Fresh start: Sundown Gardens expands in Westfield after family tragedy


By Anna Skinner

The past three years haven’t been easy for Todd Erb, co-owner of Sundown Gardens.

After the murder of his wife and daughter by former employee Christian Haley in 2013 and St.Vincent’s purchase of Sundown Gardens’ leased property in Carmel, things are now looking up for Erb.

The landscaping portion of the business, all of which is also co-owned by Brian Kirchner and Joe Russ, at 505 W. 186th St. in Westfield, opened earlier this year.

“I think I knew and realized right away (that continuing the business) was going to be the best use of my time,” Erb said, as it’s the reason he stuck with the company. “I would use the term ‘good preoccupation,’ but then again, I wanted to fulfill the commitment that I had to my partners and to my business.”

Looking Back

Christian Haley was convicted for the Dec. 20, 2013, murder of Erb’s wife, Marylyn Erb, 52, and daughter, Kelley Erb, 23. He was also convicted for burglary, theft and robbery. He is being held at the Pendleton Penitentiary for life without parole after pleading guilty.

“I arrived home after work late one afternoon,” Erb recalled. “I looked around the house to see if my wife and daughter were around, and as I was searching the house nobody responded. That was when my dog, Lucy, went to the basement, and she doesn’t like being there, and that was peculiar. She went over to a particular doorway and she was stooping low looking at the doorway. That’s when I saw my wife lying on the basement floor in a pool of blood. Then I saw my daughter in the same position.”

After an investigation by the Westfield Police Dept., a CrimeStoppers tip was the last piece that led to Haley’s Dec. 26, 2013 arrest.

Now, Erb brings Lucy, the family’s 11-year-old Cockapoo, to work each day because he doesn’t want her to be home alone.

Overcoming the ‘unthinkable’

Mayor Andy Cook highlighted Erb’s perseverance at a ribbon-cutting ceremony hosted May 7 in honor of the new garden center’s opening.

“This is so much more than just a ribbon cutting,” Cook said. “Todd, his family and his business family suffered a tragedy that most of us couldn’t even think about. They all could’ve quit. That’s not how Todd led them. Watching Todd these last few months has been an absolute inspiration to all of us on how to overcome the unthinkable.”

The 2,900-square-foot garden center was constructed in seven weeks and two days. The three co-owners have taken strides to become active in the community, including supporting the Grand Park ball fields and partnering with the Heart and Soul Clinic to assist with the building’s exterior landscape. They are also members of the Westfield Chamber of Commerce.

“A lot of our existing clientele and new clientele have kids that play at Grand Park,” Russ said. “The one thing we definitely don’t want to lose sight of is taking care of our existing clientele.”

Kirchner said one couple from Illinois even bought plants while they were traveling to Grand Park.

“Our goal is to expand our retail,” Kirchner said. “We have a vision for a greenhouse that’s going off the rear of the garden center. My goal is to have it ready for spring of 2017.”

Erb said he and the other two business owners extend thanks to the community for “their support and dedication to the company.”

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History of Sundown Gardens

Sundown Gardens was started at its Carmel location in 1949 by Earl and Dorothy Knapp. Erb purchased the property from the Knapps in 1995, and over the years added Kirchner and Russ as co-owners. At some point, all three have worked as employees before co-owning the business.

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