1. Panic in the Elks Lodge Roughly two weeks prior to the hostage crisis, Minas Redeker, general superintendent of the Ebony Steed Coal Company's Northern Division, was scheduled to meet with landowner Tatum Stoltz, a resident of nearby Delburn, IN. The purpose of the meeting, as Redeker understood it, was to negotiate the purchase of Stoltz's land, thereby clearing the area for company strip-mining. In Redeker's field, such negotiations were standard; normally, the coming meeting would present little cause for alarm. However, this case was proving an exception. Over the course of the preceding week, said landowner, Mr. Stoltz, had lived up to his reputation as a gulley-bottom wild card by phoning numerous complaints to Ebony Steed officials. Routine blasts from the Plantersburg mine, he claimed, were tearing his home to pieces; on more than one occasion he'd been thrown from his recliner clear across the room. Redeker knew these claims to be untrue, as the Stoltz homestead was situated well beyond the company's monitored blasting zone. Yet Stoltz continued, reportedly threatening to "kill everyone" if the racket didn't cease. Understandably, statements like these, combined with a medical report that Stoltz was currently OFF medication for an "undisclosed illness," weighed heavily on the superintendent's mind all through the afternoon. Reclamation coordinator Randy Beaumont was the first to pick up on as much.
"What's up, Minas?" Beaumont asked, finding Redeker in the throes of deliberation.
"Well, I've got to go meet this maniac in an hour..." Redeker began, explaining how he, one company p.r. man and a plainclothed Indiana deputy were scheduled to rendezvous with the Stoltz party just down the road.
"So you're packing?" Beaumont asked.
"I said: You've got a gun, right?"
"No, no... Nothing like that."
"All right." Beaumont, better known to his colleagues as the "Troubadour of Testosterone," nodded with a smirk. "You go up there and get your shit blown away. I'll be moved in with your wife by this time next month."
Redeker considered, knowing Beaumont to be in earnest. "All right, you can come," he decided. "Go home. I'll pick you up in an hour."
Randy Beaumont proceeded to a local sporting goods store. He bought two .45-caliber magazines and a box of antipersonnel ammunition, then headed home for a test firing in the backyard. At a quarter past 6 the superintendent appeared in a beat-up Ford Expedition. Beaumont climbed into the passenger seat just as Redeker concluded a five-minute phone conversation with Dale Tanner, the p.r. spokesman with whom they were to meet. "No, no... Well, actually... I do have Randy Beaumont... What?... Good?..." Redeker cupped the receiver and looked over in amazement. "That's the first time I've heard that." Then, back into the receiver, "Okay, we'll be right there." He folded the cellphone, shaking his head. "Our plainclothes fell through. They're sending a lawyer instead."
Five minutes later they pulled into a McDonald's in Horton. Beaumont and Redeker stepped out of the truck to join Dale Tanner and the lawyer, whose name, it so happens, was also Tanner. Tanner and Tanner. A quick round of introductions, and the lawyer started in.
"Okay, are you guys armed?"
"Randy has a gun," Redeker said.
"What've you got?" Tanner asked.
"A .45," Beaumont replied.
"How many mags?"
"Uh, no, seven."
"Seven?" Tanner scoffed, then turned to Redeker. "And you don't have anything?"
"Well..." The superintendent shrugged, glancing at Beaumont as though to say, What are we getting into?
"All right, never mind," Tanner snapped. "Listen then, I've got a Glock .40 right here..." He patted one coat pocket, "a pistol in my ankle holster and a .357 in the briefcase... When we get there, we'll go in together... If the shooting starts, don't wait around..."
By then, Beaumont was beginning to think: My God, this wasn't worth the free meal...
Likewise, Redeker, a former paratrooper and no stranger to modern-day coal feuds, was having second thoughts of his own. Even Dale Tanner looked highly alarmed, as though heading for Tet en route to the bowling alley. Only the lawyer seemed intent on proceeding.
For the next few minutes Beaumont squirmed in the passenger seat, trying to jam his pistol into position. He fully intended to occupy the remaining drive with last-minute preparations. Thus far he'd assumed they were heading for the hills, out to some backwoods tavern, if not the Stoltz farm itself. Therefore, it caught him off guard when halfway through town, Redeker pulled into a restaurant lot and cut the engine.
"What are you doing?" Beaumont looked up.
"We're here," Redeker said, gazing straight ahead.
Beaumont peered through the windshield, across the half-empty lot, up a jack-o'-lantern-lined staircase to a broad, polished door-plaque reading: HORTON COUNTY COUNTRY CLUB AND ELKS LODGE.
"What is this?" he demanded.
"Our meeting point."
"What?" Beaumont spluttered. Then, breaking loose: "WHAT? Minas, this is the fucking ELK'S LODGE!! I'm packing heat and you're taking me to the COUNTRY CLUB?"
"That's what I was told."
"For Christ's sake!!" Beaumont exploded. He threw his pistol in the backseat, torn between rage and disgust. "Talk about overdressing for the party!"
"Wait, you might need that!" Redeker gestured to the .45.
"For what?the waitress or the salad server?" Beaumont climbed out of the vehicle. "God damn Ebony Steed!" He stomped across the asphalt, feeling like a monumental jack dupe. "God DAMN Ebony Steed!" he yelled again, then walked the plank to the Elks lodge.
A moment later Tanner and Tanner entered the building to find the Troubadour of Testosterone scowling over a pitcher of iced tea, Redeker wandering the empty dining area in directionless circles and two cooks eating fried ham in one corner. All else was quiet. No sign of the enemy.
The lawyer slid onto a barstool, by now virtually praying for an attack, if only to save face. He kept a cautious distance from Redeker and Beaumont, who, in turn, kept chairs, pitchers and dinner cutlery in reach for use as makeshift projectiles. Dale Tanner shifted on his heels, glancing at the clock, praying for a no-show, while a terrified waitress lingered on the periphery, holding out for customers who didn't appear afflicted.
They were all let down when the Stoltz clan arrived.
The first one in was Tatum's 75-year-old mother on a cracked Wal-Mart cane. According to Beaumont, "You could have blown her over with a table fan." Next came a middle-aged, 95-pound, let's just say ailing brother. Followed by a second?considerably older?brother who was so cross-eyed he probably did have both exit doors covered. And finally, on the heels of the rest, Mina Stoltz, Tatum's wife, a large?as in Gilbert-Grape's-mother large?older woman who was later dubbed "Hedge-Apple Ass" by all Ebony Steed employees. Tatum Stoltz himself was not in attendance. His family'd arrived to spearhead the attack.
To make a long story short, two hours, several beers, nine or 10 roast beef sandwiches and precious little bloodshed later, the matter was settled. The Stoltzes agreed to sell their land. Though final specifics remained to be determined, the company's basic offer was deemed acceptable. With no further discussion, the family adjourned to rural Rigo County. Redeker returned to the mine for check-in. The lawyer proceeded to wherever lawyers go. And Beaumont went home to drown in his sorrows.
2. Bedlam in Plantersburg Shortly after 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, Ebony Steed grater operator Eustace Kroll, better known to his colleagues as "the Leper" due to frequent psoriatic outbreaks, was tooling his rig along the outer haul road of the Plantersburg mine when he spotted an unfamiliar vehicle approaching from the west. Kroll slowed to a halt as the driver waved him down. He waited patiently as a "strange-looking man in blue jeans and torn flannel" crawled out of the vehicle, hopped on the grater blade and climbed up the ladder. No sooner had Kroll craned his neck out the window than a gun was placed to his head.
"Turn off your engine."
Kroll did as he was told.
"Now get on the CB..."
Moments later, the announcement went out. Every operator in the pit bailed from his rig and took off running. Only Wes Briscoe, whose CB was either jammed or switched off, remained oblivious to the alarm. Continuing his route, Briscoe maneuvered a 350-ton CAT 789c along the haul road until he too was waved down by a bedraggled stranger in denim and torn flannel.
At 9:45, Indiana State Police were informed that Tatum P. Stoltz, 50, of Delburn, had taken between 12 and 15 hostages at the Ebony Steed Plantersburg mine. Stoltz was reportedly armed with a .45-caliber pistol, a 12-gauge shotgun, an SKS Chinese assault rifle and a 9 mm semiautomatic, all of which were loaded. He was also said to have threatened the use of high-powered explosives in the event of any attempt to overpower him. As of yet, his demands were unspecified.
Approximately 50 miles to the south in neighboring Dubois County, Randy Beaumont was driving through Jasper when the news came over the radio. Beaumont immediately phoned Redeker.
"Minas, what's happening?"
"Stoltz has gone apeshit!" the superintendent squawked. "He's got the Leper and Briscoe at gunpoint on the haul road."
"The radio says 12 to 15 hostages."
"No, no?the rest got away. Don't listen to the radio... Look, Randy, I've got cops all over the place. I can't talk right now."
"All right, just tell me one thing. Have you made any progress?"
"Not yet. We're in the middle of negotiations... I have to go."
Beaumont hung up.
He stared out the window at a gravel refinery, suddenly overcome by anger and disappointment. In the six years he'd been with Ebony Steed, only four company-related incidents had broken the grind. Now, counting this episode, he'd missed all but one. His only day off and all hell breaks loose. When would it end?
Back at the mine, Redeker was on the hot seat. What had opened as a tolerably dull morning shift had snowballed into a high-profile shit circus in less than 90 minutes. All around him it raged: state troopers in squad cars, snipers in coal bins, SWAT grunts behind company rigs, Kroll and Briscoe at gunpoint, a press corps roped off to the rear, phones ringing off the hook and Tatum Stoltz on the CB, not making a lick of sense. The general superintendent was about to handle the situation himself when Detective Sgt. Randall Corbitt, head of a state police crisis team, stepped in. Posing as the vice president of Ebony Steed, Corbitt established contact with Stoltz and launched into negotiations.
Thus far, Stoltz had done little more than stammer unintelligible gibberish, with a few death threats thrown in for good measure. However, once Corbitt was at the helm, specific demands began to materialize. In due course, Stoltz was narrowed down to vacillating between a $200,000 ransom fee and calling for his wife on penalty of gunfire. An officer was dispatched to round up Mrs. Stoltz while Redeker sped backward to secure a counterfeit check. Both were successful in record time. The superintendent returned to the mine to find Hedge-Apple Ass corresponding with her husband via CB. Redeker handed her the check. She attempted to relay as much. "It's here, honey. Don't worry... See, it says: Pay To the Order of?Tatum and Mina Stoltz. Two hundred thousand dollars..."
Whereupon Tatum Stoltz hit the roof.
"What?... Tatum and Mina Stoltz? TATUM AND MINA STOLTZ? REDEKER, YOU IDIOT! YOU PUT THAT CUNT'S NAME ON THE CHECK?"
Keep in mind, two minutes earlier Tatum Stoltz had been proclaiming his wife the only living soul who gave a damn for his needs.
"I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS! YOU FILTHY SONS OF BITCHES..."
At first, out of concern for the hostages, Redeker and Corbitt focused on calming Mr. Stoltz. However, before long his wife began throwing a fit as well, squealing and gasping and cursing her husband as a heartless, disgraceful bastard. Redeker and Corbitt thereby found themselves mediating a cross-channel domestic rampage with three quarters of a mile dividing the warring parties and the lives of two coal miners hanging in the balance... When Mrs. Stoltz finally hauled off and kicked a police cruiser, an Indiana deputy stepped forward. "Listen, lady?cool off or you're going downtown." He may as well have been whistling "Dixie." Mrs. Stoltz continued her shenanigans, spewing obscenities and flailing about. At length, the deputy broke down and stuffed her into the cruiser with a wayward heave-ho.
Fortunately, no one was hurt in the exchange. In fact, ironically, progress resulted: moments later Tatum Stoltz underwent yet another change of heart.
"Give me Redeker!" the radio crackled.
"The superintendent picked up his receiver. "Speaking."
"ALL RIGHT, COME GET 'EM." Stoltz declared.
Redeker glanced at Corbitt in confusion. Then, into the CD: "Say again?"
"I said come get 'em. This is finished."
Down the quarry, Kroll and Briscoe appeared from behind the grater with their hands in the air.
"DON'T TRUST HIM, MINAS!" someone called. "You go out there and he'll start shooting."
But Redeker had no choice. He and Corbitt drove into the pit, braced for gunfire the whole way down. They intercepted the hostages halfway across the stretch. Corbitt opened the passenger door and shoveled them in. The devastated Leper collapsed in the back seat. Redeker throttled away at a charge.
Within minutes, Tatum Stoltz surrendered peacefully. Though local papers reported a brief chase at the close of the standoff, most Ebony Steed employees contend the gunman drove toward the police, got out of his vehicle and lay down on the ground, offering no further resistance.
Following his arrest he was taken to the Horton County jail. At the time of this writing he faced preliminary charges of criminal confinement, criminal recklessness and aiming a deadly weapon at a person. No further details are available on his case.
3. Leper's Lament As might be expected, operator Eustace Kroll, who'd spent the better part of Nov. 3 staring down a loaded barrel, was given the following day to recuperate. He awoke that morning later than usual; seven straight hours of adrenalized night terrors had kept him on edge well into the a.m. Reflecting on the events of the previous day, he found little relief over coffee at noon; his one-unit home with the lawn-jockey mulch pit was conveniently situated less than a mile from the Bear Creek mine. Try as he did to force Stoltz from his thoughts, the grating of high-powered machinery from over the hill was an all-too-persistent aide-memoir. He thought about leaving the county for the day, but he couldn't seem to budge from his traumatized delirium. There was nothing to do but kick around the house. That, and maybe burn some trash in the barrel out back...
Fourteen miles north and 90 minutes later, Randy Beaumont was standing on the hill of the Apple Oak mine when he spotted thick black smoke wafting over the horizon. No sooner had he paused to wonder than a Bear Creek Employee pulled into the lot. "Eustace Kroll's burnin' down half the county!" he yelled. "They got the highway blocked off, trucks all over the place... It's a hell of a mess. You gotta get down there..."
Thus began phase three. This part, Randy Beaumont wouldn't miss.
He arrived on the scene to find the highway blocked off, just as reported. A wall of fire was raging out of Eustace Kroll's backyard, through a patch of woods and into a field of corn stubble. Kroll himself was fighting the blaze by tooling back and forth on a neighbor's tractor, screaming and hacking and choking in the haze. His efforts, thus far, had amounted to nothing. For one thing, the drought that year had left most of the state dryer than a matchstick. For another, the wind was blowing out of the west at 40 miles per hour. Notwithstanding the Leper's road rage, everything in the view was going up like Mount Carmel.
Beaumont parked his truck on the side of the highway. He crossed the police barrier and ran through the smoke toward a group of his colleagues. He arrived to find a local landowner ordering Ebony Steed to haul out its dozers. "This is your fault, you sonsabitches! You take care of it!..." But legally speaking, the company was powerless to comply. The fire was off bonded ground and the field's actual owner was nowhere to be found. It was up to the authorities.
The authorities, however, were losing ground fast. Most of the blaze was well out of hose range. More than five acres of stubble had already burned, and the fire was still spreading toward a field of standing corn. If it reached that corn it would continue to a cattle pasture, than blow over a back road to the edge of a forest.
In the midst of all this, Eustace Kroll finally abandoned his tractor and staggered out of the woods. According to officials he retrieved a plastic garden rake from his tool shed and headed for the fields. Witnesses later reported a "cinder-smeared lunatic with a broomstick" careening hysterically over the highway on a public section eight. From where Randy Beaumont stood, he could "see that fat bastard charging the blaze like Don Quixote to the windmills." Apparently no one was able to stop him.
When the flames jumped the fence and spread into the standing corn, the fire chief broke down and turned to the miners. "All right, you guys?get in there!" The miners protested, citing legal infraction. The chief balked. "To hell with procedure! They've got insurance... Just GO!"
Two CAT D-11s were thereby deployed from the Bear Creek pit. Their operators stormed the bank, plowed through the fence and headed in. By the time they got into position, half the field was ablaze.
At that very moment, Minas Redeker arrived. He got out of his truck to find 20 acres of corn burning out of control, Ebony Steed dozers tearing through the flames, terrified cattle running circles in the pasture, firehoses blasting on all sides at once, a wave of first-responders roped off on the highway, outraged landowners bickering with police, the Leper gone amok in the corn with a leaf rake, traffic backed up for a mile down the road and acrid black smoke choking off the valley... For the second day in a row the whole world had gone to hell. By now Minas Redeker had the highest stress level of any white man alive.
To add to matters, the long-lost field owner showed up from out of nowhere. "What the hell you doin' to my field?" he demanded, infuriated.
"What?" Redeker said. "You don't want 'em in there?"
"Fine." The superintendent turned to his men. "Get 'em out!... Goddammit, get 'em out NOW!"
"But boss, the fire chief said..."
"Fuck the fire chief!... Get 'em OUT!"
Randy Beaumont had heard enough. There was nowhere to go from there but down...
He plodded back through the war-torn roadblock and climbed into this truck, thinking: One of these days I'll go fishing in Cuba... For the moment, however, he'd have to settle for watching the corn burn. All 20 acres of it. Straight to the ground.
At a quarter past 4 the blaze fizzled out. By 6 the fire trucks went on their way. At midnight the Leper clicked off his bed lamp. Six hours later they were all back at work.
The author would like to thank Colin Evans of Washington, IN, for his considerable contribution to this story.