It’s been nearly 40 years since Dempsey Hawkins has been outside of prison walls. Sentenced for the murder of his girlfriend at age 19, Hawkins has spent practically the entirety of his adult life behind bars. Now, a parole board is agreeing that Hawkins may deserve a second chance.
Dempsey Hawkins, who had been born in London, moved to Staten Island as a toddler. According to a letter Hawkins had written to The New York Times, he had been 15-years-old when he began an adolescent romance with 13-year-old Susan Jacobson. Though the pair had known one another from around the neighborhood, it wasn’t until Hawkins had stood a little too close to Jacobson as she was up to bat during a game of baseball that Hawkins and Jacobson had begun their young love affair. Jacobson swung the bat around, hitting Hawkins squarely in the face.
After the baseball incident, Hawkins and Jacobson began spending more time together. Hawkins had attended church with Jacobson’s family and often went to the family’s home to play cards in the evening. Susan’s parents did express some concern that the relationship may be met with criticism. Susan had been white, while Hawkins had been born to a black father and white mother. In spite of the concerns by Susan’s parents, they stood aside and allowed the relationship to continue.
By the time the winter of 1976 rolled around, Hawkins says he found himself becoming more and more infatuated with Susan. The couple had also become sexually intimate, but they were reckless. Susan had become pregnant and she had been forced to have an abortion. Susan’s parents told her that she was never to see Hawkins again.
The couple’s relationship continued, but there were no more family card games at the Jacobson home, nor church services with the family. The couple’s relationship had to be carried out in secret. Deep down Hawkins knew that he and Susan could not carry on this secret relationship forever and that it was only a matter of time before they had broken it off for good. Though the thought of living without Susan was almost too much to bear, the thought of seeing Susan with another boy was devastating.
On May 15, 1976, Hawkins had asked Susan to meet with him at a blighted industrial area known as Port Ivory, named after the Ivory Soap company who had once operated a factory there. The land had been overgrown and holes in the ground led to underground rooms. Hawkins had taken Susan exploring through these secret tunnels.
It was warm and Hawkins took off his shirt. Hawkins told The New York Times, “With the arm of the shirt, I put it around her neck, as if to kiss her, and I just started squeezing it. Her hands went up to the shirt and I just looked away and just kept squeezing the shirt.” He then picked up her body, placed it inside of an old barrel, and hid it against a wall.
Susan’s parents phoned the police when she had failed to come home for dinner that night. The Jacobsons then assembled a search party of approximately 30-40 people, including Dempsey Hawkins. Part of their search included the area of Port Ivory. Anytime someone came close to examining the underground rooms, Hawkins led them to another area. Hawkins later made a half-hearted confession to a friend and his cousin, but it is likely that neither believed him.
In 1979, Hawkins moved to Joppa, Ill. No one knew what had become of Susan Jacobson, and it is likely that Hawkins believed that no one would ever know that he had been her killer.
It was by some strange chance that a young boy had been exploring the holes on Port Ivory when he came across the barrel containing the remains of Susan Jacobson. Looking inside of the barrel, the boy believed the bones may have belonged to a dog. He came back to the barrel later to show a small group of friends. When they noticed human clothing along with the bones, the boys knew that it was no dog inside that barrel and contacted the police. Hawkins was later arrested in Illinois.
Though Hawkins pleaded his innocence, his confessions to his friend and cousin later came back to haunt him. He was sentenced to 22-years to life in prison.
Though Hawkins has been denied parole nine times, it would appear that tenth time’s the charm. After evaluating Hawkins’ case and taking into consideration that he was a juvenile at the time of the offense, a judge has agreed to deport Hawkins to his native-born England, where he can learn to live life outside of prison walls.