BGA Report (part 2)
The Brown’s Chicken Massacre
Descriptive Background: The Crime in Context
J. Terrence Brunner, Executive Director, Better Government Association
This document is not to be reproduced without the express written permission of the
Better Government Association. Extra copies of the BGA reports are available for $10 upon request
At 3:11 a.m. on Saturday January 9, 1993, Palatine Police Officers Conley and Saxma opened the east employee’s door of Brown’s Fried Chicken and entered what many detectives described to the BGA as the worst crime scene since the John Wayne Gacy or Richard Speck murders.
“Five in the cooler at Brown’s,” had gone out over the radio and one veteran officer told the BGA that he had “visions of Jeffrey Dahmer.” The five victims in the “cooler” were actually found in the freezer on the store’s east side and they were all attired in blood soaked Brown’s uniforms. The two other victims were discovered by the late-arriving Sgt. Haas, who showed up two minutes later. He found them in the west cooler and only one was in a Brown’s uniform.
The seven victims included Richard and Lynn Ehlenfeldt, 50 and 49 years old respectively, the husband and wife team who had recently purchased the restaurant. It became a family enterprise and they had relieved their daughter at 4 p.m. that day to handle the busy Friday night shift. The “breader” that night, who was not required to wear a Brown’s uniform because he did not have public contact, was 32-year-old Tim Mennes. The other four victims included 31-year-old Marcus Nellsen, Guadalupe Maldonado, 46, and two Palatine High School friends, 16-year-old Michael Castro and 17-year-old Rico Solis. They had all been shot from one to six times and some sections of the crime scene were “very bloody” despite efforts by the killers to clean up. The “shooter,” which is parlance for the actual killer as opposed to any accomplices, had reloaded his weapon at least three times.
Some of the shots to the heads of various victims appeared to one veteran police officer as having been delivered “execution style” as a sort of “coup de gras.” A knife was also used by the killers and some evidence of a struggle was also present. A warning or control shot had been fired into the ceiling.
Evidence was all over the restaurant. A partially-eaten meal was in a freshly-changed garbage bag. The bloody mop that the killers had used to clean some of the scene was resting near the east door. The mop bucket was propping open another door in the restaurant. On the lower part of the freezer, the hand of one victim was extending out the door and bloody prints were on the door frame.
The killers had flipped the electric switches near the door stopping the wall clock. The crack on the face of the stopped wall clock initially intrigued investigators until they discovered that it had been cracked by employees playing “biscuit baseball” many weeks earlier. A potentially important piece of evidence was found on the floor in front of the cooler door and another near the safe. The safe still had the key in it.
While bags of evidence were later removed from the scene by the police, we will not attempt here to set forth all the physical evidence. But, just as important as the evidence which was present is the evidence which was absent. Police found no shell casings despite an exhaustive search, and the killers left money on some victims while taking cash from the safe. Money was found in the sock of one victim and the wallet of another. The credit card of one of the victims was hidden behind some boxes.
By Saturday night, the crime scene was described by two others who were there as “dimly lit” with “powder” from fingerprint dusting everywhere. The floor was “filthy” and the paper on the floor, which was put there to protect from footprints, was tattered and wet. Bags of evidence, some of which would not be processed for months, lined the hallway to the dining room. Ten or twelve police clustered around in groups while evidence technicians worked.
Outside the crime scene sat the victims’ cars. Police “drew the scene narrowly,” which is police parlance for closely. As soon as the news went out, crews of news reporters and vehicles descended on the scene and closely surrounded the building to cover the news story.
The Players: January 9, 1993
Palatine Police Chief Jerry Bratcher
Palatine Police Chief Jerry Bratcher has long played a leadership role among suburban police chiefs. He is a founding father of and the power behind the Northwest Police Academy (NWPA); the owner of a private law enforcement consulting company; the recipient of an annual honorarium from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA); and a key supporter of the Northern Illinois Police Crime Lab (NIPCL). He has also served as a spokesman for Micro Aseptic—a company which sells police departments a variety of products and services. As one chief said, “Jerry has a lot of irons in the fire and he makes a lot of money.” Another called Bratcher “mercenary.”
As a result of his extensive business relationships and activities, Bratcher has a significant amount of economic clout in police circles. As a consultant, Bratcher assesses the suburban police departments, screen candidates for law enforcement jobs, and recommends police chiefs when departments have an opening. He has the ability to recommend his peers for key slots and well-paying jobs around the country. He has worked for, among other municipalities, Schaumburg, Country Club Hills, Huntley and Lincolnwood. Between 1992 and 1996, Bratcher was paid at least $27,000 for his consulting services.
Bratcher’s economic clout is further enhanced by his role at the NWPA. When the NWPA first got started, speakers would appear for free. Under Bratcher, the NWPA began to charge attendees hundreds of dollars for seminars. The fees, generally paid by municipalities, were used to retain national experts, enhancing Bratcher’s economic clout and status in law enforcement circles.
As the chief of a CALEA-certified department, Bratcher is able to consult with other department’s to help them gain and retain accreditation. CALEA’s fees are hefty, ranging from $4,500 to $16,150. It is an expensive process to fail.
Bratcher also receives payments for services from Micro Aseptic, making at least $5,000 in consulting fees in 1995 alone. Bratcher used his considerable reputation and economic clout to help Micro Aseptic sell products to other police chiefs. In one instance, Bratcher used the NWPA as a platform to introduce Micro Aseptic’s products and services. As he had at other occasions, Bratcher introduced Jack Wagner of Micro Aseptic as an expert in combating blood-borne pathogens. He vouched for Micro Aseptic’s integrity and effectiveness. However, he did not reveal his continuing economic relationship with the company.
At the time, Micro Aseptic was owned and operated by two of Palatine’s trustees: Jack Wagner and Gregory Solberg. Wagner also chairs the public safety committee of the village board, which oversees the Palatine Police Department. The public safety committee sets salaries, approves budgets and monitors the department’s performance. Chief Bratcher’s department—along with the Lincolnwood PD—appeared in a 17-minute “police training” tape, which was essentially an infomercial for Micro Aseptic products. The tape credits the NWPA for help in production. (Note: In 1994, Bratcher served as a paid consultant for Lincolnwood as they searched for a new chief.) This is an apparent violation of Palatine’s ethics ordinance which prohibits, “use of village equipment, material or property for personal … profit.”
Interestingly, Micro Aseptic was chosen to clean up the crime scene at Brown’s. Wager maintains that the products were provided at no charge as a public service. Skeptics have suggested that it was done for publicity.
In 1993, Bratcher was a big supporter of the Northern Illinois Police Crime Lab, which was later directed by former Glencoe Police Chief Bonneville. In 1993-94, Palatine paid over $50,000 to the NIPCL, a not-for-profit operation to which suburban police departments pay member fees.
Bratcher is well-liked in law enforcement circles. In fact, in response to the adverse media coverage of his handling of the Brown’s case, a group of police chiefs sent Bratcher a card saying, “Hang in there.” He is considered an insider. One chief noted, “He has tremendous contacts both nationally and internationally.”
Although prohibited from endorsing or engaging in political activities which benefit candidates by federal tax laws and the By-laws of the 501(c)3 NWPA, Bratcher invited then-candidate for State’s Attorney Jack O’Malley to appear before the Northwest suburban police chiefs. Bratcher later prided himself as the first suburban chief to endorse O’Malley. Bratcher did not invite O’Malley’s opponent Alderman O’Connor.
Bratcher attended informal get-togethers at the Prime Table restaurant in Rolling Meadows—a hang-out for members of the law enforcement community. They spent many hours in its bar. As one chief noted, “We’ll go in at noon and we’ll still be in there at 8:00 p.m.” Another chief discussed the appointment of a designated driver in anticipation of the large amount of alcohol that would be consumed by NWPA members. Task Force members drank and dined at the Prime Table on numerous occasions.
Like the suburban chiefs and some Task Force members, commodities trader Tom Collins and his Lake States’ associates also frequented the Prime Table. Mr. Collins’ girlfriend, Kathy Chambers, who was with Collins on his California crime spree, was their waitress. Many of Collins’ deals were cut at the Prime Table. Collins took large sums of money from investors which he was supposed to invest in the commodities market. In reality, Collins ran a “Ponzi scheme,” which bilked most investors of between $50,000 and $300,000. Some of the losses went into the millions.
This group of Lake States investors included Jerry Bratcher. The list was “a who’s who of government officials and businessmen.” Court records indicate that Bratcher lost $125,000 in the scheme. (Note: Collins ultimately fled to California, where he robbed a bank and committed suicide.)
On the eve of the murders at Brown’s Chicken in Palatine, Police chief Bratcher had successfully positioned himself to sell a variety of services and products to his fellow suburban chiefs and their municipalities through his connection to the Northwest Police Academy, his law enforcement consulting business, and his relationship with Micro Aseptic, which was owned by two trustees on the Palatine Board of Trustees.
The State’s Attorney’s Office: Jack O’Malley
O’Malley was the extremely ambitious State’s Attorney of Cook County in 1993. O’Malley made no secret of his interest in running for governor or his desire for publicity to aid him in that endeavor. “He’s never met a microphone he didn’t like,” according to his press aid, Andy Knott. O’Malley had communicated his intense desire to run for governor to a coterie of top State’s Attorneys early on, which they are fond of quoting.
However, O’Malley found that working with such highly-experienced career prosecutors, many of them Republicans who had served under a number of previous State’s Attorneys, cramped his style. They were constantly arguing for the office to place a greater emphasis on street crime as opposed to high-profile cases. So, rather quickly, in a move unheard of since Bernard Carey’s reign as State’s Attorney, O’Malley cleared out the top echelon of prosecutors and replaced them with his own people.
Similarly, he began a drive to change the nature of the State’s Attorney’s investigators’ responsibilities. He quickly moved his own man, Kevin Kavanaugh, in as Chief Investigator. Kavanaugh and O’Malley had worked together when Kavanaugh was secretary for the 18th District and O’Malley was a police officer on Mayor Byrne’s security detail, which was housed in the district.
Historically, State’s Attorney investigators had been detailed to the office from the Cook County Sheriff. They were sworn officers whose role had been to track down witnesses and late-breaking leads prior to trial. They were never considered to be primarily investigators. The State’s Attorney had relied on the police to investigate most cases. In some respects, the office had suffered since it lacked an independent investigative firepower, particularly in the areas of organized crime and political corruption—areas where the Chicago Police had been historically ineffectual.
This stands in contrast with the widespread success of the U.S. Attorneys and the Justice Department in developing their cases. The government had been particularly successful in combining representatives of various federal agencies (i.e., IRS, FBI, Labor) with highly-skilled career prosecutors to form “strike forces” on organized crime and political corruption.
It may be only coincidence that former Illinois Governor Ogilvie and Attorney General Scott had similarly positioned themselves for higher office by attacking organized crime, vice, and suburban corruption as Justice Department prosecutors. They had run their campaigns as “racket-busters,” in contrast to the old corrupt Democratic Daley machine.
Thus, O’Malley went before the County Board and the state urging them to expand the power of the State’s Attorney’s office by adding more investigators. These investigators would be directed by him and responsible to him. They would work on developing early evidence, enabling O’Malley to more effectively prosecute complex cases, especially those that fell outside Chicago where fewer investigative resources were available.
The question of whether or not to fund 140 investigators, many of them former Chicago Police Department colleagues of O’Malley, was before the legislature in late 1992 and early 1993, the time of the Brown’s killings. O’Malley wanted them to possess full police powers, but, naturally, many objected to his need for over 100 new “patronage appointees, his own army completely loyal to him.”
Critics charged: “This was a move to consolidate political power as well as create an army loyal to O’Malley and Kavanaugh. What other reason could there be, since all of the current investigators were sworn Sheriff’s police?” Later, these critics argued that the prominent role played by the State’s Attorney’s investigators in Palatine was directly related to O’Malley’s desire to favorably influence the political environment required to secure the desired changes in state law. They maintained that the budget came from the Cook County Sheriff’s Police and when the State’s Attorney no longer needed the Sheriff’s police, they would return to active duty on the County force. O’Malley and Kavanaugh could obtain additional funding from the county to staff now vacant trial preparation slots and other offices consolidated under Chief Investigator Kavanaugh.
Everyone thought the January Palatine killings would be solved quickly, “in fairly short order, and if State’s Attorney investigators could argue that they had a prominent role in solving it, that would be a great argument to bring to the County Board and the legislature in support of O’Malley’s request for his own investigative force.”
The State’s Attorney’s Office: Kevin Kavanaugh
Kevin Kavanaugh had a relationship to Palatine prior to the Brown’s murder investigation. Kavanaugh and Sgt. Koziol of Palatine had worked together successfully on both the Lyng murder and the Erikson bank robbery cases.
Kavanaugh had been Jack O’Malley’s lieutenant while O’Malley served as an officer on Jane Byrne’s mayoral detail, and many State’s Attorneys felt Kavanaugh was “attached at the hip” to O’Malley.
As a former top State’s Attorney reports, “Kavanaugh had never been considered a �real’ policeman.” In fact, he says, Kavanaugh’s reputation in the police department stemmed from his “incompetence.”
Kavanaugh’s “real job” was as head of security for Levy Restaurants, a corporation which runs restaurant concessions at Arlington Park, Ravinia and several riverboat casinos. Kavanaugh was formerly with the Chicago Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division and was a lieutenant on leave from the Chicago Police Department. Kavanaugh then became chief of the State’s Attorney’s Investigations Bureau. The old guard in the State’s Attorney’s office described his role there as being one to “make O’Malley look good.”
Kavanaugh’s clout within the Chicago Police Department was partially derived from his ties to Levy Restaurants. That relationship gave him the ability to give fellow officers moonlighting jobs with Levy Restaurants. In fact, John Robertson, a Chicago policeman from the State’s Attorney’s office on the Palatine Task Force, received his job at Levy through Kavanaugh. In addition, the connection between Kavanaugh, O’Malley and Levy Restaurants runs deeper. Levy Restaurants contributed in excess of $5000 to O’Malley’s campaign. Kavanaugh made personal contributions as well.
Kavanaugh was bitterly despised by the Chicago media, particularly WMAQ-TV. The media argues Kavanaugh misled them in a number of high-visibility cases including the Dowaliby case in which Kavanaugh and Robertson worked closely. Kavanaugh was quoted as saying, “If I solved the Dowaliby case, this building wouldn’t be tall enough for the feather in my cap.”
The State’s Attorney’s Office: Pat O’Brien
Pat O’Brien was O’Malley’s liaison and the legal advisor to the Palatine Task Force. O’Brien had previous experience with Palatine when he assisted the small task force of Kavanaugh, Koziol and the Palatine Police Department in solving the Lyng case. He was appointed the head of the Felony Trial Division in the State’s Attorney’s office by Richard Daley, then Cook County State’s Attorney. O’Brien was a career prosecutor, promoted because of Daley’s desire to create an office with a “tough-on-crime” image. In his work on the Dowaliby case, defense attorneys charged O’Brien with withholding key evidence from the jury and with exaggerating the accuracy of the evidence the police had acquired.
After the jury found Cynthia Dowaliby innocent of the murder of her daughter, she still hoped to clear her husband’s name. He had been convicted. O’Brien made various comments attacking Mrs. Dowaliby’s character. O’Malley, the recently elected State’s Attorney at the time of the trial, admitted that O’Brien’s comments were “regrettable and inappropriate.”
O’Malley consequently demoted O’Brien.
The Discovery: January 8-9, 1993
When 16-year-old Palatine High School junior Michael Castro failed to come home shortly after the 9 p.m. closing of the Brown’s Chicken restaurant Friday, January 8, 1993, his parents began to worry. He always called if he was going to be late.
Shortly after 11 p.m. they drove to the restaurant. It was dimly lit and appeared to be closed. There was a police officer in the parking lot. The Castros did not see him get out of his patrol car and check the restaurant for signs of trouble. The officer told the Castros, “Don’t worry about your son, he’ll come home. He’ll be back. He’ll call.”
He never did.
Brown’s cook Guadalupe Maldonado’s family also started to worry. He always came home on time. Mrs. Maldonado called Brown’s but got no answer. So she sent Guadalupe’s younger brother Pedro to the restaurant. According to the Maldonados, a patrol officer found Pedro looking in the window of Brown’s, ordered him off of the property, and told him his brother was “probably out drinking or hanging out.” But Guadalupe did not drink and wouldn’t have gone anywhere without his Dodge Charger, which was still parked in the parking lot along with Castro’s car.
At 2 a.m., the Castros called the police again, this time to file a missing persons report. An officer came to their home and filled out the paperwork.
The Castros requested they go to Brown’s. Upon arrival, Castro said he saw a mop through the window against the wall. He exclaimed, “they will not let these people leave the mop there. They would make them put it in the closet.” Then he shouted, “That’s my son’s jacket over there!”
He and the officer began checking doors and the officer found a side door unlocked.
The police officer entered through the unlocked side door and yelled, “Back off! There’s been a crime committed here.”
At 3:11 a.m., the officer called in to Palatine. “There’s five in the cooler,” was heard over the dispatch.
Within minutes, the parking lot was covered with police cars and ambulances.
These were the events surrounding the initial discovery of what has become known as the “Brown’s Chicken Massacre.” Seven people were dead.
The discovery immediately ignited a controversy about the conduct and effectiveness of the Palatine Police in those first hours following the crime. The crime itself was committed somewhere between 9:05 p.m. and 9:55 p.m. Five hours, which later would be determined to be crucial, passed between the murders and when the bodies were discovered. Over three hours passed between the first officer’s visit to the scene and the discovery.
The families were the first to criticize the Palatine police, suggesting officers visited Brown’s twice that Friday evening; first at the urging of the Castros and then on a routine patrol. Amazingly, neither of the two officers tried the doors or attempted to go inside.
Mr. Castro suggested that those hours could have been the key to life or death. “If someone was still living, gasping for breath, we might have saved his life.”
On the Monday following the discovery, State’s Attorney O’Malley said at a news conference, “We have no criticism of the police investigation. Obviously, we would have preferred it if the police could have discovered the crime while it was in progress or beforehand or 15 minutes afterward.”
Walt Gasior was Palatine’s public relations spokesman, an unsworn officer who held the rank of Deputy Chief. Gasior said that police had no record of contact with the Maldonado family and were checking into the Castros’ charges that the officer they encountered at 11:45 p.m. never got out of his car to check inside Brown’s. On Wednesday, January 13, 1993, in the Chicago Tribune, Gasior defended Palatine officers against the families’ charges, initially contained in the Tribune, that police responded too slowly, delaying the investigation and making it impossible to save any of the victims. The families contended that because they were Hispanic the police took their fears lightly. While Gasior wouldn’t comment on the investigation, he rushed to defend the Palatine police department. He acknowledged Palatine’s understanding of the events preceding the discovery differed from that of the victims’ families, but argued that the department’s version was more accurate.
Refusing to identify the officers involved, Gasior acknowledged the inconsistent chronologies. This evasiveness would be the pattern throughout the lengthy investigation. Palatine repeatedly refused to allow the media access to routine, non-investigative aspects of the investigation which would have further embarrassed the already fragile credibility of the department. As an explanation for this suspicious behavior, they claimed that the release of the information would somehow compromise the course of the investigation.
Gasior said Palatine would investigate the stories to clear up inconsistencies by reviewing police tapes of calls to the station and their transcripts. Normal police logs and documents were available to clear up the matter. Gasior said gratuitously, “the victims’ families had possibly become confused in the aftermath of the tragedy, leading to discrepancies in the accounts.” Palatine was blaming the families of the victims for what would turn out to be their own grievous mistakes.
Castro said he believed his complaints weren’t taken seriously, “because of our accent, because of our look.” Gasior replied, “We are very conscious of how we deal with minorities and people of other races. In this case, I don’t think there was any attempt to treat these people differently based on their ethnicity or racial status.” Gasior also said the officers had followed “proper police procedures,” including “rattling the doors and shining flashlights into the darkened restaurant.” However, he went on to admit that officers checked only one of the four doors, but would not say which one it was.
Gasior further contended that the officer who encountered Castro may have checked the building and returned to his car prior to Castro’s arrival. Mr. Castro conceded the possibility but stated, “What I think now is he just didn’t do his job real good.” Castro made a similar argument in the Chicago Tribune Wednesday, June 13, 1994. He said he was sure the first meeting with police took place at 11:45 p.m., noting that he looked at his watch and the clock on his VCR constantly because he was worried about his missing son.
Gasior said the Task Force planned to meet with the families. “We’re just trying to get to the bottom of these things. We need to talk to them. We know our procedures. We’re not saying they’re wrong about this. We are just trying to figure out where the misunderstanding came in.”
Gasior stated further that the Maldonado meeting occurred at 12:21 a.m. and at that time, Pedro Maldonado was inside his car—not looking in the restaurant window as had been reported.
The official record released by the Palatine Police Department, January 12, 1993, under the title “Press Release” stated the following with regard to those early hours:
As has been reported, the Palatine Police Department had contact with the Maldonado and Castro families in the hours preceding the discovery of the multiple homicides at the Palatine Brown’s Chicken Restaurant.
According to records of the incident and the debriefing of the Palatine police officer, at approximately 12:21 a.m. on January 9, 1993, a Palatine police officer observed a vehicle driving slowly through the lot of the Brown’s Chicken Restaurant. Because of the time of day and actions of the driver, the officer entered the parking lot of the strip mall immediately north of the restaurant near the exit to the restaurant parking lot.
At that point the driver of the vehicle exited his car. The officer drove into Brown’s lot and asked this individual, “Sir, what are you up to?” The individual stated that his brother works for Brown’s Chicken and did not come home from work yet. The individual also stated that he looked through the front windows and knocked on the front door but no one was inside. The officer mentioned that possibly his brother went out with friends. The individual shrugged his shoulders. The officer then said “maybe he stopped for a few beers after work.” The individual again shrugged his shoulders, got back in his car and both the officer and the individual drove away.
We learned subsequently that the individual in the incident at 12:21 a.m. was Pedro Maldonado, brother of Guadalupe Maldonado, one of the homicide victims.
According to records of the incident and the debriefing of the Palatine police officer, a call was received by our dispatchers at 1:02 a.m. by a member of the Castro family. The call stated that Michael Castro had not yet returned from work and there was no answer at the business, which was Brown’s Chicken. A Palatine police officer was dispatched on a check for well-being incident and he arrived at the Brown’s lot at 1:04 a.m. The patrol officer exited his car and conducted an external check of the premises of the restaurant. He observed the car of Michael Castro in the lot. He found the business to be dark, night light on.
He returned to his vehicle and began to leave the lot. As he was doing so, the officer observed a car pull into the lot of the strip mall north of Brown’s. The officer circled the restaurant again and drove up to the car.
Inside the car were a male and a female. The female rolled down her window and started speaking to the officer. Due to radio traffic in his car, he said, “I can’t hear you.” At that point, the female exited the car and said, “I’m the one that called the police. My son has not come home.” The officer asked if it was possible that her son went out with friends after work. She said yes it was possible. At that point, she returned to her car and both parties left the scene.
Early Task Force Criticism
In the January 14, 1993, Chicago Tribune story, the Castros’ charges were repeated. The Tribune noted that “Police said they have not yet found a record of the call and dispute other aspects of Castros’ version … Police initially visited the restaurant twice that night and during one stop rattled one of the store’s four doors and shined a flashlight inside in response to Castro’s worries.”
These points do not appear in the Task Force’s press release concerning the matter.
The Tribune went on to quote Mark Dantzker, a Criminal Justice Professor at Loyola University. “If all this is true, it definitely would represent one of the failings of today’s police as a whole, that it’s too much of a hassle to go beyond the relative ease of shaking a door and shining a flashlight … As long as you’ve done everything that you can do, you have no reason to worry about a backlash or the people being upset with you.”
Past Trouble at Brown’s
This argument over initial police response on January 9, 1993, between the victims’ family members and Palatine Police, was especially strange in the context of Palatine’s prior record of closely checking on potential problems at Brown’s. Brown’s had been burglarized twice in prior years. Those burglars had smashed a dial on the safe and taken some chicken, a phone and a radio.
In fact, in another Task Force press release, Palatine listed seven previous contacts with the restaurant for “insecure premises (open doors/windows).” Two additional incident reports were written concerning a suspicious subject in the restaurant’s vicinity after hours in 1991 and 1992.
What was the purpose of this particular release? Was it self-serving propaganda meant to bolster Palatine’s position against the criticism from family members by illustrating the department’s diligence in responding to life or death calls? Or was the release an accurate picture of a department consistently doing an effective job over the years?
BGA staff interviews with former Brown’s employees indicate that the Palatine Police did indeed watch the restaurant closely. Officers often questioned employees who stayed later than normal “to hang out” in the restaurant. The police would leave notes if doors or windows were found open to warn the next shift. These employees maintain that the Palatine police department was very sensitive to potential problems at the restaurant.
So why the confusion on the key night in question? Who was the initial patrolman who went to Brown’s? Did he stay in the car as the Castros suggested? Or did he rattle doors and shine a flashlight inside as Palatine’s Deputy Chief Gasior contended? Could lives have been saved had the discovery been made hours earlier? Were these lost hours crucial to the investigation?
This was, after all, a brightly-lit suburban shopping center on a Friday night at 9 p.m. It was snowy and cold—a typical Chicago winter evening. And there is no mistaking that it only took between 9:05 and 9:55 p.m. to shoot over twenty .38 caliber bullets and kill seven people. Surely someone must have seen or heard something.
Task Force Response
In BGA staff interviews with Task Force members, numerous consistent themes emerged. One of those themes was that the initial call regarding Brown’s was screwed up badly, that the officer dispatched was a “chief’s kid,” and therefore the Task Force was protecting him.
However, most of the Task Force investigators never knew what happened initially or who the first patrolman on the scene was. This information was held tightly by a core group of Palatine Police who met privately two or three times a day in what investigators of the Task Force cynically labeled, “the war room.” It was kept from both the media and investigators from other departments. What was the reason for hiding this information? It did not appear to have anything to do with the ongoing criminal investigation. But it had everything to do with the questionable performance of the Palatine Police Department in those early hours.
Internal task force documents clarify the situation and explain the reason for secrecy:
At 1:06 a.m., Officer Bonneville proceeded to do the below listed events:
• Checked on the well being of Castro
• Identified Castro’s vehicle in lot located in middle of two other vehicles (five cars in lot including a white station wagon)
• Officer Bonneville drove through lot, parked on east side of building and saw utility light on. All other lights were off.
• Officer Bonneville exited his vehicle, checked two doors on east side and found them to be secure. He then proceeded to check two doors on west side of building and both of the west side doors were also secure. He then proceeded to check the employee’s door and as he turned the knob, he found the door to be locked.
• He did not observe any activity inside the building and did not hear any noises.
• As Officer Bonneville proceeded to leave the scene, he observed a red Volvo pulling into the Brown’s lot. A female exited the Volvo looking for her son (possibly Mrs. Castro).
The internal Task Force account is clearly at odds with the Castros’ version—they said their initial meeting occurred at 11:45 p.m. and that the officer did not leave his car. It is also inconsistent with statements issued by Deputy Chief Gasior: “He rattled doors and shined in a light … Officer only checked one of the four doors.” And it obviously contradicts another official Palatine press release which states the officer “conducted an external check of the premises,” but fails to mention that he tried the restaurant doors and found them to be locked.
So did Officer Bonneville remain in his vehicle in the face of Mr. & Mrs. Castro’s worries about their son and tell them, “Don’t worry about your son, he’ll come home”?
Or did Officer Bonneville exit his vehicle and find all the doors locked as he reported?
Did Bonneville try only one door, which is Deputy Gasior’s official version given to the press?
Or was the official press release accurate which asserted that Bonneville conducted an external check of the premises?
Obviously, one door was open. Bonneville had filed a false report.
Questions to Answer
Why are we reveling in this minutia? The debate about what exactly happened at the crime scene, which began with the Castros’ charges that ricocheted through the Chicago Tribune, Sun-Times and Daily Herald, was ultimately dropped by the media amidst a storm of conflicting statements by the Palatine force. Palatine assured the press that the inconsistencies and conflicting statements would be explained. Chief Bratcher’s response to the media’s criticism on January 24, 1993 as the issue faded was, “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.”
In fact, this one issue serves as a symbol of the inconsistencies, deceptions, outright lies and cover-ups which characterize the entire murder investigation.
Who is Officer Bonneville?
Officer Bonneville is the son of Chief Bonneville, one-time President of the Northern Illinois Police Crime Lab (NIPCL). Chief Bonneville is a good friend of Jerry Bratcher, who has been involved both personally and economically with the NIPCL for years. Officer Bonneville is described by many interviewed suburban chiefs as “a lost soul.”
In fact, according to reports in the Daily Herald, Officer Bonneville was almost dismissed from the force in December 1992, just days before the Palatine murders, for getting into an altercation with a member of another department.
Chief Bratcher gave him the largest suspension possible without termination—30 days. Despite this, Bratcher indicated at the time he felt Officer Bonneville had “good qualities.”
Bonneville had thus spent the entire month, immediately prior to his arrival at the murder site, on suspension.
On the Discovery
What we see in the first hours of the murder is a pattern to be repeated throughout the investigation. The investigators make a grievous mistake—here, the failure to find the open door. They are criticized by distraught family members. Task Force officials then seek to cover up the mistake, putting out misleading statements to the media which contradict the true facts known and available to them, while hiding incriminating facts under the catch-phrase of “we can’t talk about an ongoing investigation.” Then the Task Force embarks on a PR offensive.
The January 18, 1993 release which explains the structure of the task force and cites its wondrous management is an example of this PR offensive. The press release was crafted in the hopes the media would follow this suggested news story and forget about the mistakes.
And, as we ultimately saw, the coverage of the Castro controversy was dropped by the media.
The delayed discovery of the murders also illustrates the impact on this case of the spider web of cronyism and financial relationships which surround the Palatine police department and Jerry Bratcher. Palatine paid over $50,000 a year to the NIPCL. The Department also has a vote to elect the lab’s Board of Directors.
Officer Bonneville’s father was the President of the NIPCL. Would Chief Bratcher have retained Bonneville, in view of his constant personnel problems, if he had not been the son of Chief Bonneville? Might another more effective police officer have met Mr. Castro that snowy night, gotten out of the car, tried and found the open door, discovered the crime scene, and given the police a three-hour jump on this case?
Would the routine attention officers had shown to Brown’s in the past—checking on the safety of employees working late and checking for open doors and windows—have resulted in a discovery that night of the scene hours earlier while a victim and potential witness might still have been alive? In other words, would a different officer have performed properly?
But as Jim Bell, current Task Force Coordinator, reminded us in the January 1996 anniversary press conference, “Quite frankly, all of our best witnesses are dead.”
Would they have been if the officers had listened more attentively to the pleas of concerned family members?
3:11 a.m.: The Crime Scene
There had been only one murder in Palatine in the prior four years. And yet the initial response to the murders was staffed and completely controlled by the Palatine police department.
Palatine Police Sergeant Brian Opitz
The sergeant on duty that evening was Sgt. Brian Opitz. Opitz had been a sergeant for two years and a detective since 1991. He worked on only one murder case in his 10 years with the Palatine Police Department: the Lyng case. Opitz had a small role in this case. He had done some surveillance. But Lyng was radically different from Brown’s. The Lyng Case was solved 20 years after it had been committed when key witness finally came forward and told police how Ms. Lyng had been killed.
Opitz was on duty that night but in his own words wishes he would have been closer to the scene so he could have known what was going on at the restaurant that fateful night. Opitz reported to then-Sergeant John Koziol, who was really in charge. Koziol, in turn, reported to Chief Bratcher.
Sergeant Bob Haas
Initially in charge of the crime scene was Sergeant Bob Haas. With Palatine since 1983, he had almost no investigative experience. In a sworn deposition, Haas noted his lack of investigative inexperience, pointing out that he had no prior detective work in field operations. But that Friday night he was the street supervisor. Haas had been a school liaison officer at the local high school. According to students, he was reputed to fix the school parking lottery, so the “pretty senior girls had the best parking spots.”
As Patrol Division Supervisor his responsibility was to ensure crime scene protection until the arrival of detectives. Haas would later be appointed by Chief Bratcher as the supervisor of all field investigators. Forty five minutes after the discovery, Haas turned the crime scene over to Sgt. John Koziol.
Sergeant John Koziol
Finally there was Koziol, a former hospital security guard. He had been with the Palatine Police Department since 1985. Koziol spent four years on patrol, two years as a detective and two years as sergeant of detectives. He was the lead investigator for Palatine on the Lyng case, assigned to work with Kevin Kavanaugh of the State’s Attorney’s office. But, unlike Brown’s, there had been no crime scene in the Lyng case for him to organize or investigate since that crime had occurred 10 years prior to his joining the force.
Koziol noted, “I was now in the stage of orchestrating the entire investigation.” From the beginning, he felt there had been problems with the “press trying to inundate our crime scene.”
These were the Palatine officers who secured the crime scene and called for assistance. The crime scene was secured narrowly, and only the immediate area around the restaurant was confined. The parking lot was not secured, and the media and other onlookers quickly filled the Brown’s lot, invariably destroying any potential tire treads or footprints or other evidence which might have been in the parking lot.
The Arrival of the Lab
At approximately 4 a.m., Palatine evidence technicians, who were also inexperienced in this type of crime, and the Northern Illinois Police Crime Lab (NIPCL) began processing evidence from the crime scene. One key detective who was on the scene early told the BGA these evidence technicians were of questionable value. He called them the “Palatine version” of evidence technicians. As explained earlier, Palatine had an ongoing relationship with the NIPCL. According to a range of suburban chiefs, the lab’s reputation at the time of the murders was poor. Since then, the lab has moved to change key personnel to upgrade its image and its performance.
More problems at the core: The NIPCL
Just as inexperience, political connections and defensive PR plagued the Task Force, similarly significant problems were present in the NIPCL. The lab, the site where all evidence, fingerprints and blood samples were processed, had applied for—and failed to receive—accreditation several times.
At the time of the Palatine killings, the lab was handled by Charles Principe who according to insiders seemed “to inherit the responsibility of being the lab’s executive director.” Lab sources told the BGA that Jane Homeyer, a Ph.D. forensic scientist, left the lab’s employment shortly following being assigned to work on the Palatine killings because of “the direction the lab was going.” Homeyer was later called back by the lab’s board of directors and hired as the executive director in early 1994—a year after the lab bungled some of the critical evidence handling in the Palatine case.
Throughout the first year of the investigation, the lab failed to give the Palatine case priority and was plagued with a shortage of experienced employees. One former lab employee states, “I have witnessed poor quality work being performed, incorrect reports being sent out, and analysts working outside their area of expertise.” Still another lab employee said that at the time of the Brown’s murders, several lab employees were dedicating their energies to an analysis of “bird feces” which were found on cars along the north shore. One internal lab memo, dated January 21, 1993, mentions both investigations. The tasks outlined for the bird investigation are markedly more focused, urgent and include a deadline for processing all evidence (January 22, 1993 at 5 p.m.). The Palatine list does not include any outlines, goals or deadlines. NIPCL case #93-00157, the Brown’s Chicken killings, received little priority.
An article in the February 1993 Daily Herald read: “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 lab run by Chicago and the State Police.”
Even in the few instances where the Task Force went outside the NIPCL for supplemental evidence processing, their efforts were begrudging and, in one instance, bordering on the bizarre and inexplicable. Throughout early January 1993, the Task Force steadfastly refused to give sample bullets to the Chicago Police Crime Laboratory despite the fact the Chicago lab had access to many thousands of weapons confiscated from Chicago streets every year. According to Chicago Police Laboratory personnel, “they weren’t interested in our help at the time.” Following the suggestion of a Chicago police detective, the Task Force finally relented and gave the Chicago Police Crime Laboratory several bullets for analysis in late January 1993. Then, in a transaction which one senior Chicago Police Lab source labels “bizarre,” the Task Force demanded that the samples which were given to Chicago be returned to the Task Force. A Task Force detective took the samples from Chicago on February 18, 1993. Somewhat later, reversing itself yet again, the task force decided to give back the bullets to Chicago on May 12, 1993 but chose to not return to Chicago one of the “best samples” originally given to Chicago in January—bullet 17-01. One internationally recognized Chicago Police Crime Lab analyst characterized the transactions as being handled, “extremely poorly … they were not interested in our help and that’s stupid.”
Despite Chicago’s offers of help the Task Force continued to rely primarily on the NIPCL. Three months after the killings, all the Palatine evidence had not been processed according to minutes from a lab meeting. Lab sources told the BGA that the lab did not have an adequate number of qualified employees. Furthermore, lab employees had a hard time processing the evidence because they lacked insight on what to look for. According to one senior lab employee, “police are always looking to the crime labs to solve the crimes.” The delay in processing some of the evidence might also have resulted from the fact that some of the victims’ clothing were “apparently stored in/hung over at the Palatine Police Department,” according to one lab document.
Considering the magnitude of the Brown’s Chicken killings, a sufficiently-staffed crime lab with highly-skilled analysts working in their area of expertise should have been chosen for handling the evidence—especially an experienced lab like Chicago or an accredited lab like the State.
Internal turmoil at the lab and a lack of leadership also caused the technicians serious delays in analyzing the evidence. Ph.D. Jane Homeyer, who left the lab’s employ following the Brown’s killings, returned as director later. The former NIPCL acting director, who led the lab technicians in the first hours of the Brown’s crime scene analysis, was described by a fellow employee: “In his daily activities around the lab, Charles showed a lack of good judgment and an inability to make decisions, often inappropriately delegating decisions in topics such as hiring and safety management to junior employees.” Later, Charles was let go by the lab for “unethical activities,” and lab employees were notified to “keep it confidential for the well-being of the lab.” Two of the four people sent by the crime lab to analyze the Brown’s scene were ultimately fired by the lab. Weeks after obtaining 90 latent fingerprints, the lab had still not processed a single one.
One fingerprint ultimate approved by the lab, led to the misidentification of a West Chicago man as a possible Brown’s suspect. The fingerprint identification when sent to the FBI in Washington, could not be verified by them. The suspect maintained, and still maintains by press accounts, that he had never been in Palatine. The incident further reinforced the public’s lack of confidence in the Task Force’s competence and ultimately was used as one of the reasons that the Village of Palatine used to justify no longer using the NIPCL.
Documents obtained from the lab which relate to the Palatine investigation show that evidence confiscated from suspect Martin Blake’s home was being tested and focused upon months after Blake was released for lack of evidence.
The lab experienced technical problems as well. The evidentiary database which was stored on the lab’s computers, including all evidence information about the Brown’s Chicken killings, was erased from the computers in early 1994 and had to be reconstructed over a long period of time. Sources in the lab told us that reports on evidence in the Palatine killings were not entered in the lab computer until the late summer of 1994, despite being received by the lab in March of the same year. Regrettably, neither the lab’s founder nor his son saw fit to provide the most basic computer back-up for the critical lab database.
Regardless of the lab’s inefficiency, inexperienced staff and internal problems, Chief Bratcher vowed unrelenting confidence in the lab. Minutes from a March 3, 1993 lab meeting held in Palatine read: “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.” Only years later and with a rising tide of media and public criticism did Bratcher sever Palatine’s ties to the lab.
Chief Robert Bonneville, a friend of Bratcher’s and the father of the Palatine police officer who bungled the initial discovery of the crime scene, had served as Treasurer, Vice President and ultimately as President of the NIPCL during this period.
At the crime scene a number of key mistakes occurred. In any crime of this magnitude legends develop. But we were told repeatedly of one such legend.
Multiple sources told the BGA that approximately over fifty people trudged through the scene in addition to six unneeded paramedics. Tours were given. One eyewitness described the resulting crime scene as incredibly dirty, rendering virtually useless the papers which had been put down to cover the floor and protect possible evidence. As one person present at the scene commented, “I’d call it a mess.” Another officer noted that so many people went through the crime scene that a chart had to be created which contained the names and prints of those who toured the scene for elimination purposes. One NIPCL source said of the tens of thousands of cases processed by them, there had never been a case with more elimination prints. Incredibly, the list of names of people required to submit elimination prints included civilian dispatchers from the communication center. Even more incredibly, not included in this list were some of the police who were present at the crime scene.
An apparent accident, based on a lack of knowledge of the Brown’s cooking operation, occurred when someone touring the scene accidentally turned on the cooking oil while searching for spent cartridge casings. The oil overflowed, covering the floor in the rear of the restaurant.
The Task Force also ignored important evidence. According to Frank Portillo, CEO of Brown’s Chicken and Pasta headquartered in Oak Brook, Illinois, the Task Force never analyzed the rare cottonseed oil used in the chicken’s special recipe. This cooking oil coated almost the entire restaurant, making it impossible for anyone in the restaurant to not have traces of the oil on their clothing, shoes and personal belongings. This oil could have conceivably been transferred to a getaway car by the killer(s). But police never checked evidence for the presence of cottonseed oil.
A mishap of greater proportion was that one of the victim’s bodies was never fingerprinted. By failing to take the prints from this victim, investigators ensured they would never be able to positively identify a possible suspect’s prints, since they could just as easily be those of the victim. If that victim used an alias, we may never know who he really was.
Similarly, at least 17 vendors and former employees who had access to the front and rear areas of the restaurant in the days before the murders, were neither questioned nor fingerprinted. Likewise, some Brown’s employees were not fingerprinted until two-and-a-half years after the murders.
Even Frank Portillo was never formally interviewed, particularly in the days following the murders. Jim Bell of the FBI finally wrote to Portillo on January 2, 1996—three years after the murders, to obtain a list of these employees and vendors who were in Brown’s prior to the murders. “Despite the Task Force’s previous contacts with you over the past years, we were not aware that you had this information. We are interested in this list and any identifiers you have on these individuals.”
Portillo had compiled this list at the request of the BGA after he disclosed that one of his employees, who had been all over the restaurant the day before the killings, had not been fingerprinted. The BGA, not the Palatine Police, asked him to survey his employees and vendors in search of people who were in the restaurant prior to the killings. The BGA was told by Chief Bratcher and State’s Attorney O’Brien that latent prints were significant to the case.
Potential key prints were smudged while trying to analyze the crime scene and what had occurred.
In a typical press conference years later on the anniversary of the killings, the Task Force sent on to make a huge media event about using new fingerprint technology to analyze the prints they consider to be evidence. One senior police official on the Task Force echoed the thoughts expressed to the BGA by many other police: “If they have good prints, then either the killer never fingerprinted before, or they have the wrong prints.” An NIPCL source said, “I think the killer may have worn gloves.”
It took the NIPCL seven days to process the site. The Chicago Crime Lab had offered their help immediately after the murders. However, no bullets were sent to the Chicago Lab until January 29, 1993. Soon after that, the Task Force took the bullets back and did not return them to the Chicago Crime Lab until May of that year.
Approximately 25% of the recovered weapons in Chicago met the characteristics of what was determined to be the killing weapon in Palatine. In the time that the Chicago Crime Lab did not have access to a bullet fired from the murder weapon, between 1300 and 1600 weapons were recovered. Any of these could have been tested and found to be the murder weapon. But they weren’t. Palatine thought the NIPCL could handle the test.
The Early Days
The Cook County Sheriff’s Police (CCSP) were called in early. Len Marek was high in the Sheriff’s chain of command and one of the first officers on the scene. Bratcher was a close friend of Marek, who lived in Palatine. Frank Medrys, who had been with the Sheriff for 13 years and a detective for three to four years, arrived at the crime scene at 6 a.m. in response to a call from CCSP dispatch. Ultimately, the CCSP’s activities were supervised by Deputy Chief Frank Braun, who also arrived early that morning.
Though Chief Bratcher attended staff meetings that first day, Medrys noted that Koziol was clearly in charge.
The First Lead
A lead quickly developed. Friends of Martin Blake, a recently fired Brown’s employee got together and delegated Blake’s roommate Beringer as the one to call Palatine. Paul Beringer indicated Blake had been acting erratically, that he owned a gun and that he had made threats against the owners of Brown’s.
At the same time, a number of potential eyewitnesses were emerging. One had seen a suspicious-looking man at Brown’s during the key time frame.
Bratcher held a meeting at 9 a.m. on Saturday and told the CCSP he wanted them to help out. Bratcher said he didn’t have enough people to follow all the emerging leads. He established a procedure to use one Palatine person and one representative of the Sheriff’s police on each lead.
Based on the statements of Blake’s roommate and other friends, a surveillance of Blake’s residence was initiated. During the surveillance, Blake appeared to be behaving oddly, moving repeatedly from his property to his vehicle parked outside. Blake was arrested on the authority of Joan O’Brien, the Assistant State’s Attorney assigned to the investigation that day.
The Investigation of Martin Blake
That first afternoon, Saturday, January 9, 1993, an investigative team visited a key witness who had driven by Brown’s that Friday. During her questioning, Palatine Policeman Fanning showed this witness six or seven photos. One of them was Blake. At first, the witness couldn’t ID any of the photos. So Fanning asked her to choose the man who looked most similar to the one she’d seen. Of all the photos, the witness said the one of Blake “sort of” looked like the man she’d seen, but she wasn’t sure. Upon reporting back to the station, the Palatine officer blurted out the witness had ID’d Blake.
One detective characterized this as an example of a good police officer trying to impose his bias because of the need to have a solid lead. This officer simply showed a lack of experience. In this case, he only heard what he wanted to hear. Fanning filed a report saying, “the witness ID’d Blake.” Obviously, the report was false. But Palatine rushed forward anyway.
Palatine focused quickly on Blake. As a suspect, “he looked very good.”
One detective in the room during Blake’s questioning that first weekend said, “He didn’t fit, but they wanted to make him fit. They were trying to fit him into the crime.”
Everyone felt they were going to solve the crime very quickly. When that didn’t occur, a Task Force had to be formed.
Many officers involved in the first days of the investigation felt that the best leads went to special officers, and assignments were based on politics within the Palatine police department. “Don’t get me wrong—all leads have to be followed, but some leads seem much better than others and those went to connected guys,” said one officer. Most of the county guys felt they were there simply to assist and viewed themselves as “just helpers, warm bodies.”
One detective noted that Koziol was an example of this preferential system, calling him Palatine’s “fair-haired guy.” This particular detective liked him and said Koziol’s reputation came from the Erikson bank robbery case, in which Koziol and Kavanaugh became close friends as members of a small task force.
Subsequently, it was Haas who took Blake to a lineup run by Koziol. There, the same witness who had been shown the photographs including Blake failed to ID him. Earlier that day, she called headquarters to tell officers she still was unsure about her identification, but she was brought in for a physical line-up anyway. It was later determined that the witness had actually seen one of the victims that evening.
Haas, who knew Blake from his time spent handling high school students, then took Blake for a lie detector test at John Reid & Associates. Blake wanted to take the test to prove his innocence. The test turned out to be inconclusive.
Ultimately, Blake’s alibi, that he was at a party with numerous people and only left to get some beer, checked out. In addition, Blake owned the wrong gun—it was a .22, and the blood on his gym shoes didn’t match. Clearly, they had the wrong guy.
Ultimately, Palatine had to release Blake after three days of questioning.
Three wasted hours became three wasted days. There were no good leads and no good suspects. It was time for Bratcher to call in the help he previously dismissed so cavalierly. As he once commented regarding those early hours, “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.” Finally yielding, Bratcher changed his mind and began to form a task force.
A Typical Suburban Crime?
How did Palatine begin their investigation into the Brown’s murders? In the Chicago Tribune on January 14, 1993, Detective George Latti, a 24-year veteran of the Boston police department was quoted as saying, “The textbook version would have police simply stand outside the crime scene and look around for places where people might have seen anything. The next step is to send officers door-to-door searching for that information. You can’t conduct a good investigation any other way.”
As law enforcement professionals know, most murders occur between people who know each other. So, as one highly-placed Chicago law enforcement official explained to the BGA/Crime Commission Blue Ribbon Panel, “you always look for the wife when the husband is murdered.”
Suburban police departments are well-qualified to handle this type of murder. Thus, the Brown’s crime was initially treated as a typical, solvable suburban crime. The investigation of Blake was an example of this phenomenon. He had worked at the restaurant, he knew the employees and owners, and he was disgruntled. But what happens if the obvious suspect falls through? What then?
One very experienced detective present from the beginning of the investigation notes that the first 72 hours of a murder investigation are crucial. In fact, 75% of all cleared murders are solved in the first 30 days. But State’s Attorney O’Malley issued this statement at a press conference organized upon Blake’s release. “This crime has not been solved and yes, there is a murderer or murderers on the loose. I can’t deny that.”
On January 12, 1993, O’Malley admitted, in the most forthright discussion yet of the case, the police had no suspects and there were few promising leads. A $100,000 reward fund was introduced by Trustee Wagner of Micro Aseptic Corporation. He solicited local businesses for donations to increase the public’s willingness to turn over information to the Task Force. Wagner made a personal contribution of $1250.
Yet O’Malley was quick to warn the public that some crimes remain unsolved. These comments came in the wake of the Dowaliby case in which State’s Attorneys, including O’Brien, had botched the trial, wrongly convicting David Dowaliby. In November of 1992, Dowaliby was released, his conviction overturned. O’Malley was in no hurry to try another innocent suspect.
Loyola professor Martin Dantzker noted in the Chicago Tribune, “It is critical to blanket the area with officers as soon as possible. The longer it takes to identify suspects, the more difficult it gets simply because evidence runs out, it gets old, people forget and the suspect gets further away.”
So who was in charge of the canvass of the highly-trafficked area surrounding Brown’s?
Koziol was in charge of the canvass according to Task Force officers. Koziol said, “Canvassing has got to be done for the simple fact that if a person washes out you have to have these things done.” It has to be done even if the suspect doesn’t wash out. You build a better case by finding potential witnesses.
So at the beginning Koziol tried to get the canvass going. They wanted to target the employees at the grocery store across from Brown’s where there were employees working that night around 10 p.m. But in Koziol’s own words, he was also responsible for “answering the phone, recruiting investigators, assigning officers to the families of the victims, and briefing those officers reporting for duty.”
In addition, two of his key people, Opitz and Haas, were quickly dispatched to work on the Blake lead, which consumed almost the entire small initial group of investigators. The culmination of their efforts occurred when Koziol himself orchestrated a physical line-up for a key eyewitness. The crime scene canvass was neglected. One experienced homicide detective told the BGA, “This was improper scene investigation. Blake could have waited until the scene work was done or at least until it was in the process of being done.”
So the canvass was dropped in the flurry of activity surrounding the surveillance, arrest and eventual release of Martin Blake. What now? They had to go back to square one and start the canvas all over again.
The initial canvass, according to Koziol, was orchestrated by, “my investigators … some arrived after I did and did not even go to the scene.” So investigators, who later classified themselves as inexperienced, whose leaders were also inexperienced in murder investigations, organized the canvass on their own in the absence of Sgt. Koziol, the leader of the investigation. Koziol 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 our evidence technicians, monitored the information coming in … had to get officers assigned to handle the families … Big part of our time was spent trying to identify people.”
Years later, when now-commander Koziol was asked if there were any suspects other than Blake at the time he said, “I’m sure there were but they don’t come to mind now, as far as if you were to ask me for a name, I couldn’t give you one.”
This was an example of the investigative leadership’s obsessive tunnel vision, which was completely focused on Blake in those first days. Investigators were trying to turn the Brown’s case into a typical, and thus solvable, suburban crime. But that attempt failed.
The Search for New Evidence
It was now the Monday afternoon following the killings. Blake had been released and, as Koziol pointed out, investigators had no other serious suspects. The investigation had to move from the early stages in which the suburban police department hoped to solve the crime quickly by finding a guilty party with a connection to the Brown’s victims.
Now the crime scene had to be re-analyzed in a search for clues. Potential eye witnesses had to be located. If that didn’t work, the next step would be to create a psychological profile of the suspect(s) and to begin a review of current intelligence. Current intelligence consists of information provided by informants to the various levels of law enforcement in the area.
But the investigators were in a difficult position. As they opened these new investigative avenues, the trail was quickly growing cold.
Veteran Chicago police homicide detective Richard Zuley, who believed former Chicago Chief of Detectives Joe Deleonardi’s admonition of “one more door” as gospel, arrived on the Wednesday following Blake’s arrest. The first thing he asked was whether officers had done a canvass of the neighborhood businesses and general area. He was told it wasn’t finished.
It never would be.
That same Wednesday, Zuley and Sgt. Valdez of the State Police went to the scene with other new Task Force members. Surprisingly, they were not allowed to enter Brown’s. So, the officers did a cursory investigation of the strip mall stores. It quickly became clear that no thorough canvass had been done after potential witnesses were found. When the two experienced detectives returned to headquarters and suggested a thorough canvass be completed they were told, “We already did a canvass.”
Early Media Criticism
That same day the Tribune noted: “The owner of a store in the strip mall behind Brown’s said Tuesday that one of his employees saw a car idling by the restaurant shortly after closing time. That information was passed on to police Saturday … but police did not return to the mall to follow up until Monday.”
On Thursday, January 14, 1993, the Tribune headline read:
POLICE STILL HAVEN’T TALKED TO SOME NEAR MURDER SITE
… Police investigating the Palatine restaurant massacre waited more than two days before contacting many potential witnesses and have yet to interview some residents and business owners within 100 yards of the crime scene …
The article went on to list examples of the Task Force failing to interview several potential witnesses. Police had not canvassed the apartment or offices below a resident of a complex adjacent to Brown’s, who had heard shots at 9:40 p.m. that Friday evening. Similarly, the night manager of a cafe located directly across the street from Brown’s said she saw no police until the Tuesday after the murders.
When pressed by the media to respond to these glaring oversights, Deputy Chief Walt Gasior admitted it is standard technique to canvass but said, “I’m not going to comment on the specifics of this investigation.” Again, Palatine was avoiding discussion of fundamental police performance by asserting that this somehow might impede their investigation. It was a pattern that they would repeat over and over again.
But the Tribune continued to point out the failure of investigators to complete a canvass. “Interviews with more than two dozen residents and store owners within eye sight of the restaurant … revealed that they were not contacted by police until Monday night, later or not at all.”
All this occurred in the light of basic law enforcement knowledge that time has a destructive effect on the memories of witnesses, the actual physical evidence and the trail of the killers. “At least nine businesses in the area were not contacted until late Monday afternoon, and at least nine more had not heard from police by Wednesday afternoon.”
Gasior responded to the media’s charges in the January 16, 1993 edition of the Chicago Tribune. He effectively admitted there was truth to the paper’s assertions about the haphazard quality and organization of the canvass. He said investigators had done a “preliminary canvass on Saturday and a follow-up on Monday.” Note the use of the term preliminary. Clearly, an exhaustive canvass had not been completed when the first lead fell apart.
Gasior then launched what was becoming the department’s familiar refrain—he attacked the citizens who spoke to the Tribune in a critical manner with regard to the Palatine police force’s performance by saying, “common sense and our shared societal values tell us to call police whenever we may have been a witness to a crime. I would say that the burden is on anyone who has information.” The Tribune then noted, “He would not say if an exhaustive canvass of the area had been completed.” Gasior continued to cover-up task force mistakes.
The Tribune’s allegations were reinforced by the BGA investigation. The BGA spoke with the owner of an Amoco gas station located less than a mile from Brown’s on Northwest Highway. The owner routinely taped surveillance of his customer’s activities to prevent theft. On that particular Friday night, the surveillance tape was running throughout the entire evening. Every customer and vehicle in the station and the time at which they drove up Northwest Highway would have been recorded. The Palatine police never thought to ask for the tape and it was subsequently destroyed.
This tape would have been a unique investigative tool to identify the traditionally elusive drivers who pass a crime scene while the crime is in progress. However, the Amoco owner indicated that although the police had used his tapes in the past, this time “they never came around.”
Thus, the command was exposed to brutal media pressures. Given the initial failure to discover the crime scene, the false start on Blake, and the media discovery of the failure to canvass effectively, the leadership found itself in a defensive position from the beginning. This snide, defensive posturing would continue until the present day.
The response was to circle the wagons. News media reports which contained too many facts indicating leaks fostered an atmosphere of paranoia toward the press and the public. Koziol confirmed they “had problems with the press trying to inundate our crime scene. I had as little to do with the press as I could.” State’s Attorney Jack O’Malley’s public relations person Andy Knott was busy telling investigators not to talk to the press and, in the words of one assistant state’s attorney, “making investigative decisions.”
The Task Force: Early Beginnings
Chief Jerry Bratcher knew he needed help. By 8:45 a.m. on Saturday, January 18, 1993, official releases from the Palatine police department referred to an “investigative task force.” The Task Force had expanded to include “more than 75 investigators, officers, analysts and other support staff,” including representatives of the, “Palatine Police Department, Cook County Sheriff’s Police, Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, and the Illinois State Police.”
There are two obvious reasons for a task force. First, to enlarge the body of man power available for the investigation and second, to bring in high-quality individuals to share experiences and approaches.
The Origins of Strike Forces
A model example of a task force was the US Department of Justice’s Organized Crime Strike Forces. The Strike Forces were put together in the late 1960s as a result of Robert Kennedy’s frustration with organized crime in the Hoffa/Teamsters’ cases. In 1967, high-ranking representatives of all Federal agencies dealing with organized crime were assigned to a particular city to attack the Mafia family in that geographic region. The Strike Forces matched representatives of the FBI, IRS, Secret Service, Narcotics and the Department of Labor together with a number of highly-experienced Justice Department lawyers.
The theory was that you would take these experienced agents and lawyers out of their daily routine and have them concentrate solely on organized crime. They would work together as a team, across jurisdictional lines, placing inter-agency rivalries aside. Working with lawyers early on in the cases would result in more successful prosecutions. They would share agency intelligence, a practice rare in federal law enforcement circles. Experts on mob activity who did not usually communicate with one another were able to pool their resources and generate creative investigative ideas.
The concept of joining together investigators and lawyers was so successful that the original “Buffalo plan,” (named after Buffalo, New York—the site of the first strike force) invented by Henry Peterson ultimately blossomed, with President Nixon’s encouragement, to 200 lawyers located in 20 cities. The results were often spectacular, with whole Mafia families sent to federal prisons.
The strike force concept called for superior leadership. Henry Peterson had risen through the FBI ranks to head Justice’s organized crime section comprised of highly-skilled investigators. Many of these were GS grade 14 and 15 agents or area supervisors at the FBI or IRS with years of organized crime experience. They were carefully screened career people, challenged to share their knowledge of organized crime families in a spirit and atmosphere of complete and unselfish cooperation. Inter-agency rivalry and competition were downplayed. They were career Justice lawyers, not US Attorneys chosen on the basis of national politics, who had no reason to compete for publicity since they answered to their career supervisors in Washington. The strong leadership of the Strike Forces, combined with a free flow of information and its comparative analysis produced the most dramatic successes of federal law enforcement since Hoover’s FBI in the 1930s.
An Ideal Task Force
The intent of the BGA/Crime Commission’s investigation into the handling of the Palatine murder investigation is not to simply criticize. We are attempting to open debate and analysis which will lead the way toward more advanced, efficient task forces. Our goal is a task force which would effectively utilize the talent of Chicagoland’s police departments, facilitating better cooperation between various law enforcement agencies, ensuring the use of appropriate investigative techniques, and avoiding the interference of personality conflicts or issues not related to the case.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) offers one intriguing task force model. Founded in 1967, the NTSB investigates traffic incidents which it believes to have national implications, issues reports and recommendations based on these investigations, and works with states, community groups and others to promote passage of safety legislation consistent with their recommendations.
Our interests focus on the NTSB’s “Go Team”, a group of NTSB personnel representing a range of investigative skills. On 24-alert, the Go-Team arrives immediately at accident scenes. The team consists of approximately six specialists and experts directed by an “investigator-in-charge.” An NTSB board member always accompanies the team to the site, while a Public Affairs officer coordinates media activities. Go-Team member are used to working together and accustomed to working within an already established power structure, avoiding the time-wasting turf wars and the uncertainty over roles that torment ad hoc task forces.
After completing an investigation, the NTSB makes recommendations based on their findings to help improve transportation safety. They also maintain a database of their reports and recommendations which they make available to other agencies and groups.
The group maintains its independence from other agencies to remain as impartial in their recommendations as possible. It operates its own technical laboratory to ensure proper and unbiased analysis of evidence.
The Chicago Crime Commission’s research into task force options has revealed more clues as to how to structure Chicago’s ideal task force. The first type of task force they outline, the Ad Hoc Multi- Agency Task Force, reflects the philosophy behind Palatine’s task force. It is the most common system, built on allegiances, friendships, business and personal relationships, and whatever other assistance is available at the time.
Problems develop quickly in this task force model. The delay in assembling the group can hinder the investigation from the outset, organization can be haphazard, issues not related to the case may interfere with investigative work, and power struggles may develop.
Another type of task force suggested by the Crime Commission is the Major Case Squads. In this model, specific individuals with specialized training are drawn from a regional base and organized into a special unit. These squads can be county-wide and county-run, as in Lake County, or they can be a cooperative venture managed by an independent board of directors representing various law enforcement agencies, as is the case with the Greater St. Louis Major Case Squad. Like the NTSB’s “Go Team”, this model offers the clear advantage that specific individuals who work routinely together and whose training is on point are available instantly at the crime scene, without the initial haggling and confusion over roles and responsibilities which characterize the typical task force.
The U.S. Department of Justice conducted a study on one example of an ideal task force, the Organized Crime Narcotics Trafficking Enforcement Program. The OCN program was developed by the Bureau of Justice Assistance at the U.S. Department of Justice in response to the inability of many individual law enforcement agencies to handle narcotics trafficking conspiracies on their own. The program seeks to enhance the effectiveness of narcotics investigations by pooling resources from various sectors.
The study states, “successful cases most often result when skilled local, state, and federal investigators and prosecutors pool their resources, capabilities and expertise in planned and coordinated enforcement actions,” echoing the philosophy behind the Go-Team and the St. Louis Major Case Squads. Each OCN project must include, at a minimum, one federal agency, one state or local agency, one prosecutor, and a management “Control Group.”
The Control Group is made up of the senior operations managers of those agencies expected to be most involved in cases conducted by the project. This control group is the mechanism within the OCN program which is intended to prevent any single agency from controlling or dominating the project. The group shares the coordination and direction of personnel, financial, equipment and technical resources. Members of the Control Group have an equal voice on all matters, and the decisions of the Control Group must be unanimous. This shared management system is critical to the success of the program, which comes as no surprise, considering that a “need for better cooperation” was cited as the number one cause for the failure of task forces by members of the State Association of Chiefs of Police in the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s May 1995 Joint Research Project.
Task force organization cannot be left to luck or happenstance, nor can one expect to solve the crime by simply hiring more bodies. If people are not accustomed to working together, if they are not clear about their roles, if they do not respect the training and experience of their peers and supervisors, or if there are blurred lines of authority between the local Police Department, State’s Attorney’s Office and others on the task force, even a thousand-man task force would be counter-productive.
We recommend that representatives from suburban, city and state law enforcement agencies pursue the development of a reliable, organized, experienced, multi-jurisdictional crime response team. Issues of cost effectiveness will need to be analyzed. Funding need not, however, be the barrier toward the formation of a model task force. In St. Louis, for example, most of the extra time committed is volunteered and the extra needs for equipment and specialized resources are financed by private contributions and administered by an independent board of directors.
A Palatine “Strike” Force
Chief Bratcher wasn’t looking for creativity, he wanted help. Clearly understaffed and inexperienced to deal with a crime of this magnitude, Bratcher’s forces, as Koziol pointed out, were stretched very thin. Bratcher turned to the first obvious choice—the Cook County Sheriff. Chief Frank Braun and Detective Medrys of the CCSP were among the first officers gathered at the crime scene in the early hours. Bratcher’s friend Commander Marek was also there.
According to Bratcher, “Within an hour and a half I had more than 20 investigators assembled. And a lot of experienced homicide investigators.”
Who were these men? Well, we know there was not a collection of 20 experienced homicide investigators present in those early hours. One source, a highly-respected law enforcement agent who worked on the Task Force in the first week, told the BGA: “We tried to put together a list of guys to work on the case. We were sitting and trying to remember who was working and writing their names on a piece of paper. We were just there in a support role … we brought in several of our guys and they are good but no, they are not experienced homicide investigators.”
Because of his involvement with the Northwest Police Academy, Bratcher had many friends throughout local and national law enforcement. But through the first days following the discovery of the bodies, Palatine, assisted by the CCSP, performed the bulk of the investigative work. Even the Blake lead was staffed almost entirely by Palatine officers. CCSP guys were used “strictly in a support role.”
Koziol explains the reasoning behind the task force. Reflecting on when he first arrived at the scene and spoke with Chief Bratcher, Koziol said, �we knew immediately that the crime was large and we were going to need assistance from other agencies.” But Bratcher’s feeling was, “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.”
Koziol listed the key early officers as Opitz, Briscoe, Walker, Fanning and Haas from Palatine as well as Medrys, Alvarado and Schwartz from the Sheriff’s Police.
Key Palatine Officers
Opitz “was the investigator basically assigned to track down leads.” In retrospect, Opitz explained his definition of a task force this way: “It would be in our case individuals in the name of law enforcement from different agencies … putting their minds and talents together to work on this crime.” He points out that in those early hours, “the Chief put the Task Force together,” expanding it to include by the middle of the week officers from Des Plaines, Arlington Heights and Chicago. Opitz himself had only worked on one murder case, Lyng, which had happened 20 years earlier, had no crime scene, and provided no opportunity to track down initial leads. Opitz admits he had no experience in murders much less one of this magnitude. But as Koziol indicated, “he was the top Palatine person assigned to track down leads.”
Koziol himself had gone from supervising five people to over one hundred within one week. But he was in Bratcher’s high favor.
Detective Fanning of Palatine was similarly inexperienced. Recall that Fanning blurted out, “she ID’d Blake,” when a key witness only stated that, of the individuals in a photo line-up, Blake looked closest to a person she’d seen. Fanning went on to author an official police report that was a clear exaggeration of the sequence of events at the witness’ home. This report was, “not what happened,” according to a fellow Task Force investigator. Had Fanning knowingly filed a false report? Or was he so woefully inexperienced that he did not realize his crucial mistake? Whatever the case, the eyewitness ruled out Blake in a subsequent line-up and he was eventually released.
Role of the State’s Attorney’s Office
In these first few hours, discussions were going on in the State’s Attorney’s office concerning whether or not they should be involved in the Palatine matter and, if so, to what extent. Joan O’Brien and Paul Tsukuno were on the scene doing what Assistant State’s Attorneys (ASAs) routinely do; namely, advising on legal issues as they arise.
It was the ASAs who determined sufficient probable cause to arrest Martin Blake on Saturday, January 9. The State’s Attorney’s office also found on Monday that there was not enough evidence to charge Blake and therefore, he had to be released. However, at that point the State’s Attorney’s office was not in full command of the investigation. They were only involved in an advisory capacity.
But their role early on assured Bratcher all legal procedures would be followed correctly. As he said months later, in June 1993: “It is incomprehensible that we would jeopardize our case by failing to follow basic legal procedures in the handling of any suspects in that case. Our case investigation and questioning have been conducted in close coordination with the legal counsel of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. We are confident that our actions were legal and proper.” Remember, Palatine ultimately paid Blake nearly $100,000 in a false arrest suit.
The key question debated at the highest levels of the State’s Attorney’s Office was, should they take over and run the investigation? An argument ensued over the office’s degree of involvement. Traditionally, State’s Attorneys wait for the police to solve the crime. They then judge its prosecutorial merit, decide whether to indict and when the investigation is basically over, the prosecution may begin.
The top managers of the State’s Attorneys office, individuals who had served various State’s Attorneys of both parties, knew clearly of O’Malley’s “avaricious desire to continue to be in the news.” As already noted, legends often arise from investigations, and a number of top assistants point to a key meeting during the summer of 1993, approximately six months after the Brown’s massacre. O’Malley, hungry for high-profile cases, shouted at one point in the meeting, “Get me a priest!” This expressed, as one top former State’s Attorney present at the meeting reports, both his belief that there were criminal priests who needed to be prosecuted and his desire to prosecute high-profile cases to maintain political visibility. He added that he believed the latter to have been the true motivator of O’Malley’s outburst. In addition, he noted that the first assistant, Andrea Zopp, also wanted to turn the office’s focus toward “glitzy, high-profile crimes.”
The top assistants’ basic disagreement with O’Malley stemmed from the conflict between their belief in prosecuting non-glamorous criminals, such as those involved in “black on black” crime, and O’Malley’s desire to prosecute high-profile cases in an effort, they believe, to become governor.
O’Malley wanted to help out his friend Bratcher and become heavily involved in directing the investigation with his new staff of State’s Attorney investigators. The “old guard” top assistants advised him to restrain himself. “Let them solve the case and bring it to us for prosecution.”
The argument raged back and forth during that first weekend. But O’Malley had already begun holding press conferences in Palatine and the old guard knew that they lost this battle, a significant step on the way to losing the war.
O’Malley’s Key Representatives
Pat O’Brien was assigned as legal advisor to the Task Force. Kevin Kavanaugh assumed a prominent supervisory role in the investigation. Indeed, on the flow chart illustrating Task Force organization, Kavanaugh and O’Brien were directly below Chief Bratcher. They, along with Frank Braun of CCSP, oversaw the entire task force. They were ranked higher than Sgt. Koziol, key homicide detectives and representatives of the FBI.
Kavanaugh was described by most officers interviewed by the BGA as the, “tactical commander.” Also assigned to the Task Force by O’Malley were Robertson, a highly- experienced and well-respected investigator, and Andy Knott, O’Malley’s public relations person who was studying to become a lawyer.
Knotts’ reputation was that he tended to be unhelpful, snotty and difficult to deal with. Knott does not appear on the organizational flow chart but, surprisingly, he became heavily involved in tactical decisions.
State’s Attorney investigators had been used in other high-profile cases. One top assistant points out that Robertson and four other investigators went to Washington, DC, to sift through Congressman Mel Reynolds’ garbage. He noted that the investigative unit in the State’s Attorney’s office was, “organized and expanded shortly before the Palatine investigation,” upon O’Malley’s insistence. Simultaneously, O’Malley removed many career prosecutors who were opposed to the idea.
As evidence of O’Malley’s interest in achieving a high profile in the public eye, one assistant cites the practice of “holding charges” in felony review so that O’Malley could gain time to hold press conferences and secure television coverage. He contends that this is a “running joke” in the State’s Attorney’s office. This action can potentially harm prosecutions when defense attorneys become aware of the practice and exploit the time gap.
The Rest of the Task Force
“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,” Bratcher said in the Daily Herald on January 24, 1993, which characterized his early response to offers for help.
The Illinois State Police were never called by Chief Bratcher. An assistant director of the ISP, Tom Shemp, called Palatine himself wondering why they hadn’t called him within a few days of the murders. As a result of Shemp’s call to Bratcher, the ISP sent a few people: Leonard, Valdez, Monsen and Meyer. Valdez was an investigator, the others were intelligence analysts.
The Monday following the murders, Chief Bratcher contacted the FBI, who sent in their Rapid Start Team—essentially a profile team. This was their first case. Jim Bell was named Task Force coordinator in March 1995, after serving as one of the initial FBI advisors to the Task Force. Bell was cited as an expert in organizing large-scale cases, having “managed or participated in over 40 major task force operations nation-wide.”
Although often referred to as an FBI agent in the Chicago press, in reality Bell was not an agent but a civilian referred to as “a major case specialist.” His GS (general service) rating was below that of other FBI agents assigned to the case. His experience with the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP), made him an expert on serial crimes. But there was no evidence of the Brown’s massacre being the work of a serial killer. Indeed, most police interviewed by the BGA agreed that Brown’s was a botched robbery.
According to the organizational flow chart, the FBI worked as technical support alongside the state intelligence analysts, under the administrative branch of the Task Force. They were responsible for implementing an automated case-management system.
After the release of suspect Blake, one senior O’Malley aid said, “everyone knew the real investigation was about to begin.”
As the role of the FBI was being expanded, on Wednesday, January 13, 1993, two veteran Chicago Police Department detectives arrived: Sgt. Paul Carrol, a participant in a number of task forces, and Detective Richard Zuley, a highly-respected veteran officer. Zuley had years of homicide investigative experience including successfully investigating some of the most notorious murder cases in the city—cases called “heater cases.” These heater cases included the murder of the Boyz to Men manager in a Gold Coast hotel, the Dantrell Davis case, the Choi Jewelry double murder on North Clark Street in 1989 and the Dana Feiter case, the woman murdered at a North Side cash station. As one investigator noted, “murder was Zuley’s thing.”
Other suburbs offered help on an ad hoc basis. Ultimately, by January 17, 1993, there were 10 investigative teams comprised of two men each. The investigating officers came from Palatine (5), Cook County Sheriff’s Police (5), Chicago (1), Des Plaines (2), Skokie (2), Rolling Meadows, Arlington Heights, and the State’s Attorney’s office. The other representative of the Chicago police department was not an investigator—he worked on the support staff.
But it took nine days to assemble these investigators. They were not command staff but analysts from the state and crime analysts from the FBI. There were legal advisors and investigators from the State’s Attorney’s Office. Yet there were relatively few actual street investigators.
But, there were never 140 “investigators” working on the crime, as many have suggested. However, many of the investigators and support staff were the “best and brightest” from their departments. The rank and file were skilled and experienced. It was the inexperienced leadership of the Task Force that lacked the skill to manage the investigation well.
After all, Pat O’Brien was a lawyer inexperienced in investigations. Kavanaugh’s reputation was as an IAD administrator and restaurant security boss. And Koziol himself admitted his inexperience in homicide investigations.
How Was This Task Force to Operate?
Clearly, Chief Bratcher was in charge and responsible—he had assembled the Task Force. Day- to-day operations were controlled by Kavanaugh and Koziol with heavy investigative input from Pat O’Brien of the State’s Attorney’s office.
Conceptually, they were striving for teamwork. For instance, in the agenda for Bratcher’s staff meeting on February 1, 1993, he used the word “team” seven times. He describes “nine investigative teams,” all to equally impact the investigation and work in unison with each other. Theoretically, the data gathered and reviewed by the crime scene analysts, the work of the FBI profilers, and any incoming “current intelligence” from agencies like the Chicago Gang Crimes unit would be funneled to these investigative teams.
But, in reality, these categories of information were tightly held by the command staff and never shared with the investigators. Task Force leaders would meet in the so-called “war room” behind closed doors. They would emerge with orders for the investigators without offering any discussion of the course of the investigation.
For the first six weeks, no briefing session was held when the morning shift replaced the late shift. Further into the investigation, a senior investigator told us the briefing sessions were used as a time to reprimand officers for “filing things incorrectly” as opposed to being a forum for exchanging information.
As noted by former Chicago Police Superintendent Richard Brezack, some of the most valuable information used to solve crimes emerges from casual discussions over cups of coffee. Investigators would gather together in an informal setting and discuss a case, sharing their individual experiences with one another. This cultivation of new ideas is not possible when even the most basic of briefing sessions are not conducted. This lack of shared information and honest teamwork doomed the task force from its inception.
Consequently, fundamental pieces of evidence—things left at the crime scene, lists of witnesses who had come forward, and the work product from analysts and profilers—were never shared with the investigators. Many investigators interviewed were not aware of all the physical evidence. Indeed, to this day state analysts have never been informed of certain key elements of the crime. One investigator succinctly identified the problems this created: “What’s the point of creating profiles if you don’t share them with the investigators?”
Creativity among investigators was not encouraged. This responsibility was left to Kavanaugh, Koziol and O’Brien. Chief Bratcher really didn’t participate. The task force was designed to ensure that Palatine and the State’s Attorney’s office would solve the crime. Many highly-skilled investigators found themselves answering phones and taking incoming leads. Ultimately, they began calling themselves “Kelly girls.” These investigators, who had decades of experience between them, were hardly ever busy. They were not used to follow up even the most basic leads—despite a backlog.
One extremely-experienced investigator went home after three days on the Task Force and told his wife, “They are not telling us anything. They’ll never solve this crime.”
Looking at the Federal Task Force model, it is important to recall that the leadership—Justice Department lawyers—were given no line-authority over the investigators. Being experienced agents, the investigators were often older and more experienced than the attorneys. Thus it was necessary to lead by persuasion: to ask agents to do things—not order them. In Palatine, the leaders of the Task Force lacked the necessary authority because they did not command the respect of the investigators.
Task Force members have pointed out that each department sent their top investigators to work on the Task Force. Ultimately, many of these talented officers requested their home departments to remove them from the Task Force. They felt they were “misused resources.” One Task Force member said, “If you wrote a book about the Palatine Task Force, it would be titled, �How not to run a major investigation.’”
Indeed, rather than a true task force which followed the Federal model of putting everyone in a room to share everything, this investigation was held tightly. It was run by a few people who asked the investigators to run down various leads without explaining how those leads fit into the big picture.
This placed tremendous power and responsibility for the investigation in the hands of a few who were woefully inexperienced in murder cases. The consequence of this inexperience was that many of the investigators quickly lost confidence in the leadership, resulting in a wide, disastrous split right down the middle of Bratcher’s team. As Yankees’ Manager Billy Martin used to say, “My job is to stop half the team, who isn’t sure I know what I am doing, from joining the other half, who are convinced that I don’t know what I am doing.”
It is the nature of an ad hoc task force like Palatine for the investigators from other jurisdictions to be loyal not to the Task Force, but to their own departments. The Task Force was inexperienced in the type of leadership needed to mold these diverse groups into an effective team.
The lack of skill and homicide experience had become obvious to the experienced investigative members of the “team.” It was reported that early on, Zuley pointed out to Bratcher he felt Koziol lacked experience and savvy. The command’s apparent authority began to melt away during the investigation of what has become known as “Lead 80.” Their authority disintegrated as the investigators observed conduct which indicated a lack of knowledge of fundamental investigative procedures. The split which ensued between the command and the investigators involved with Lead 80 caused the command to position themselves on the defensive. They attacked the credibility of the lead based upon the actions and personalities of the investigating detectives, not on the actual evidence.
The Investigation of Lead 80
Early on, Reynaldo (a.k.a. Bacilio) Aviles, an incarcerated member of the Puerto Rican (PR) Stones gang, told the State’s Attorney’s office that he knew of a number of robberies that Jose Cruz and other members of the PR Stones had committed. Aviles said that Cruz and other gang members were responsible for the Palatine murders, and that he had gained this information through phone conversations with Cruz while in county jail.
On Wednesday, January 13, 1993, State’s Attorney Investigator Robertson assigned Chicago Detective Richard Zuley to this lead—number 80. Zuley and his partner Illinois State Police Sgt. Valdez, immediately contacted the Chicago Gang Crimes unit to request information on the individual identified by Aviles—Jose Cruz. They then interviewed Aviles in Cook County Jail.
But Pat O’Brien was skeptical of Aviles’ veracity. He emphasized that Aviles’ claims, because he had two prior convictions, had to be proved to establish his credibility as a source. However, O’Brien still went to a judge to obtain a judicial overhear to listen to Aviles’ jailhouse conversations. The procedure was highly unusual. In the hundreds of investigations Zuley had been involved with, this was the first in which an overhear request was made.
Meanwhile, O’Brien instructed that Aviles was to have no further conversations with Cruz until the paperwork was completed and the overhear arranged. Aviles agreed.
In the interim and against O’Brien’s direction, Aviles again talked to Cruz who, when asked about the murders said he did not want to talk about it; “This thing is too hot. I’m not going to talk about it anymore.”