BGA Report on Browns Chicken Massacre
BGA Report — Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4
“Patent Malarkey”: Public Dishonesty and Deception
The Brown’s Chicken Massacre
Staff Analysis by the Better Government Association
J. Terrence Brunner, Executive Director
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Better Government Association. Extra copies of the BGA reports are available for $10 upon request.
On January 9, 1993, seven people were found brutally murdered in the Brown’s Chicken and Pasta in Palatine, Illinois. This became known as the Brown’s Chicken Massacre. Nearly five years later, the murders remain unsolved.
“Patent Malarkey”: Public Dishonesty and Deception:
It seemed like Jerry Bratcher had it made. As chief of Police, his salary was $80,000 a year, and he oversaw an 80-man department ranked as one of the best in the country. He had set up lucrative outside consulting businesses analyzing other suburban police departments. And the taxpayers were paying for his drinks, lunches and dinners. No one would question any of it since he had also become a consultant to Micro Aseptic—run by the three village trustees who also ran the police and fire committee. That, together with his strong personal relationship with Mayor Rita Mullins, compromised any real oversight of the Palatine Police Department by the village government. It was all carefully hidden from the taxpayers in a maze of governmental paper buttressed by a village government who fought any citizen attempt to access these financial records.
Jerry Bratcher had created his own Feudal kingdom in Palatine.
Sure, there were a few underlying problems. His consulting and Micro Aseptic sales both depended heavily on the the goodwill of other suburban chiefs. So he had to constantly stroke them while at the same time hiding from them the true nature and extent of his business dealings and how they might affect the other chiefs. While bragging about the academic achievements of his men, he failed to mention he hired five or six chief’s kids — including his own. He also failed to mention he lost $125,000 in an Ponzi scheme which traded commodities.
Bratcher’s kingdom rested on a fragile foundation. He became a prisoner of his own propaganda. He had to constantly exaggerate and puff his own accomplishments and those of his police force to keep his outside business interests rolling. Thus, Bratcher pushed membership in the Northwest Police Academy (NWPA), argued for CALEA accreditation, and promoted the use of the Northern Illinois Police Crime Lab (NIPCL). He couldn’t stop making his sales pitch.
Bratcher also became a prisoner of his own sales pitch.
Bratcher ingratiated himself with his fellow chiefs and promoted his business interests at the same time. The chiefs provided a potential market of more than 100 suburban police forces to which he could offer his consulting services or sell his line of Micro Aseptic products, which could provide everything for a police department from soap to special shoes. Bratcher founded the NWPA, a forum which enhanced the international reputation of the Palatine Force and himself. He later used the academy to branch out into politics endorsing his friend Jack O’Malley. Indeed, Bratcher had employed a full-time PR person for his small-time Police Department. Additionally, the sons of various police chiefs were employed by the Palatine Police Department.
It was working. Eventually, Good Housekeeping magazine would cite the Palatine Police Department as one of the 10 best in the nation. On paper, Bratcher had a superior department. Palatine was not just the normal, under-equipped suburban police force. Many chiefs told us the crime at Brown’s Chicken and Pasta on January 8, 1993 was a terrible tragedy. But “thank God it happened in Palatine.” They knew Bratcher worked with CALEA, which certified suburban police departments, but were unaware that his CALEA connection was at the heart of the Good Housekeeping ranking.
Jerry Bratcher had carefully constructed a house of cards. It was held together by the spiderweb of personal relationships he had built with other chiefs and with the village government. An unsuspecting media and citizenry stood by, never noticing the personal stakes Bratcher had invested with the mayor, village board, and state’s attorney’s office. No one ever questioned any of them about their objectivity or the inevitable conflicts which grew out of these relationships. No one questioned any of them about their non-governmental business. Bratcher was employed as a consultant by three of the village trustees who ran Micro Aseptic. Because of his business relationships with the trustees and his long personal relationship with the mayor, he had effectively neutralized anyone who would be in a position to question his conduct. That connection which James Madison and Thomas Jefferson thought crucial—between the citizens and their elected representatives and “employees”—was crushed.
Of course, there were serious flaws: the underlying lack of murders in Palatine. As good as Bratcher’s force looked on paper, there was an absence of homicides to investigate. It was impossible for investigators to get the real homicide experience they needed—not unusual for a suburban police force.
But what would happen if a real homicide were to occur? How would Bratcher’s troops perform in a real murder investigation—if an O.J. Simpson-style case were to be dropped in his lap?
Bratcher’s troops were like the Argentine Army—generals with chests full of medals who had never seen combat and suddenly, the Falklands, and it all began to crumble against the battle-tested British.
What would he do? He had told everyone over and over again how great he was. How would they handle it?
The bodies were discovered at 3:11 a.m., after five hours of Palatine police officers falling all over themselves while terrified relatives stood by, waiting for action. “Within an hour and a half I had more than 20 investigators assembled. And a lot of experienced homicide investigators.� This is what Jerry Bratcher told the world.
Under the careful scrutiny of our investigation, that and many other statements made by Bratcher would prove to be utterly false.
At 5 a.m ., the investigation was in the hands of three men.
Sgt. John Koziol, who had worked on only one murder case—Lyng. In that case, there was no body, no crime scene and a witness who came forward 15 years later. Koziol confessed his lack of ability to organize the many aspects of the investigation. He was too busy “picking up ringing phones to take a lead … made arrangements with [our] lab people to have them process the crime scene, spoke to evidence technicians, maintaining the information coming in … had to get officers assigned to handle the families. Big part of [our] time was spent trying to identify people.� Koziol, nevertheless, would be placed in charge.
Investigator Bryan Opitz had never been responsible for a murder case. He’d only worked on one murder—he’d done surveillance in the Lyng case. Opitz would be placed in charge of leads.
Sgt. Bob Haas had no prior detective work experience as he was in field operations, assigned as liaison to the local high school. For the first hour-and-a-half he was in charge of the crime scene. Ultimately, Haas was placed in charge of all field investigations.
These were the officers there that night at hour one. By 6 o’clock that morning, were there, as Bratcher suggests, 20 investigators long on homicide experience?
This was a Palatine show in those first days. Bratcher wanted to solve the crime and believed he could do it. They had a suspect early on. Bratcher didn’t need outside expertise. He bought into his own propaganda.
“Should I have been calling in other people? If there’s anything worse than not having enough people on a case like this it’s having too many, stumbling over each other, confusing the issue, going in all directions. The responsible thing to do, as we did, was to expand the investigation as the need occurred.”
So at 6 o’clock that morning, Commander Marek of the Cook County Sheriff’s Police (CCSP) sat in Palatine and tried to remember “who was working that night.” Bratcher needed warm bodies, not experienced homicide investigators. He never asked for them—it was a Palatine operation. The CCSP was strictly there in a support role. It wasn’t their crime so they weren’t going to call guys in.
Personnel from the CCSP—Mueller, Smith, Russell, Medrys (who had some investigative experience) and Alvarado (they needed a Hispanic), showed in response to Marek’s call for help. They were used to flesh out the interviews by Palatine investigators that first day. They began arriving between 5 and 5:30 a.m. in response to a call from dispatch.
The very-experienced Commander Frank Braun was also present to lead the county people. By 9 a.m. Saturday, there were eight CCSP to help Palatine. They were not a crack homicide team, though a few had some experience. There are some experienced homicide investigators in the county, “but nothing like Chicago,” one county veteran told us. The gathered CCSP simply reflected who had been on duty that Friday night. They, together with Palatine, did not compose the 20 assembled investigators, many with homicide experience, about whom Bratcher bragged.
Bratcher was fresh, clean and pressed, compared to the rumpled crew who had been pulled out of bed at 3 a.m., or those coming off the night shift. He seemed happy. One investigator thought it strange. “This was going to make national, even international, news and he seemed happy … He looked like a guy that had taken the time to shower, clean up, and come to work, unlike everyone else who looked tired and somewhat thrown together.” Bratcher looked good. “I thought maybe he had a place to clean up at the station.”
The county people were there to assist, not do the primary investigating. “It was pretty clear that they wanted to solve the crime quickly.” At the Saturday morning meeting, they had already come up with former Brown’s employee Martin Blake as a suspect. “We thought it was two or three killers and two or three guns with reloads.” People started to talk about the wound on Brown’s owner Mrs. Ehlenfeldt’s neck, speculating that it was there because the killers were trying to force her to open the safe. Several wondered that if Blake did it, then who was he with? “Some guys thought it was a robbery gang … sort of random … but Palatine focused on Blake pretty solidly.”
Bratcher had his suspect and a chance for Palatine to solve the horrendous murders quickly, with all the glory to reflect on the merits of the department and Jerry Bratcher. But Bratcher was nervous. He said something odd.
“It had better be Blake or we have a real problem … You know if you have seven bodies and no suspects the press will eat you alive.”
Everyone felt that Palatine was running the show and they wanted a quick solution. Were the people Bratcher spoke so highly of present at that first Saturday meeting? The experienced homicide detectives long on investigative experience? No. One county investigator told the BGA, “The county brought in guys who were good, but Palatine was in charge and they didn’t have anybody like that.”
Bratcher had all his marbles on Blake as a suspect. Bratcher was the general riding into battle, dependent on his inexperienced troops—Koziol, Opitz and Haas. A look at all the interviews conducted in those first two days reveal Palatine in charge. Indeed, they conducted every major interview.
Could Bratcher’s inexperienced troops pull it together or would their inexperience do them in? It didn’t take long to find out.
A witness had come forward. She had seen a man in the restaurant and could describe him. Dave Fanning, a young Palatine investigator, was assigned to the lead. He went to the witness’ home at 11 a.m. on Saturday. Detective Fanning showed her a series of photos. The witness hesitated—she couldn’t ID Blake. But Fanning said, “Well, who looks most like the man you saw?” To which the woman answered, “Well, of these he’s the closest.” It was Blake.
Fanning went back to the station and shouted, “She ID’d Blake. She picked Blake out of a photo spread.”
In Fanning’s written report, he said nothing about the witness’ initial hesitancy and inability to identify Blake. Fanning wanted Blake to fit and he fit him. Palatine was now off and running, chasing Blake. For two days, Bratcher wasted all his resources on a fruitless attempt to make Blake their killer. Surveillance, arrest, search, interrogation, lie detector test and finally a line-up where the witness once again said, as she had said all along, “He’s not the man.”
The woman called Fanning at 7 p.m. on Sunday to tell him this. She ultimately believed that the man she had seen was one of the victims.
It was Monday afternoon and Bratcher had to let Blake go. He had wasted three days chasing Blake and now he had, as Koziol later pointed out, “no suspects.” In the meantime, the crime scene was slowly being processed. “They had a contract with Northern Illinois Police Crime Lab.” Bratcher’s friend, Chief Bonneville was an officer and would later become president. The canvass had never been completed. The most fundamental investigative techniques had been dropped while Bratcher used all his best people on Blake. It turned out to be a tragic mistake.
Bratcher had called in no new troops. No experienced homicide investigators. He explained it this way: “As early as Sunday, while we still had that suspect, I was reaching out to the FBI, I was reaching out to other agencies but telling them, �Thank you for your offers of support and we’ll be calling on you, but we’ll be calling on you as the need arises.’”
Indeed, early Saturday morning, the Chicago Superintendent of Police had offered Chief Bratcher help including use of the highly-respected Chicago Crime Lab. Bratcher later said that he’d never use that lab, “They lose stuff.”
Chief Bratcher didn’t see any need in those first three days. “Admittedly and clearly there were strong indicators on the first suspect and we followed those. We would have been irresponsible not to. And the last chapter of that hasn’t been written yet.”
Three crucial days had passed. Bratcher was back to square number one. His young, inexperienced personnel had failed him at three crucial junctures.
Officer Bonneville of Palatine had a reputation as a screw-up. He was on the force because he was a “chief’s kid.” Coming off a 30-day suspension, Bonneville had blown the opportunity to uncover the crime quickly when he was dispatched to do a well-being check on Brown’s employee Michael Castro. The Castros, who were on the scene earlier that Friday night concerned about their missing son, said Bonneville never got out of the car to check the restaurant. Months later, many police talking among themselves said they didn’t believe it. This appears to be correct. Had he tried the doors he would have found the open one, and the crime. His report, however, said that he had tried all the doors of the restaurant and found them all locked. Clearly, Bonneville had filed a false report.
Sgt. Koziol, hand-picked by Bratcher, characterized his role as, “I was in the stage of orchestrating the entire organization … never got around to organizing a canvass,”—the most basic, elementary aspect of scene investigation. Right at the top with crime scene protection.
And finally, Fanning mishandled their key witness, sending them on a wild three-day chase of Blake. He had clearly exaggerated her positive identification of Blake in his written police report.
But Bratcher, who would later rail against witnesses who filed false information, rushed to defend his men. Palatine PR man Walt Gasior attacked the relatives of the victims who said that Officer Bonneville never got out of his car to check the restaurant. He criticized the Chicago Tribune for suggesting that the canvass was not completed. Of course, no one knew about Detective Fanning’s false report. That, along with the identity of Bonneville and his inaccurate report, remained carefully hidden.
Bratcher told the skeptical media on January 24, 1993, that, “Someday, sometime in the not too distant future, you’ll be able to objectively evaluate this officer’s response. And I don’t think it’s going to be an issue.” This was nonsense. Bratcher was sitting there with Bonneville’s false report.
And then there was the lab. Bratcher’s men had wasted precious time on Blake, failed to canvass effectively and had no suspects, but there was still the possibility that an analysis of the crime scene would produce key evidence.
Bratcher once again had all his eggs in one basket: the Northern Illinois Police Crime Lab. Would they come through when others had failed? Chief Bratcher, along with other suburban chiefs, had put together the lab. They paid yearly dues, more then $50,000 total in Palatine’s case; his friend Chief Bonneville was an officer and later president. The NIPCL had trained the Palatine evidence technicians. Once again, everything was resting on the cozy system Bratcher and the other suburban chiefs had set up.
Unfortunately, the lab proved the be a disaster. Mobs of people tramped through the crime scene, oil from the crackle box was accidentally turned on flooding the floor. Understaffed, underqualified and unprepared, they failed to print one of the bodies, left some of the victim’s clothing hung for weeks in the Palatine station, found almost no relevant prints and, although they took out bags of evidence, almost none were usable and relevant. Interns worked on prints, the analysis dragged on for months—they were still eliminating latent prints in August 1994—and, at one point in March 1994, computers lost all of the database crime analysis that had been gathered. On top of that, the lab had never been accredited. At one point they chose to make analysis of North suburban bird droppings a priority over the Palatine murder evidence. Ultimately, two of the four technicians who worked on the Brown’s murders would be fired for incompetence.
On February 21, 1993, an article appeared in the Southtown Economist entitled, “Lab Hinders Palatine Probe,” which uncovered the lab’s incompetence. It noted that the lab had only recently begun to compare prints, “… Law enforcement sources say the delay is primarily due to the Palatine Task Force’s almost-total reliance for evidence-processing on a north suburban crime lab set up by a consortium of suburban police departments, and the crime lab’s minimal use of help offered by more experienced crime labs run by Chicago and state police.”
Bratcher, leaping to support the lab said that the allegations of lab incompetence were “patent malarkey.” The Southtown article said Bratcher went further to say that fingerprints and other evidence were being processed slowly using complex laboratory procedures to ensure “nothing is missed.” Bratcher said, “I stand by the crime lab … It may not be as big as others, but it’s staffed by professional people and they’re doing it right.”
This was one of the most outrageous examples of the chief’s deliberate misleading of the media and the public. Bratcher later hosted a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the lab in Palatine. The minutes of that meeting noted: “Chief Bratcher addressed the attendees about an incident of negative press the lab received on the Brown’s case. He stated in no way would the attitude of the media be interpreted as his. He is very satisfied with the work the lab has completed and so informed the source.”
Well aware of the horrendous mistakes in securing the crime scene and evidence gathering process, he chose to lie and cover up the situation in order to hide the consequences of his own terrible mistake in choosing that lab as opposed to the others available—obviously, the state and Chicago. He never blinked. It was really his lab.
At the one-year point, he again defended the lab in a wave of hyperbole unusual even for Bratcher. In a Daily Herald article, he suggested that this was the best processing of a crime scene ever. “I don’t believe that there has ever been a crime scene search that was conducted in a more painstaking, meticulous manner than this. As a matter of fact, I doubt very much that there has been a more meticulous crime scene search.”
Ultimately a key lab official would assert that this crime will never be solved by physical evidence, even though, when police have nothing else, they then hope the lab will bail them out.
Finally, Chief Bratcher withheld his lab payment because of their incompetence, the lab threatened to sue Palatine for its $50,000 share. Bratcher quietly settled for $25,000 and everything was swept under the rug.
It was now day four and Bratcher had no choice but to reach out. The state had volunteered detectives and analysts. Bratcher called the FBI and other suburban departments. One homicide detective and a detective division administrative sergeant from Chicago arrived on Wednesday. They were of an extraordinary quality. Many excellent field investigators from neighboring communities also arrived in Palatine.
The new additions to the emerging Task Force had no choice now that the trail was cold—they began to canvass. A tip came in from the county jail.
Reynaldo Aviles, facing long imprisonment, said he’d had a conversation with his associate from the Puerto Rican (PR) Stones gang, Jose Cruz. Aviles said Cruz told him that he was responsible for the Brown’s incident. That there “had been a fight and shit had to be done.”
Pat O’Brien, never an investigator but assigned as legal advisor to the Task Force by State’s Attorney Jack O’Malley, never believed the story. But in January 1993, O’Brien wanted to obtain a judicial overhear to listen in on further jailhouse conversations between Aviles and Cruz. Aviles was told not to talk to Cruz in the interim.
The lead was assigned by John Robertson of the State’s Attorney’s office to Richard Zuley. Kevin Kavanaugh, O’Malley’s chief investigator, now in tactical command with Koziol, would later attempt to question Lead 80 suspects with Robertson.
Zuley was a top Chicago homicide detective who had solved some of the city’s most notorious murders, including the Dantrell Davis sniper murder and the young woman at the ATM machine. Fowler was a highly-respected officer from Skokie. He was brought into the lead because of the PR Stones’ involvement in a Skokie armed robbery. They worked alongside Vic Valdez, an experienced investigator from the Illinois State Police.
When they began to debrief Aviles, the investigators quickly learned that he had violated O’Brien’s admonition. Aviles had talked to Cruz again who said that he didn’t want to discuss Palatine further. The investigators pressed Aviles for information and he told them that he and Cruz had participated in a string of armed robberies. The gang was branching out to the suburbs, where there was more reward and less risk, in order to put together money for a dope buy.
To test Aviles’ veracity, they asked for details of the robberies. Aviles also set forth Cruz’s M.O., much of which fit the Brown’s job exactly. Cruz used a .38. He wore gloves. He liked to fire and reload. He carried extra ammo and picked up the shell casings. One experienced Chicago Police officer called carrying extra ammunition really rare, “just like a finger print.”
Zuley, Valdez and Fowler quickly pushed on. Aviles’ information on the robbery at the Irish Wolfhound saloon checked. So did his description of the robbery at the Captain Video store. There was a striking resemblance to Palatine. The robbers came in at closing time, marched an employee into the basement, and forced the female manager at gunpoint to open the cash register. Clearly, they were on to something.
Aviles described yet another robbery, this one a bakery in Skokie. By this point they wanted surveillance on Cruz, but Kavanaugh said, “No, you don’t have enough probable cause for a surveillance.” He was told you don’t need probable cause for surveillance, you use surveillance to get probable cause. They had civilian state cars ready. They questioned the manager of the Burger King Aviles had said the gang had cased for a robbery through a friend of his girlfriend, who worked in the store. Aviles’ girlfriend confirmed the story.
Fowler got a surveillance van from Northbrook. Chicago Gang Crimes confirms that Cruz is “a stone-cold killer.” Investigators were excited, but they couldn’t put together the Skokie job. Fowler suddenly recalled that the Skokie joint was not a restaurant but the King David Bakery. It all began to click.
They went back to Kavanaugh, informing him that the surveillance was set. They had found the suburban robbery. “No,” Kavanaugh said. “Prove these guys did the robbery.”
Zuley, Fowler, Valdez and others began to question Kavanaugh’s competence. Any first-year law student knows that you use surveillance to develop probable cause, not the other way around. But Kavanaugh had been an administrator. He lacked an investigative background. He had worked at Chicago’s Internal Affairs Division where you must have probable cause before doing surveillance on policemen for corruption. Was he confused? The investigators began to lose confidence in Bratcher’s command.
Pat O’Brien was highly controversial—he was a lawyer, not an investigator. Koziol was woefully inexperienced and now Kavanaugh was taking stupid positions publicly. Their authority became questionable.
Fowler remembered his witness at the King David Bakery. He went over the facts with the robbery victim, and everything Aviles had said checked out. The witness was Mexican, and he said a Puerto Rican robbed him of his paycheck. He could tell because the robber was speaking Puerto Rican Spanish. Aviles had said that Cruz tried to cash the bakery employee’s paycheck.
Fowler went back to Kavanaugh. He had proven the gang had done a suburban robbery. Kavanaugh said, “Prove Cruz did the robbery.” Fowler went back to his witness. He picked Cruz’s photo out of a line-up.
Now, O’Brien and the command were interested but skeptical. They had to pick up Cruz since he was an armed robber and a murder suspect. But O’Brien insisted that Fowler’s witness be brought to Rolling Meadows so he could personally check him out before authorizing a request for an arrest warrant.
To obtain a warrant based on Aviles’ story, it had to be corroborated. The investigators had done that and produced a witness with a positive ID. But Aviles’ veracity was a crucial link in the chain of evidence.
O’Brien talked to the witness, became convinced he was telling the truth and obtained a warrant for Cruz’s arrest at Fowler’s request. O’Brien was vouching for the informant Aviles’ credibility with the court.
The command put together plans for Chicago Gang Crimes to arrest Cruz on a Skokie robbery case and turn him over to Kavanaugh and Palatine. Bratcher’s desire to have Palatine and the State’s Attorney solve the case and gain the credit was evident.
But again, inexperience and a lack of effective leadership intervened. Zuley called the command. “There’s nothing happening … you don’t have to come in,” MacGregor from Palatine Police Department told him. Zuley, Valdez and Fowler had put together this key lead with no encouragement and over the objections of O’Brien and Kavanaugh. Now the command was cutting them out so they could get the glory.
No one foresaw the consequences of that harmless phone call, but it precipitated a mutiny and an explosion right in the center of Bratcher’s self-proclaimed “greatest task force ever.”
Zuley and Fowler immediately decided that “these people are nuts” and they began to put together an end run around them. Fowler pointed out to Kavanaugh that it was a Skokie case, that he Valdez and Zuley had the background information necessary to interrogate Cruz, and that he would have a Skokie car present to take Cruz to Skokie after the arrest by Gang Crimes on his warrant.
Kavanaugh relented. But that evening as the investigators prepared to put together the arrest at the 24th District station, Zuley and Kavanaugh went nose to nose in front of 40 assembled law enforcement officers. They had to be separated, screaming and shouting, before blows were thrown.
Fowler made the same argument to Kavanaugh that evening.
The actual arrest was routine. Cruz was transported to Skokie. Kavanaugh and his deputy Robertson showed up later. But while Fowler questioned Cruz, Kavanaugh was made to wait in the station house. He left some time after midnight, seething.
This was insubordination, clean and simple. A turf war over credit at its nastiest. Zuley and Fowler were using their experience in the intricacies of law enforcement to show Kavanaugh, Koziol and Bratcher how the game is played.
Skokie warrant, Skokie station, Skokie rules. This infuriated Kavanaugh and set in motion events which have yet to be fully played out as of this day. A fissure split right through the heart of Bratcher’s Task Force.
It took six hours of questioning Cruz and his sidekick Sanchez for Cruz to confess to the Skokie robbery. Zuley and Fowler worked all night and into the morning to get him to admit to a crime that they had him cold on. Everyone was worn out. It was time to take Cruz to Palatine and talk about the murders.
When they arrived that afternoon in Palatine, there was little enthusiasm. At the earlier meeting prior to the arrest, O’Brien had reiterated his objections. “I just can’t see a Puerto Rican gang in the suburbs.” O’Brien wasn’t around that afternoon. He and Bratcher had a dinner to go to.
Zuley, Fowler, Russell and Valdez began the questioning. But they stopped early to go get dinner for the prisoners and to discuss progress and tactics. When they left, the remaining investigators sensed trouble.
Koziol and Robertson went in and began interrogating Cruz, a breach of police etiquette in any station house in America. A senior Task Force leader who saw them go in said, “this could mean trouble.”
When Zuley, Valdez, Fowler and Russell returned, Koziol announced, “We’re letting him go. I looked in his eyes and he didn’t do it.”
Zuley went crazy. “How many gang banging, murdering, robber Puerto Ricans have you ever interviewed?” he asked. “None,” Koziol stated. “But I went to the John Reid School of Interrogation.” Everyone stood there aghast.
One of Bratcher’s inexperienced people had done it again. But Kavanaugh’s anger was the motivating force.
Bratcher’s Task Force was disintegrating before his eyes, right in his own station house. Open warfare had broken out, with O’Brien, Kavanaugh and Koziol—the command—on one side and Zuley, Fowler, representatives of the state, county and Chicago Gang Crimes on the other.
It was a mutiny, plain and simple, and Kavanaugh was putting it down. This was a question of who was in charge, who was running the investigation. What was happening flew in the face of all he’d learned at the Chicago Police Department. Kavanaugh was, after all, Chief Investigator of the State’s Attorney’s Office, in charge of 140 people. Could a detective from Chicago and one from Skokie take him and make a fool of him in front of 40 assembled law enforcement officers and get away with it?
Cruz was transported to Skokie and booked for the King David Bakery armed robbery.
On the following day, the 27th, Cruz asked to speak to Zuley. Before Zuley arrived, Longos from Chicago Gang Crimes was asked by Cruz how he was caught and tied in to Palatine. He suggested that perhaps Cruz had been caught “on videotape in Palatine.” Cruz burst out, “Man, there were no fucking cameras in that restaurant.”
When Zuley arrived he found Cruz emotional and frightened, concerned for the safety of his common-law wife and children. He said he couldn’t sleep and was having nightmares about what happened. According to Cruz, things were so bad he was contemplating suicide. Cruz began to weep.
“Look, man, I didn’t do it but man, they didn’t have to shoot them all—they shot all of them, they shot five in one place and two in the other and all they got was chump change. They only got chump change—around $900 or $1100. There was a fight and they killed them all.”
The detectives asked Cruz who did it if he didn’t. He said he was in his apartment and his roommates started talking about Palatine, about having done the murders. Cruz said they were from the TJO’s gang, and that he was scared.
Cruz went on to provide a physical description of Manny Castro, the father of one of the victims, stating that they had purchased guns from him. Cruz denied that he had talked to Aviles on the phone. He later said, “prove to me that I spoke to Aviles and we can talk.”
It was time to send Cruz to court. Zuley gave up on the questioning. It was recalled that before confessing to the King David job, Cruz had indicated early in the questioning that he knew what happened, but that he had remained in the car while Aviles robbed the employee in the alley. It was only after almost six hours of intense questioning that he admitted to being the one to put the gun to the victim’s head.
Now, while confirming many of Aviles’ allegations, Cruz was once again indicating knowledge of key elements of the crime and his proximity to it. However, he distanced himself and suggested, as he had in the Kind David case, that it was in fact others who actually committed the crime. There was a pattern to his denials.
His roommates turned out to be Huber and Deering, who were picked up by Koziol and Robertson on the 30th. Zuley and Fowler were told by Koziol that, having been interviewed, both men appeared to be uninvolved. Gang intelligence confirmed extensive records for violent criminal behavior and recent release from the penitentiary.
Huber told Zuley that Cruz’s common-law wife Stacy Hall had been in Chicago on Friday night, January 8, driving her silver �85 Ford Thunderbird with four headlights and Wisconsin plates. Huber said Cruz was using her car that Friday.
This was Fowler and Zuley’s last contact with the investigation. Furious, Bratcher was later to say of Zuley, “I hate that son of a bitch.” He dispatched the investigators off of Lead 80 to work for a sergeant much their junior in terms of experience. Fowler walked away in disgust, telling his Skokie superiors, “These people are fucking nuts.”
Bratcher said he fired Zuley for leaking information to the press. He never presented evidence of this, nor did our staff ever uncover any evidence to support Bratcher’s charge.
Life at the Task Force seemed to return to normal. The command thought they would be able to continue to investigate Lead 80 without the rebellious insubordination of Zuley and Fowler.
PR man Walt Gasior even put out a new release, bragging of the wondrous cooperation on the Task Force. The media bought in and the insurrection was swept under the rug—or so it seemed.
“The Palatine Investigative Task Force is being directed by Palatine Police Chief Jerry Bratcher. In that role, Chief Bratcher assesses and determines the strategies of the major case investigation; reviews all plans that will impact on the investigation and reviews all plans for media relations and the release of information. The Palatine Investigative Task Force has been staffed with more that 75 officers, investigators, analysts and other support staff.”
All was quiet again on the Task Force. But the crime was still unsolved.
After they left—Zuley, Fowler, and Valdez—they put together a final report called “Lead Number 80,” which encompassed the interrogation of Cruz and Sanchez through the questioning of Huber and Deering on the 30th. Lead 80 was a nine-page document authored by the three investigators and typed by Zuley.
In some respects, the report was important for what it did not contain. It did not refer to the early memos of Aviles’ recounting of prior armed robberies performed with Cruz or to the painstaking investigation and complete corroboration of Aviles’ statements. Nor does the report mention the manager of a fast food joint who confirmed the relationship of Aviles’ girlfriend and his employee. Aviles had said they’d cased the place for another robbery just like the one at the Captain Video store, both with the same M.O. as Brown’s. The manager had even placed Aviles in the restaurant. The memo did not set forth the details used as the basis for Cruz’s arrest with the court, explaining Fowler’s request for a warrant and other key elements, such as the link between victim Castro’s father and the suspect Cruz.
The Lead 80 report was sent to the Task Force that February, and the information became part of their internal records.
But the memo was detailed enough to cause a minor media explosion when Chuck Goudie put it on the air that summer on WLS-Channel 7 News.
The Task Force hated Goudie. They had placed his picture on the wall along with the mug shots of various criminals. Bratcher had early on chosen favorites in the media to leak to, giving them self-serving information. He loved certain reporters including Jay Levine at Channel 2 and other reporters. They saw things Bratcher’s way. These reporters didn’t believe a Puerto Rican gang could possibly commit robberies in the suburbs, which had been O’Brien’s position all along.
But one of Aviles’ relatives lived close to Palatine, in Wheeling. Unbeknownst to Levine and others, Chicago Gang Crimes had put together an elaborate intelligence analysis and display of the suburban activities and ringleaders of the PR Stones.
Bratcher tantalized his favorite media partners with tidbits of information, holding long interviews exalting the virtues of the Task Force, such as the one with John Carpenter of the Daily Herald on January 24, 1993. And, hungry for any news of the seven murders, they carried it all.
The reporters were completely in the dark concerning the string of robberies so strikingly similar to Palatine that were committed by Aviles and Cruz. The Lead 80 document in their possession contained none of this, so Goudie’s story died when other media outlets treated it lightly.
The Task Force put out another mundane release, presumably cleared by O’Brien, reiterating his early opinion that Aviles was not a truthful source. Of course, this was wildly inconsistent with O’Brien’s previous endorsement of Aviles’ information before the court, which was necessary to obtain the initial arrest warrant for Cruz.
But the Chicago media went back to sleep quickly and no one dug deeply into the story.
Bratcher had cooled out the situation. No one knew about the mutiny and the Lead 80 document merely hinted at it. The investigators weren’t talking. Goudie couldn’t get anyone to come forward, certainly not the authors of the report, who wouldn’t even confirm whether or not they had written it.
Kavanaugh was enraged. He suspected the investigators of leaking the document to embarrass himself and the Task Force.
He went crazy.
Kavanaugh began by writing letters to the state, Skokie and Chicago departments, demanding disciplinary action against Zuley, Fowler and Valdez. The state laughed it off. Skokie told him to “shove it.”
But Kavanaugh had been at Chicago’s IAD. He knew how to manipulate the system. Would he do it in order to vent his anger against Zuley?
A Chicago detective had taken on the State’s Attorney’s Chief Investigator and a Chicago Police lieutenant at that. Kavanaugh, an extremely proud man, wanted vengeance.
Would he work the system to carry out his own personal vendetta against Zuley? Certainly. Everyone knows that the policies of the Chicago PD are “hardball.” Indescribably petty, bitter grudges go on for years. Careers are damaged and lives ruined over turf battles.
Kavanaugh had Zuley brought up on charges of writing an unauthorized report. Zuley, a consummate player, fought back. The report was completely accurate and both Skokie and the state backed him up. The incredibly arcane process worked slowly. Unwilling to accept token punishment, Zuley won completely, and walked away unscathed.
But Kavanaugh wasn’t finished. He went to the State’s Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit. He wanted them to open a criminal case against Zuley. In the criminal justice system, the police watch everyone with an intelligence system rivaling the KGB—the Russian Secret Police. Nothing goes unnoticed. For the State’s Attorney’s office to attack a working Chicago homicide detective, especially one with Zuley’s brilliant reputation (he had solved a string of “heater cases”—the woman at the ATM machine, the Loyola student shot in an alley, and the Dantrell Davis case), was not only unheard of but close to internal suicide.
The State’s Attorney depends on these detectives to testify in their most important cases. Yet one veteran State’s Attorney said, “Hell, 25% of the homicide detectives are under investigation by IAD at any one time.”
The old pros in Public Integrity listened to Kavanaugh. But after reading Lead 80, they said, “It looks like this guy solved Palatine.” “No,” Kavanaugh responded, “I want him charged.” They laughed and told Kavanaugh to forget it.
Kavanaugh wasn’t through. He still had enormous clout within the State’s Attorney’s office. If he couldn’t get him indicted, there were other ways to damage Zuley.
Kavanaugh went to the attorneys in the sniper murder of Dantrell Davis, telling them that Zuley was under investigation—he was ultimately cleared. This investigation was potential Brady material reflecting on his credibility, which had to be turned over to the defense. In an unprecedented act, the State’s Attorney risked the Davis case by communicating this information to Judge Strayhorn, so deep was Kavanaugh’s anger.
The old-timers in the State’s Attorney’s office were aghast.
One veteran thought Zuley, “a good detective.” “Someone had a hard-on for Zuley because you never bring up internal affairs to judges or defense attorneys.” He had never seen this done before. “If the IAD was successful, a detective would have to find other work.”
Another said, “I can’t imagine that even O’Malley would go after a detective like Zuley because you didn’t like the way he had written a report.”
Many State’s Attorneys felt that Kavanaugh’s job was to get other cops. They contended that Zuley was a good cop, “as good as they come,” and that he was getting slammed.
Ultimately, Zuley made a mistake. After being contacted by Fed agents who had developed similar information, he stopped while en route home to see if Manny Castro still had his business on the North Side. A card was left with a neighboring business when Zuley introduced himself and asked if Mr. Castro still had his business. The card was given to Mr. Castro and he called Zuley. Zuley told Mr. Castro that some agents might want to talk to him and he said okay. Zuley never met Mr. Castro or ever saw him. Kavanaugh initiated another complaint and Zuley ultimately took a one-day suspension for disobeying an order not to have anything to do with Palatine.
Kavanaugh and Bratcher had won. But had they?
There was a price to be paid, but Zuley wouldn’t pay it. The Police Tom-Tom network was throbbing. “They” had successfully screwed Zuley. It became a cause celeb. And it didn’t take long for the information to reach Frank Portillo.
Portillo, the owner of Brown’s Chicken and Pasta, owned 140 stores. He was a very successful businessman. The killings devastated Portillo, both emotionally and financially. He wanted the killers caught.
He became a huge fan of Jerry Bratcher and the Task Force. He joined the Chicago Crime Commission. He talked to legislative leaders about stronger penalties in the robberies of restaurants. He began speaking at luncheons all over Illinois, boosting public support for law enforcement and local police.
But along the way, Portillo began to hear rumblings of controversy at the Task Force.
Portillo always wondered why the Task Force had never come to interview him. He had the names of numerous employees who had been in the store in the days and hours before the murders. They had never asked for this information, which could be used to eliminate fingerprints.
In addition, Portillo used a rare secret cooking formula to enhance flavor of the chicken. This formula contained cottonseed oil. It permeated everything in the Brown’s stores; the floors, walls, counters. It was impossible to spend anytime in the rear area of the restaurant without the oil getting on your clothes and cars and everything you possessed.
But the Task Force never asked him. Portillo retained a lawyer, former Federal Strike Force Chief Douglas Roller, to help him analyze the situation. He had other attorneys defending a case brought on by Manny Castro over possible negligence by management the night of the killings.
But Portillo was insured with a high policy, 12 times more than the highest American award. He felt secure. But those seven dead people really bothered him. They were his people.
It didn’t take Roller long to come up with the dissension on the Task Force, the mutiny, the botched arrest of Cruz, and the State’s Attorney’s vendetta against Dick Zuley. It was now legend within the Chicago PD and the State’s Attorney’s office.
As often happened in these cases, two unrelated events collided. In November 1995, Portillo came to the Better Government Association through his attorney Doug Roller, a former colleague of BGA Executive Director Brunner (they’d both run organized strike forces against the Mafia for the U.S. Department of Justice).
Brunner agreed to take a preliminary look.
He assigned BGA Chief Investigator Mike Lyons, a 20-year veteran, to the case. Lyons was responsible not only for major television exposes with Mike Wallace, such as “Navy Shipbuilding,” with the permanent investigative committee of the U.S. Senate, and NBC’s “Cattle King Beef,” for which the Cattle King President went to federal prison after the BGA’s project with the US Congress (headed by Tom Harkin of Iowa), but he’d been responsible for the investigation into political corruption of two prominent county officials—County Board President George Dunne and State’s Attorney Cecil Partee. Dunne decided not to run for re-election in the wake of the scandal and Partee was defeated by Jack O’Malley.
Thus, Lyons had in some way been responsible for O’Malley’s election. Twenty percent of the exit poll voters said they had voted against Partee because of the scandal uncovered by Lyons.
After Brunner’s meeting with Portillo, Lyons immediately called to set up an appointment with Bratcher.
The second event that occurred in the fall of 1995 was the resurfacing on Channel 5 News of the “Lead 80 Memo” written by Zuley. Reporter Dave Savini had some new angles. He had found a previously missing car, which sources said was used by the PR Stones robbery gang. Medrys and Peters of the Task Force had been searching for it.
But essentially, many of the allegations were similar to those in Goudie’s report two years prior, in September 1993. In both instances, the reporters said that the leaks had come from “higher-ups” in the Chicago PD who had seen the report and thought it too pertinent to remain hidden.
If Zuley and Fowler had leaked the report, it would have coincided the mutiny over Lead 80 and the Task Force split.
Lyons met with Bratcher, Koziol and new Task Force Director Jim Bell, a former FBI staffer. He had never been an agent, though many in the press treated him as if he had been. They met in early December and repeated the company line: Zuley was a renegade. He was fired by Bratcher with obvious pleasure. Koziol had never made the ridiculous statements attributed to him in “Lead 80.” Bell pointed out that it was routine for task forces to have one guy who didn’t agree with the majority and tried to do his own thing. There was no hint of the enormity of the dissension.
In fact, not only was everything “hunky dory” but Bell pointed out, as he has said many times since, “This is the greatest Task Force ever assembled.”
Bratcher also indicated that he would never cooperate with a BGA/Crime Commission Panel examining the effectiveness of the Task Force since it was an ongoing criminal investigation. Thus, his men and his records would not be made available. Bratcher did volunteer that if Lyons wished to understand the depth of Zuley’s incompetence and his questionable motivation, he should talk to Pat O’Brien, who had since assumed the role of Palatine PR person, and Paul Carroll, a Chicago sergeant who would give us the “inside scoop” on Zuley.
Bratcher also maintained that he had 42 reasons why Lead 80 couldn’t be true. One solid alibi would have ruled Cruz out. Of course, 42 reasons were hyperbole.
Clearly, Bratcher was willing to cooperate fully in attacking Zuley, Fowler, Valdez and those who sided with them. But he was unwilling to discuss his role in leading the Task Force and refused to hand over a command flow chart.
Bratcher also assumed, incorrectly, that his lack of cooperation would thwart any attempt to find out what went on inside the ranks of the Task Force.
Bratcher grievously underestimated Lyons’ investigative ability. Lyons laughed privately. George Dunne and Cecil Partee had never given him any documents either.
Lyons had just finished an investigation of Chicago’s 911 facility, in which he compromised the security of police headquarters most secured area and photographed sleeping cops failing to answer phones. The film was shown in a hilarious session of the City Council and by Chris Wallace on Prime Time Live.
Similarly, Mike Lyons, with Mike Wallace and 60 Minutes, had infiltrated the security system at O’Hare, placing BGA investigators in the cockpits of El Al jets. Over the years, the BGA had successfully sued the Chicago PD and the FBI in the Red Squad Case, uncovering J. Edgar Hoover’s “CoInTel” operation aimed at destroying Martin Luther King by putting out false information about his character.
The BGA also obtained over 250 tests for the Chicago Police Lieutenants examination and aired the results for a week on NBC-TV.
Lyons didn’t think it would be necessary to have Bratcher’s cooperation. He found it humorous. “They never cooperate,” he said.
Lyons went to O’Brien who, while defending his own actions, disparaged Zuley’s character. O’Brien suggested Lyons talk to defense attorneys—they’ll tell him about Zuley.
Paul Carroll suggested that Zuley, while an effective detective, was driven by prejudice against Puerto Ricans. Both men suggested that the BGA should look into Zuley’s background in order to discredit him.
But because of an ongoing criminal investigation, they’d be unable to discuss their own roles.
Bratcher then began a PR campaign discussing the BGA/Crime Commission initiative. Attacking the concept he said, “I’ll not subject my Task Force to any Tribunal.”
And then an unusual thing occurred.
The anniversary of the murders was approaching. Seven people had been killed in a brightly lit suburban shopping center on a busy Friday evening, yet the crime remained unsolved. There were no apparent leads. The Task Force had been brutally criticized on Channel 5. Bratcher’s own prediction of three years before had come true. “If you have seven bodies and no suspects, the press will eat you alive.”
Never one to run from controversy, Bratcher decided to try a new tactic. He used the taxpayers’ money to hire a new PR man for an upcoming anniversary press conference. He’d attack the critics of Lead 80, particularly Channel 5. After all, he still had all the information and the all the critics had was the nine page report.
Enter former WGN-TV anchor Rick Rosenthal. After he spent hours analyzing internal documents, Rosenthal came up with a new game plan to blunt the attacks from Savini, Goudie and the BGA/Crime Commission. Bratcher never did explain why it was okay to show his carefully-guarded files to Rosenthal.
At a highly unusual and highly-charged press conference, Bratcher said that the Lead 80 document was not an official report because it was not on Task Force stationary. He further quipped:
• the real lead 80 is inches thick
• he never saw the document until it was presented to him by media representatives months later
• the lead rests on false statements made by McQueeny, who did an IdentaKit bearing a striking resemblance to Sanchez, but later was convicted of providing false information
• finally, Frank Portillo. What did Bratcher have to say about him? “Mr. Portillo protesteth too loud, in my opinion. I would love to know what his motivation is.”
This January press conference was followed by a supposedly objective look at the facts in Law and Order magazine, authored by Rick Rosenthal. Yes, the same paid PR man brought in by the Task Force to “construct and draft a Lead 80 response.”
Rosenthal went on in the article to elaborate on Bratcher’s points given at the press conference, attacking Channel 5’s Dave Savini. Rosenthal describes the merits of the Palatine Task Force and discredits the informants involved with Lead 80. “Aviles, along with many other people, talked to police about the case, but his �information’ was exhaustively investigated and was discredited. Aviles was not a �key informant’ and what he told police simply was not true.”
It is helpful to remember a few key facts:
• Fowler, Zuley, Valdez and Chicago Gang Crimes investigators painstakingly corroborated the statements made by Aviles.
• Cruz himself confirmed many of Aviles’ accusations, confessing to two armed robberies.
• The command felt the lead worthy enough to put together 40 men to arrest Cruz, with Bratcher’s point man Kavanaugh fighting to have their troops pick him up for the glory.
• O’Brien endorsed Aviles’ veracity by authorizing Fowler’s application for a Skokie arrest warrant.
• The string of robberies stopped after Cruz’s arrest.
The armed robbery Cruz pled guilty to, based on Aviles testimony, was one of the only crimes and only felony ever cleared by the Task Force. Bratcher took liberal credit for it, bragging in one press release, “While the large investment of investigative time resulted in the clearance of other robbery cases in Skokie, it did not develop a productive link with the Palatine case. I am satisfied with the course of this investigation.” Then why did Bratcher conduct two separate follow-up investigations into the merit of Lead 80?
It is worthwhile to review the facts of Lead 80. It paints a picture of overwhelming circumstantial evidence.
• The striking correspondence between Aviles’ statements and the facts of Brown’s and other robberies.
• The use of Aviles’ father’s or uncle’s suburban Wheeling home as a hideout, diminishing doubts about the possibility of gang activity in the suburbs.
• The string of PR Stones robberies whose modus operandi matched that of Brown’s, all occurring on a timeline that led directly to Brown’s (12/6/92, 12/29/92,1/5/93,1/6/93, and Brown’s, 1/8/93).
• Cruz’s conviction in one of these robberies: the Skokie King David Bakery robbery of 12/29/92.
• Gang intelligence reports that connected Cruz’s MO to that of the Brown’s killer(s).
• Cruz’s striking knowledge of specific facts of the Brown’s killing.
• Cruz’s girlfriend’s 1985 silver Ford Thunderbird’s startling match with reports of various eyewitnesses at Brown’s between 9 and 10 p.m. the night of the killings.
• Gang Intelligence’s affirmation that Palatine was “a PR Stones thing.”
Finally, what effect has Kavanaugh’s vendetta in fact had on the most important issue—solving the Palatine murders?
To this date the intelligence operations of the Chicago PD, particularly Gang Crimes, is constantly producing information which bears on the crime. What happens to this information? Is it forwarded to the Task Force?
“Are you crazy?” one Chicago detective told us. “You know what happened to Zuley.”
In February 1993, scores of task force members gathered together at the Alumni Club, a Schaumburg restaurant and bar, for a Task Force recognition party. The Village of Palatine paid for award plaques to be given to the Task Force members and seventy wool caps ($618).
Nearly five years after the killings, State’s Attorney Jack O’Malley was defeated for re-election and his chief investigator, Kevin Kavanaugh, has retired from the Chicago police. Pat O’Brien left the State’s Attorney’s office and became a private attorney and paid PR spokesperson to combat the periodic news media questioning of the Task Force.
Sergeant Koziol, of the Palatine Police Department, has been promoted to Commander and is still a member of the seven-man Task Force. Jerry Bratcher remains as the Police Chief of Palatine, earning $82,630 a year in salary. Chief Bratcher maintains his outside consulting business. In a phone conversation with BGA Executive Director Terry Brunner just prior to the report being published, Bratcher threatened the BGA with an investigation into its report.
Palatine taxpayers have paid for the Task Force’s lunches, dinners and drinks, most listed as “Chief’s Dinners,” on at least 67 occasions, totaling over three-thousand dollars. When asked if she approved of spending taxpayer funds for food and liquor, Mayor Rita Mullins said she did not. When asked how it could occur, she said she was unaware of it.
In 1997, Mayor Rita Mullins received the Lincoln Award for business results. She attributed her success to the Village’s use of Total Quality Management since 1992.
Victor Valdez, of the Illinois State Police, has been promoted to Master Sergeant. Brent Fowler has been promoted to sergeant. Detective Dick Zuley, a full lieutenant in the United States Naval Reserve Intelligence, was assigned for one year to the Caribbean drug wars. He has since returned to Chicago Homicide and is still used to solve their “heater” cases. His one-day suspension, following his association with the Palatine Task Force, is the only blot on his 27-year record.
Suspect Martin Blake sued the Village of Palatine, who settled the case. Blake received something less than $100,000 in a sealed settlement.
Suspect Cruz pled guilty to the armed robbery of the King David Bakery and was sentenced to prison.
The murders of seven people remain unsolved.