lives and how much different our lives could have been if this would not have happened,” she said.

Barrett said she cannot forgive Jacob for the senseless act of violence.

“I believe he would say he was sorry and that he is a changed person, but that would not mean anything to me,” Barrett said.

Copyright 2015 Beatrice Daily Sun. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(2) Comments

  1. travelingroaddog
    Report Abuse
    travelingroaddog - January 20, 2011 6:46 pm
    It is day that all who them or any of their families will never forget. I would be glad to sign the petition when it is needed and I am sure that there is many who will support you.
  2. frank1
    Report Abuse
    frank1 - January 20, 2011 8:04 am
    Gone but not forgotten. One of the saddest days in Beatrice history.
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