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Mysterious America

The Strange Death of Andy Lanman

The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.

At around 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday, February 23, 1977, 29-year-old Andy Lee Lanman was last seen leaving the house of Dr. Andrew Griffiths, a local dentist, on 18th Street in Charleston and getting into a car with several unidentified people, saying he was going to a party. He was wearing a green, military-style coat. Lanman, a senior theater major at Eastern Illinois University and student art teacher at Mattoon High School, belonged to a local family and served as a parachute rigger in the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam. He lived in an apartment building at 1624 University Drive in Charleston, was 5-feet 5-inches tall, weighing 150 pounds, with brown eyes and curly brown hair.

Harold Lanman reported his son missing on March 2, over one week after Andy allegedly got into an unidentified car and disappeared into the night. On March 5, Les Easter and Mike Lanman, Andy’s cousin, and their fraternity brothers from Sigma Pi led a wide-ranging search coordinated with local law enforcement involving two airplanes and a boat. After several days, the volunteers came up empty handed.

Then, at approximately 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 20, 1977, two hunters stumbled upon Andy’s body 150 to 200 feet from the road in tall grass near a wooded party spot known as “The Cellar” five miles south of Charleston between the Embarras River and 18th Street (S. Fourth Street Road). His green jacket was missing, and the only things in his pocket were a set of keys and a nickel. The Cellar was an old concrete storm cellar north of the intersection of 18th Street and E. County Road 420 N. Today it is on private property, but in the 1970s it played host to numerous keggers and wild parties.

Click here to order the book Tales of Coles County!

Deepening the mystery, Andy had no visible wounds or markings that would indicate cause of death. A toxicology screening later determined his body contained six to ten times a lethal dose of morphine. For that reason, investigators would not rule out homicide. “If as suspected, foul play was responsible for the tragic death of Andy Lanman, we hope Coles County authorities will be able to improve on their performances in past slayings and solve the case,” ‘Mat’ Toon, a cartoon character personifying the Journal Gazette editorial board, said on March 21. “At least four murders have occurred in recent years and not a single conviction has been obtained.”

Dr. Andrew Griffiths, Terry LeMay, and Gary Stuffle were the last known people to see Andy Lanman alive. Gary Stuffle was the brother of Illinois State Representative Larry Stuffle (1949-2016) and a close friend of Andy. Larry Stuffle represented the Illinois 53rd District from 1977 to 1983. According to Charleston Mayor Robert L. “Bob” Hickman (1938-2016), Stuffle repeatedly accused local law enforcement of harassing him and trying to frame him for a drug crime.

“If you pigs don’t quit harassing me and my employees I’ll have your jobs,” he allegedly shouted at officers sent to his office on 6th Street. Stuffle denied the allegations to the Journal Gazette, but did accuse local police of following his brother, pulling his brother away from Andy’s funeral for questioning, and planting a suspicious package at his office door.

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At an April 14 inquest into Andy Lanman’s death, Dr. Griffiths refused to answer any questions and invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. According to the Journal Gazette, he then collapsed outside the room in City Hall where the inquest was being held.

The inquest jury requested the Illinois Department of Education and Registration investigate Griffiths for failing to keep adequate records of drugs used in his dentist office over a two-year period. Similar charges were eventually filed against Griffiths’ father, Dr. Robert H. Griffiths (1921-1995), also a dentist, but a judge cleared him in September 1979. Andrew Griffiths moved to Watertown, New York, where he continued his dental practice.

No one was ever held criminally liable for Andy Lanman’s death, although his parents filed a civil suit in 1979 against Robert and Andrew Griffiths, Terry LeMay, and Gary Stuffle. The individuals Andy left with after midnight on February 23 have never been identified, and the events leading to his morphine overdose remain a mystery.


Sources

  • “Lanman search is underway.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 5 March 1977.
  • “Andy Lanman’s Body Found South of City.” Times-Courier (Charleston) 21 March 1977.
  • “Foul play not ruled out in EIU student’s death.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 21 March 1977.
  • “No Visible Wounds on Andy Lanman Body.” Times-Courier (Charleston) 22 March 1977.
  • “Lanman test results secret.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 5 April 1977.
  • “Lanman Died of Massive Overdose.” Times-Courier (Charleston) 15 April 1977.
  • “Stuffle denies charges he tried to divert probe.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 22 April 1977.
  • “Jury to convene May 9 to probe Lanman case.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 29 April 1977.
  • “Drug death suit asks $3 million.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 27 February 1979.
  • “Charges link 3 men to Lanman overdose.” Eastern News (Charleston) 28 February 1979.

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