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Tinley Lane Bryant killings among nation's worst unsolved murders

Six women were herded inback room Lane Bryant store Brookside Marketplace Feb. 2 shot executistyle. One woman survived.

Six women were herded into a back room of the Lane Bryant store in Brookside Marketplace on Feb. 2 and shot execution style. One woman survived.

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Updated: February 1, 2011 9:14PM



Nearly 2,000 murders have been added to the "America's Most Wanted" TV show archives in the past seven years.

But of these unsolved cases, none involve a more prolific killer than the brutal slaying Feb. 2 of five women at a Tinley Park branch of Lane Bryant.

Shot execution-style during a botched robbery, store manager Rhoda McFarland and shoppers Sarah Szafranski, Carrie Hudek Chiuso, Jennifer Bishop and Connie Woolfolk never stood a chance.

Two and a half months on, as the initial flurry of press attention has slowed to a near standstill, detectives seem no closer to catching the senseless gunman than they came in the immediate aftermath, when the first officers on the scene came within seconds of encountering the killer.

Tinley Park Police Chief Michael O'Connell points to his investigators' determination and to the infamous Brown's Chicken restaurant massacre of 1993, which saw seven restaurant workers gunned down in northwest suburban Palatine. That cold case was solved nine years later when a former girlfriend of one of the killers came forward with new information.

A similar, older case from Texas, involving the deaths of five customers kidnapped from a KFC restaurant in 1982, was solved just last year after DNA techniques unavailable at the time of the crime unmasked the killer.

Half of all murders in the United States are solved. But unsolved mass killings are a rarity, partly because of the additional police and public attention they attract but also because so many high-profile mass killings at malls, schools and college campuses end with the gunman's suicide.

Sometimes even the FBI's top investigators have been stumped in the highest-profile cases, including the unsolved 1975 bombing of New York's LaGuardia Airport, which killed 11, the unexplained 2001 anthrax letter attacks, which left five dead, and the still-mysterious 1982 Tylenol murders, which killed seven.

O'Connell says he remains confident the Lane Bryant killer eventually will be caught. But today, the Lane Bryant killings stand as one of the worst unsolved mass murders in American history.

Cabin 28 murders, California, 1981 - four dead

When 14-year-old Sheila Sharp returned to her family's vacation cabin April 11, 1981, after staying the night with friends just 15 feet away in another cabin, she found her mom, Glenna Sharp, family friend Dana Wingate and brother John bludgeoned to death. Two younger brothers and a third toddler were found safe in a back room, but Sheila's sister Tina was missing. Her severed head was discovered three years later, 50 miles away. As the crime went unsolved, the Keddie resort where the murders happened fell into disrepair, and the building (Cabin 28) was razed in 2004. Locals claimed it was haunted.

Anthrax attacks, nationwide, 2001 - five dead

Posted from a Trenton, N. J., mailbox near the Princeton University campus, seven letters containing deadly anthrax spores claimed the lives of five Americans. The letters, containing cryptic messages referring to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, were mailed to ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, the New York Post and the National Enquirer, as well as to the offices of Sens. Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont). A total of 22 victims developed anthrax infections, including a newspaper worker, two mail carriers, a Vietnamese immigrant in New York and a Connecticut widow. The high-grade anthrax used in the last two letters was of a type that could be manufactured only by a skilled chemist in a lab, experts said. Two "persons of interest," whose work gave them access to anthrax, have been identified by the FBI. Despite an international investigation covering six continents and more than 9,000 police interviews, no one has been charged, and the case appears to have gone cold.

Robison family murders, Michigan, 1968 - six dead

Richard Robison, 42, his wife, Shirley, 40, and their four children were dead for nearly a month before their rotting bodies were discovered at their home near Good Hart, Mich., in 1968. Shirley Robison likely was sexually assaulted before her death, evidence showed. The case seemed to point to a clear suspect, Robison's work colleague, Joseph Scolaro, who had argued with Robison on the day of the murders and possessed the same types of handgun and rifle used in the murders. He had no alibi. Scolaro, who committed suicide five years later, maintaining his innocence, never was charged. And an attempt to use DNA to solve the case five years ago proved inconclusive.

Yuma killer, Arizona, 2005 - six dead

Luis Rios, 35, was discovered dead in his back yard in Yuma, Ariz., on June 24, 2005. Inside his home, they found his girlfriend and four children, all shot dead. Police, who have not uncovered a motive, released a sketch of a man seen entering the house. They described him as the "cowardly" killer. And they say they remain confident the killer will be caught. But three years and 1,300 interviews later - and despite a $35,000 reward - they have yet to make an arrest.

Tylenol murders, Chicago, 1982 - seven dead

In a case that led to improvements in anti-tamper packaging and laws, seven people were killed after they ingested extra-strength Tylenol medicine capsules laced with cyanide poison. Mary Kellerman, 12, of Elk Grove Village, was the first to die. When Adam Janus, of Arlington Heights, died, his family gathered to mourn. Soon thereafter, his brother Stanley and wife, Theresa, died after taking tablets from the same bottle. Three more died before police discovered the Tylenol link. They drove through Chicago neighborhoods warning residents through loudspeakers. An extortionist, James W. Lewis, later claimed responsibility for the crimes in an attempt to cash in. He was found to have played no role in the killings. He was sentenced to 20 years for extortion. A second suspect, Roger Arnold, also was cleared, but in his rage at being questioned, he shot and killed a man he (incorrectly) believed had set police on his trail. The Tylenol killer has never been caught, and a $100,000 reward remains unclaimed.

Villisca ax murder, Iowa, 1912 - eight dead

An unknown ax murderer entered the home of J.B. Moore in Villisca, Iowa, on June 10, 1912, and bludgeoned Moore, his wife and their four children and two house guests to death as they slept. They were discovered the next morning by neighbors. A bungled police investigation saw much of the evidence quickly destroyed, and the competing suspicions of rival townfolk created deep rifts that lasted for decades. A traveling preacher, George Kelly, was tried twice for the murders but ultimately was cleared. The home was returned to its 1912 condition and reopened as a tourist attraction in 1994.

Craig, Alaska, 1982 - eight dead

Eight people were murdered in the night on board a moored fishing boat, the Investor, in the Alaskan town of Craig. The ship's 28-year-old captain, Mark Coulthurst, his family and his crew likely were shot as they returned to the boat from a birthday party, but the boat left the dock before their bodies were discovered and spent a day out at sea in the fog before the killer torched the boat with gasoline and escaped. A former crew member, John Kenneth Peel, who had been fired by Coulthurst, stood trial twice for the murders in one of Alaska's most expensive prosecutions ever, but he eventually was cleared, and the case remains a mystery. Peel sued the state for wrongful prosecution and ultimately settled for a $900,000 payment in 1997.

LaGuardia Airport bombing, New York, 1975 - 11 dead

Four days after Christmas, a powerful bomb blast shredded a bank of lockers in the baggage claim area at New York's LaGuardia Airport, killing 11 and injuring 75. Severed limbs littered the area as passengers and airport staff struggled to make sense of what had happened. Police never found out. Despite a massive federal probe, nobody ever was charged. Suspicions originally fell on the FALN, a terror group seeking independence for Puerto Rico, which had claimed responsibility for another bombing in New York that year. Later, Zvonko Busic, a Croatian terrorist, emerged as a suspect. Busic planted a bomb in Grand Central Station that killed a cop one year later, but he continues to deny playing any role in the unsolved LaGuardia bombing.

Kim Janssen can be reached at kjanssen@southtownstar.com or (708) 633-5998.



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