You could tell it was going to be a huge party because almost nobody had heard of the kid who was throwing it. Word was that his name was Tyler Hadley, he attended Port St. Lucie High, and, most crucially, his parents were out of town. Where exactly Tyler’s parents had traveled, or how far, no one seemed to know.
Tyler had been telling his friends all week that he was going to have a party, but nobody believed him. He’d never thrown a party before, and it was impossible to believe that his parents, who had been increasingly strict with him lately, would give their consent. When his friends asked whether the party was still on, Tyler replied, “I’m working on it.” They assumed that meant it was off. At 11:25 a.m. on Saturday, July 16, 2011, Hadley received a Facebook message from his friend Antonio Ramirez.
Tyler Hadley: sup bra
Antonio Ramirez: Chillen what you doin tonight?
Tyler Hadley: tryin to have a party at my crib
Antonio Ramirez: Your parents ain’t home?
Tyler Hadley: nope
Tyler Hadley: well their leasvin soon
At 1:15 p.m. Tyler posted a message on his Facebook wall:
“party at my crib tonight…maybe”
No one was convinced by this, but at 8:15 p.m., Tyler posted another message:
“party at my house hmu”
Still his friends remained incredulous.
Ashley Haze messaged: “WHAO what what if your parents come home”
“they won’t,” replied Tyler. “trust me.”
The party was just getting started when Mike Young arrived with 10 or so of his friends around 11:30 p.m. Mike, a popular, athletic junior, knew the host only by sight. Tyler was distinctive looking, tall and skinny, nearly cadaverous at six foot one and 160 pounds. At school he was quiet, approaching nonverbal, though occasionally prone to sudden, nonsensical outbursts in class. His friends — potheads, juvenile delinquents, pill poppers — were not the type of kids Mike liked to associate with. But it was a warm summer evening in July and there was absolutely nothing else going on in Port St. Lucie. There never was anything going on in Port St. Lucie. The city, 40 miles north of West Palm Beach, was a tomb, designed for the soon-to-be-entombed. It had half a dozen golf courses, twice as many assisted-living homes, seven funeral homes, two bingo halls and a shuffleboard club. There was no access to the beach, no downtown, and no place for teenagers to hang out at night other than a giant arcade called Superplay USA, which advertises itself as a State-of-the-Art Family Playground. Even the parks were closed at night. Mike and his friends had already spent three hours killing time at the mall in Stuart, 20 minutes down the coast, and another hour at McDonald’s. So they figured they might as well check out the Hadley party.
Tyler answered the door wearing a long black T-shirt, black Dickies and black Nike Air Force high-top sneakers. He seemed anxious, or at least as anxious as you can be while on Ecstasy. It was clear that Tyler was rolling. His eyes were large and white, his pupils expanded, and he kept rubbing his hands together, nervously clenching his fists.
“I don’t want no one smoking inside,” said Tyler. “It’s my parents’ house.”
Before long there were 60 kids in the house. Most of them had no idea who Tyler was. They draped themselves over the couches, played beer pong on the dining table, scrounged for food in the kitchen cupboards and gathered in packs out front, tossing empty cans onto the lawn. In the living room, when bottles fell to the floor and shattered, kids laughed. Cigarettes were extinguished on the rug, the kitchen counter, the wall. Tyler seemed less concerned with the destruction of his home than with the noise. If the neighbors got alarmed, they might call the police.
“Actually, just stay in the house,” said Tyler to nobody in particular. “You can smoke inside. I don’t care.”
Mike was talking with some girls on the couch when a very drunk skater kid — he looked like one of Tyler’s friends — ambled over.
“I smell dead people,” said the skater, giggling.
Mike looked up.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Some people are smoking, that’s all.”
“All right, dude. Whatever.”
The skater, laughing, wandered off.
A large crowd had gathered around the beer pong table. The table was directly next to the family computer, where kids took turns playing songs on YouTube. Mike cued up Wiz Khalifa’s “No Sleep” and a couple of tracks from a Lil Wayne mixtape, “Tunechi’s Back” and “Racks.” The computer area was even filthier than the rest of the house. The white keyboard was tacky with brownish dried liquid — beer, maybe, or Coke. Nobody looked too closely.
Jose Erazo, a slight, soft-spoken 17-year-old with straight black hair combed at an angle over his forehead, was playing beer pong when he heard someone say, “Oh, he killed his parents.” Everyone laughed. Jose won 15 straight games of beer pong.
People kept asking Tyler where his parents were.
“They went to Georgia,” he told Mark Andrews.
“They’re in Orlando,” he told Ryan Stonesifer.
“They don’t live here,” Tyler told Richard Wouters. “This is my house.”
Mark Andrews, 21, met Tyler 11 years ago, when Mark’s family moved to Port St. Lucie. Tyler and Mark’s younger brothers were friends, and the families lived down the street from each other. When Tyler was 10 years old, he showed up at the Andrews’ house after a fight with his mother. He vowed that he would kill his parents. Mark told Tyler that all parents pissed off their kids and Tyler, calming down, agreed. The two boys laughed about it.
Tyler’s friend Markey Phillips missed the party because he was visiting his grandparents in Chicago that weekend, but he had hung out with Tyler two nights earlier, playing video games and watching television at Markey’s house. Tyler had “seemed pretty fine” that night. But two weeks before that they had been hanging out at Markey’s house when Tyler blurted out, in the middle of a conversation, that he “wanted to kill his parents and have a big party after.” Nobody had ever done that before, Tyler said — throw a huge party with the bodies still in the house.
“That’s crazy,” said Markey. He figured Tyler was trying to make a joke. Nobody ever took Tyler seriously when he talked about killing his parents. In a Facebook chat with his friend Mercedes Marko on July 2, 2011 — two weeks before the party — Tyler complained that his mother had confiscated his cell phone.
Tyler Hadley: lol yup shes a cunt fa sho i might kill her
Mercedes Maxine Marko: Omg no jail!! Or I mean prison! Lol
Tyler Hadley: oh well <3
Then there was his friend Matthew Nobile, 17, a junior at Port St. Lucie High School, who had this exchange with Tyler at 9:40 a.m. on the morning of the party:
Matt Nobile: did u do it
Tyler Hadley: no but im gonna
Matt Nobile: bet?
Matt Nobile: u really should now
Matt Nobile: do it
Tyler Hadley: dont worry i am
Tyler Hadley: then im having a party
Matt Nobile: yeah party time nigga!
Port St. Lucie was not built for teenagers. Named after the patron saint of people with eye problems, the town was the brainchild of three Jacksonville brothers — Frank, Elliot and Robert Mackle — who were determined to profit from the massive migration of retirees to south Florida. In 1961 the Mackles bought approximately 40,000 acres of swamp and pine flatwood forest a hundred miles north of Miami, subdivided the land into plots measuring 80 by 125 feet, and placed full-page ads in Life and Newsweek that promised fulfillment of “the Florida dream.” A young girl with a blond ponytail held a gigantic beach ball in her arms beneath a palm tree; a man with graying temples helmed a motorboat, accompanied by two young beauties; blueprints touted the modern designs of “fun filled, sun filled. . . Space Age Homes.” The images were fantasies, of course — the land was still swamp — but the price was right. You could buy a house in Port St. Lucie for just $10 down, and $10 a month, much cheaper than the more expensive retirement communities farther down the coast. But you would keep paying for the rest of your life.
By 1980, Port St. Lucie’s population had grown to 15,000, and the city had begun to sprawl inland, overtaking I-95, nine miles from the coast. In 2006, at the height of the real estate boom, Port St. Lucie’s population surpassed 150,000. It was the fastest-growing city in the United States. The winding suburban lanes were graded so quickly that no one bothered to make sure the street names were spelled correctly. Driving through the city today you will pass Galaxie Street, Voltair Terrace, Hershy Circle, Twylite Terrace. The names were designed to give the former swampland a patina of sophisticated grandeur. The street on which the Hadley family had lived since 1987 is named “Granduer.”
Blake and Mary Jo Hadley moved to Port St. Lucie from Fort Lauderdale 24 years earlier to be closer to Blake’s parents, who had retired in neighboring Stuart. Though Port St. Lucie was eviscerated by the real estate crash, Tyler’s parents held recession-proof jobs. Blake was a watch engineer at the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant for thirty years. Mary Jo was a beloved elementary school teacher. “No matter who you were, even if she didn’t like you, she would never give up on you,” says Cameron Adams, a friend of Tyler’s who had been Mary Jo’s student.
The space-age design of the Hadley home, and those of its neighbors, are unable to disguise how recently the land was confiscated from nature. A half-century after the Mackles’ ads first appeared in Life, there remain throughout the city properties that to this day have not yet been sold, and therefore have never been developed. Driving through the city, after passing an orderly series of 10 or 15 neatly landscaped suburban homes, you might arrive at a square plot of what resembles wild jungle: a dense, overgrown plexus of pine flatwoods, wiregrass, wax myrtle, fetterbush, Dahoon holly, wild blueberries and saw palmettos, their leaves shaped like limp hands with dozens of fingers. Granduer has more than a half-dozen undeveloped plots. The Hadley house is sandwiched between two of them. Across the street from the Hadleys are four additional consecutive plots of subtropical wilderness. At the end of the block lies the St. Lucie River, hemmed on either side by a narrow track of riparian forest. Bewildered bobcats, raccoons, wild boars and alligators often climb out of the river and onto their neighbors’ lawns.
During Tyler’s adolescence, Port St. Lucie was known nationally, if it was known at all, for two things: the New York Mets, who held their spring training camp there; and marijuana. During the real estate boom, dealers from Miami began buying up empty houses — often for as little as $50,000 — outfitting them with LED lights and hydroponic systems, and using them as grow operations. The practice became so common that it earned the city a new nickname: “Pot St. Lucie.” An investigation in 2006 by local and federal law enforcement agencies busted 69 pot farms in town, but the phenomenon persists. “They’re still out there,” says Joseph Waddle, who recently graduated from St. Lucie West Centennial High School. “Marijuana is out of control. It’s everywhere. You can’t go to a party without smelling it in the air.”
As the population of Port St. Lucie has grown, its median age has plunged. More than a third of the city’s inhabitants are now younger than 24. Teenagers complain incessantly about having nothing to do.
“The whole mindset of Port St. Lucie is that it’s boring, so I’m not going to do anything but throw a party,” says Waddle.
There are a lot of shops but nothing to do, explains Terry Nguyen, a senior at Centennial who was friends with Tyler. “In other towns there are places where teens can hang out, but not in Port St. Lucie.”
“The town is so boring,” says Anthony Snook, a lanky 20 year old with an ironic mustache and a surfer’s drawl, while shopping for a new glass pipe at 420 Peace Avenue, a local head shop. “It drives kids nuts. There’s no role models. And the parents are always on everyone’s ass because everyone’s stressed about money.”
For a city without any rough neighborhoods — without any neighborhoods, in fact, or, for that matter, sidewalks — there is a surprising amount of crime in Port St. Lucie. Much of it is committed by young people. Within months of Tyler Hadley’s party, a 19 year old was found to be having sexual relationships with at least one, and perhaps two, 14 year olds; an 18 year old and a 16 year old were arrested after breaking into a house and shooting a middle-aged couple during a robbery; a group of 14 year olds vandalized a house, causing more than $10,000 of damage; another 14 year old was found wandering the streets at night in a daze, with a massive head wound, wearing nothing but underwear; and teenage marauders, carrying skateboards, videotaped themselves ransacking local chain stores. At Walmart they leapt into a six-foot stack of Pringles cans; at K-Mart they skateboarded into giant stacks of paper towels; at Target they ran through the aisles with their arms outstretched, like marathoners racing across the finish line, clearing the shelves of pillows, dog food, bread. On the surveillance film they can be seen cackling hysterically the entire time. “They’re really doing this without regard for society, rules or regulations,” said Fran Sherman, a local psychotherapist, who was shown the videos by local reporters. “They’re getting joy out of torturing people and things.”
By midnight at the Hadley residence there were a hundred people and two dogs, a black Labrador named Sophie and an old, partially deaf and blind beagle. Sophie was nowhere to be found but the beagle was hiding in the bedroom that had belonged to Tyler’s older brother, Ryan, who had moved to North Carolina six weeks earlier to attend college. The party was only several hours old, but the room looked as if it had been ransacked by thieves. Clothes and bedding were scattered across the floor and the bed frame was cracked. The beagle cowered under the bed.
Stephanie Castaneda arrived with her friend Joshua Korte around midnight. She had a crush on Tyler, but didn’t know him well. He was standing awkwardly by the wall next to his mother’s computer and wasn’t talking to his friends. When Stephanie went to the bathroom she found a beagle hiding in the shower.
William Goodall had known Tyler since the sixth grade, but had seen less of Tyler since freshman year of high school, when Tyler started smoking weed. He couldn’t tell whether Tyler was acting especially strange, because Tyler always acted kind of strange.
At 12:30 a.m. the party was running out of beer so Tyler asked Mark Andrews and his girlfriend, Ashley Gershman, to drive him to the Sunoco gas station a block away. Tyler gave a wad of $20 bills to Mark, who was 21, and asked him to buy four cases of Busch Light. While they waited in Mark’s car, Tyler mentioned to Ashley that his father had died. Ashley, who didn’t know Tyler very well, assumed he meant that his father had passed away a long time ago.
When they got back to the house the kids at the party were playing water pong, because they wasn’t enough beer. One boy walked around with a baggie of round white pills, selling them for a dollar apiece. Another sold marijuana. Anthony Snook showed up around 12:45 a.m. Someone had texted him that Hadley’s party was the “biggest thing ever.”
“Thanks for throwing this party, man,” he said to Tyler. “How’ve you been?”
“All right,” Tyler replied, his voice flat. Snook knew Tyler from school as a sullen, introverted kid who avoided eye contact and laughed at his own jokes. But tonight, despite the party’s increasing chaos, Tyler seemed perfectly calm. At least until one boy, who had taken off his shirt and run out of the house screaming, returned holding a mailbox over his head.
“Where the fuck did you get that?” asked Tyler.
“I took it off the neighbor’s lawn!”
The boy wheeled around the living room with the mailbox, knocking beer bottles to the floor.
Tyler started yelling. Stealing a mailbox was a felony, he said, and the police were going to come. Someone removed the mailbox from the house and returned it to the street.
Snook noticed that the door to the master bedroom was closed. Assuming that there were people inside getting high, he tried to enter, but it was locked. It was dark in the house, but he noticed a black smear, about a foot long, beneath the door. It looked like an oil-based paint that someone had tried unsuccessfully to wipe away.
Justin Wright, a collegiate soccer player who asked that his real name be withheld, arrived at 1:15 a.m. The first thing he noticed was the stench. It smelled like sweaty clothes that had been sitting around too long. The place was a mess. The white ceramic floor tiles were grimy. Several picture frames were missing from the wall. Others hung askew. Dishes smeared with the remnants of instant macaroni and cheese accumulated in the kitchen. Justin asked Tyler if there were any house rules.
“Just do whatever you want,” said Tyler.
During Justin’s game of beer pong, the ball bounced to the floor and rolled beneath the table, where it came to rest in a sticky, thick brown substance. Justin was mildly grossed out, but didn’t think much of it. He carried the ball to the kitchen sink and rinsed it under the faucet. Then he resumed the game.
As Mark Andrews was leaving the party, Tyler asked if they could speak privately. Tyler went outside and ordered all the kids standing there to get back into the house, so that his neighbors wouldn’t call the cops. Once everyone was inside, Tyler turned to Mark.
“Dude, I did some things. I might go to prison. I might go away for life. I don’t know, dude, I’m freaking out right now.”
“What are you talking about?” said Mark.
“Dude, I know you are not going to believe me, no one will believe me. I freakin’ killed somebody.”
“Dude, you killing somebody is your own business,” said Mark. “Don’t be telling me that sort of thing. I don’t need to know.”
Tyler returned to the house and ran into Ricardo Acevedo, an 18 year old who had met Tyler that night.
“Thanks for having us over,” said Ricardo. “And thanks for the beer.”
“I just wanted to do something fun before I left,” said Tyler.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to kill myself,” said Tyler.
“Why would you do that?”
“‘Cause I did something really bad.”
“What’d you do? It can’t be that bad.”
“Don’t worry,” said Tyler. “If I get caught, I’ll be in jail a long time.”
In his bedroom Tyler found Kimberly Thieben, a chubby, black-haired 20 year old who was then known to friends as “K-Nasty.” She and Tyler were close friends; she lived two houses down the street.
“I’m going away for 60 years,” he told Kimberly. His voice seemed to come from a faraway place.
“Why?” she asked.
He said she’d find out tomorrow.
Around 1 a.m., Tyler asked his friend Michael Mandell to walk outside so that they could speak privately. Tyler and Michael had been best friends since they were eight years old, and for much of the party they had sat together, Michael chatting with other friends, Tyler staring into the middle distance.
They walked to the stop sign at the end of the block, and when they got there, Tyler turned to Michael. “I killed my parents,” he said.
“Michael, I’m being real. I’m not lying to you. If you look closely enough, you can see signs.” He told Michael to look in the driveway.
Michael saw that the two cars closest to the garage were a black Toyota Tacoma truck that belonged to Tyler’s father, and his mother’s red Ford Expedition. If Tyler’s parents weren’t home, why were their cars there?
Michael still couldn’t believe it, so Tyler told him to look inside the garage. After making sure that nobody was watching, Michael slipped into the garage and turned on the light. He saw a bloody shoe print and immediately retreated, shutting the door behind him.
Tyler led Michael to the master bedroom, where there were traces of blood on the door. Tyler unlocked the door and opened it. Michael saw dining-room chairs and blood-soaked towels stacked in a huge pile. At the bottom of the pile, emerging from the debris, lay a thick white leg.
Tyler told Michael what had happened. That afternoon, shortly before five, Tyler had hid his parents’ cell phones so that they couldn’t call for help. He listened to “Feel Lucky,” a song by the rapper Lil Boosie, to psych himself up. He took three pills of Ecstasy, because he worried that he couldn’t kill his parents while “sober.” In the garage he found a claw hammer. Then he returned to the house. He stood behind his mother while she worked at the family computer. For a full five minutes he stood there, thinking about what he was about to do. Then he raised the claw end of the hammer and brought it down on Mary Jo’s head.
“Why?” she screamed. “Why?”
Hearing his wife’s screams, Blake Hadley ran out of the master bedroom. He was a big man — six foot one, 300 pounds — but nothing could have prepared him for what he saw. Father and son locked eyes for several moments.
“Why?” asked Blake Hadley.
“Why the fuck not?” shouted Tyler. He kept repeating this question while he beat his father to death with the claw end of the hammer. Tyler pantomimed swinging the hammer for Michael.
When it was over, Tyler said, he wrapped towels around his parents’ heads and dragged them into the master bedroom. The bodies lay side-by-side, face down, the hammer on the ground between them. It took three hours to clean up all the blood and gore — much longer than Tyler had anticipated. He threw every piece of incriminating evidence he could find into the bedroom, burying the corpses beneath a pile of broken dishes, shattered glass, bloody towels and pillowcases, books, a coffee table, a sponge mop, Clorox wipes and a canister of coffee grounds. He took a shower and then, he told Michael, he stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror and laughed.
Max Mazer, a friend of Tyler’s, was standing in the hall outside the master bedroom when he saw Michael rush from the room, slamming the door behind him. Michael looked deranged, said Max, like “he was looking over both shoulders.”
But Michael didn’t leave the party. He stayed for another 45 minutes, posing for selfies with Tyler. In one photo, taken with Michael’s cell phone, the two best friends stand in what appears to be the garage. Both boys wear their brown hair in close crew cuts. Michael’s expression is stern, defiant. Tyler raises an orange plastic cup. His mouth is slightly twisted, his eyes tense. His face is a mixture of pain, despair, fear, horror.
Close to 2 a.m., somebody stood up and announced that there was another house party being thrown by a neighbor of Mike Young’s. Kids began running outside, tossing their drinks onto the grass, opening car doors. Tyler ran out after them. Joshua Korte had just settled into his car when someone slammed on the driver’s side window. It was Tyler.
“Where is everybody going?” he yelled.
Josh rolled down the window and explained they were going to another party.
“Oh,” said Tyler, relieved. “All right.” When asked later to describe Tyler’s expression, Joshua said, “He was just like, blank face. Like he had a blank face on.”
Fourteen cars peeled out of Tyler’s neighborhood. The caravan went up Prima Vista to Bayshore, windows open, Wiz Khalifa blasting, cars weaving down the wide boulevard. Finally they reached their destination. The house was dark and quiet. A girl came outside in her pajamas. She wasn’t having a party. It was just a rumor.
The commotion of the departing cars was finally too much for Tyler’s neighbors. Raeann Wallace, who lived next door, had known Tyler since he was born. She was fond of the Hadleys, and of Tyler. “He seemed like a happy kid,” she says. “Very respectful, polite.” He liked to skateboard, ride his bike, toss a football in the street. When she asked him not to throw the ball too close to her car, he said, “Yes, ma’am.” When she and her husband went away for the weekend, she gave Tyler a few bucks to keep watch over her house.
Tyler had always seemed close to his parents. As a boy he would wait up late into the evenings for his father to return home from working the night shift at the power plant, and father and son would play basketball for hours in the driveway, often until midnight. On weekends Wallace would hear the Hadleys splashing and laughing in the family’s backyard pool.
But once Tyler entered high school, a silence descended over the Hadley property. Tyler had always been quiet, and difficult to read, but now he seemed eccentric, unpredictable, troubled. “He had a bizarre personality,” says Cameron Adams. “Really hyper. He’d always try to pull a crowd. In the middle of a lesson, he would start laughing. He would just blurt out stuff.” Once, in the middle of biology class, he started mooing loudly, like a cow.
Another neighbor, DeeDee Maynard, refused to allow her son to play with Tyler after she caught Tyler, as a young teen, smoking in the nearby River Park Wildlife Preserve with other neighborhood boys. Worried that they might accidentally start a forest fire, she confronted Tyler’s mother. Mary Jo seemed unconcerned.
“My son doesn’t smoke,” she said.
“I saw him smoking,” Maynard reported.
“Well,” said Mary Jo. “You know Tyler.”
Two weeks later Tyler lit the River Park Wildlife Preserve on fire. He and several other boys dragged an abandoned couch into the clearing, doused it with gasoline they had siphoned at the local Sunoco, and dropped a match. The fire department had to be called, but the kids got off with a warning. The Hadleys seemed to have lost control of their youngest son.
“It was a significant-sized fire,” says Donna Montero, whose swimming pool abuts the Hadleys’ pool. “They just did it for kicks. I guess there’s nothing else to do here. I would’ve thought he’d have been the type that probably would have hurt animals just for the heck of it. But I certainly would have never got the feeling that he would have been capable of murdering anybody. Let alone his parents.”
In late April, 10 weeks before his party, Tyler got into a fight at a friend’s house and was arrested on a charge of aggravated battery. Because he had a juvenile record, having previously been convicted of burglary, he was sentenced to a week at St. Lucie County Jail, followed by two weeks of house arrest. Mary Jo confiscated his cell phone, forcing Tyler to rely on Facebook to communicate with his friends:
TYLER HADLEY: dont text me about drugs
ISADORA GASCHO: what happen?
TYLER HADLEY: my mom has it because I got arrested on Monday and shes flippin shit..i just got out today.
ISADORA GASCHO: oh shit…
TYLER HADLEY: FUCKIN SHIT SUCCKKKKEEEDD
ISADORA GASCHO: u bad kidd
TYLER HADLEY: Just kidding…its a pirates life for me
ISADORA GASCHO: lmao
ISADORA GASCHO: wtf r u talking about??
TYLER HADLEY: I DONT FUCKING ASSOCIATE WITH NON PIRATES
ISADORA GASCHO: whattt??
TYLER HADLEY: ok im done with all the nautical nonsense
ISADORA GASCHO: 🙂
ISADORA GASCHO: ur so sillyyy
ISADORA GASCHO: what r u doing?
TYLER HADLEY: nothing, considering suicide
ISADORA GASCHO: why???
TYLER HADLEY: ummm…because i wanna die i guess?
TYLER HADLEY: what other reasons are there?
ISADORA GASCHO: are you being serious?
TYLER HADLEY: yes
TYLER HADLEY: …I do wanna die sometimes
ISADORA GASCHO: dont dieee
ISADORA GASCHO: smoke a bowl whenever ur down 😛
TYLER HADLEY: I used to, now I drink alot when im depressed
TYLER HADLEY: IT FILLS THE EMPTINESS INSIDE ME
ISADORA GASCHO: ur quite a character ;P
TYLER HADLEY: yes but all my smiles are fake
There were still moments, however, when the old Tyler would emerge. One of Tyler’s best friends, Ryan Stonesifer, described Tyler’s relationship with his mother as “really close.” Tyler told Ryan about a recent fight with Mary Jo, in which Tyler had told her to shut up. He felt so badly about it that he apologized immediately. He told his mother he was sorry for yelling at her.
On Mother’s Day, Tyler chatted on Facebook with his friend Mercedes Marko. Tyler told her about his house arrest.
MERCEDES MAXINE MARKO: im sad…. That sucks dude…is your mom pissed..?? lol
TYLER HADLEY: no shes disappointed…I feel bad, she was crying
MERCEDES MAXINE MARKO: aww…did you do anything for her today…its mothers day.
TYLER HADLEY: yeaa me and my brother took her out to eat and what not haha
MERCEDES MAXINE MARKO: awwwwwww..thats so nice lol
TYLER HADLEY: lol I know. IT WAS A NICE DAY
On a Friday night in June, one month before the party, Tyler came home, in his words, “smashed as fuck” after a night during which he had urinated on his friend Desiree Gerhard’s bed. Mary Jo admitted him to New Horizons, a mental health clinic. Tyler was forced to attend counseling daily. In order to commit Tyler, Mary Jo invoked the Baker Act, which under Florida law allows for parents to commit their children, if under the age of 18, to involuntary psychiatric treatment. The act is only used if it is deemed a “substantial likelihood” that, without intervention, the child will cause “serious bodily harm” to himself or others in the near future. When a co-worker asked if Mary Jo worried whether Tyler might ever hurt her, Mary Jo said she was only worried that Tyler might hurt himself. Mary Jo suffered from depression, and worried that her son might suffer from it as well. He had received counseling for depression in the past, as well as for an eating disorder and poor self-esteem. In fact Mary Jo had Tyler take injections of human growth hormone during his early adolescence because she thought it might boost his confidence. She didn’t want him teased in school for being short and chubby.
Just two weeks before the party, however, Mary Jo had told friends that Tyler “was over the hurdle.” She was “so happy” about Tyler’s improvement, said one friend. “She really felt he was back to himself.”
The weekend before the party, Tyler had traveled with his father and grandfather to a family reunion in Georgia. “It was a time for us to enjoy family from Indiana, Minnesota and Florida,” recalls his grandfather, Maurice Hadley. “I didn’t see any indication there were any problems between Tyler and his parents.”
The night before the party, the Hadleys had gone out to dinner as a family. On the way they stopped at the Circle K, where Tyler ran into his friend Cameron Adams. Tyler appeared to be in a good mood.
“How are your mom and dad doing?” asked Cameron.
“Oh,” said Tyler quietly. “They’re all right.”
Cameron mentioned that it was his birthday. He and his girlfriend were going to Benihana’s.
“Happy birthday!” said Tyler. “Come to my house tomorrow, I’m having a party. We’ll celebrate.”
At 2:00 a.m., as the caravan of cars tore out of the driveway of the Hadley house, revving their engines and blasting their music, Raeann Wallace got fed up. She couldn’t understand why Tyler was throwing such a noisy party, or why his parents would allow it. When a group of boys from the party drifted on to her front lawn and began peering into her window, she called the police.
Two officers from the Port St. Lucie Police Department arrived at the Hadley residence within minutes. By that point there were fewer than 20 people left at the party. When the officers rang the bell, Tyler told everyone to be quiet and hide in his room. Then he opened the door.
The cops explained that there had been noise complaints. Tyler talked to them for a few moments.
The cops left, and the party started again.
By 2:30 a.m. Tyler’s friends began to filter back to the party. It was clear now that something was wrong with Tyler. Michael Mandell, before leaving, had grabbed 10 Percocet pills that Tyler was going to use to commit suicide, and hid them in a hall closet.
When a 16-year-old cheerleader showed up with two girlfriends, Tyler slammed the door behind them as soon as they entered the house and began checking the windows, closing the blinds as if someone were out to get him. He kept touching his hair and pacing across the living room. “The party was fun,” he told his friend David Garcia. “I might have another one tomorrow night.” Then he said that he “might be going away for a while.”
“Are you moving? Or vacation?”
“Just going away,” said Tyler.
“Are you coming back?”
“I don’t know because I’m thinking about killing myself.”
Tyler turned the lights off in the front rooms to avoid attracting any further attention from the cops. Ryan Stonesifer, before he left at 3 a.m., saw Tyler making himself a sandwich in the dark.
At 4:40 a.m., Tyler posted another message to his Facebook wall:
party at my house again hmu
The party might have gone on forever if the police hadn’t, at that very moment, been standing outside his front door. Michael Mandell had called the Crimestoppers hotline. He’d told them everything.
Officers Adrian Zamoyski and Charles Greene were dispatched to 371 NE Granduer Avenue at 4:32 a.m. They parked across the street. There were three cars in front of the house: a cream-colored Lincoln, a black Toyota Tacoma truck, and a red Ford Expedition. They ran the plates. The first car was registered to Tyler Hadley, the others to his parents.
As the officers walked up the driveway they heard someone talking inside the house. Officer Greene saw, through the front bay window, the shadow of a person walking back and forth. Greene knelt by the window and peered through the blinds. Tyler was pacing across the living room, talking to himself, with “a very disturbing look on his face,” Greene would write in his police report. “His eyes were very wide and he was not blinking.” Tyler grabbed a stack of books from a bookshelf near the front door and marched them into the back bedroom. After saying something unintelligible, he dumped the books on the floor “in a frantic manner.” Tyler repeated this exercise twice more, returning for a second and third stack of books. Finally Greene knocked on the front door and rang the bell. There was no answer, but Greene could see Hadley through the window, walking away from the door. The rest of the lights in the house went off. Then Hadley opened the door.
He was wearing a black shirt and black shorts, and his left hand was hidden behind his back. Officer Zamoyski drew his gun. He ordered Hadley to put up his hands and step out of the house. The officers checked him for weapons, then ordered him to the ground and handcuffed him.
They asked whether any adults were home. Tyler said no. He seemed frantic, incoherent, annoyed. His pupils were very large.
“I know I’m going to Rock Road,” he told Officer Greene, referring to the address of the St. Lucie County Jail. “So just take me.”
Leaving Tyler shackled in the driveway, the officers entered the house.
“You can’t go in there,” Tyler shouted after them. “Don’t go in there!”
Empty beer bottles and red plastic Solo cups were everywhere, on the counters and floors. There were pots and pans on the kitchen counter. Tyler’s bedroom floor was littered with unraveled cigars. On his bed were about 15 empty beer bottles and a woman’s purse. The furniture in his brother’s old bedroom was turned over, and the floor was covered with clothing and bedding. Locked inside a closet they found a black Labrador.
The cops passed through the kitchen and approached the master bedroom. It was locked. The officers noticed streaks of dried blood on the frame and baseboards. They forced the knob. The door opened.
The funeral service for the Hadleys was attended by nearly a thousand people. Two coffins lay in front of the altar. Mary Jo Hadley was a committed Catholic; she served as a lector at the St. Lucie Catholic Church and taught the Rite of Christian Initiation to converts. On the Sunday morning that her body was found, she was supposed to have read at morning mass from the 13th chapter of First Corinthians, an ode to the empowering qualities of love: “Love is patient, love is kind. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
At the reception following the service, Raeann Wallace approached Ryan Hadley, Tyler’s older brother. Ryan, who was then 23 , had planned to return to Port St. Lucie after graduating from college to work alongside his father at the power plant. He mentioned that he was going to St. Lucie County prison in Fort Pierce that night to visit his brother. It would be the first time the brothers had seen each other since the murders.
“It’s what my parents would want me to do,” Ryan said. “They wouldn’t want me to abandon him. I don’t know what I’m going to say. I’ll probably just sit there and cry.”
Tyler’s friends struggled to understand his motivation. But there was a general sense that what happened to Tyler might have happened to any of them. One 18-year-old girl who attended the party but knew him only slightly, blamed his parents.
“He was under a lot of pressure and like his parents would never let him be himself and honestly, I think that they caused everything that just happened. . . His parents always expected him to be someone else that he wasn’t and that’s not right. Anything Tyler would do, he’d be wrong for it. . . he just broke. Honestly he got crazy ’cause of it. If you have that much hate for somebody then you actually would do something like that.”
Tyler had told some of his friends, including Michael, that his father had, in the past, punched him in the face. But even if this were true, Michael couldn’t believe that this “could lead to him murdering them.” Tyler also told his friend Markey that Blake “wasn’t his real dad.” Markey was amazed to find out, during a police interview, that Tyler had been lying.
The most common rationale advanced by his friends was “drugs.” “We all make mistakes when we on them jiggers,” said Markey. Tyler, Markey wrote in a statement, “drank heavily and smoked pot and popped pills like a mad man.” There were a lot of pills. “All kinds,” said his friend David Garcia. “Monkeys, beans, xanys, bars, French-fries-yellow xanys.” Tyler also took Percocet and oxycontin, known among teens in Port St. Lucie as “blues.” And he did Ecstasy — once or twice, according to a friend. But none of these drugs induce violent behavior, and they are used by hundreds of other kids in town, including most of those who attended Tyler’s party.
There might have been other kinds of pills in his body, however. When cops searched the house, they found prescription bottles in Tyler’s name for Hydroxyzine, a relatively mild anti-anxiety medication, as well as Citalopram, an anti-depressant that can increase the risk of suicide in adolescents and young adults. In a letter from jail to his grandparents, Tyler referred to one psychiatric pill in particular, without mentioning its name. “I wish I never started taking that damn pill,” he wrote. “None of this would ever of happened.” In a letter to a friend, he said, “I regret everything I did. I swear it’s those drugs man.” But Tyler had also told Michael that he had purposefully waited for his brother to move out before he killed his parents. That was more than six weeks earlier. And a fellow inmate later testified that Tyler claimed he’d begun to plan the murder — and the party — three weeks before it happened. “You should have come to the party,” Tyler told the inmate, according to testimony. “It was awesome.”
At the St. Lucie County Jail Tyler is a celebrity. “When this shit went down it went world wide,” he wrote in a letter to a friend. “I was the 2nd most popular story after the economy.” He responds to fan letters and signs “Hambo,” and signs autographs for other inmates “Hammer Time.” But he’s also been jumped, and beat up.
He has been continuing his education: he passed his GED, and scored 2100 on the SAT. He reads all day, recommending to his friends “the Harry Potter books and anything by James Patterson.” He has been meeting with a priest, a Father Michael, and has expressed a desire to become ordained when he gets out of jail. But it seems unlikely that will happen. Because Tyler committed the murders six months short of his 18th birthday, he cannot be sentenced to death, but prosecutors can pursue two life terms. When asked about his judicial philosophy, chief assistant state attorney Tom Bakkedahl, who is trying Hadley’s case, says, “Our focus is on punishment, not rehabilitation.”
In his letters from prison, sent to friends and family members — particularly his grandparents — Tyler is, by turns, depressed, wretched with guilt, angry, confused, bored, and delusional:
“I was just living my life as a normal seventeen year old kid and next thing I know I’m in the middle of St. Lucie County jail…I ruined a lot of people’s lives and I can’t seem to forgive myself. I find myself crying a lot because of all the guilt. Everyday I beg for forgiveness and I ask God not to send me to Hell. I don’t want to go there. Father Michael told me that if I just confess my sins and repent then God will forgive me for everything. I just can’t get rid of all this guilt. It’s swallowing me whole…I’m extremely nervous that I’m going to get a life sentence. It’s making me pretty depressed I want to say I’m really sorry for all the grief I’ve stirred up. I know everyone thinks I’m a psychopath and all. But I really am sorry for everything. I’ve been praying everyday for forgiveness and for a decent plea offer. I should get one since it’s my first offense…I feel extremely bad for Ryan and especially you and my other grandparents for the grief I’ve caused. I feel like Ryan doesn’t love me anymore but I know he does and he’s just going through a rough time…It’s so hard going through this. I’m scared and I feel so alone…”
He forgave Michael Mandell for turning him in, and preventing him from committing suicide, though not before pointing out that “I’m in jail because of you.”
“I wish I could throw back some Miller Lights and smoke a fat ass strawberry White Owl. But I gotta say it feels good to be sober. My head is nice and clear. Make sure you drink some Miller for me. Drink yourself stupid like I used to do…I swear to you, Michael, the devil had a hold on me. I talked to him and he talked to me. That’s why I seemed so crazy toward the end. I’m not a cold blooded monster like everyone thinks I am. I’m a caring person that made a horrible mistake. You gotta let people know that…”
On the morning after the party, the news of Tyler’s arrest spread rapidly among the teenagers who had attended the party. Mike Young and several of his friends had just returned from the beach when their phones started buzzing.
“I was like damn, brother,” says Mike. “That’s creepy as hell. I can’t believe we partied last night where there was dead people.” After Mike gave an interview to a local news reporter, he got 30 Facebook friend requests. “They were like, “I seen you on the news, bro!’ I was like, ‘Yeah, it was awesome!'”
“I wasn’t upset when I heard,” says the 16-year-old cheerleader. “I wasn’t scared, or disgusted. It’s not like I knew him personally. I was just in awe.”
When Anthony Snook found out about the Hadley murders, he thought, “Wow. I just went to the party of a lifetime. It’s messed up what he did, but 20 years from now, I’ll be able to say I was there. I hate Port St. Lucie, but that’s kind of cool.”