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Juan A. LUNA Jr.

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


A.K.A.: "The Brown's Chicken Murderer"
Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 7
Date of murders: January 8, 1993
Date of arrest: May 16, 2002 (9 years after)
Date of birth: February 16, 1974
Victims profile: Michael Castro, 16; Richard Ehlenfeldt, 50; Lynn Ehlenfeldt, 49; Guadalupe Maldonado, 47; Thomas Mennes, 32; Marcus Nellsen, 31; and Rico Solis, 17 (two owners and five employees)
Method of murder: Six shot to death and one whose throat was cut
Location: Palatine, Illinois, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison without parole on May 18, 2007
 
 

 
 

44 minutes in January

Daily Herald
 

A late-night meal, mayhem and mourning

It's just after 9 p.m. at Brown's Chicken & Pasta in Palatine when a Ford Tempo pulls up nearby.

Two men climb out of the car into the 20-degree January cold. They cross packed snow banks as they head toward the restaurant.

Closing time was a few minutes ago. Inside, fryers have been shut off, the brown tile floor mopped, the countertops and tables left sparkling. It's Jan. 8, 1993, and the employees are about to head for home or their Friday night plans. Putting the food away is one of the few remaining tasks.

The men approach the restaurant from the back, where there are no windows to reveal them to those inside. They wedge a piece of wood under a green-painted door used by employees. It will serve as insurance against anyone escaping.

Brown's owners Lynn and Richard Ehlenfeldt spent their life savings to buy this franchise. Every dollar counts, and every last-minute food order is filled. When the two men walk in the front door, they're greeted as customers.

Those steps through the door begin 44 minutes of horror that make headlines across the country. Years later, Palatine police and Cook County prosecutors identify the men as Jim Degorski and Juan Luna. The authorities build an account of the slayings they say is based on statements by the suspects and two of their friends. Lawyers for Degorski and Luna say the men are not the killers and that the evidence against them will be discredited.

On this Friday night, Luna, 18, isn't exactly a stranger at Brown's. The former Fremd High School student worked for the Ehlenfeldts but left amicably a week after they took over in May 1992, Ann Ehlenfeldt, Richard's sister, said. Luna also worked with Michael Castro, 16, one of the Friday night cashiers. But it is Luna's knowledge of the building and the workers' daily routine that brings him back tonight, authorities said.

Police and prosecutors have reconstructed the crime and now give this chilling account:

It begins with Luna ordering a four-piece chicken meal. It's the day's final sale, rung up at 9:08 p.m. He and Degorski grab a booth near the front, where artificial Christmas garland loops above the windows.

In the back, Richard Ehlenfeldt pulls on a warm shirt and joins one of his workers, Thomas Mennes, to take inventory in the walk-in cooler. Manager trainee Marcus Nellsen and cook Guadalupe Maldonado are nearly finished cleaning the food preparation area.

Michael and his Palatine High School buddy, Rico Solis, 17, are finished with the dining room and are helping with other closing chores. Lynn Ehlenfeldt has counted the evening's receipts and put the money in the safe, using the key she normally keeps on a loop of coiled plastic on her wrist.

Luna and Degorski, the lone customers, are arguing, the prosecution account continues. Degorski, 20, fumes over his friend's decision to order dinner. The grease, he complains, will leave fingerprints. Fingerprints could ruin everything.

Their pockets are packed with .38-caliber bullets. The two men stand and walk toward the counter.

They haven't come here for a late-night meal. They're here, Degorski is quoted later as telling a friend, to "do something big."

When it's all over, the bullets spent, the men cut most of the power at a switch box by the back door and leave. Behind them, in the darkened restaurant, seven bodies lie slumped on the floor.

A wall clock in the corner marks the moment: 9:52 p.m.

The building is silent when Manny Castro pulls into the parking lot about 11 p.m.

Brown's is dark, except for a nightlight burning in back. Its glow provides no answer to the mystery that has Castro worried and restless.

Michael isn't home.

It's out of character for him to stay out this late. It's out of line for him not to call to let his father and mother, Epifania, know if he's going out after work.

Michael's white Nissan pickup with the U.S. Marines stickers on the back window and bumper sits empty outside the restaurant.

Maybe Michael went out to eat after work, Castro hopes. He turns his car around and drives the five blocks home.

Minutes tick by. Still no Michael.

Castro goes back out, driving by other fast-food places looking for his son.

Still nothing.

Back at home, Castro gets a call from Rico Solis' mother, Evelyn Urgena. Rico is wholly reliable. In the United States for eight months after growing up in the Philippines, he's never done anything to cause his mother needless worry.

Castro calls police. It's about 11:45 p.m., Castro says. Police say they log the call at 1:02 a.m., a discrepancy that still stands 10 years later.

Just after their call to police, Castro and his wife drive back to Brown's at Northwest Highway and Smith Street. Palatine police officer Dan Bonneville waits for them in his squad car in the parking lot. Michael's probably out being a typical teenager, the Castros say he tells them. Bonneville downplays a mother's and father's fears and leaves, Castro says.

Bonneville is the second police officer to stop by. The first, officer Ron Conley, drove into the parking lot at 12:21 a.m. to check out a man he saw near the building, police said.

The man is Pedro Maldonado, out looking for his brother, newly hired Brown's cook Guadalupe Maldonado.

Guadalupe usually comes home from work by 9:30 p.m. But Pedro arrived home late from his own job at Jake's Pizza in Palatine to find Guadalupe's wife, Beatriz, awake and frightened.

During Pedro's mile-long trip to Brown's, a terrible thought occurred to him: Maybe authorities learned that Guadalupe, who recently returned from Mexico, doesn't have proper work papers. They could deport him.

Maldonado pulls into the parking lot and confronts the same puzzle that greets the Castros: The building is virtually dark, yet five cars are parked outside. The old Cutlass Ciera that Guadalupe drove to work is one of them.

Maldonado gets out of his car and peers through the restaurant's front picture windows at the barely discernable brown vinyl padded booths inside.

The weak nightlight reveals nothing else.

Turning to leave, he comes upon the police cruiser with Conley sitting inside. Maldonado explains himself to Conley. Guadalupe likes to be home in time to say good night to his three boys, he says. That bedtime was hours ago.

Don't worry, the officer tells him; maybe the employees went out for sandwiches or drinks.

But Guadalupe doesn't drink. Besides, Maldonado replies, his car is still here.

Go back home, Conley tells him; Guadalupe surely will be there shortly.

As worried relatives and Palatine police officers pass in and out of the parking lot, the phone inside the store rings again and again.

It's Pedro's daughter, Maria, hoping someone will pick up and tell her how to find her uncle.

No one answers.

Palatine police have had a busy night. A drunken driver ran into a squad car. The end of the Palatine High School vs. Fremd cross-town basketball game released carloads of teenagers onto the streets.

Even though three Brown's co-workers aren't where they're supposed to be, there's no indication anything is amiss.

Officer Bonneville told his supervisors later that he arrived at the restaurant before the Castros, rattled the doors and found no sign of trouble, former Deputy Chief Jack McGregor said.

But Bonneville either missed a door - the green back door on the east side - or he never checked any of them, McGregor said.

Castro heads to the police station to file a missing person report after he and Bonneville part ways.

Then he returns to Brown's a third time. It's just after 3 a.m. Conley meets him there.

Methodically, the two men work together, pulling on doors and peering in windows. Conley comes to the green employee entrance.

He grips the handle and yanks. The door unexpectedly opens.

Castro steps up behind Conley and spots his son's jacket hanging just inside.

"That's Michael's jacket," he says.

But Conley's already focusing on something far more ominous a few feet away.

Just inside the entrance is a freezer. An arm pokes out of the door, propping it open. Blood pools on the brown tile floor in front of it.

Castro doesn't see it. He tries to push past Conley, but the officer blocks him with his body and his words.

"This is a crime scene."

The ringing phone jolts Deputy Chief McGregor out of a sound sleep - the type of sleep he won't know again for months. It's nearly 3:30 a.m. Phone calls at this hour always mean trouble.

Palatine is far from being plagued by crime, but it's no Mayberry, either.

In 1990, a woman was accused of murdering her newborn daughter and putting the body in a creek. Two years before that, Dr. Lee Robin axed his wife to death and drowned their infant.

Still, McGregor's never had a call like this.

Sgt. Bob Haas, the overnight watch commander, blurts out the news over his cell phone. "I'm at the Brown's Chicken, boss, and we've got a bunch of dead people in the cooler."

McGregor is groggy from the sudden awakening, but Haas' shaking voice seizes his attention.

"Bob, calm down," McGregor says.

Haas comes across more bodies.

"I'm wrong," he says. "There are more dead people in the (other) cooler."

Haas counts. Seven bodies. Five in the freezer, two in the cooler. Later, police will come to know the victims: Three fathers. A middle-aged mother of three girls. A twin brother. A high school senior who just moved from the Philippines to escape violence. And his Filipino-American friend, a high school junior who wanted to be a Marine.

"Do you have any people alive?" McGregor asks. "Do you need medical services?"

One answer echoes back for both questions:

"No."

Firefighters and paramedics at Palatine's Colfax Street station haven't slept much tonight. A burning house sent them rushing out of the station and into the cold. Earlier in the evening, some of the men learned a co-worker had been fired.

All that fades when they get the call about victims in coolers at Brown's Chicken & Pasta.

Probably a robbery, figures fire Capt. Norm Malcolm, the current chief. Shivering workers trapped in a freezer, maybe even suffering from hypothermia.

But the call is so odd, they send out the cavalry - two fire engines, an ambulance, a squad crew, two paramedics and a shift commander. Eight men in all head out.

None of them will be needed.

Before the crew reaches the restaurant, a dispatcher warns them to expect fatalities. Still, nothing prepares the men for what they find.

"We walked in," Malcolm recalled a year later, "and the freezer was right there, and everybody was just - their jaws hit the floor."

The senselessness of it overwhelms them. Some saw the devastation when American Airlines Flight 191 crashed near O'Hare International Airport in 1979. But that was an accident.

Paramedics Scott Pelletreau and Jim Foraker lean over the bodies one by one, reaching for the carotid arteries in the neck, hoping for the feel of a faint pulse against their fingers.

Nothing.

In his apartment, McGregor gathers his thoughts.

He told Haas to seal off the crime scene and start calling in every detective who's in town. Now, it's time to wake the chief.

Chief Jerry Bratcher, stunned and incredulous, listens to McGregor's report. They hang up, and within minutes Bratcher calls the Northern Illinois Police Crime Laboratory in Highland Park. They'll need to send forensics experts to handle the crime scene.

McGregor showers, dresses and races his village-owned Chevy to Brown's. It's not yet 4 a.m.

He parks and approaches the open green door. As his eyes focus in the thin light, his first view of the crime is seared into his brain: The puddle of blood. The walk-in freezer door propped open by an arm. The five bullet-riddled bodies inside, some with knife wounds. The victims, some sitting slouched where they were shot, are huddled together in the tiny space as if in some futile attempt to protect themselves.

Long hours later, police confirm the names. The tangle of bodies in the freezer is owner Lynn Ehlenfeldt, 49, of Arlington Heights; fry cook Guadalupe Maldonado, 47, of Palatine, cashiers Rico Solis, 17, of Arlington Heights and Michael Castro, 16, of Palatine and manager-in-training Marcus Nellsen, 31, of Palatine.

Nearby in a walk-in cooler, behind hanging thick plastic strips that keep the cold from leaking out, lie owner Richard Ehlenfeldt, 50, of Arlington Heights and chicken breader Tom Mennes, 32, of Palatine.

"That picture is there, in living color, of what I saw," McGregor said a decade later. "Always will be."

At some point in those early hours, the phone on the restaurant wall rings again. Haas answers. It's a WBBM-AM radio reporter, asking about what he hears on the police scanner. Haas hangs up without saying another word.

Like a magnet, Brown's draws Pedro Maldonado back again at 5:30 a.m. He and his family have passed a sleepless night, praying, lighting candles and jumping at the slightest noise that could be Guadalupe returning home.

Maldonado sees a crowd of onlookers outside Brown's.

"In my heart, I knew then," he remembered. "Something is bad here."

Reporters, photographers and TV camera crews already crowd the parking lot. They mingle with relatives of the workers, who still look for answers and hope for miracles.

There is a man inside, dead, a reporter tells him. Maldonado figures it must be Guadalupe. Someone else tells him another man in the crowd fears the victim is his 16-year-old son. Like Maldonado, Manny Castro has been up all night, they tell him. The boy, Michael, went to work last night and never came home.

Eventually, a priest approaches Pedro and asks to take him to the Palatine police station. There, in a small private room, the priest tells Pedro there has been a murder. Guadalupe is among the victims. There is nothing else to say.

"I kept asking 'why?' but they didn't know," Pedro recalled.

The look on Maldonado's face as he walks into their apartment tells Beatriz that Guadalupe is dead. For 20 minutes or more, the adults sob. They cannot find words. Finally, Pedro tells Beatriz and his own wife, Juana, what he knows, and Beatriz goes to tell her sons, Juan Pablo, 13, Javier, 10, and Salvador, 5, that their father is dead.

Just before sunrise, police officers arrive at the Solis apartment on the top floor of a squat tan building at the northern edge of Arlington Heights.

Rico is dead, they say, murdered. They begin to ask questions. Television and radio stations continue to spread word of slayings unlike any seen in the suburbs. Within hours, long before Rico's body is removed from the floor of the Brown's freezer, delivery drivers begin to bring flowers to his family. One bouquet after another arrives. The cloying scent brings back other memories, of Rico's father, Ramon, stabbed to death in the Philippines five years earlier when Rico was 12.

It is all too much for Rico's remarried mother, Evelyn Urgena, and Rico's sisters Jade and Jizelle. They need to flee the questions from reporters. The family packs a few things, moves out of the apartment and into a hotel and never really returns.

Late in the morning, Beatriz Maldonado goes with her niece, Maria Maldonado, to Brown's. It is cold, 28 degrees, windy and snowing, but the women stand outside all day, hoping to learn more or to see Guadalupe's body.

Day turns to night before authorities finish their initial examination of the building and allow the seven bodies to be moved. They take them out one by one, each zipped in a body bag, carried on a stretcher and placed into an ambulance.

Beatriz and Maria watch. They don't know which bag holds Guadalupe. They stand together in the twilight, whispering prayers for each one.

McGregor stays less than an hour at Brown's, then drives to the station. Dispatchers' first round of calls brought in eight Palatine detectives. Now it's time to get more help. He calls the Cook County sheriff's department. Some investigators arrive before daybreak. Bratcher phones the FBI. Agents come immediately. Grief counselors come from Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights to meet families at the police station.

A conference room with a blackboard becomes temporary headquarters. Names of officers, detectives, investigators from other agencies and other workers are scrawled in chalk across the board. Next to the names go the assignments: Victims. Media. Crime scene. Yellow legal pads are set out. A laptop is plugged in.

Crews add more phones. They ring and ring. The tips and leads and theories pour in.

At the restaurant, police find only a small sum of money nearly hidden in the back of the safe. The safe key with the loop of coiled plastic Lynn wore around her wrist dangles from the lock. Detectives decipher register tapes and find more than $1,800 is missing. A botched robbery is a distinct possibility. Robbers recently hit nearby fast-food restaurants, so detectives begin checking those out.

Psychics call. People with visions call. At 11:38 a.m. Saturday, a woman calls with her sister at her side. What she and her sister say makes investigators wonder.

They have a friend, she tells police, named Martin E. Blake. He's 23, lives in Elgin and the Ehlenfeldts just fired him. He's threatened revenge. He owns a .22-caliber gun, they tell police, and he's been firing it down the hallway of his Elgin house and into some phone books.

When police ask, Blake's other acquaintances talk. Blake's talking cocky, like he knows something about the murders, they claim. He watched the story on the news and smiled, someone tells police.

He sounds like a good suspect.

He's even dated Michael Castro's sister, Mary Jane, who worked at Brown's for a few years before the Ehlenfeldts took over. And Michael, investigators know, suffered a vicious stab wound along with the gunshots that killed him.

Handling a crime scene like the mass murder at Brown's, in theory, is no different than any other. You secure it from outsiders. You restrict entry to the investigators and technicians who must be there, and you take note of everything you see.

Patrol officers pull out rolls of yellow crime tape and cordon off the scene, following the perimeter of snow banks around the parking lot.

Technicians photograph and videotape every inch of the place. Over the next two months, they will dust tables and counters, sinks and walls, hoping to find usable fingerprints.

They will collect enough material from Brown's to fill a former classroom at the police station, protected by lock, key and alarm. Inside are Formica countertops, wood-grain tabletops, the green-painted steel door. Even a partially eaten chicken dinner, discovered in an otherwise clean garbage bag at the front of the dining area, is packed up and frozen. Maybe it someday will tell a story, give a clue.

Police, paramedics and all who entered the restaurant will have to be fingerprinted to exclude their prints from the scores collected from the scene. The victims, too, will be fingerprinted to remove their prints from the pool.

But for this long Saturday, as snow begins to fall outside, the seven victims stay in their frigid resting places. It will be almost 7 p.m. before the last of the seven bodies is carried from the restaurant for the journey to the Cook County medical examiner's office on Chicago's Near West Side.

On this first day, victims' relatives are taken into one room at the police station while investigators work in the room next door. The separating wall can't contain the cries of a grieving mother, just told her son is believed to be among the victims, recalled Walt Gasior, the former civilian deputy police chief.

"In her anguish, for a moment the conversation just stopped, and the emotion swept over the people in the room," Gasior recalled. "Everyone in the room understood that peoples' lives had dramatically changed. And we were responsible for solving that crime."

Chances are good that somewhere inside the small restaurant, there's a clue, if only it can be found and its meaning deciphered.

In the back, blood streaks the floor, as if someone had tried to clean up. A mop stands against a counter with blood on the stringy mop head and on the handle.

Except for that, the restaurant is clean, the closing procedures nearly completed. Cash register drawers have been cleaned out and sit atop an ice machine, but a register tape reveals the last meal of the night, a $5 chicken dinner and drink sold at 9:08 p.m.

Crime scene experts find the faint imprint from a Nike shoe on the still-damp floor near the front register. Police think it might belong to one of the murderers. Eventually, Nike will report the shoe is a Nike Air Force, size 12_ to 14, manufactured between June 1990 and November 1992. It isn't heavily worn, or was worn mainly indoors. It says "FORCE" on the tongue.

The man who wore the shoe, based on its size, is between 6 feet and 6 feet 6 inches tall.

Authorities dig bullets from the walls and later, medical examiners will remove them from the victims' bodies. Just one bullet - found at eye level in a fryer hood - is outside of the cooler and freezer where the victims died. The slugs are from a .38- or .357-caliber gun.

Soon, people who were in the neighborhood that Friday night claim to have heard some of the shots. It's time for a test. McGregor hauls old bulletproof vests and a variety of handguns from the police station to Brown's. He places the vests in different parts of the restaurant, stations officers and sound meters outside and fires away.

He shoots a vest in the freezer. He closes the freezer door and fires again. He fires a round in the cooler. He closes the cooler door and shoots again.

He tries every possibility he can imagine. "We shot .38s, 9 millimeters, .357s," McGregor said. "And after all that, we determined you couldn't hear squat anywhere."

The switch box is a tantalizing clue. It's tucked behind a wall, out of plain view. Did the killer or killers know beforehand how to cut the power? Did they know the restaurant was left mostly dark after closing?

"It could have been sheer chance that the killers found the switch box," McGregor said. "It was either luck, or someone had knowledge that the switch box was there."

The picture painted by the evidence unfolds slowly, over days and weeks. On that first day, it looks as if the mystery might be solved soon.

Detectives prepare to move in on Blake, a former Fremd High School student who lives on the east side of Elgin. He bought the house with cash from a 1986 settlement he got after being hit by a car in Palatine.

Palatine and Elgin police disguise themselves as water department workers and station themselves near Blake's house.

Later, they watch from a neighbor's home.

Blake knows Palatine police want to talk to him. A female friend warned him that morning he is being painted as an angry ex-employee. But he doesn't know police will come looking for him. And he certainly doesn't know they are waiting for him as he walks out of his house at 2:56 p.m. Saturday.

Still hung over from partying Friday night, Blake walks out to his driveway and lifts the hood of a 1977 Ford Bronco that won't start.

More than a dozen Elgin and Palatine officers, guns drawn, swarm at him.

They handcuff him and whisk him away.

"Is this about last night?" police say he asks.

Blake tells investigators he didn't do it. He says he was drinking with friends. A friend backs him up - four or five people drank beer and got high at Blake's house that Friday night, the friend says in an interview just after the murders. From 7 to 9 p.m., they watched a 1992 movie, "Revolver," starring Robert Urich.

Blake tried to talk the group into going out to rent "Faces of Death," a video documentary that shows people being killed. The friends weren't interested, so he left his house by himself about 9:15 p.m. and returned about 11 p.m.

Police check the alibi. They scour his house. Much of what they find leads to more questions.

Blake, meanwhile, sits in a jail cell, a surveillance camera staring at him.

"Habeas corpus," he tells the camera, using the legal term for unlawful detention he learned in history class at Fremd. "Habeas corpus."

Hours roll past. Blake's bravado evaporates. He reaches out for help.

"God, if you get me out of here, I'm going to do something really good," he pleads.

Investigators spend most of the next days trying to prove Blake didn't do it, McGregor said in a recent interview.

Police face intense pressure to solve the case. But after they question Blake for 48 hours over three days, investigators conclude he is the wrong man.

"We let him go because he didn't do it," McGregor said. "There was nobody there that said: 'God, this is our killer. We can't let him go.'"

Police free Blake on Monday, Jan. 11, 1993. They usher him through the back door of the police station to avoid a media throng. Investigators drive him back to Elgin, where his green Ford Bronco still stands in the driveway, hood up, doors open, just as it was when they cornered him at gunpoint Saturday afternoon.

With Blake gone, McGregor and the other task force members need to dig deeper. They need to catch a break. They settle in for the long haul.

"My life came to a stop for those first four months," McGregor recalled. He barely saw his three children.

"I had a 55-gallon salt water reef that went to hell in my apartment," he said. "I probably had a couple of thousand bucks invested in that. My life stopped."

The lives of seven others quite literally did stop, and, in a sense, so did the lives of their fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and other loved ones.

With Blake's release, the grieving relatives, police and residents face a grim truth.

Cook County State's Attorney Jack O'Malley puts it into words at a press conference late that Monday afternoon.

"We are not in a position to reassure this community," he says. "There is a murderer or murderers on the loose."


In the path of killers

Twists of fate put workers in Brown's that night

Two men step out of Brown's Chicken & Pasta into the cold night air.

They head for the shopping center behind the Palatine restaurant, carefully walking in the footprints they made earlier in snow banks that rim the parking lot.

They don't want to leave clear tracks. They skirt the shopping center and climb into a Ford Tempo parked on the other side.

Behind them, seven bodies lie huddled in a dark walk-in freezer and cooler inside Brown's. But the building looks peaceful, with no outward signs of the mayhem inside.

The men drive west. They peel off their soiled clothing and throw it into trash bins along their route.

They go to the Fox River dam near Carpentersville and pitch a .38-caliber revolver into the icy, dark flow.

It's Jan. 8, 1993. It will be hours before police discover two Brown's owners and five workers are dead.

It will be nearly a decade before authorities charge two men with the murders. They finally will hear accounts of what happened at Brown's between the last food sale at 9:08 p.m. and the killers' departure, presumed to be at 9:52 p.m., when someone switched off the power, leaving a telltale stopped clock.

The men accused of the crime are Jim Degorski and Juan Luna. Palatine police and Cook County prosecutors say descriptions of that 44 minutes inside Brown's come from both men and from two women who once were their friends.

"We did something big," police say Degorski told one of the women, Eileen Bakalla, in a phone call late that Friday night 10 years ago.

Attorneys for Degorski and Luna say the description offered up by police should not be believed. The men are innocent, they say.

Authorities say evidence will back up their account, which includes this portrait of the hours after the slayings:

Bakalla leaves work at Jake's Pizza in Hoffman Estates. She follows Degorski's instructions in the phone call, driving to Jewel/Osco in Carpentersville.

She meets Degorski and Luna in the parking lot. Bakalla notices latex gloves glowing in the darkness on the console of Luna's car, the prosecution account continues. Degorski and Luna climb into her car, bringing a canvas bag. She drives them to the Elgin townhouse where she lives.

Once there, the three smoke pot and count money from the canvas bag. Bakalla gets $50, money she eventually takes to Spring Hill Mall in West Dundee to buy new shoes. The men split the rest - more than $1,800.

A few hours before dawn on Saturday morning, Bakalla drops Luna off at his car, and Degorski asks her to drive past Brown's.

A blaze of ambulance and police lights illuminates the white brick restaurant on a dim stretch of Northwest Highway at Smith Street.

Degorski, according to the prosecution account, confides in Bakalla: More than a robbery went on here.

Degorski, 20, and his Fremd High School buddy Luna, 18, went to Brown's because they wanted to kill, authorities maintain.

They say the men didn't care that Luna knew some of the victims. He'd worked alongside three of them at Brown's until he quit about seven months earlier, leaving on good terms. The killers didn't care that several of the victims were substitutes that night; that they were doomed by their willingness to spend a Friday evening working in place of others. They didn't care that to some of the workers, the Brown's job was a leg up on life, providing hope for a way out of difficult pasts.

To Degorski and Luna, police contend, it simply didn't matter who they chanced to meet that night at Brown's.

In the days and weeks before Jan. 8, Rico Solis thought about quitting Brown's.

He hated the grease spattering up from the chicken fryer. It coated his skin and stuck to his hair. No matter how long he spent washing up, he never felt like he had fully scrubbed the sticky film from his skin.

He applied for a job at Menard's. But he needed money fast to pay his bills, to soup up the 1986 red Dodge Charger he bought from his stepdad and to save for a newer, sportier model.

Owners Richard and Lynn Ehlenfeldt knew Rico, 17, was unhappy. They promoted him to front-counter cashier and promised him more hours.

Rico's not on the schedule for this busy January Friday. He stops in after school for his paycheck anyway. Casey Sander, 17, the only girl working at Brown's besides the Ehlenfeldts' two youngest daughters, comes in about 4 p.m. She always works Fridays.

Michael Castro, 16, a Palatine High School classmate of Rico and Casey, also arrives to begin his shift. Martin Blake, 23, comes in and out - fast - to grab his last check. He doesn't loiter, having just been fired days earlier.

Lynn offers Casey her first Friday night off since the girl began working at Brown's. Rico can stay and work in her place. Both accept, and Casey and Lynn agree to talk on Saturday about the raise Casey is due after six months on the job.

Co-worker Celso Morales stops in for his paycheck. He, too, works most Fridays, but is off this evening with new employee Guadalupe Maldonado on duty in his place.

The Ehlenfeldts have been working grueling hours to build up the franchise they bought in May 1992, and Lynn had planned to take the evening off. Yet, she decides to let Dana, the middle of three daughters, leave in the afternoon instead. Lynn will work tonight - the third person to be substituting for someone else.

For this Friday night, the work crew is assembled.

Rico's happy to be working with his buddy Michael. Earlier, 22-year-old Mary Jane Castro had cajoled her younger brother to skip work and join her at a party. But Michael dreams of becoming a U.S. Marine and takes his job seriously. Despite Mary Jane's pleas, he wouldn't let his bosses down.

Rico and Michael chat and laugh together. A shy teen who came to the United States from the Philippines just the previous May, Rico is livelier when Michael is around. Michael taught him how to avoid trouble in school and how to speak better English. Rico learned quickly what's cool and what's not.

He passed his 14-year-old sister, Jade, in the hallway at the high school that afternoon, but looked the other way. Big brother and little sister never talked at school.

"I wish," Jade Solis said later, "I would have just said 'Hi.'"

Rico traveled from the Philippines to a new life in the Northwest suburbs, only to perish at Brown's. Maldonado's path to working as a fry cook at the small brick restaurant was just as arduous.

On Jan. 8, 1993, he's three weeks and 2,200 miles from his former life working his family's farm near Celaya, Mexico. The Mexican economy is sagging, and Maldonado has brought his wife, Beatriz, and three sons to live in Palatine so he can earn money.

They arrived at O'Hare International Airport on Dec. 23, using a loan from his brother Pedro to buy plane tickets and avoiding a days-long bus ride. They spent Christmas with Pedro and his wife, Juana, who is Beatriz's sister, and their five children.

Maldonado, 47, came here with a restaurant job in mind, but not at Brown's. During two previous stays in the United States, he worked at Ye Olde Town Inn restaurant in Mount Prospect, beginning as a dishwasher in 1975 and quickly progressing to cook.

The thing about cooks, Ye Olde Town Inn owner Tod Curtis said, is they're often sloppy. You show them how you want things done, and they do it that way while you're watching. Turn your back, and they'll take shortcuts.

Not Maldonado. Even on nights when Curtis wasn't checking up on him, Maldonado's kitchen was meticulously kept.

"He wanted to be perfect," Curtis recalled.

The restaurant became a Maldonado family affair. Guadalupe initially worked there with his brother-in-law, then brought his four brothers to work there and live together in a bachelor apartment in Mount Prospect.

By the late 1970s, they decided it was time, as brother Pedro put it, to go back home and "look for a wife." Guadalupe met Beatriz through Pedro and his wife. In less than a year, they courted, married and had a son, Juan Pablo. They had another son and traveled again to Mount Prospect, both working at the Olde Town for several years before returning to Mexico to have their third son in 1988.

Back after a four-year absence, Maldonado called Curtis at the Olde Town first thing Dec. 26, 1992. The news was good and bad: Curtis wanted Maldonado back, but wouldn't be able to hire him until April or May, when he would need plenty of cooks to work at summer festivals.

Meanwhile, Maldonado needed a paycheck. Borrowing one of Pedro's cars, he and Beatriz looked for jobs. They filled out applications at a half dozen fast-food restaurants before coming to Brown's. Lynn Ehlenfeldt liked that Guadalupe was older and spoke English. She hired him on the spot.

Guadalupe worked most days from 4 to 9 p.m., usually getting home to spend some time with his boys before their bedtime.

Today, Jan. 8, he'll receive his first paycheck - about $230.

Beatriz and Guadalupe horse around with the boys that morning. About 2 p.m., Beatriz and Juana serve pork ribs for Guadalupe and Pedro. The two men say little as they eat. Shortly before 4 p.m., Pedro and Guadalupe leave for work. Pedro takes one car to Jake's Pizza in Palatine; Guadalupe drives to Brown's in Pedro's old Cutlass Ciera.

See you later tonight, Guadalupe tells Beatriz. He kisses her goodbye.

Brown's is a new beginning for the Ehlenfeldts.

The couple gambled on this second career after Richard lost his job at Group W Cable in Chicago and spent two years without work at a time when two daughters were in college and a third was finishing high school. It took $300,000 - nearly all of their retirement money - to buy the Brown's franchise.

They worked nonstop, but their lives were looking up after the struggle of the last few years. Richard, a Type A personality, thrived on the challenge. A fast-food franchise didn't exactly fit his long-held dream of running a restaurant, but he made the best of it and worked to build up the catering business. Most weeks, he happily reported to family members in Wisconsin that receipts were up.

The 16-hour days were harder for Lynn. A former social worker who'd stayed at home with her children for nearly two decades, she missed her time with her daughters, Jennifer, Dana and Joy. She feared the restaurant was devouring their lives.

And in many ways, it was. A month after they bought the franchise, their youngest daughter, Joy, graduated from high school. Richard and Lynn missed the ceremony because they were swamped by catering orders for other graduation parties. Relatives videotaped the event and organized a party at the Ehlenfeldts' Arlington Heights home. Richard never got there. Lynn - the dedicated mother who spent hours at her daughters' Girl Scout meetings and soccer games - made just a brief appearance.

"You know why she came?" Joy asked her aunt, Ann Ehlenfeldt, years later. "Because she had to bring the chicken. Otherwise, we wouldn't have seen her."

The extended clan did more than offer encouragement. Aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents drove down from Wisconsin on weekends to chip in at the restaurant. The northern relatives spent so much time there that Michael Castro jokingly referred to Richard's sister, Ann, as "Mom" and to Lynn's mother as "Grandma."

On Friday, Jan. 8, Dana Ehlenfeldt works all afternoon alongside Lynn's mother, Joyce Wiese. The family is worried about Richard's mother, who is hospitalized in Wisconsin.

Dana plans to return to college in three days for her final senior semester, and she wants to have dinner that night with her boyfriend, Mike Sampson, and his parents. In fact, Mike - whom Dana later will marry - stops in at Brown's for lunch and ends up staying the afternoon, chatting with Dana and her grandmother while they work.

When Dana clocks out at 4:20 p.m., her parents and the evening's employees are busy with the early dinner rush.

"There was nothing unusual about the day," she said a decade later. "Everything seemed fine."

Like the Ehlenfeldts, employees Tom Mennes and Marcus Nellsen were starting fresh at Brown's.

Mennes, 32, a Fremd High School dropout, had worked a series of low-paying jobs before being hired at Brown's around Halloween.

One day years earlier, Mennes left for his job as a dishwasher at Perkins, a restaurant in Palatine, but returned home almost immediately.

"I was coming home from work and he was sitting there on the steps," recalled his friend, Jody Miller. "I asked what was wrong, and he said, 'I went to work and it was gone.' Turns out, Perkins had gone out of business and no one had told him."

He bagged groceries at Dominick's Finer Foods and put in time with a roofing company. He worked at Popeye's chicken, but quit when a friend told him his pay was too low.

Now, Mennes is a breader at Brown's, working mostly in the back. Although it's the coldest part of winter, he rides an old black bike to work. He never drives, ever since he crashed his brother Larry's car into a house on a teenage joyride.

Casey Sander bikes it, too, even in snow or rain. Mennes walks her safely to her bike at night or wipes her seat dry and rolls her bike up to the green-painted employee entrance. When her tire was flat one night after work, he offered to walk her home.

"He was one of the sweetest guys," Sander said a decade later. "He seemed almost like a big brother to me."

Nellsen, unlike the Ehlenfeldts' other employees, saw Brown's as more than a temporary stopping place.

He struggled through a divorce and sent his ex-wife, Beverly, and daughter, Jessica, most of his pay. He turned to alcohol during several years in the U.S. Navy and went through rehab at Forest Hospital in Des Plaines. There, he met Joy McClain and later moved into her townhouse just north of Brown's.

A cook in the Navy, Nellsen is management material at Brown's. He is the Ehlenfeldts' assistant and soon will head off to classes offered by the corporation.

"We used to tease him all the time about going to Brown's Chicken University," Sander recalled. "I could tell he'd been through some rough times, but he was really getting his act together. It is a chance no different than a flip of a coin that puts the seven victims at Brown's that night.

On that first Friday night off from work, Casey Sander and her boyfriend watch part of the basketball game between cross-town rivals Palatine High School and Fremd. They're driving around about 9 p.m. when Casey suggests stopping in at work so she can talk over her hours with Lynn.

"Then I'm like, 'Oh, forget it. I'll ask her tomorrow - it's not that important.' If I had walked in, I would have walked in on it."

For years since that night, she has endured nightmares that ended just as the killer came for her. Police and prosecutors questioned her regularly, trying, she thought, to build a case against a former boyfriend. She never knew Luna.

"I felt guilty for a long time," she said: "Why somebody else and not me?"

Brown's employee Mike John wasn't scheduled to work that night.

He'd known Luna since both went to Plum Grove Junior High School in Rolling Meadows. The pair used to play together at Luna's family's former apartment on Palatine Road. They were friends until high school, when Luna went to Fremd and John went to Palatine. Then they lost touch, John recalled.

Would it have made a difference if he'd been at Brown's that night? He couldn't say.

On Friday nights, high school kids and young families flock to Brown's for quick dinners. By the 9 p.m. closing, employees are eager to go home.

It is about that time on this Friday night when, according to police, Degorski and Luna push open the front door.

Degorski is trouble. In 1990, he broke into a Hoffman Estates construction trailer with a group of friends. His buddies torched the trailer after Degorski left, police records show. He pleaded guilty to theft and was sentenced to a year's supervision, according to court records.

A year after that, he failed to show up for court-ordered counseling that the staff at Fremd had suggested. And later, cops nabbed him and another friend in a stolen vehicle, the records show.

About eight months before Brown's, he was convicted and given probation for beating up, restraining with duct tape and kidnapping a girlfriend, Kristin Lennstrom, now Kristin Smith, who tried to break up with him.

Despite Degorski's background, it was Luna who led the pair to Brown's, Degorski's former girlfriend, Anne Lockett, later told police. Before they graduated, both Degorski and Luna were in Fremd High School's vocational training program but burned through several jobs arranged for them by school employees.

Degorski and Luna hung out together, smoking pot and drinking, friends said. Somehow, they headed down a path that went well beyond that, Lockett told police. The pair tortured and killed cats and other small animals in Degorski's garage on Dover Court in Hoffman Estates, she said.

Luna wanted to do more, police said Lockett told them: He wanted to kill someone, and Degorski offered to help.

The men focused on the Brown's Chicken & Pasta on Northwest Highway in Palatine, authorities said, because Luna knew it from his brief time working there. He knew there was no alarm system to alert Palatine police.

Degorski and Luna planned the murders carefully, Palatine Police Chief John Koziol said.

On this cold Friday in January, they dress in old clothes and shoes, Lockett told police.

Prosecutors say the night unfolded this way: The men wedge a piece of wood under the green-painted employees' door to prevent escape. They pose as last-minute customers, with Luna ordering and eating part of a four-piece chicken dinner.

Degorski and Luna look like customers, but their pockets are full of .38-caliber bullets, authorities said.

Police said it's unclear how the shooting started. Degorski said a scuffle started with an employee, Lockett told police. Something happened at the counter, Bakalla told police.

"People started running. One man ran for the back door and couldn't get out because the door jam was there," Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Linas J. Kelecius said later.

"Put the gun down," Dana Sampson imagined her parents saying. "Take whatever you want, but there's no need for violence."

Police said Degorski and Luna told them after their arrests that robbery was their motive. But Koziol and Lockett believe the pair came to Brown's planning to kill.

"You don't walk into a fast-food restaurant with a gun and a pocketful of ammo just for a robbery," Koziol said. There's no sign either Degorski or Luna was on drugs or alcohol that night, authorities said.

One of the killers fires a shot, authorities continue in their account.

The gunmen order five employees into the walk-in freezer at gun- and knifepoint. Perhaps Maldonado resists. A Cook County medical examiner later will find a cut on his arm.

Luna grabs Lynn Ehlenfeldt. "Bitch," he calls her. Luna then slashes Lynn's throat, police said he admitted in a confession his lawyers are sure to contest. Perhaps she had been slow or evasive at the safe, authorities theorized.

Luna begins shooting into the small freezer, filling the cold air with bullets and gun smoke. In his confession 10 years later, he claimed he didn't know whether he hit any of the five people inside.

But the wounds are terrible. Shots strike all of the victims in the head: Rico three times; Maldonado, Nellsen and Michael twice; and Lynn once. All but Lynn and Nellsen are shot in the hands or arms, suggesting they futilely tried to protect themselves.

As they lie dying, one of the victims vomits onto the tile floor. Police said the detail, never released to the public, was described to them by Lockett and authenticates her account.

The gunmen shoot Michael twice through his right shoulder and once in the chest. After his suffering ends, one of the killers stabs him in the stomach, perhaps to ensure he is dead after some small involuntary movement of his body.

Richard Ehlenfeldt and Tom Mennes, working in a separate walk-in cooler, initially think they're being robbed. Mennes stuffs $90 in cash inside his sock. Ehlenfeldt hides a credit card inside a box.

The killers come for them. Degorski later told police he shot both men, according to court documents.

Bullets strike Ehlenfeldt five times in the shoulder, back and head. Three shots strike Mennes. The two die side by side, feet toward the door.

The killers shoot 21 bullets from one .38-caliber handgun. The murderers must load and reload the six-chamber weapon at least three times.

The sound of gunfire ricochets off the walls and fades with the breath of the seven fast-food workers.

One of the killers uses a mop to wipe away the small amount of blood that's outside of the cooler and freezer. He leaves blood - but no fingerprints - on the handle as well as the stringy mop head.

In the hours and days that follow, Degorski and Luna will tell both Bakalla and Lockett what they have done here, authorities said. But the scene itself, the killers believe, will not betray them.

They leave no bullet shells behind. The clock on the back wall ticks to 9:52 p.m. before the murderers kill the power.

They turn off every light but one. In the near-darkness, the restaurant looks ready for the next day's business. Tables are clean; garbage cans have fresh bags. One of them holds the partially eaten remains of a four-piece chicken dinner.


The long wait for one call

Palatine police spend nearly 10 years chasing dead leads. Before they get the break they need, 10 people will know a secret about Brown's

In a private psychiatric and substance abuse hospital on a wooded campus in Des Plaines, a phone rings.

It's January 1993, and the caller asks for Anne Lockett, who recently checked into Forest Hospital.

It's her boyfriend, 20-year-old Jim Degorski, she later told authorities.

"Watch the news tonight," she said he told her. "I did something."

The murder of seven people at a Brown's Chicken & Pasta in Palatine eclipses all else on the news that night. Lockett calls her mom and asks her to save newspaper stories about the Jan. 8, 1993, crime.

A few days later, Lockett finds out far more than the news reports can tell her. Nearly a decade will pass before she'll give Palatine police and Cook County prosecutors this account of what happened next:

Lockett, discharged from Forest, is hanging out in Degorski's basement bedroom in his mother's Hoffman Estates home. Degorski's buddy, Juan Luna, 18, is there, too.

Degorski protects his space. He lets no one into his room without permission. The friends who are allowed in spend hours pounding a heavy punching bag and listening to music by groups like Metallica.

Lockett has been here before. She knows Degorski keeps weapons. She has seen two knives and a gun in previous visits.

Once, Degorski told her the gun was a .38. He showed her how it worked; showed her a chamber that held six bullets.

On this night, Degorski asks Lockett a question: Does she want to know what he and Luna did at Brown's?

Yes, she replies.

Lockett's lawyer, Ken Goff, said she's been regretting that answer ever since.

The phone never stops.

Any one of the callers to the Palatine Police Department could bring the answer: Who shot Brown's owners Richard and Lynn Ehlenfeldt and five of their employees?

Women try to turn in ex-lovers. Reporters call with interesting tidbits. People want to talk about their "visions," recalled Jack McGregor, deputy chief of Palatine police at the time of the murders and later chief before he retired in 2001.

Countless others in prisons or bars brag they know something.

"Then when detectives came to the door, they'd say, 'Oh, Jesus, I'd been drinking,'" McGregor remembered.

The village installs more phones.

In the first hours of the murder investigation, officers scrawl new leads on yellow legal pads. Then they list them on a blackboard in a police station conference room. Detectives from nearby towns, Cook County, Illinois State Police and the FBI help Palatine in the frantic search for the killer.

They are drowning in information.

Palatine Police Chief Jerry Bratcher asks for more help.

On the evening of Jan. 12, FBI Supervisory Special Agent Phillip Buvia arrives with nine other agents, 10 laptop computers and a software prototype called "Rapid Start."

They begin entering leads into the computers so they can be analyzed and retrieved quickly. It is the first live test of Rapid Start. At 5:30 p.m. Jan. 13, Buvia hands Bratcher a report detailing each lead and its status.

It's a big help. But police are no nearer to solving the murders. So far, virtually anyone could be the killer.

FBI profiler Bob Scigalski tries to narrow that down. There must have been two to four killers, he says. It appears more than 20 bullets were fired from one gun that repeatedly had to be reloaded; that lack of planning points to killers between ages 18 and 25.

Other experts in criminal behavior put the killers in their 30s or 40s. They suggest former workers are likely suspects.

Former employees are everywhere. Only one - Elgin resident Martin E. Blake, whom police took into custody within hours of the murders but released after two days - has been thoroughly investigated. Officers trace former workers all over the country, eventually interviewing about 300 of them.

"There was a list. Then you'd talk to other people and they'd say, 'This guy worked there, too,'" McGregor said later.

Casey Sander, Jason Georgi, Celso Morales, Mike John, Juan Luna, Bill Valente, Brian Busse, Ken Pittenger, Peter Delpage, Mike Nicketta, Doug Hook. All those and many more are questioned.

Some garner more attention than others. Casey Sander gets called in to talk to authorities nearly every year. They're interested in her former boyfriend, she said. They press her for stories in the hope she knows something and will talk.

The boy she once dated has AIDS and confessed to the crimes to clear his conscience, she said detectives told her. She has no idea if it's true. The boyfriend named her as an accomplice who unlocked the door and helped with the crime, she said they told her.

"One night, they had me there from like 7 o'clock to like 5 in the morning," Sander said. "I'm like, 'I had nothing to do with this.'" She hired a lawyer two years ago, and the calls from police ended. The case against her boyfriend never panned out.

Juan Luna's single meeting with police goes a lot smoother. Lockett is with Degorski when Luna phones a few days after the murders to say he's been called in to talk to police, she recently told authorities.

Degorski tells Lockett to go with Luna to the police station "to make Luna appear more legitimate," Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Linas Kelecius said. The two dress up. Luna wears black pants and a nice trench coat.

Police photograph Luna and question him for less than a half hour, Lockett told prosecutors. No one asks Lockett anything.

"It was easy," she said Luna tells her as they leave.

Luna's name never comes up again, McGregor said. Not for nearly 10 years.

The Castros' split-level house in Palatine looks different - darker - without Michael, Kurt Lewis thinks.

Michael's mom, Epifania, falls into his arms, sobbing. "Why? Why did this happen?" she asks him.

"I kept looking up the stairs, waiting, wanting him to come down," Lewis recalled.

For the victims' families and friends, these first days are just the beginning of lifetimes of grief.

Kurt and Michael became friends in fifth grade at St. Theresa's school in Palatine. Although Kurt went to St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights and Michael went to Palatine High School, they still found time to talk.

On that last Friday, Kurt meant to stop by Brown's to say hi to Michael, 16, a cashier. But an afternoon of errands with his mom stretched too long. He could see Michael tomorrow.

"The next day, I found out there wasn't going to be a tomorrow," he said later.

Soon, Michael's friends become his pallbearers.

The days right after Michael's death are a blur for Mary Jane Crow, his older sister. It almost doesn't seem real until she sees her kid brother lying in a coffin.

"I remember screaming and my sister-in-law grabbing and just holding me," she said later.

That first spring, Michael's family and friends dedicate a tree in a park just down the street from the Castro house. Beneath it, a plaque embedded in the ground bears his name, his birth date and the date of his death.

The tree has grown and changed a lot in a decade. At home, Michael's things are as he left them. His white truck still sits in the driveway.

Police find another body.

It's 10 days after the Brown's murders. The frozen, headless victim is in a field near the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway tracks in southwestern Barrington, five miles from Brown's. Its left arm and right hand are missing.

The person - medical examiners can't immediately tell if it's a man or woman - must have died before the Brown's victims did, police say.

At first, they're careful not to link the two crimes. But Palatine Chief Bratcher says a few months later that it's hard to imagine two such vicious killers are on the loose.

"(It) seems to defy logic that you could have two maniacs committing these types of crimes in that compressed time frame in that small geographic region," Bratcher tells reporters. Palatine and Barrington police work the case, but there is no suspect here, either.

The Brown's investigators settle in for the long haul.

A task force forms within the first weeks after the murders, led by Palatine but including 102 investigators from 21 police forces. They set up headquarters in a former Palatine Township Elementary District 15 administration building on Quentin Road.

They survive at first on chicken and mostaccioli sent by Brown's. They rarely sleep. Some officers grab pillows and blankets to nap in empty classrooms. McGregor orders investigators to leave for eight hours; they trickle back in after four.

He goes 50 sleepless hours at one point. There is so much to do. When he does lie down, he wakes up from time to time and scrawls ideas on a notepad beside his bed.

Police pull clues from the Brown's crime scene: a cash register tape shows the last meal was sold at 9:08 p.m. Forty-four minutes later, someone - presumably the killers on their way out - switched off most of the lights as well as a clock, which stopped at 9:52 p.m.

About $1,800 is missing, police calculate from the register tapes. They scour the area for recent armed robberies. They learn of a five-man robbery ring that hit a Taco Bell in Des Plaines and Mexican grocery stores in Arlington Heights and Mundelein.

Two men are in custody. The other three are thought to have fled to Mexico, but investigators think they left before the Brown's murders. Palatine task force members head to Nogales, Mexico, to talk to them.

On Feb. 21, robbers corral employees, unharmed, into a cooler at a Crystal Lake Arby's restaurant. The crime mimics Brown's, where five people were killed in a walk-in freezer, two in a separate cooler. Palatine officers help nab two Woodstock men in the Crystal Lake case, but they find no connection to Brown's. It's the first of countless similar crimes around the United States that catch Palatine's attention.

Then, on April 17, three months into the Brown's case, a Park Ridge private investigator calls Barrington police to say a man named Robert Faraci is admitting his involvement in the Barrington murder. The man's wife, Rose Faraci, also implicates her husband in Brown's.

Police arrest Faraci, 25, a former student at Barrington High School and at now-closed Forest View High School in Arlington Heights. They charge him with killing the man found in Barrington, finally identified as Dean Fawcett. A week later, police also charge Faraci's friend, Paul Modrowski, 18, of Mokena.

Modrowski eventually is convicted of Fawcett's murder. Faraci is acquitted but goes to prison in spring 2002 for cashing bad checks.

Any potential link to Brown's grows cold long before then.

Crime lab investigators fire any .38- or .357-caliber handguns that come their way, hoping they can match the microscopic etchings on the fired bullets to those from Brown's. Police feed fingerprints lifted from Brown's into a computerized system known as AFIS, for automated fingerprint identification system. It's designed to match unidentified prints to people who have been fingerprinted in the past.

Months after the murders, investigators learn that a partial fingerprint from Brown's matches a man named Terry McGee from Chicago's West Side. Police question McGee for three days.

Word later leaks out: There's no solid match, after all.

As the investigation goes on, pressure is mounting - from outside and from within.

"This was Palatine's case. It was real personal to the people of Palatine," McGregor said later. "Other people went home at night. But the Palatine people lived and breathed it. It affected our citizens. It was personal."

Rico Solis and Guadalupe Maldonado came from thousands of miles away before getting jobs at Brown's.

After they are murdered, their families cannot bear to stay.

Rico's family leaves its Arlington Heights apartment the day the Brown's victims are discovered. They return only to pack their things. At first, they live with Rico's stepfather's mother. Then they move to Chicago's Northwest side.

They rarely return to the suburbs. Every intersection seems to remind them of the boy who is gone. The only time they come back is to lay a red rose atop Rico's gravestone in All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines.

"It's been nine years. Sometimes I can't believe it," Jade Solis, 24, said after police broke the case in May 2002. "But then I think about how old I am, that I'm engaged now. My sister and I are all grown up. That's when I realize it happened long ago."

Rico's relatives move on; after several years, they begin to come to terms with their loss. They do not keep in contact with the police, nor with the Castros, the parents of Rico's friend, Michael.

That part of the past is just too painful.

Beatriz Maldonado goes to her native Mexico to bury her husband. Then she returns to Palatine.

Her oldest son, Juan Pablo Maldonado, starts classes in fall 1993 at Fremd High School in Palatine. One of his classmates is Brenda Luna, Juan Luna's younger sister. Neither has any notion of the cruel connection between them. While Juan Pablo doesn't really know Brenda Luna, they have mutual high school friends, he remembered later. He always thought she was a nice girl.

Memories of the murders haunt Beatriz Maldonado. She begins to have nightmares. In them, the killers read her name in the newspaper, then hunt her and her children down to kill them, too. Eventually, she and Salvador, the youngest, head home to Mexico, leaving the older sons with relatives in Palatine.

Within a year after the murders, sons Juan Pablo and Javier go to Celaya in the Mexican state of Zacatecas to be with their mother.

It's 2,200 miles from Palatine, but the distance does little to end Beatriz's fear. She wonders why the American police, who she was told were so adept, can't find the killers. She wonders how the killers live.

"I would think, how could they be leading their lives when ours were destroyed?" she said.

Beatriz's fears turn out to be not so far-fetched. Their lives already are loosely intertwined with one of the eventual suspects, though none of them knows it.

When the Maldonados arrived from Mexico on Dec. 23, 1992, they moved in with Guadalupe's brother, Pedro, and his family. Just a few months before that, teen Juan Luna and his family had moved out of Pedro's apartment complex, one building over. Pedro didn't know the Lunas.

Like Beatriz, Luna moved to Mexico shortly after the murders. Beatriz returned to Palatine in 1996, and Luna left Mexico at about the same time, moving to Crystal Lake.

Now, a decade after the murders, Juan Pablo Maldonado, 23, lives with his wife and brother Javier, 20, in Palatine. He strongly resembles his father, Guadalupe, who smiles from photos throughout the home.

When Juan Pablo and his cousin, Pedro Maldonado Jr., started work at Jake's Pizza in Hoffman Estates in 1999, Beatriz - by then back in Mexico - worried. All restaurants are dangerous, she believed.

It turned out to be the same Jake's where Degorski, Luna and their high school friend Eileen Bakalla all worked at various times, and where police say Bakalla took a call from Degorski hours after the Brown's murders.

"I'm ready to ask my (people) one by one," Jake's owner Reggie Kroll Sr. said after Degorski's and Luna's arrests last May, "Have you ever mass murdered anyone?"

One year passes. Without Michael Castro and Rico Solis. Without Tom Mennes, Marcus Nellsen and Guadalupe Maldonado. Without Richard and Lynn Ehlenfeldt.

"A day doesn't go by that I don't think maybe something will turn up," the Ehlenfeldts' daughter Jennifer says at the anniversary. "They haven't gotten that one clue or one piece of information that blows it wide open. Every day you think you're one day further from knowing the truth or you're one day closer, depending on how you look at it."

In that year, the village of Palatine spent $130,000 on the case. The community raised $120,000 as a reward for a tip that would lead to the killers' conviction.

The numbers tell the story: 200 fingerprints collected, 240 pieces of evidence examined, 3,000 phone tips taken, 1,000 leads investigated, 1,600 hours of crime lab time used.

Two dozen full-time investigators continue to work the case.

Artifacts from the building - potential evidence - fill a former classroom at the police department. It holds counter tops, exterior and interior doors, and much more. The Northern Illinois Police Crime Laboratory stores other evidence. Among the items is a frozen piece of chicken with one bite taken out of it.

At the three-year mark, seven investigators spend each day investigating the seven deaths.

Police call a press conference to reveal for the first time they believe a lone killer, between 6 feet and 6-foot-6, committed the murders using a .38- or .357-caliber revolver.

The killer wore Nike Air Force gym shoes - shoes that authorities now believe belonged to Degorski, who is 6 feet tall.

At the time, the information generates new leads but nothing to break the case.

"All it takes," Bratcher says in an interview to mark the three-year anniversary, "is one phone call, one bit of information to solve this."

Everyone wants the same thing, and wants it badly. That doesn't mean everyone agrees how the crime should be solved.

Manny Castro, Michael's father, criticizes police immediately after the murders for not finding the victims sooner.

He and Rico's mother, Evelyn Urgena, sue Brown's and president Frank Portillo, saying the company did not properly protect employees. Later, the lawsuit is dismissed.

Blake sues Palatine, charging police damaged his Elgin house and violated his civil rights. He settles for $8,000.

From the beginning, relations between Palatine police and reporters are tense. Chief Bratcher and Cook County State's Attorney Jack O'Malley keep a tight lid on information released to the public and clamp down hard on leaks.

Reporters stake out police headquarters and follow investigators as they head out each day. Detectives send decoy police cars to lead reporters astray so they can smuggle people to be questioned into the task force building.

Days into the case, one task force member breaks ranks. Chicago detective Rich Zuley has information he believes implicates Chicago street gang leader Jose Morales Cruz.

A jail informant initially points to Cruz. A Brown's customer identifies Cruz associate Miguel Sanchez as being at the restaurant the night of the murders. A woman claims she overheard men at a West suburban car wash. "Why'd you have to do them all?" she says she heard. The men at the car wash talk about returning for a meeting at Irving Park, she says. Cruz's gang meets on Irving Park Road.

Zuley becomes angry when he's left out of questioning Cruz. Bratcher sends Zuley packing. The task force investigates the Cruz lead, which once was so tantalizing, and discounts it.

It isn't over, though. Renaldo Aviles, the informant who pointed to Cruz, dies in Cook County jail in May 1993, his death ruled a suicide. Others suggest it was retribution for snitching.

Cruz eventually is convicted for a 1992 armed robbery in Skokie. Police never link him to Brown's.

But Cruz and "Lead 80," as it comes to be known, return again and again.

Portillo is frustrated. Motivated by the Brown's workers' deaths, he's become vice president of the Chicago Crime Commission. That group joins with the Better Government Association and in 1997 issues a report critical of the Palatine murder task force, hung largely on Lead 80.

In reply, the Illinois State Crime Commission writes a report praising Palatine's investigation.

"Lead 80 was like the lead that wouldn't die," McGregor said later. "We'd have leads come in, they'd be investigated and it would come full circle - it would come back to that lead."

The criticism stings.

"It hurt all of us. Our name was being dragged around in the mud," McGregor said. "They tried to portray us as some little suburb that wanted to do everything ourselves. Nothing could be further from the truth."

Degorski and Luna remain nearly under investigators' noses for much of the decade after the murders.

Luna lives in Hoffman Estates awhile, then meets and marries his wife, Imelda, and has a son during a two-year stay in Mexico.

They move back to the United States, first living with Luna's parents in Crystal Lake, then moving in 1998 to the Meadowdale apartments in Carpentersville, a subsidized complex. It's three blocks from the Carpentersville Jewel/Osco where his friend, Bakalla, said she rendezvoused with Degorski and Luna just after the killings.

Luna works at a factory before taking a job in 2001 as an installer for Gulgren Appliance in Crystal Lake. He works six days a week and saves to buy a house.

"There was never anything here that led us to believe he was not a good person," said Mike Gulgren, one of the business owners.

He and co-owner Greg Danielson called Luna a family man whose eyes lit up any time he talked about his wife or son.

"I never saw him lose his temper. I never even heard him swear," Danielson said.

Others remember incidents: Luna bragged to his friend David Johnson of Rockford that he owned a handgun. Luna fought with friend Joe Wilson over a coat Wilson believed Luna took from him.

"You'll never guess what I can do," Wilson said Luna warned him.

But police records show just one black mark - a 1999 arrest for writing a $100 bad check to an Algonquin business.

Degorski moves from job to job - working at a Mount Prospect auto detail business and a Hoffman Estates country club, cleaning office buildings in Hoffman Estates and Arlington Heights, and starting his own handyman business called "Jim of All Trades."

He lives at his mother's Dover Court home in Hoffman Estates, then moves to Wauconda, then to the Indianapolis area in 2001.

A year after Brown's, police arrest him in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., for marijuana possession. He pays a fine and receives probation, police say.

In May 1998, Barrington Hills police pull over Degorski's Dodge truck on Route 62. They charge him with driving under the influence, speeding and possessing a small quantity of marijuana, records show.

He pleads guilty to the marijuana charge, loses his driver's license and is sentenced to a year of supervision and a $500 fine.

In a letter to the court he writes to try to get a conditional driver's license, Degorski pleads, "I am a single man trying to save money and improve my position in society."

"If he's got a black side, I never hooked up with it," said Mark Mogilinski, 42, Degorski's former neighbor and a fellow employee at the Mount Prospect auto detailing shop.

He sent Degorski once to pick up his sick daughter at school. He credited Degorski with keeping his young son from being hit by a car. He confided to Degorski that he was carrying $12,000 in cash one day when he was going to buy a motorcycle.

"He could have whacked me many times," Mogilinski said.

Living in Indianapolis for a year before his arrest, Degorski is one of the top men on the job to repair condominiums, his former boss, James Blazek said. Early in 2002, Degorski begins to ask co-worker Walter Hanger about his religious convictions, Hanger said.

One day, while the two men are picking up trash outside a condo complex, Hanger said, Degorski asks an unforgettable question:

"He said, 'If somebody killed somebody, will God let them into heaven?'"

In 1994, Lockett breaks up with Degorski. She moves with her mother to Oregon for three months after her father's death. She returns to Illinois, eventually enrolling at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. She majors in psychology and works with developmentally disabled adults.

But the Brown's story moves with her wherever she goes.

She can't completely shake Degorski. He calls her mom looking for her every so often, sending messages he is never too far away, she later told police.

Through a glass door, up a narrow, wooden staircase and across a short hall, Lockett lives in an apartment with her boyfriend and another friend on the Charleston courthouse square. Every day, on the way to class or to work, she walks down the stairs and out the door and faces the tan-stone courthouse. The clock atop the building announces the passing hours. She can't keep the secret a second longer.

Late in 2001, she tells her boyfriend. They talk about her safety and debate sending police an anonymous letter. They tell their other roommate and, prosecutors said, the three of them register for firearm owner's identification cards, a step toward protecting themselves.

Lockett also tells her sister. The secret keeps escaping. It's a burden that's better off shared, she finds. She tells her mother, wanting to emphasize the need to hide her whereabouts.

Bakalla, who said Degorski also told her about the murders, tells her husband, from whom she later is divorced. Before anyone tells police, authorities said, at least 10 people would know the story.

In March 2002, Lockett calls an old high school pal, identified only as Melissa. Lockett asks Melissa to forward a letter to police so it can't be traced back to her. But she won't say what the letter contains. Melissa coaxes and learns Lockett's secret. She persuades Lockett to let her phone a friend on the Palatine police force.

Police finally get the phone call that makes all the difference. It's Lead 4,842 in the murder investigation.

On March 25, 2002, Lockett tells her tale to Palatine Police Chief John Koziol, Cook County sheriff's Cmdr. John Robertson and Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Scott Cassidy, head of the county's cold case unit. It is the story they have waited nearly a decade to hear.

"I cannot live with this anymore," prosecutors said Lockett told them.

Palatine police Sgt. Bob Haas - the man who was in charge the night the bodies were found in Brown's - recognizes the names Lockett gives to authorities. Assigned to Fremd High School until 1990, Haas, now a deputy chief, knew both Degorski and Luna when they were students.

Police come looking for the two men in April 2002. Both agree to have the insides of their mouths swabbed. The swabs dislodge minute amounts of tissue to be tested for genetic characteristics.

Police, it turns out, have a powerful bit of evidence. The chicken collected from a Brown's garbage can in January 1993 was kept frozen until 1999. Then, crime lab scientists decided techniques to test DNA had advanced enough to try them on the chicken.

It worked. The scientists extracted DNA of the person - potentially one of the killers - who ate that last meal at Brown's.

Now, they have two suspects to compare it against.

On May 9, 2002, Palatine police Sgt. Bill King gets a phone call from the Illinois State Police crime laboratory: "Are you sitting down? We've got a DNA match."

It's Luna's, authorities said.

Lockett leads police to Bakalla, and on May 15, she backs up Lockett's story of what she was told about the murders.

On May 16, police arrest Luna at the Shell station at Hazard Road and Route 25 in Carpentersville. They arrest Degorski at his job site near Indianapolis. They charge each of them with the murders. Prosecutors said each of them confesses, Luna on videotape.

Now Palatine police officers get a chance to make long-awaited telephone calls.

The phone rings about 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 16 at the home of Jerry and Diane Mennes, the twin and sister-in-law of Brown's victim Tom Mennes. There's been a big break, Palatine investigator Bryan Opitz says.

Like the other families, the Mennes family has lived the roller coaster of promising leads that turned bad. They've had years of phone calls and frustration.

This time, though, Opitz uses a phrase Diane Mennes hasn't heard from police before. His voice is confident.

"This one," he tells her, "is legit."


Now, another kind of waiting begins

In nearly 10 years of moving back and forth between Mexico and Palatine, Guadalupe Maldonado's two oldest sons have lost touch with Palatine police investigators. So when the phone call finally comes, it's from a cousin.

"Turn on the TV! They caught the guys who did the murders!" the cousin tells Javier and Juan Pablo Maldonado.

It's May 2002. The sons, just children when someone killed their father and six others at Brown's Chicken & Pasta in Palatine, live a half block from where they did on that night, Jan. 8, 1993. Photos of their father hang throughout the Palatine apartment.

Javier and Juan immediately call their mother in Mexico with news that police have charged two suspects.

"I was so happy that they would be brought to justice," said Beatriz Maldonado, who has never remarried and lives near Celaya, Mexico, where Guadalupe is buried.

After nearly a decade when news reports of investigative dead ends faded into near silence about the notorious case, Guadalupe's sons find the sudden news of the arrests difficult to fathom.

"I thought it was never going to happen," Juan said. "It's a long time."

After Palatine Police Chief John Koziol announces the arrests on May 18, it doesn't take long for the families of Richard and Lynn Ehlenfeldt, Tom Mennes, Marcus Nellsen, Guadalupe Maldonado, Rico Solis and Michael Castro to realize a different kind of agonizing waiting has begun.

Months of court hearings and horrible new revelations are sure to come, dragging the victims' families back to the night they learned of the deaths. Even the welcomed arrests force the families to revise the pictures they hold in their minds.

"For nine years, you think it's a hardened criminal," said Mary Jane Crow, Michael Castro's older sister. "But then when you think about kids a little older than Michael doing this to other kids, it brings up a whole new anger. It just started dawning on me how angry I got. It's an emotional roller coaster happening all over again."

Some of the victims' loved ones aren't sure how to approach the lengthy limbo.

"I feel like a rubber band that is being stretched in all different directions," Tom Mennes' twin, Jerry Mennes, said after the arrests. "You don't know what side to get on because you don't know where it's going to break."

Jade Solis can never forget. "You still remember," she said. "It's not done yet."

A lot has changed since that night, exactly 10 years ago today. And while time hasn't minimized the pain, the families have moved forward along with the years.

There was time for all three of the Ehlenfeldts' daughters and Maldonado's oldest son, Juan, to marry. Time for Dana Sampson, the Ehlenfeldts' middle child, to give birth to three children who never will know their grandparents. Time for Michael Castro's sister to marry, for Rico Solis' oldest sister to get engaged and for Marcus Nellsen's daughter, Jessica, to blossom into a 15-year-old sophomore at Robinson High School in eastern Illinois.

Time for a tree to take root a few blocks from Michael Castro's Palatine home, flowering in white every spring and towering over the heads of all who come to visit it and the plaque at its base memorializing Michael.

Time, in April 2001, to bulldoze the white-brick Brown's building with the green roof and nearly erase all traces of it from the landscape. Last month, a vender sold Christmas trees from the site.

Thousands of people who have moved to the Northwest suburbs since the razing can drive by the corner of Northwest Highway and Smith Street and never know a Brown's restaurant existed.

As if the wound ever could heal, a newer layer of dark asphalt now covers the ground where the building once stood. All around it the pavement is faded, cracked, worn down.

Jim Degorski, 30, and Juan Luna, 28, the two men charged with the Brown's murders, sit in separate cells at Cook County jail.

Degorski has recovered from facial surgery for a cracked cheekbone from a beating by a sheriff's deputy. (The deputy is suspended without pay as termination hearings and a criminal case proceed against him.)

Both Degorski and Luna have time to ponder the upcoming years of courtroom motions, trials, possible appeals and the chance of death sentences. Teams of lawyers have an evidence room full of boxes to explore as they begin their arduous pre-trial work.

Degorski and Luna are innocent, defense attorneys say. The lawyers are beginning to pick away at the key evidence police and prosecutors say they have against the men: a DNA match to a piece of chicken that authorities say places Luna at Brown's that night; statements by Degorski's former girlfriend, Anne Lockett, and by another friend of the suspects, Eileen Bakalla; and statements by the suspects themselves.

The chicken piece, with one bite missing, was in an otherwise clean Brown's garbage can, showing that the person who ate it was at the restaurant late, authorities said. Under their scenario, the killers were the last customers, ordering food at 9:08 p.m. before unleashing mayhem.

In 44 minutes, the murders were done and the killers gone, police theorized. A clock stopped at 9:52 p.m. showed when the killers cut the power and presumably left.

One of Luna's defense lawyers, Clarence Burch, plans to ask Cook County Judge Vincent M. Gaughan to let him get his own DNA test on that long-frozen piece of chicken.

Burch also will take a new sample of Luna's DNA with the hope of raising doubt about a match with the chicken - a match prosecutors said is so conclusive that only 1 in 2.8 trillion people could fit the profile. There are only 6 billion people living on Earth.

Defense lawyers are certain to question Lockett's and Bakalla's accounts. Prosecutors said Degorski and Luna described the murders to both women within days of the crime.

The lawyers will make every effort to prevent Luna's videotaped confession and Degorski's talk with police from being allowed as evidence at their trials.

Degorski's lawyers said their client did not admit anything to police. Law enforcement sources close to the case say Degorski readily acknowledged his role in the mass murder but didn't repeat it in front of a video camera.

Even after Degorski and Luna were in custody, authorities didn't stop collecting evidence against them. They called a friend and former co-worker of Degorski's, Walter Hanger of Indianapolis, to testify before a grand jury. When Hanger, after testifying, paid a visit to Degorski in jail, authorities called him back to the grand jury to recount that conversation.

Hanger told grand jurors of a conversation he and Degorski once had while they were working together, he said. Degorski asked him whether murderers can go to heaven, Hanger said. And in their visit in jail, Hanger said, Degorski seemed remorseful and said he will not battle a death sentence if he receives one. But Degorski never acknowledged involvement in the Brown's mass murders, Hanger said.

"He bowed his head, prayed and asked God to forgive him of his sins and let God let him lead a Christian life," Hanger said. "He was crying and everything."

Degorski's lead defense attorney, Mark L. Levitt, promises to contest in court every bit of evidence brought against Degorski. And perhaps previewing one piece of his strategy to discredit witnesses, Levitt suggests jail visits by Hanger, a born-again Christian, were orchestrated by authorities.

"I'm not afraid of the defense," said Jack McGregor, Palatine's deputy police chief at the time of the murders and later chief.

"Let them attack us. We've been attacked since day one. But we got DNA. There's other evidence there, too. And we have their own confessions. So let them attack. That's their job. And those are our killers."

Prosecutors have told relatives they will need cooperation and testimony from Lockett, Bakalla and perhaps from Lockett's friend, known only as "Melissa," who convinced Lockett to talk to authorities. It was Melissa who made that one phone call police spent nearly a decade hoping they'd receive.

Lockett and Bakalla kept the secret for so long because they feared Degorski and Luna, authorities said. They will face no charges.

After nine years of attacks from relatives of some of the victims, the media, and the Better Government Association, Palatine police are singled out for praise.

"Today is a great day for the Palatine Police Department," Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan says during the press conference to announce the arrests. "The police never gave up. They never, they never forgot the victims, and that's the key here. That's why it's such a great day."

Manny Castro, Michael's father raises huge banners around town. "Thank you Palatine police," they say.

Mindful of the court case still to unfold, Palatine police are careful to publicly say little about the case.

Koziol, in the May press conference, admits some answers might never come.

"I cannot explain their motivation for doing this killing," Koziol says. "We still cannot give that answer to the families. They never really gave us one. They just did it to do something big. They are people without a soul and that's all we know about them."

"Maybe later someone will try to get into the heads of these two people," McGregor later said. "But if you're normal, none of this is going to make any sense."

McGregor, former deputy chief and police chief, addressed one of the questions that came up early in the investigation and hung over it: why did it take so long for police to find the victims?

Officer Dan Bonneville, who went to Brown's at about 1 a.m. in response to Manny Castro's call about his missing son, told his supervisors he'd checked the doors, said McGregor, now retired and living in Wisconsin.

But it wasn't until 3 a.m. that Palatine officer Ron Conley discovered the bodies when he pulled open an unlocked employee entrance.

The delay provoked criticism by some victims' relatives who wondered if some of those who died might have been saved if they were found earlier.

McGregor said he doubts the first officer checked the doors at all. Bonneville's claim was investigated but he never was disciplined for any failings that night. He left the department last year and did not respond to requests for comment.

"If he would have checked the doors properly, he would have found the crime… It would have been a lot less heartburn for us, a lot more peace of mind for the victims' families," McGregor said.

He said the families gradually came to understand that the victims died quickly.

"Whether they were found at 1 a.m. or 3 a.m., they were dead," McGregor said. "It was all over by 10 o'clock. We overcame that with the families. They were satisfied that it wouldn't have changed anything."

Martin E. Blake said he's worked to forgive. With the arrests of Degorski and Luna, he finally might be able to forget.

Taken into custody the day after the murders, he was released two days later. He moved out of state in 1994 to escape the shadow of that initial accusation. He settled a lawsuit with the village of Palatine in 1997 for $8,000.

Now living in Texas, Blake said he is keeping a deal he made with a higher power in that Palatine jail cell so long ago.

He's now a Roman Catholic who speaks out against abortion and the death penalty, he said. He plays keyboard at church services, volunteers on mission trips and is a foster parent to an 11-year-old girl with disabilities.

"I'm doing everything I can," he said, "to live a good life."

"We're finally able to exhale," Wisconsin state Rep. Jennifer Shilling - the Ehlenfendts' oldest daughter - says on the day when police announce the arrests.

The three daughters, the youngest then 18, were thrust into financial as well as emotional turmoil after they were orphaned by their parents' murders.

In 1995, the daughters agreed to pay $57,000 to settle their parents' estate with the building's owner. John Gregornik sued the daughters seven months after the slayings, accusing them of breaching the parents' lease by not reopening the restaurant after the murders.

The three sisters initially had intended to keep the store as a tribute to their parents. They soon realized the job would take too much of a toll.

Gregornik had sought $655,581 in back rent and other costs from the estate. The Ehlenfeldts countersued, asking the courts to terminate the lease, which was set to expire this year.

The family argued reopening the restaurant would have been in vain because the specter of the mass murders would have kept customers away.

The legal bills and outstanding debts left the daughters with little inheritance. Their parents' life savings - the $300,000 they pumped into the franchise - never was recovered.

"They lost everything," Richard's sister, Ann Ehlenfeldt, said. "It hasn't been easy, but they're very strong girls."

Even now, Dana Sampson knows living with the murders always will be hard for her and her sisters.

"I actually hate the word closure, because to me, there will never be closure for something like this," said Sampson, a physical therapist in St. Charles, Mo.

She welcomed the arrests last spring, but peace remains elusive. "They're not coming back, my parents or any of the other victims."

Crow has faced the same emptiness.

"No one's ever going to imagine what we've been through. Ever. No one's ever going to be in our shoes, ever, unless they've been there themselves," she said. "Only other victims can."

Crow avoids newspapers and television and might skip the trial.

"I don't think it's a good idea to go to the trial, especially when you hear about them not having any remorse," Crow said. "A person like that who's so cold and calculating, you don't want to give them any satisfaction."

Now, after a decade, she isn't sure she wants to sit in a courtroom and hear answers to all of her questions.

"I've always had pictures in my head of what could have happened," Crow said. "Was my brother the first one? Was he the last one? Did he suffer?

"You don't want to hear about the last moments of your loved ones' lives because it'll haunt you."


Remembering their lives

Brown's workers had promising futures

Imagine the murders at Brown's Chicken & Pasta had never happened:

Rico Solis is a man of 27. Michael Castro's dream of becoming a U.S. Marine has come true. Perhaps they are married with children of their own. Richard and Lynn Ehlenfeldt are grandparents.

Gualaupe Maldonado has watched his sons grow into younger versions of himself. Marcus Nellsen, perhaps, has built a new life as a restaurant manager. Tom Mennes is sharing his love for friends and the outdoors with his nephew, and perhaps with a family of his own.

Had they lived, the seven victims murdered at Brown's Chicken & Pasta in Palatine would have enriched their families and communities in countless ways.

Even by the time they died on Jan. 8, 1993, each of the seven victims already had accomplished a great deal in life. Here are their stories, lovingly told by family members and friends who knew them best.

*****

Stories reported, written and edited by Sara Burnett, Madeleine Doubek, Diane Dungey, Lee Filas, Christy Gutowski, David Kazak, Joel Reese, Stacy St. Clair and Shamus Toomey.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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