Murder at the Hostess House

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On October 21, 1978 one of the most brutal murders that Marion, IN has ever seen was committed at the Hostess House at 723 W. Fourth Street. The murder of seventy-four year old Jessie Saul was of the first disturbingly grotesque homicides that Marion had ever witnessed. It sent a rush through the citizens of the town who then understood that a violent crime could happen anywhere, even in their own neighborhood.

The Crime

Jessie Saul was the receptionist and live-in manager at the building. She had been living in a small apartment on the second floor for about ten years when the incident occurred. Normally she spent weekends with her sister Helen Neff, but that weekend there was a wedding reception at the Hostess House that Mrs. Saul had offered to help with. That Saturday was the 21st birthday of another Marion resident, Joseph Allen Sandoval. Sandoval was out that night celebrating with his friends at the Swing Bar, a topless bar in downtown Marion. Sandoval had been in a fight at the bar and was walking home to his house at 814 W. Second St. with a bloody nose he had gotten from the brawl. Sources say that he was looking for a place to wash his hands when he decided to break into the Hostess House. He managed to get in through a second floor window near a fire escape that just happened to lead to Mrs. Saul’s apartment. After finding a foot stool on the floor by the window, the police came to the conclusion that Mrs. Saul had thrown the stool at the intruder in a panic. A later autopsy shows that the poor woman was in fact sexually molested. She was then brutally killed by being bashed in the head several times by young Sandoval.

The Investigation

Sunday morning, when Helen Neff made her regular call to her sister and got no answer, she called a Hostess House employee, Jean Rosen, who then called the police. She was reported as missing and the police rushed to the scene. After knocking down her locked bedroom door, Captain Richard Greiner reported that Mrs. Saul was found lying dead at the foot of her bed. In remarks about the murder, Greiner said,” I thought she had been shot in the face with a shotgun. . . . I’ve seen a lot in twenty years, shootings and everything, but I’ve never seen one beaten like that” (Witherow 1). The Hostess House was splattered with blood, both literally and metaphorically. For many days the killer remained faceless. Then further police investigation revealed a trail of blood leading from the Swing bar downtown to the Hostess House. Sandoval was first held as a suspect Timothy Enyart investigated an anonymous tip from someone who claimed to know the true identity of the killer. About two weeks later fingerprints sent to the state for testing arrived back, and Joseph Allen Sandoval was confirmed as the culprit. He was then convicted and sentenced to forty years in prison. This event was indeed “one of the most brutal murders ever to occur in Marion” (McManus 1). It ensued in an establishment with a history of money and class. Both the name of the Hostess House and the entire neighborhood had been smeared forever.

Mrs. Saul belonged to the United Methodist Church, and was very involved in the church’s women’s groups. Helen Newhouse, who was president of a Sunday school class at the church, described her as “A lovely person to work with—very congenial.” Others who knew her depicted her as a “feisty little woman”. They said she was always ready to put up a fight and very active in the community for a woman her age. She was a grandparent and loved her grandchildren dearly. She once remarked to a friend that she had so many things she wanted to do before she got too old.

The Aftermath

Sandoval appeared in Marion city court on Saturday, October 28, 1978 to be informed of his constitutional rights and to have a bond set. He held a minor record of misdemeanors from past years, but this was the first time he had been arrested for a major crime. He was indicted on four counts: murder, rape criminal deviate behavior, and burglary. Some say that by not asking for the death penalty, the grand jury prevented the prosecutor from filing an additional count on his own. Nonetheless, he was sentenced to prison and remains there today.

The people who lived in this area had assumed that it was a secure region of the town and many of them were sent into a fearful shock after learning of the incident at the Hostess House. A couple days later, Clara B. Lavengood, who lived across the street from the Hostess House, declared, “We’re going to have the house wired for sound. That way, if anyone comes around and molests anything, it will ring at the police station” (Adams 1). Other residents around town began taking precautions such as walking their children to school, keeping their homes locked at all times, and arming their households with weapons to fend off intruders. Paranoia had struck the town of Marion and struck it hard. It is only human nature to be concerned about safety following a violent homicide that took place in close vicinity to where one lives. However, this episode was a wakeup call to the people of Marion which made them realize that an intense manslaughter like the tragedy of Jessie Saul could happen anywhere.


The episode of the death of Jessie Saul left a mark on not only the Hostess House, but the town of Marion and its inhabitants. Joseph Allen Sandoval was 21 years old at the time. He is now 52 years old and will not be released from prison until 2028. Never before had this region witnessed such a blatant display of vulgarity.


This article was written by Marina Sharif for Mr. Munn's IU/ACP US History Class at Marion High School and was submitted on May 22, 2009.