DUNCAN, Okla. – The son of a prominent Oklahoma publishing family murdered in their home appeared in court Wednesday on first-degree murder charges.
Alan Hruby, 19, a freshman at the University of Oklahoma, was clad in an orange jail jumpsuit and trembled during an initial proceeding in Stephens County District Court. He did not enter a plea on charges that he shot and killed his father, mother and teenage sister. A judge denied him bail.
Hruby confessed to the killings earlier in the day, police said.
District Attorney Jason Hicks told a news conference afterwards that the motive for the murders was money.
The son owed a "loan shark" $3,000, Hicks said, and believed he would inherit the family’s fortune with his parents and sister dead.
"I think this kid is an evil person," Hicks said.
The prosecutor said Hruby will appear in court again soon for arraignment on the murder charges, and two charges of concealing stolen checks. Hicks said he is inclined to seek the death penalty but won’t decide that until he talks to surviving relatives.
The murders occurred between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Thursday, Hicks said. The bodies of his father, John Hruby, 50, and mother, Joy “Tinker” Hruby, 48, and sister, Kathleen, 17, a high school junior, were discovered on the kitchen floor three days later by Rosemary Chavez, the family's housekeeper of 20 years.
Chavez called 911. "All three of them are laying down in the kitchen," she told a dispatcher. "I think they're dead. … They're ice cold!"
No signs of struggle
Hicks said Alan Hruby had stolen a 9mm Walther handgun from the console of his father's Ford pickup truck a day earlier.
The prosecutor said the son shot his mother first, in the head and neck, then shot his sister in the head when she came inside after washing her car. He waited for his father to come home from work, and also shot him in the head and neck, Hicks said.
The prosecutor said he doubted any of the victims saw Hruby before he shot them. There were no signs of a struggle.
Hicks said Hruby retrieved a VCR from the home security system and discarded it, along with the gun, in Lake Duncan.
He drove back to his dormitory in Norman, 75 miles northeast of Duncan, and retrieved his cell phone, which he'd purposely left to avoid anyone tracing his journey, the prosecutor said. He posted a message on Twitter and Instagram that he had been there throughout the night.
The next day, Hicks said, the son drove to Dallas with friends to attend the annual Texas-Oklahoma college football game, staying at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. At one point, he posted an Instagram photo of a friend and a young woman lounging on a bed in the hotel room.
“College wouldn’t be half as great without these two peaches,” he wrote on Instagram.
Hruby returned to his dorm room - on the sixth floor of Headington Hall - on Sunday. The next morning, the daughter of the housekeeper called to tell him to come home to Duncan because of an emergency. Police met him outside the house and asked him to go to the station, where the chaplain told him of the death of his parents and sister.
Police Chief Danny Ford said Hruby appeared unnerved, wailing and crying loudly.
Hicks said he was shedding "crocodile tears."
"There were times he was putting on a show," he said.
Hruby was not charged with the murders at first, but booked into the county jail on a check fraud charge.
Ford said Hruby confessed to the murders shortly before midnight Tuesday. Police said he was presented with an array of evidence against him. Sources told The Duncan Banner he'd failed a lie detector test before confessing.
Spending out of control
The district attorney said Hruby couldn't control his spending, and his parents eventually wouldn’t put up with it anymore.
“That is what he told us,” Hicks said in an interview. “Mom and Dad cut him off - shut off the money. He wanted money.”
Hruby had blogged about the joys of consumerism, writing at one point: “There is no bigger rush then getting to the register at a store and swiping your credit card. And in that moment you are waiting for the screen to say, ‘Approved,' you start to get heart palpitations and you get a rush of adrenaline. By the time she is handing your stuff to you, you are so high on adrenaline, the $15,000 total does not even phase you until you’ve gotten home and seen the receipts.”
Hruby’s lavish spending had consequences. His father, John, was furious last year when he discovered his son had obtained an American Express card in the name of his paternal grandmother and used it during a trip to Europe with stops in Rome, Paris, Monte Carlo, Barcelona and London. He'd documented the trip on a blog and through photos posted to Instagram.
In August 2013, he was charged with putting $5,000 on the credit card while in Europe. Police said the charges were closer to $80,000.
In January Hruby pleaded guilty and was placed on delayed sentencing, a form of probation for youthful offenders. He was ordered to pay restitution, undergo substance abuse evaluation, attend drug and alcohol counseling, and complete a cognitive behavior program.
He was scheduled to return to court Nov. 12 for final sentencing.
Police discovered traces of Hruby's spending when they searched his dorm and found checks stolen from a friend of his grandmother’s and forged to obtain $15,000, according to a court affidavit.
At the time of the family's murder, Hruby owed a "loan shark" $3,000, said Hicks.
He also owed $420 in unpaid traffic fines in Garvin County, where he'd been ordered to appear in court, according to court documents.
Investigators said they don’t know what fed Hruby’s appetite for cash, Hicks said.
Others who know him describe a typical high school student and college freshman.
While a student at Duncan High School, Hruby played tennis and was an amateur actor. Tennis coach Phil Barnes said Hruby remained a “team player” even after falling from the starting six in his senior year.
In his first semester at the University of Oklahoma, where his dorm room reportedly overlooked the famed football stadium, Hruby blended into campus life, students said. He liked to play pool in the game room. He'd applied - unsuccessfully - to join the Freshman Council, according to a student leader.
Back home in Duncan, the triple-slaying stunned the community, as well as the two nearby communities of Marlow and Elgin, where the Hruby family owned and published weekly newspapers. John Hruby’s family had also owned the daily Duncan Banner for three generations before selling it in 1997.
“This is unbelievable news involving a much respected and honored newspaper family,”said Mark Thomas, executive director of the Oklahoma Press Association. “John and Tinker were the heartbeat of their communities.”
The district attorney, who lives in Marlow, said the deaths have been difficult for everyone.
"We all knew John. We all knew Tinker. We all knew Katherine," he said. "It's going to take a while for the community to get over it."
Steve Olafson is the news editor of the Duncan, Okla., Banner