Neal and Jesse Eldridge are two young men on trial. For over ten years,
they suffered severe physical, emotional, and psychological abuse at the hands
of their father. It ended the day they shot and killed him. Now Neal and Jesse
are charged, as adults, with first degree murder; they face the possibility of life
in prison. All this because Arkansas Department of Health Services, DHS, did
nothing to step in and save these young lives.
On January 24th, 1998, Rick Eldridge was supposed to take his sons, Neal
and Jesse, to “Buckarama”, a deer hunting show at the Little Rock Expo Center.
Before they left that morning, Rick caught the two teens smoking cigarettes. He
told them they could not go to “Buckarama”(“Neal & Jesse Eldridge: Child
Abuse Tragedy” 1), then tried to suffocate them. “Neal said his father picked
him up and threw him headfirst into a wall” (Haddigan 1). As he left, Rick told
Neal and Jesse that when he returned “he would beat them to death.” He also
gave them an “impossible list of household chores” to do before he returned,
and said that he would kill them if they didn’t.
Fearing for their lives, the boys, ages 14 and 15 at the time, decided they
had to protect their mother and sisters, as well as themselves, from the monster
they called Dad. So the brothers loaded their .22-caliber, semi-automatic,
Marlin rifles. Jesse stood behind the corner of the family’s house, and Neal
stood atop a “shed next to the house.” When Rick got out of his truck, the boys
began to fire. Jesse shot once, but he lost his nerve and lowered his aim to his
father’s legs(“Neal & Jesse Eldridge: Child Abuse Tragedy” 1). Neal shot four
more times aiming for Rick’s head and neck. They then retreated into the
“wooded area near the house and unloaded their rifles”(Shull 1).
Neal and Jesse’s mother, who worked nights at Wal-mart and slept
during the day, woke upon hearing the gunfire. She came to the porch, and saw
Rick lying there. Rachel, the boys’ sister, ran to Larry Plummer, a neighbor, for
help. Both Mrs. Eldridge and Rachel assumed that Rick had a seizure, and hit
his head on the porch.
When the police arrived, Neal and Jesse stepped out of the woods. “Jesse
told State Police Cpl. Jerry Roberts that they had killed their father because of
child abuse”(Haddigan 1). Roberts stated that both Neal and Jesse “were calm,
collected, very precise, and respectful to the officer”. Sgt. Aaron Duvall is the
“Pope County Sheriff’s Department criminal investigator in charge of the case.”
He said that Neal asked “if his father was dead”, and then began to cry when he
was told yes(Shull 1).
Neal and Jesse are now charged as adults with first degree murder. The
Arkansas state prosecutor said, “This was an ambush--definitely first degree
murder.” This means that “they could spend the rest of their lives in
prison”(“Neal & Jesse Eldridge: Child Abuse Tragedy” 1).
An expert on family violence at the University of Pennsylvania, Richard
Gelles, talked about this case during a “20/20” interview. He said “he was
convinced the boys ‘had a credible fear of their lives,’” and feels that the DHS
failed these boys(“Neal & Jesse Eldridge: Child Abuse Tragedy” 1). Many
psychologists agree that exposure to physical abuse causes children, especially
boys, to become aggressive and violent. It has also been proven that “26 percent
of incarcerated delinquents who had committed murder had experienced
physical abuse; they were also more likely than those who had not suffered
abuse to have directed their violence toward members of their immediate
family.” Abused children often choose one of two options. They either fight or
flee. “They become involved in crime, especially violent crime. Almost half of
violent teenage crimes occur in homes during family arguments”(Fagan 1).
Neal and Jesse’s history has been filled with traumatic abuse. They stated
that Rick “was an explosive, domineering abuser who savagely beat them, their
sisters, and their mother for years”(Haddigan 1). Mrs. Eldridge described her
husband “as a gun toting, pot-smoking 6’4” brute who punished his four
children -- including his young daughters -- in bizarre ways.” The first incident
Jesse remembers, took place at the age of five. He said, “ I was holding my
spoon wrong when I was eating my jelly. And he slammed me down on the
floor and stuck the handle of the spoon on my ear and it started ringing and
bleeding.” Rick Eldridge “wrapped soiled underwear around their heads, and
took photos to humiliate them”(“Neal & Jesse Eldridge: Child Abuse Tragedy”
1). Rick many times carried a pistol around his waist. He beat the boys with his
fists, as well as an ammunition belt, or a stick(Haddigan 1). Many times he
threatened to “pull a Ronald Gene Simmons. Simmons was convicted and
executed for the December 1987 murders of 12 members of his family and two
other people.” Rick had a book written about the case. Both Neal and Jesse
were aware of what a “Ronald Gene Simmons” would be(Shull 1). Not only did
he torture the family through the physical abuse, he also put them through
emotional and psychological pain. Mrs. Eldridge said “Rick Eldridge also killed
family pets in the children’s presence while the children screamed in
Although the DHS did not feel anything was wrong in the Eldridge
house, many teachers at Hector Elementary School realized that there was
something amiss in the home. Mrs. Honey Bewley is the clerk for the school’s
migrant education program. She saw signs of physical abuse on Jesse. She also
saw that Neal had a strong fear of his father.
A fifth grade teacher, Pam Killings, said “the brothers were good boys”
and “she had no discipline problems with either” one. Pam also said Jesse “was
very quiet and withdrawn a large part of the time.”
Judy Aday, a first grade teacher, had a face-to-face confrontation with
Rick Eldridge in the hallway outside her classroom. She said he “was a large
intimidating man and that she was afraid of him and afraid for her students.”
After Rick left, Aday went into her classroom and locked the door; she told
another first grade teacher to do the same. If Rick returned she planned to get
the children out through the window.
The Hector School nurse, Sharon Bartlett, said she found extensive bruises
on one of Jesse’s legs. “Jesse told her his father would kill him if he told about
how he got the bruises”(Shull 1). The bruises were reported to the state
DHS(Haddigan 1). Neal had cut his head at school one day. Rick “cursed at
yelled at his son when he arrived at the school to get Neal.” Bartlett was
frightened and intimidated by him.
Annette Henderson is the Hector Elementary principal. She corroborated
Bartlett’s story and added that Rick “was loud, abrasive, and profane towards
Neal after the playground accident.” Henderson was also there during Aday’s
incident with Rick. She said he was “very condescending” and had a reputation
of being physically abusive(Shull 1).
Muriel Dean Blaylock is the retired school counselor. Neal and Jesse had
both been referred to her because of the suspected abuse(Shull 1). Jesse “told her
he was afraid to go home.” The state DHS was called one of many
times(Haddigan 1). There was also a report that Rachel had been abused. Mrs.
Blaylock spoke with her, and Rachel said, “I take Agatha and hide her.” Agatha
is the youngest Eldridge(Shull 1). Rachel said her father beat her brothers
sometimes. Blaylock reported this incident to the DHS as well. A few days after
Muriel Blaylock had reported these last few incidents, Rick Eldridge removed
the boys from school. He said “he wanted to school them at home”(Haddigan
So what do the DHS officials say about how they handled the case?
During one interview they said “there was never enough evidence to remove the
children. We have concluded that we did not drop the ball as far as case work is
concerned”(“Neal & Jesse Eldridge: Child Abuse Tragedy” 1). Joe Quinn, the
DHS spokesman, would not detail the DHS actions. He said “the agency
investigated abuse complaints, and a social worker visited the Eldridge home
before the killing.” He continues to insist “DHS handled the case properly.”
Should Mrs. Eldridge have left? She tried several times. According to
Jesse, each time they left, Rick “ended up finding us and telling us he was going
to hunt us down and kill us, and kill my mom’s mom”(Haddigan 1). Mrs.
Eldridge told one reporter, “He said we belonged to him and nobody would
take us”(Shull 1).
These boys had no other option. If they had not killed their father, he
would have killed them. It was said best by Neal and Jesse’s attorney, Tom
Furth. “These boys basically lost their childhood. They’re not murderers.
There’s such a thing as justifiable homicide”(Haddigan 1). If “justifiable
homicide” does in fact exist in this country, this is the perfect example of it. In
cases of women killing their abuser, some were acquitted only because they
were abused. But adult women can just pick up and go to a shelter or a
relative’s house. In the small backwoods town were Neal and Jesse lived, where
were they to go? They were fourteen and fifteen. They could not just pack up
their belongings and leave. If these women can be found not guilty, then it
should be impossible to convict these two boys of first degree murder.
Fagan, Patrick F. “The Child Abuse Crisis: The Disintegration of Marriage,
Family, and the American Community.” 1999. Apr. 12, 2000.
Haddigan, Michael. “Justifiable Homicide.” Nov. 26, 1999. Apr. 12, 2000.
“Neal & Jesse Eldridge: Child Abuse Tragedy.” Feb. 17, 1999. Apr. 12, 1999.
Shull, Laura L. The Courier. June 23, 1998. Apr. 10, 2000.
Word Count: 1598
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