BALATON, MINN. – A vintage red tractor sat at the church's front door Monday as mourners filed around it to pay respects to Jim and Cathy Hively, a couple well known in this close-knit town after 45 years in their nearby farmhouse. By late afternoon the brutal story of their deaths had become well known, too: shot to death by a shotgun-wielding intruder, then burned along with their house and garage a day later when the gunman returned with two friends and a can of gasoline.
"It's kind of unbelievable, because you just don't expect that," said Mable Braband, a lifelong resident of Balaton who knew the Hivelys.
The suspected gunman lived on a neighboring piece of property to the Hivelys. He was captured after a police officer stopped an alleged accomplice and found guns stolen from the Hively home in the car's trunk.
Charged in District Court were Lyon County residents Derek M. Hexum, 20, of Balaton, Theodore A. Como, 18, of Marshall, and Kyle R. Wesselink, 21, of Tyler. Hexum and Como were each charged with second-degree murder, arson and armed burglary. Wesselink was charged with arson, burglary and receiving stolen property. All appeared in court, were assigned the same attorney and remain in custody without bail being set.
The Hivelys were found dead Thursday in the bedroom of their charred home, roughly 15 miles south of Marshall.
Jim, 75, and Cathy, 71, had been shot by Hexum a day earlier with a newly stolen shotgun, according to criminal charges filed Monday.
The Hivelys were married 53 years, raising a family that gave them great-grandchildren while also growing corn and soybeans on the 132-acre property about 9 miles northwest of Balaton, population 630.
As the house burned, four members of the Balaton volunteer fire department — all with the last name Hively — came to the scene in their personal vehicles and kept their distance as colleagues fought the flames.
"They were there, but I would not let them close to it," said Fire Chief Troy Wendland, referring to Hively daughter-in-law Teri, her twin sons Jared and Jordan and another son Jake. "They didn't have their gear or anything. They pretty much knew to stay away."
Two walls of the Hively farmhouse still stood Monday afternoon, but much of the property was a scene of devastation.
Charred debris was scattered about the yard. Next to a pickup truck in the drive sat the burned-out hull of Jim Hively's car. Much of the farmhouse is a pile of blackened wood.
Ten minutes down the road, family and friends filed into nearby Victory Christian Church for the Hivelys' visitation. No members of the family were available for comment Monday.
A lifetime nearby
Jim Hively was born in Tracy, baptized as a Presbyterian in Russell and attended school there, graduating in 1957. He served in the Army in Hawaii and returned to Lyon County to farm.
Cathy Dirckx was born in Marshall, baptized Catholic in Ghent and attended school in Lynd, graduating in 1962.
Ten weeks past her 18th birthday, Dirckx and Hively were married.
The couple farmed south of Russell and moved in 1970 to their home here.
Jim liked to camp and fish. Cathy ran an upholstery business and worked at Fabrics Plus in Marshall. She loved to quilt and garden.
A family statement released soon after the fire noted the couple's many kindnesses, among them preparing and serving a community Thanksgiving meal at the armory and "baking and sharing treats with all the local school staff members."
Shotgun reported stolen
According to the charges against the defendants:
A homeowner near Ghent reported Wednesday that his pickup and a shotgun had been stolen.
Brad Hively arrived at his parents' home Thursday morning to see it burning. Emergency responders found Jim and Cathy Hively dead in their bedroom.
That afternoon, a Marshall police officer pulled over Wesselink, who was driving with no license or insurance. Como was with him. The officer searched the car and found five guns in the trunk. One was the stolen shotgun, and three others belonged to Jim Hively.
Wesselink told investigators that he drove to the Hivelys' home by himself Thursday, and Hexum and Como headed there at the same time in Jim Hively's car.
Just as they arrived, Wesselink continued, Hexum said he had killed the couple in the home the day before and had to get rid of the evidence.
Hexum and Como got out of the car. A few minutes later, Wesselink said, he saw a flash by the garage as the home went up in flames. The two returned to Wesselink's car, and Hexum put guns in the trunk.
Later Thursday, Hexum asked Wesselink to drive by the house "to see if it was still on fire," the complaint read.
Como told investigators about breaking into the home near Ghent and stealing the pickup and shotgun, then heading to the Hively home.
Hexum entered the home alone. Como said he covered his ears, then heard four or five shots and "someone screaming," the complaint continued. Como ran in and "started to grab stuff."
Hexum left alone in Jim Hively's car. They met up at a vacant farm and set the stolen pickup on fire.
Como gassed up Jim Hively's car and filled a gas can. The three returned to the Hivelys' home, where Como doused Jim Hively's car in the garage with gas and lit it on fire. Hexum set the house on fire.
After his arrest, Hexum denied involvement in the crimes, saying he was at a friend's home in Marshall at the time. However, a pair of his shoes matched prints left behind where the pickup and shotgun were stolen. Also, the shoes smelled of gasoline.