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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
He grips the handle and yanks. The door unexpectedly
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
"Do you have any people alive?" McGregor asks. "Do
you need medical services?"
One answer echoes back for both questions:
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
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.
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 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
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,
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Twists of fate put workers in Brown's that
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
Attorneys for Degorski and Luna say the description
offered up by police should not be believed. The men are innocent, they
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 -
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
"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
One day years earlier, Mennes left for his job as a
dishwasher at Perkins, a restaurant in Palatine, but returned home
"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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
"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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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,
He pleads guilty to the marijuana charge, loses his
driver's license and is sentenced to a year of supervision and a $500
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
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
"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
But the Brown's story moves with her wherever she
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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."
Brown's workers had promising futures
Imagine the murders at Brown's Chicken & Pasta had
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
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.