Brice and Athena Evans are preserving some of the darker parts of Southern Illinois’ history.
With their Instagram account @southernillinoismurders, they document the macabre and unthinkable stories of murder throughout the region.
Their format is simple: The Herrin couple researches a particular crime or incident and visit the murder site to make a photograph. They compile what they’ve learned and post it to the photo-sharing platform.
The duo’s first installment was about a murder in Ina in 1987.
Ruby Elaine Dardeen was found in her home, tucked into bed with her toddler. Both were brutally beaten. She had been pregnant at the time and went into labor as a result of the attack. The baby was killed, too. Her husband, Russell Keith Dardeen, was later found dead in a field not far away.
The murders were never solved.
“That was a story that I heard when I was a kid,” Evans, who now teaches GED classes at John A. Logan College, said. He was compelled to find out as much as he could about it and to visit the place where it happened.
Their research takes them to libraries for deep-dives into microfilm, skimming through books and combing the web.
“Sometimes it’s just as easy as asking locals,” Brice Evans said.
He said the response to their page, which was launched earlier this year, has been mostly positive, even among unlikely people.
“The ladies I work with are like, ‘When are you guys going to post another story?’” he said.
It’s not just murder tourism or rubbernecking. Evans said truth is a big thing that drives their work.
“You hear these stories all your life,” he said “What is the truth as we know it based on the sources we have.”
Another bit is the “why.”
“It really all comes down to motive for me,” he remembered Athena telling him.
And those are the reasons he would give to any naysayers about their research. It’s not glorification, but scratching an all-too-common human itch — to stare death in the face.
“It’s probably just part of the human condition,” Evans said.
Evans said he hasn’t lost anyone terribly close to him yet — he’s still in his early 30s. But, he said losing a friend in Tim Beaty, who was shot to death in his home in 2016, wasn’t easy and made him come to some realizations.
“I remember thinking, ‘Man it’s going to find you anywhere,’” he said.