There are two things I love in this world—IndyCar racing and Forensic Files—and I genuinely cannot believe these two of my most favorite things had crossed paths and I knew nothing about it until this week when it was mentioned in Indy Split.
Let’s establish the web of relationships here. Our IndyCar driver in question is Ed Carpenter, the stepson of Tony George, who used to serve as Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s steward as well as the head of Indy Racing League. Carpenter’s mother is Laura George, whose maiden name was Laura Livvix. And it’s Laura Livvix’s side of the family that married into notoriety. Her father married the daughter of subject of the Forensic Files episode, Fred Grabbe. (Don’t worry, that’s as complex as it gets.)
Now, Fred Grabbe is the focal point of a Forensic Files episode called “Root of All Evil.” It was the twentieth episode of season six, and it follows the murder investigation of Fred’s wife Charlotte. The family hailed from Marshall, Indiana, which is just across the river from Terre Haute, Indiana, and the Grabbes were easily the most prosperous family in town with an 800-acre farm. And, with cheerleading daughter and a football-playing son, Forensic Files likes to note that nothing seemed off about this family.
The Grabbes married, divorced, reconciled, and remarried—but if it didn’t work the first time, it probably wasn’t going to work a second, and Charlotte asked for a divorce in 1981, which prompted Fred to move out of the main house and start up a relationship with 24-year-old Vickie McCalister.
On July 24 of that year, Charlotte went missing, and her kids had to call the police in an effort to find her. When interviewed, Fred claimed he had talked to Charlotte earlier that day, when they had argued, but she left to work on the soybean farm. That said, Charlotte had left her lunch, purse, identification, and medication in the shed where the two had argued, which raised questions that still weren’t answered when Charlotte’s car was found in Terre Haute, empty, with a loaded hand gun in the backseat.
It then was uncovered that Fred Grabbe was abusive and that Charlotte had gone to the effort of leaving letters in a safety deposit box that asked Fred to be investigated should she disappear. But there weren’t enough leads to follow, so the investigation went cold.
It took the family hiring a private investigator in 1984 to get something of a break. That PI discovered Grabbe had broken up with Vickie McCalister, and Vickie divulged the whole story. She was there at the barn the day Charlotte arrived, and Vickie watched Fred choke his wife multiple times. As she described it to police, Fred would choke Charlotte, allow her to regain consciousness, and then choke her again until she died. After he killed his wife, Fred reportedly raped her dead body, then filled every orifice of her body with a grease gun to aid in its burning. He dumped her in a trash barrel and burned her body near the river. There were apparently no remains aside from Charlotte’s skull, which Fred threw into the Wabash river.
That being said, Vickie had broken up with Fred, so she had motive to possibly lie. So, investigators took samples of the maple tree under which Fred burned Charlotte’s body to see if there were traces of petroleum products consistent with the diesel fuel Vickie said was used. Diesel fuel slows the growth of trees, and sure enough, in the 1981 rings from samples taken from branches, the growth rate slowed dramatically when compared to previous years.
An organic chemist then took those samples to test them for hydrocarbons. Only two of the five samples showed the presence of diesel fuels: the samples that were taken from the side of the tree closest to which Vickie said Fred had burned Charlotte’s body. Grabbe was convicted of his wife’s murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
That wasn’t the only member of Carpenter’s extended family who gained notoriety. After Grabbe’s daughter married Carpenter’s grandfather, they had a son named Adam who would have been Laura Livvix’s half-brother. Adam was indicted in a plot to blow up the famous Dome of the Rock shrine in the Old City of Jerusalem. He spent eight months in an Israeli mental facility and was extradited to the United States, where he faced a series of less serious charges.