Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Allentown Massacres

Piecing the Puzzle Together

The local papers covered the story (which would soon be picked up by large city papers, Newsweek, and 20/20), seeking out people who knew the boys, and reporters identified the source of the violence as a long-standing resistance between the parents and the boys, especially Bryan. There was little doubt that religion had played a strong role. Dennis and Brenda were active members of their church and had imposed strict rules on their children. The older boys had resented it. But they were no ordinary kids. Both were large for their age, and full of rage.

David Freeman, skinhead
David Freeman, skinhead

As depicted in the Harrisburg Patriot, David, the youngest, was six-foot, three-inches and weighed a hulking 245 pounds, while Bryan stood six feet tall and weighed 215 pounds. David had tattooed "Sieg Heil" on his forehead and Bryan had "Berzerker" on his. Teachers, coaches, and classmates alike remembered them as imposing figures, even threatening, although many students also respected them.

Bryan Freeman, skinhead
Bryan Freeman, skinhead

The police talked with several of their schoolmates and learned about their association with Skinhead beliefs over the previous three years. Someone told them how the boys had bragged about decapitating a cat, according to Lorraine Adams writing for the Washington Post, and had reportedly worshipped its body. A photo of schoolmate Harry Liste was found in Bryan's room, says Rosen, with a swastika drawn on the back, so investigators tracked him down to learn his association with them.

Liste reported that he'd heard Bryan state that he wanted to kill his parents. Bryan had also mentioned raising funds to leave home and go to Florida. Apparently he hated his younger brother as much as he hated his parents, because Erik had been devout rather than resistant to their parents' teachings. Another boy, when questioned, said that skinheads had a reward system for killing people (which spokespeople later denied), and those who killed family members earned points. The three boys were going to form their own Neo-Nazi organization, calling it "Berzerker." (Some sources spell it "Berserker.")

Apparently, even from a young age the two brothers were distressing to their parents. David, the oldest, was drinking beer when he was six, possibly as a rebellion against their religion. He also disliked their restrictions on extracurricular activities in which his friends participated. In 1991, both brothers stopped attending church services, which only increased their father's efforts to bring them back into the fold. When that exacerbated the problem, Dennis resigned his eldership (or was pressured to leave) to concentrate on his sons. But they continued to rebel. David joined the school football team, but was suspended for threatening the coach. Brenda sought help from Nick Palumbo, the student assistant program director for the Salisbury Township schools. He directed her toward several rehab centers, and over time they had been placed in several facilities.

David was committed in 1992 for substance abuse. Released, he became more belligerent, so he was committed to a hospital for a month-long stay. Those doctors recommended that he be admitted to a residential placement facility, so off he went to Reed Shelter Care. A psychiatric evaluation found him to be of above average intelligence but at risk for a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder.

Bryan was reportedly smarter than his younger brother, and more polite. He even made the school honor roll. Still, he experimented with drugs and was sent to a treatment facility. There he encountered another boy who persuaded him to join the skinheads. At the center, Bryan decorated his room with posters of hate rock groups, swastikas, and Hitler. Despite having an intact biological family, he seemed to have found a new home.


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