GREENFIELD — Carolyn Grass was doing a jigsaw puzzle when the call came.
The woman on the other end of the line, an old friend, made a lot of small talk at first. She didn’t want to deliver the news if Grass were driving down the road. She knew how she would react.
When the words finally came, they took Grass’ breath with them: Marvin Castor is dead.
The man who shot and killed her husband, popular two-term county Sheriff Malcolm Grass, would never be released from prison. He died at Westville Correctional Facility a year shy of his release date.
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Natural causes — that’s what the victim advocate called it. The Indiana Department of Correction labeled it cardiac arrest.
But justice — that’s what it felt like to the Grass family.
Castor killed Malcolm Grass on May 8, 1986, during a standoff with local police. One gunshot, and the loving husband and father of two boys was gone. Malcolm Grass was 43.
While his crimes are nearly three decades old, they are never far from the minds of local law enforcement officers or the Grass family.
After all, Castor stayed in the headlines long after he was convicted of the murder.
They call it “going away” when someone goes to prison, but Castor, even with a 60-year sentence, never really felt gone.
Castor over the years made a variety of bids to be freed; he petitioned the governor for clemency, making accusations about police conspiracies against him. In 2013, he complained of medical ailments and asked to be moved to a nursing home.
There was never much chance for leniency, not for a convicted murderer who showed little remorse for his actions, but that didn’t matter.
For the Grass family, each request cut like glass.
They faithfully attended parole board hearings, started letter-writing campaigns and more — anything to keep their loved one’s killer behind bars.
And the community rallied around the family in those efforts. Any time Castor pulled a stunt in hopes of being released early, the family’s supporters locked arms and protested vehemently.
When Grass received that phone call, when word came that it was all over, she was overcome with relief. On Jan. 30, Marvin Castor had died.
She hung up the phone.
“I did lose it,” said Grass of Greenfield. “I had to hang up on her for awhile. I couldn’t talk.”
Janice Starnes is the former president of Indiana Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS), an organization that advocates for and provides resources to family members left behind after a member of law enforcement is killed on duty.
It was she who picked up the phone to call Grass that day.
Starnes of Martinsville had registered to receive updates about Castor’s offender status through the Department of Correction’s automated alert system. Grass had signed up for those alerts, too, but she forgot to update her contact information in the system after disconnecting her old phone number.
Starnes and Grass have developed a bond over the years, having shared in the same terrible tragedy. Starnes’ husband, a Morgan County officer, was also killed in the line of duty. He died in 2001.
Starnes said she hoped her message, that Castor was gone, would bring closure.
“How do you say it, that you’re glad someone is dead?” Starnes said. “You hate to sound cruel. It’s just mixed emotion, to give her the peace and the comfort that she’s wanted forever.”
Over the years, a call from Starnes had always meant another request from Castor, old wounds opened again.
“You never have to pull paperwork back out, get the community gathered and head to another hearing,” Starnes said. “It’s an end of something for this family.”
Castor’s expected release date, April 2, 2016, had been looming, a dark cloud over the Grass family. By Indiana law, Castor was required to serve only half of his 60-year sentence.
Castor’s prison sentence never seemed long enough to them, knowing all he’d robbed their family of, those years of family vacations, weddings, births — the moments Malcolm Grass never lived to see.
Nick Gulling of Greenfield was sheriff when Malcolm Grass was killed. Malcolm Grass was his chief deputy, his right-hand man, but he considered him more a friend than a colleague. The day of the standoff, Gulling arrived minutes after the shooting. The damage was done. His buddy was gone.
Gulling would go on to help care for his friend’s widow and their two sons, Kerry and Mark; he and Grass have now been together for years.
Castor’s impending release date weighed heavily on the family, Gulling said.
“We didn’t talk about it much, but it was always there,” Gulling said. “I think the term, ‘justice has been served’ is pretty appropriate.”
Randy Grass, Malcolm Grass’ brother, said his heart went out to two families the day his brother was killed; it was not only the Grass family that lost a loved one.
“It’s affected not only the grass family but the Castor family, too,” said Randy Grass of Greenfield. “You have to feel bad for both families. It’s just a sad situation for everyone concerned.”
As Grass has called friends and family members to share the news, she has been overwhelmed by support; of course, it’s the same support she has received countless times over the years.
“I’m sure everybody will be relieved that this is over, and I want to thank everybody,” Grass said. “Everybody was so kind.”
The same people who wrote letters, signed petitions, attended hearings, are those who now are embracing the Grass family as one chapter closes and another opens.
“It’s been a long time – 28 years – and the people never forgot,” Grass said. “We’re so thankful that his memory’s been kept alive.”