Unsolved Beech Grove murder tied to gambling debts

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(November 23, 2015) – At one time St. Francis Hospital was one of the premier businesses and social centers in Beech Grove, and Food Services Director Charles McGraw was one of its leading administrators.

“When you think of Beech Grove, you think of Amtrak and you think of St. Francis Hospital,” said Beech Grove Police Captain Bob Mercuri. “So for it to happen at St. Francis, a place that is a hallmark of the city, it certainly was alarming to people.”

The “it” Mercuri referred to was McGraw’s murder 27 years ago and the latest “Indy Unsolved” murder to be re-examined on CBS4.

“Murder is a rare thing in Beech Grove, and thankfully so,” said Mercuri. “But in 1988 it was extremely rare.”

Extremely rare, too, was the method of McGraw’s killing.

“I was left with the very strong conviction that the individual who killed Charlie McGraw knew how to do it, how to do it in such a manner that would be quick and efficient and complete,” said Lowell Shroyer, the lead investigator who first viewed the body of the hospital executive inside his 1984 maroon and gray Cadillac in the hospital parking garage on October 7, 1988. “This was very methodical. It was completed by somebody who went there knowing what they were going to do and they did it.”

Shroyer, now retired and practicing law in Beech Grove, discovered that McGraw had attended a hospital reception for employees late that Friday afternoon, passed by a security guard in a ground level shack and met his killer eye-to-eye on the second floor.

“We discovered a witness who observed an individual enter the automobile with Charlie, watched both of them get into the automobile,” recalled Shroyer. “This other individual entered the passenger side and Charlie got in on the driver’s side.  It appeared to the witness that they knew each other.”

The witness description of the apparent acquaintance led to a composite sketch of a man approximately 30-years-old with a slight mustache and feathered haircut, dressed in casual golf-style clothes.

Within minutes a passing physician found McGraw’s body, slumped over in the front seat, shot multiple times.

“We did recover some firearm evidence,” said Shroyer. “His clothing had been rifled. It appeared that some things were missing from his person that he would normally have.”

Maybe the intention was to make the killing look as part of a robbery, but Shroyer’s investigation revealed that McGraw was a man with a complicated life.

“Mr. McGraw had an amazing ability to know so many people in different walks of life in such a way that his relationships to them were very close but yet they wouldn’t know the other people with whom he associated,” said Shroyer. “He did not want people to know about some business arrangement he had over here because it might threaten something over here on the other side. He kept it all very much to himself and it all seemed to work for him until October 7, 1988.”

Shroyer said McGraw was a gambler, known to bet $30,000-40,000 per weekend during the height of the fall college and professional football seasons. He was such a big a player that other bookies would lay their bets off on him.

“Some were bigger players than others and Charlie was involved with those who were bigger players,” he said. “I concluded long ago that something happened involving Charlie’s gambling involvement that led to his death. I don’t know if it was a failure to pay a loss, or to cover something that he promised to cover, I don’t know. But there were indications that earlier in the week, for those that don’t know the jargon as well, Tuesday is settle up day, and there were events on settle up day that seemed to indicate that Charlie was nervous and upset from that Tuesday on and he was killed on Friday.”

Shroyer said the gambling community in Indianapolis went quiet for several months after McGraw’s death.

“It would have come from another city, and not saying it couldn’t happen here, but the indications were that the links to other communities were very strong in the gambling community,” said Shroyer. “Perhaps Charlie’s death was the product of someone’s desire to set an example. ‘Do it our way or else. Don’t do this to us or bad things will happen to you. We’re in charge.’”

McGraw’s widow recently died and his daughter Mary told CBS4 that she is grateful for any attention, even 27 years later that is paid to her father’s unsolved killing.

McGraw was known as a go-to guy in Beech Grove, not only for favors but a charitable hand out to someone also experienced hard times.

“As far as his lifestyle at the time of his death, I have to say that he was also generous,” said Shroyer who studied McGraw’s life and death for several years. “He did things for the church, he did things for those in need, he would help people, it wasn’t all one way for him. He was not someone who would avoid responding to a request for need. I think he remembered what it was like when he didn’t have.”

St. Francis Hospital abandoned its Beech Grove campus years ago and there is speculation that someday the entire property could be razed for future development.

The former lead detective fears that when the hospital disappears, so will the memories of Charles McGraw’s murder.

“We don’t study history and there are people who live within close walking distance of that parking garage and have no idea that Charlie McGraw was murdered there,” said Shroyer who is long retired and has watched his file be handed over to new generations of detectives. “And when that garage is torn down and other things are built there, be they businesses or residences or whatever, or if it just becomes an open park, the fact that that was the location of Charlie McGraw’s murder will be just like the stuff they carry away in the dump trucks. That memory will be gone and people won’t think about it.”

If you know anything about the murder of Charlie McGraw in Beech Grove in October of 1988, call Crimestoppers at 1-800-262-TIPS.

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