Had Welsh not been the person lying in that stairwell in early May, his blog Advance Indiana would have covered the death as relentlessly as it had exposed local corruption and heralded bizarre conspiracy theories since its inception in 2005. At its best, the site beat The Indianapolis Star to stories and captivated journalists and public officials. At its worst, it resorted to bitter vendettas and screeds about the secret global society New World Order.
The man behind the blog was something of a mystery. Welsh made no attempt to hide the fact that he was gay, but many friends and family members didn’t know his partner of 12 years. A diehard conservative, Welsh nevertheless skewered Republicans with particular enthusiasm. Trained as an attorney, he watched his law practice dwindle as his hobby consumed him. Although Advance Indiana attracted thousands of readers a day, friends say the advertising revenue it generated didn’t amount to much. How he managed to maintain his office in the downtown Chamber of Commerce Building and a condo in the Lockerbie Glove Factory Lofts perplexed those who never saw him in court.
Welsh’s death offered a mystery, too. Why a stairwell? Had Welsh finally poked the wrong person, prompting a murder made to look like a suicide? And even if you’re not prone to conspiracy theories, why would a guy never known for depression until the last months of his life kill himself? Had money problems finally caught up with him?
Those closest to Welsh now struggle for answers. Several details have emerged, though, and they defy the straightforward explanations of his death in the newspapers. As Welsh often told friends, “Nothing is as it seems.”
For a guy who spent most of his life wading through the muck of state politics, a hog farm was as appropriate a place to grow up as any. As a kid, Welsh cut grass and helped with the birthing of piglets at his father’s operation in Marshall, Illinois. But Welsh, who was the youngest of five children, liked politics a lot more than pigs. He joined the Teen Age Republicans in middle school, and graduated near the top of his class at Marshall High School before studying political science at Eastern Illinois University. After a couple of years working in the Illinois legislature as an assistant to House Republican Leader Lee Daniels, Welsh moved to Indianapolis to study law at Indiana University in 1990. A few years later, while working at a law firm here, he met Michael Litmer, and the two began dating.
“He wasn’t the typical gay guy,” Litmer recalls. “He was manly. I liked that you always knew where you stood with him. I’d say things like, ‘You didn’t really say that, did you?’ And he’d get that mischievous grin on his face that said, Oh, yes I did! He liked to rattle the cage.”
Being gay may have been making its way toward acceptance in the late ’90s, but some of Welsh’s family members and colleagues weren’t ready to recognize it. Siblings would only refer to Litmer as Welsh’s “roommate,” and Welsh believed that his sexuality caused him to miss several advancement opportunities in his conservative field. Perhaps as a result, he began to think of himself as an outsider. In 2005, he launched Advance Indiana, one of the first blogs in the state, to expose injustices he saw in the Indiana legislature.
In those early years, many of the stories related to LGBT rights. From the beginning, Welsh devoted six or seven hours a day to the blog, posting an average of three stories every day. But Advance Indiana really hit its stride in 2008, when Mayor Greg Ballard took office. A precinct committeeman for the Marion County Republican Party, Welsh had campaigned on Ballard’s behalf, hoping to oust Bart Peterson and what Welsh saw as a corrupt establishment. In return, Welsh thought he might be offered a position as city attorney. That never materialized. As Ballard—once an outsider himself—staffed his administration with establishment people, Welsh assailed him for it on the blog. Frequently posting a photo of Ballard dressed in pimp attire at a party, Welsh called him “one of the most corrupt mayors in Indianapolis history.”
The mayor became one of Welsh’s favorite targets in the coming years, along with the Star’s Matthew Tully and fellow political blogger Abdul Hakim-Shabazz. Welsh made powerful friends, too. City councillor Christine Scales frequently read the blog and brought several of Welsh’s beefs before the council. “Some people in our caucus like to say that they don’t read blogs, but they read Gary,” she says.
Many journalists also bookmarked Advance Indiana, hoping for the occasional scoop. Welsh was first with the news that the FBI had filed for forfeiture of Ponzi schemer Tim Durham’s property. He proved that Mayor Joe Hogsett didn’t live in the house featured in Hogsett’s campaign ad depicting the candidate as an everyman. And Welsh hounded the Capital Improvement Board for its use of Colts suite tickets that were intended to promote tourism, a story eventually picked up by the Star. Insiders such as Scales alerted Welsh to some tips, but many scoops resulted from old-fashioned journalism. Filing Freedom of Information Act requests. Calling sources. Pulling court records.
Welsh’s attention to detail in those posts made his eventual descent into conspiracy theories that much stranger. By 2010, about half of the stories on Advance Indiana focused on global plots and secret societies: The U.S. government staged the Boston Marathon bombing. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered. Ted Cruz’s father must somehow have been involved in JFK’s assassination. According to Welsh’s partner Litmer, Welsh went to bed listening to conspiracy theory radio shows such as Alex Jones’s Infowars. Welsh developed plenty of his own speculations, too. Wayne Madsen, a prominent conspiracy theory blogger, named Welsh as his source for a recent story suggesting that former presidential candidate (and family values conservative) Marco Rubio had attended gay “foam bath” parties in Miami in the 1990s. Such posts undoubtedly hurt Welsh’s credibility with locals who read the blog for legitimate news, but it sent the number of daily visitors into the thousands. Friends mostly dismissed the conspiracy theory stuff as entertainment. But Welsh’s friend James Klimek, an attorney who worked across the hall from him, notes that occasionally, the wild allegations proved true. “Gary had this theory that [former city council president] Beurt SerVaas was in the CIA,” Klimek says. “And everybody thought, Gary, that’s one of your farther-out ideas. Then when SerVaas retired, he was given a special commendation for his work for the CIA.”
Whether he was reporting on city ordinances or the global cabal, one thing Welsh wasn’t doing was making much money. Those closest to him believe the few ads on Advance Indiana barely paid enough to keep the site live. So when Welsh’s mood, normally so lively, began to sour in late 2015, friends naturally wondered if he might be having money trouble. His willingness to go after everyone on his blog, coupled with his obsession with it, had noticeably harmed his legal career. Marion County court records show his name attached to only three or four small cases in the last year. And by March 2016, he was telling friends he was going to abandon law entirely. At Klimek’s weekly lunches with him, Welsh sat silently. With other friends, he grumbled vaguely about a family dispute. At home with Litmer, Welsh despaired about his failures to change the political system or get recognition for his work.
No one worried much, though. At least, not until an Advance Indiana post went live on Friday, April 29. In a story about the coming Indiana presidential primary, Welsh wrote, “If I’m not around to see the vote results, my prediction is that Trump wins Indiana with just shy of 50 percent of the vote.” Litmer was at the Columbia Club watching a show that evening when he received a text message from Welsh: “I love you. I know I don’t say that enough.” Welsh never texted. He hated it. Sensing something was wrong, Litmer texted back, asking where his partner was. “No, I just want to be by myself,” Welsh replied. Litmer hunted up and down Mass Ave, looking for Welsh in every bar. Exasperated, he returned to the condo, where Welsh finally showed up at 3 a.m. The two hugged and went to bed without saying much.
Waking to a rainy Saturday, Welsh lay on the couch and watched TV for many hours. He refused food and said he didn’t feel well. Litmer cleaned the condo that day, but did not come across Welsh’s gun—a long-forgotten weapon Welsh had brought home years ago but didn’t talk much about. As the day drew to a close, the two went to bed. On Sunday morning, Litmer woke to find Welsh’s wallet and cellphone on a table, but the man himself was gone. That wasn’t entirely unusual. Sometimes, Welsh liked to go up on the roof and watch storms in the distance. As Litmer got dressed, though, he glanced out the window and saw a forensic van and detectives with a body bag. Just then, someone knocked on the door.
When news broke that Welsh had died of a gunshot to the chest, sustained in a stairwell down the hall from his condo, two very different groups of people took to Twitter to react. The journalists and powerbrokers mourned what appeared to be a suicide. “Very sad news. A tireless, fearless blogger and a cantankerous force in Indy media silenced,” wrote Cory Schouten, former managing editor of the Indianapolis Business Journal. “Devastated by this. God knows Gary and I had our profound disagreements, but I always considered him a friend,” tweeted Indy Chamber CEO Michael Huber. Before long, however, Welsh’s legion of conspiracy theorists chimed in with their own interpretations of the story. “Advance Indiana blogger ‘suicided’ prior to IN primary,” wrote Wayne Madsen. “No way Gary Welsh killed himself. This #Clinton style execution,” tweeted Bruce Porter. “Little Marco laying low. He probably has blood on his hands,” added Nena Greco.
Absurd as those speculations may seem, they are in keeping with what Welsh spent so much of his life howling: Question everything. The initial news reports suggested Welsh might have done what he did because his hobby had failed to produce much revenue and his legal practice was struggling. But the attorney didn’t kill himself because he was running out of money any more than Marco Rubio had him whacked for a scandalous blog post. Those closest to Welsh say he had plenty of cash, but that several things had been weighing on him in recent months. He and his siblings had been arguing over the inheritance of the family farm since his father died in 2014, a subject his family members declined to discuss with IM. As much as Welsh liked to bash the mainstream media, he grew increasingly hurt by the newspapers’ refusal to recognize him when they ran with stories he had broken. And with his caustic blog posts and wild theories, he systematically alienated a lot of friends who once liked him. He was a 53-year-old guy with depression and diminishing prospects—a man who stood on the roof and saw a storm on the horizon.
At Welsh’s funeral in Terre Haute, state senator Mike Delph stopped by, assuring family members that Welsh had been “a true patriot.” Nowhere was he eulogized more eloquently than the blogosphere, though, where Aaron Renn (The Urbanophile) called him arguably “the most important working journalist in Indianapolis,” and former Star regular Ruth Holladay wrote, “he knew the underpinnings of the city in a way few columnists do anymore.” Even former State Representative Phil Hinkle posted some lovely comments about him online—remarkable considering Welsh once called for Hinkle to be prosecuted for soliciting a prostitute.
Because Welsh left no suicide note, his 9,718 Advance Indiana posts serve as his life’s statement, frozen in time on April 29. You won’t find any answers there, just questions. Welsh’s own interrogations were maddening, paranoid, libelous, and occasionally right against all odds. Someone had to ask.