Five years after Lane Bryant murders: The search never ends
BY STEVE METSCH firstname.lastname@example.org January 31, 2013 9:18PM
Poice Cmdr. Pat McCain talks about where the investigation of the Lane Bryant murders is on the five-year anniversary of the case, in Tinley Park, Illinois, Monday, January 28, 2013. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
New tenant eyes building
Tinley Park officials have been told the building that includes the Lane Bryant store will be redeveloped to accommodate a national retailer but have not been told the prospective tenant’s name because the lease had not been signed.
“But it’s a great tenant, and you will be very happy,” a representative of DDR Corp., which owns Brookside Marketplace, told the Tinley Park Plan Commission, according to the minutes of its December meeting.
Gary Ceepo, DDR Corp.’s vice president of development, also told the commission the tenant would create 60 to 100 jobs, including part time. The tenant wants a 23,000-square-foot space, which might lead to current tenants being relocated within the building.
Families of the victims of the Lane Bryant shootings have told Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki they didn’t want the former store to be turned into a memorial.
Updated: March 2, 2013 6:06AM
Five years later, the Tinley Park Police Department still is looking for the man who murdered five women at the Lane Bryant store in the village’s Brookside Marketplace shopping center.
Five years and 6,689 leads later, three investigators still work full time trying to solve the slayings that have haunted the village since the frigid Saturday morning of Feb. 2, 2008.
Five years later, the killer still is on the run. Or he could be in jail. Or he may be dead.
What is certain is police have waded through thousands of tips, and nobody is in custody for the murders that shocked a normally quiet community where notoriety once stemmed only from the annual migration of thousands of Grateful Dead fans to concerts at the outdoor music theater.
Now, the names of victims Jennifer Bishop, 34, of South Bend; Sarah Szafranski, 22, of Oak Forest; Connie Woolfolk, 37, of Flossmoor; Carrie Hudek Chiuso, 33, of Frankfort; and Rhoda McFarland, 42, of Joliet, are forever linked with Tinley Park. And as Saturday’s fifth anniversary of their deaths nears, it’s also clear the horrific memories never fade for those involved in the case.
‘When we catch this guy ... ’
Tinley Park Police Cmdr. Pat McCain said he’ll be thinking of the victims and their families on Saturday, as he does most days.
“And then I’ll sit all day and frustrate myself trying to figure out what happened and who did this,” he said.
Three police investigators working full time on the case do the same.
“My lead investigator told me the first thing he thinks of each morning is Lane Bryant. He comes here and lives it all day. And it’s the last thing he thinks of before he falls asleep,” McCain said.
“When we catch this guy, it’s going to open a lot of wounds,” McCain said. “It’s not ‘if.’ It’s ‘when,’ at least in my book.”
McCain was speaking while in a police station conference room named after late Chief Mike O’Connell. The murders never were far from O’Connell’s thoughts, McCain said.
McCain is confident the killer will be caught “because someone out there does know,” he said. “We want to talk to them. There’s a person out there who knows who did this. That, coupled with advances in science and forensics, may help us out. We’re still working on it.”
The number of incoming new tips has tailed off, but there still were 87 in 2012, and each was painstakingly checked out, he said.
“There’s not as much substance (to the tips) as there was in past years,” McCain said. “You tend to get people who want to help you. Their heart’s in the right place ...
“But we do follow up on every single tip. Even if you say ‘no way’ at first blush, we look at it. There have been lots of starts and stops, tips that look really good but just don’t pan out.”
Tips led them to LA Fitness three times because a worker there has beads in his hair, like the killer.
“He beads his hair, nothing more. He was clearly not involved. By the third time, he said, ‘Will you tell the boss I’m not the guy?’ ” McCain said.
Frustration is felt daily.
“But I still feel confident we’ll get him. Things take time,” McCain said. “There’s been other crimes like this that came to fruition down the line. (The) Brown’s Chicken (Massacre) in Palatine was a nine-year wait. That was the case of someone coming forward, and forensics, DNA from a piece of chicken. Somebody had the smarts to keep that piece of chicken.”
More on the investigation
Tinley Park has plenty of evidence. McCain won’t say what it is other than “fingerprints and forensics.”
But even using national databases, a fingerprint match has not been found. That could mean the suspect had never before been arrested, McCain said.
Tinley Park police have some surveillance tapes from other stores, but nothing that shows the killer’s face. They have released an artist’s rendering based on a description from the lone witness, who also was shot but survived.
“If we had a picture of the guy, it would have been put out a long time ago,” McCain said.
The FBI, Secret Service, South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force, Illinois State Police and others have helped with the investigation.
“We have had NASA enhancing some video for us,” McCain said.
The village so far has spent $1.9 million on the investigation, Mayor Ed Zabrocki said.
Like many on Saturday, he will relive “that cold, sleety day” when O’Connell called and said there was one dead. Moments later, after O’Connell called to say there were three dead, Zabrocki drove to the shopping center, at the northwest corner of 191st Street and Harlem Avenue.
“Mike started walking to my car — you remember Mike, he was a big man — and he had tears in his eyes,” Zabrocki said. “ ‘Ed, we’ve got five dead.’ We sat there in silence for a few moments, trying to figure out what to do next.”
Tinley Park has sent investigators as far as London to review a new forensics tool that didn’t prove helpful, McCain said. Investigators have “looked through Cook County, and through every database we can get our hands on. If his fingerprints were in the system, they would have kicked out. To date, nothing has,” McCain said.
There’s even a $100,000 award for information that leads to the killer’s arrest.
What was the motive? That remains anybody’s guess.
From the witness’ account, police know the killer was in the store for 40 minutes. That’s a long time for a simple armed robbery, McCain said. And it’s even longer if he went there intending to kill a specific person, McCain said.
“If it’s robbery, you get in and get out. If he was targeting someone, why stay so long? If he was zeroed in on one person, were the other women collateral damage because he didn’t want them to identify him? It’s a very complicated, complex case,” he said.
The time of day of the slayings, on a busy Saturday morning at the shopping center, always has struck McCain as odd.
“One of our guys’ wives was going there that day, but she wound up going to Target first,” McCain said. “Had she gone to Lane Bryant first, maybe we’d have a different ending. She was a police officer and she was armed.”
Zabrocki wants an ending, the kind where the bad guy is caught and the motive explained.
“There are so many different theories on it. It could be a guy looking to get $150. But at 10:30 on a Saturday morning? What can you say?” he said. “I’m not a very religious guy, but I’m convinced that someone’s moral compass has got to kick in. Somebody knows something, somewhere, somehow, some place. There’s one theory that this guy is dead. ... but somebody knows something.
“I’m convinced it will eventually be resolved. (But) it doesn’t happen in 53 minutes like in ‘CSI’ on TV.”