By Tim Hughes
The 1975 murder of 15-year-old Joey Didier as he delivered his morning paper route shook the Rockford community to its core. You would have to have been in Rockford at the time to appreciate the depth of horror traumatizing an entire city. I vividly recall a WROK radio announcer in the pre-dawn hours of a morning shortly after Joey’s body was found requesting listeners to turn on their porch lights for paper boys. Stepping outside my home, I’ll never forget the string of lit porch lights stretching as far as the eye could see, as well as noticing in the days before the apprehension of Joey’s killer, parents behind the wheel of their family car following their children as they delivered morning newspapers.
Yet, just five months later came the brutal murder of Marjorie Peterson in her Railroad Avenue apartment, a crime so horrific in its sheer viciousness, it was declared the worst murder in Rockford history. I have seen hardened police officers who had been at that crime scene wince at mention of Peterson’s name and the memory of what had been done to that woman.
Her killers were arrested, tried, convicted and given prison sentences of 100 to 150 years, the same as Joey’s killer. Nonetheless, both are now free. In the case of one, the decision to parole was, according to a parole board member, the result of a lack of opposition to the killer’s release and the fact that having served 30 years behind bars is often considered a benchmark for releasing a prisoner, no matter what the crime.
This must not be allowed to happen where Robert Lower, Joey’s killer, is concerned.
Joey was a student of mine in a class I substituted for at Roosevelt Middle School. I can still see his impish grin, and rarely a day goes by when I don’t find myself thinking about that holy innocent and the terrible things done to him by Lower. At some point in Joey’s ordeal, he must have known he was going to die, far removed from the family that loved him.
Joey’s father was a prominent entrepreneur who built a florist business still in business today. He also served for several years as alderman on the city council. His mother was instrumental in establishing a neighborhood Catholic church. In the wake of Joey’s murder, his parents became an inspiration to all. Losing a child in such a manner is often the cause for a marriage breakup, but the love Joey’s parents had for each other and their family and their deep religious faith was indeed an example of courage, endurance, and all that is ennobling in the human spirit.
By all means, take time to sign one of the petitions that will be circulating opposing Lower’s release, but I ask that you go one step further and take time to write a letter to the Illinois parole board. I know it’s hard to find time, especially during the busy holidays, which happen also to be the time of Joey’s birthday, Dec. 16, but we have been given assurances parole board members read every letter they receive. The address is Illinois Prisoner Review Board, 319 E. Madison St., Springfield, IL 62701. Joey wasn’t Lower’s first victim, but you can help make certain he was the last!
Tim Hughes is a former teacher in Rockford School District 205 who coached debate and taught English at Auburn High School for 20 years. At Auburn, he coached three debate teams to first-place national championships.
From the Dec. 4-10, 2013, issue