BGA -- Report Part 3
Zuley and Vic Valdez, of the Illinois State Police, debriefed Aviles. Aviles said that he had a conversation with Cruz, a chieftain of the PR Stones on January 13, 1993, in which he admitted involvement in the Palatine murders. “There was a fight and shit had to be done.” Aviles went on to explain that there had been a fight and Cruz had “japped out and had to do them all.” Cruz said that he was with “Gabriel” that Friday night and that there “wasn’t much money” in the restaurant.
Aviles said Gabriel, another PR Stone, was still talking about Palatine. He explained later that “Gabriel” was actually Sanchez. Aviles had initially wanted to protect Sanchez because he had offered Aviles’ girlfriend a place to live when she first left home.
Meanwhile, a tip had come in from a witness who said he saw a man standing inside Brown’s the night of the murders. As he walked up to the door and pulled on it, the man told him that the restaurant was closed. The witness completed an identi-kit, which bore a striking resemblance to Sanchez. Zuley saw the identi-kit result during the course of his conversations with Aviles. His belief in the accuracy of Lead 80 increased. This witness later identified a photo of Sanchez as that person.
However, this witness later admitted that he filed a false police report. He said he was, “trying to protect someone.” His identi-kit result was discredited, but only after Lead 80 was already dismissed.
Aviles admitted to committing a number of armed robberies with Cruz in the months immediately preceding the murders. The gang was putting together money for a drug buy, and they were moving their efforts to the suburbs, where there was “more money and less chance of getting caught.”
To corroborate Aviles’ statements, Zuley and Valdez, along with Longos and Rodriguez of Gang Crimes, drove around with Aviles and another witness, asking them to identify previous jobs, which they did.
A String of Robberies
Aviles took the investigators to the Captain Video Store. On December 6, 1992, the PR Stones robbed the Captain Video Store at 4459 Lawrence Ave. Two offenders entered the store and brandished a blue steel semi-automatic pistol. They herded two employees into the store basement while one offender went behind the counter to the register and removed $500 cash.
The PR Stones moved north. On December 29, 1992, Cruz robbed an employee at the King David Bakery on Dempster and McCormick. Cruz put a gun to the young employee’s head and stole his paycheck and the cash he had on him. Aviles and Sanchez, along with two other gang members, were waiting in the car while Cruz robbed him.
On January 5, 1993, the woman owner of the Irish Wolfhound Pub at 3734 W. Milwaukee was forced at gunpoint to open the restaurant’s safe. The other employee was robbed by a second offender. Once again, two offenders entered the pub and threatened employees with a blue steel semi-automatic pistol. The PR Stones are believed to have been involved.
January 6, 1993, two days before the Brown’s murders, the PR Stones robbed the Edens Motel at the intersection of Cicero and Peterson. One of the robbers, later identified as Aviles, entered the motel lobby with a blue steel semi-automatic pistol and struck the desk clerk in the face, demanding that he open the register. Aviles was caught hiding in a dumpster after fleeing the scene. He was incarcerated. The physical description offered of one of the offenders in the Edens Motel robbery matched the description given by the victims of the Captain Video Store robbery.
Aviles also offered information regarding the casing of a North Side Burger King restaurant. He admitted to, “pumping” his girlfriend’s friend, a Burger King employee, for information on store policies. Aviles and his girlfriend asked the employee about closing times, the number of people that worked given shifts, and the location of the safe. Task Force documents reveal that the employee and Burger King manager corroborated Aviles’ statements. They placed him and his girlfriend in the store, and described the wad of money Aviles was carrying at the time. The employee confirmed that she was “being pumped” for information.
The modus operandi of all of these robberies were strikingly similar to Brown’s and the chronology of robberies, which led progressively northward, led directly to Brown’s.
Corroboration of Lead 80
Chicago Gang Crimes current intelligence was saying that “Palatine was a PR Stones thing.” Their intelligence also indicated Cruz now wanted Aviles killed for ratting on him. Officers Longos and Rodriguez of Gang Crimes knew the PR Stones exceptionally well. “Our guys felt that Cruz was the guy.”
Chicago Gang Crimes firmly believed this during the time leading up to the surveillance and arrest of Cruz. In interviews with investigators, Aviles noted Cruz’ habits. His favorite weapon was a .38 Smith and Wesson. Highly unusual for stick-up men, he always carried spare ammo and liked to reload. Cruz liked to fire the weapon, would reload right away and he always picked up the shell casings. He always wore gloves. These were the circumstances of the Brown’s massacre. The detectives were convinced.
Brent Fowler of the Skokie police was now a key lead 80 investigator. Brought in because of the apparent connection between Palatine and the King David Bakery robbery, Fowler began a push to set-up surveillance of Cruz. Initially worried about the veracity of Aviles’ information, Fowler and the other detectives were satisfied after Aviles’ initial statements about the gang’s other robberies proved exceptionally accurate.
Surveillance and Arrest
Fowler requested a special mobile surveillance van from Northbrook. He also recruited other investigators and analysts from the state team, through Vic Valdez, to assist. Mobile surveillance is complicated, sophisticated and labor intensive. But the state police had exceptionally useful civilian cars and agreed to help Gang Crimes because of their belief that Cruz and Sanchez were involved in Palatine.
But Gang Crimes’ mobile surveillance of Cruz was called off by Kavanaugh of the State’s Attorney’s office. Kavanaugh maintained that the investigators lacked probable cause to initiate the surveillance. O’Brien later admitted that surveillance is in fact used to develop probable cause, not the other way around, saying, “whoever gave them that advice was wrong.” This is about as fundamental a criminal legal concept as there is.
Kavanaugh’s gross misinterpretation of fundamental concepts such as probable cause may be connected to his tenure at the Internal Affairs Division (IAD). There, policemen contend that probable cause is necessary before initiating internal surveillance of fellow law enforcement officers. Whatever the case, Kavanaugh was not convinced and the investigators were angry.
Kavanaugh and O’Brien continued to discount Lead 80 by saying that they simply couldn’t believe that “jerky gang bangers” were committing suburban robberies, much less a crime of Palatine’s magnitude.
Yet another obstacle had been erected by Task Force command. Zuley and Fowler decided that “these people are nuts.”
If you want a surveillance, “prove these guys did a suburban robbery,” was Kavanaugh’s challenge to Valdez, Zuley and Fowler. Checking records, Fowler described to Kavanaugh the Skokie bakery robbery. Also, Aviles’ father lived in Wheeling, one of Palatine’s neighboring suburbs. When things got too hot in the city after performing a string of robbery jobs, the Stones would use the home of Aviles’ father as a hide-out. Doubts about gang activity in the suburbs were diminishing.
“Prove Cruz did the suburban bakery robbery,” was the next hurdle given to the investigators by Kavanaugh if they wanted to conduct surveillance. Kavanaugh insisted that Cruz be positively ID’d as the offender in spite of heavily corroborated evidence that Cruz was indeed responsible. Kavanaugh was told that it would be a mistake to positive ID an armed robber who had become a prime suspect in a multiple murder case. If Cruz was ID’d and not watched, and he committed more crimes, someone would look foolish. But Kavanaugh did not relent.
Fowler then conducted a photo line-up so that the Skokie robbery victim could ID his attacker. Without hesitation, the victim identified Cruz and pointed out that Cruz had spoken to him in Puerto Rican Spanish as he stole his paycheck. Aviles previously told investigators about the stolen paycheck. His information kept checking out.
Fowler had now proven that Cruz had been involved in a suburban robbery. The Task Force command—O’Brien, Kavanaugh and Koziol—met a few days later and decided that surveillance was no longer enough. A warrant for Cruz’ arrest would be sought. They had a confirmed armed robber and murder suspect on the street. But before procuring the warrant O’Brien insisted upon meeting with the Skokie victim personally.
The Skokie robbery victim was taken to Rolling Meadows by Fowler. O’Brien interviewed him, decided he was in fact reliable, and authorized Fowler’s request for an arrest warrant. O’Brien was satisfied. He had come full circle and was now vouching for Aviles’ credibility with the court. Aviles had provided the Task Force with key information that had led to the witness and the solution of the King David Bakery robbery and ultimately to the issuing of a warrant for Cruz’s arrest.
Arrangements were made for Gang Crimes to do the pick-up on January 25, 1993. Just having finished another briefing session with Aviles, Valdez, Zuley and Fowler called Palatine Deputy Chief McGregor. He told them that the sweep was canceled, nothing was happening, and they could go home. Zuley then called Gang Crimes to inform them that nothing was happening. But Gang Crimes countered that they had been called by the Task Force and they were going to meet in the 24th District that night to execute the arrest warrant by picking up Cruz.
Gang Crimes, well-acquainted with Cruz, was going to carry out the arrest with representatives of the State’s Attorney’s office and Palatine present. Rodriguez had arranged to meet Cruz at the McDonald’s on Clark and Olive streets. This was not unusual—Rodriguez had known Cruz since Cruz was fourteen. Rodriguez described him as a “stone-cold killer.”
Zuley and Fowler were furious. The Task Force had cut them out of their lead.
Fowler went straight to the 24th District office on Clark Street in Rogers Park. Zuley went home, fuming. Fowler insisted that he, along with Zuley and Valdez, be present during the arrest. It was a Skokie case and warrant, and Kavanaugh agreed that Fowler could participate. Fowler called Zuley at home, asking him to come to the 24th. When Zuley arrived, he went nose-to-nose with Kavanaugh in front of the 20 to 30 people present, including state police Glenn Leonard and Vic Valdez and representatives of Gang Crimes. Zuley screamed, “this is bullshit, cutting us out … after we built this lead, you tell us to go home while you pick up the suspect … you’re grandstanding this investigation!” Kavanaugh was relatively silent.
A highly-experienced and high-ranking law enforcement officer and senior member of the Task Force described the confrontation between Zuley and Kavanaugh in the following way: “Kavanaugh and Zuley were nose-to-nose shouting.” He actually moved back because he feared that punches would be thrown. When asked what the fight was about he answered, “control.” He believed that Kavanaugh wanted to control the investigation very tightly, which surprised him, considering Kavanaugh’s lack of investigative experience.
The officer also described the role of the State’s Attorney’s office and thought it odd that they were in command, as opposed to experienced homicide detectives like Zuley. The State’s Attorney usually expedites search warrant requests and provides support to investigators. He couldn’t believe they were involved with Palatine in a daily, supervisory manner. The officer added that he believed there to be a pre-existing relationship between Kavanaugh and Koziol, Bratcher’s “rising star.” Kavanaugh and Koziol were involved together in every way and appeared to be friends. The officer did not like Koziol—he thought he was “aggressive and pushy beyond what was necessary.”
After the confrontation, Kavanaugh said privately to Zuley, “Don’t you ever do that again.” But Fowler later challenged Kavanaugh on the same grounds. He argued that Zuley and Valdez were integral to the interrogation of Cruz and Sanchez because they had all the information on their backgrounds and other criminal activity.
The Initial Interrogation
The group traveled to the Skokie station to conduct the interrogation. Fowler began the questioning of Cruz. Zuley did a cursory interview with Sanchez. Kavanaugh and Robertson, a State’s Attorney investigator known as someone you “wouldn’t want to cross,” went to Skokie as well. They were planning on interrogating the suspects themselves, but Fowler and Zuley took over. The Skokie chief forced Kavanaugh and Robertson to wait in the station house. “Skokie warrant, Skokie house, Skokie rules,” he said.
Now it was Kavanaugh and Robertson who were cut out of the interrogation. They left Skokie late that evening, furious.
Meanwhile, Fowler was talking to Cruz. At first, Cruz stated that he had remained in the car during the King David Bakery job while his accomplices robbed the employee. The next morning, however, when Cruz’s questioning continued, he finally admitted that he was the one to put a gun to the victim’s head and rob him of his paycheck. This admission came only after almost six hours of questioning. Fowler arranged a physical line-up for the Skokie witness and the witness identified Cruz. Cruz was charged with armed robbery and armed violence.
It was time to transfer Cruz and Sanchez to Palatine.
Interrogation at Palatine
All was quiet at Task Force Headquarters when Cruz and Sanchez were brought in for further questioning. According to one detective, “there was no sense of excitement or urgency in the air. It didn’t feel as if the crime were about to be cracked.”
O’Brien and Chief Bratcher were not present when the interrogation began around 4:30 p.m. on January 26, 1993. They had a dinner to attend.
When the interrogation began, Valdez was questioning Sanchez. He informed Sanchez that Cruz had already implicated him in the Skokie robbery, but Sanchez maintained his innocence. Zuley joined in the questioning and proceeded to describe the other robbery jobs that Aviles and Cruz had discussed with the investigators. Although noticeably upset and emotional, Sanchez continued to deny involvement.
It became quickly apparent to the investigators that Sanchez was terrified of Cruz; Sanchez feared for his life. He was emotional, sobbing. He grew even more upset when the interrogation turned to the subject of Palatine.
Meanwhile, investigators Fowler and Russell interrogated Cruz.
A decision was made to break for dinner, and the four lead investigators left to eat and bring burgers back for the suspects. According to one key investigator, a good way to “move suspects” is to show them a little respect.
As they left the station, the investigators had already discussed how to best use Aviles’ statements against Cruz. They had decided to confront Cruz with the jailhouse telephone conversation. They were also going to arrange for polygraph tests and physical line-ups. The investigators felt they were in for a long night of questioning.
As the four investigators, Zuley, Fowler, Valdez and Russell went outside, one observer noticed that it didn’t seem as if much progress was being made. Jay Levine of Channel 2 News was doing a report outside headquarters, and the investigators laughed at him as they got into the car. Levine was one of Bratcher’s favorite reporters.
The investigators returned to the station after dinner. Zuley made a call to Chief Milner of Elmhurst, an expert on interrogation techniques. Zuley wanted his advice on how to best handle the situation. While Zuley was talking with Milner, Koziol and Robertson informed the other Lead 80 detectives that they were releasing Cruz and Sanchez.
What had happened after the investigators left for dinner probably changed the course of the investigation forever. The split down the middle of the Task Force between the investigators and the command became a chasm and it exists to this day.
When Zuley, Fowler, Valdez and Russell went to dinner, a senior law enforcement official noticed something peculiar. Koziol and Robertson from the State’s Attorney’s office entered the interrogation room where Cruz was being held. The law enforcement official believed that the lead investigators did not know their suspects would be questioned while they were gone. He went on to explain that it is not acceptable in any police organization for other officers to go in and interview a suspect without the expressed consent of the investigator.
How serious was this breach of police etiquette when Koziol intervened to release Cruz?
LeRoy Martin, former superintendent of the Chicago PD and a man with a wealth of knowledge in the investigation of violent crime, addressed the BGA/Crime Commission Blue Ribbon Panel. He was asked about the practice of interrupting an officer’s interrogation and replied, “that would probably result in a fist fight in most Chicago precincts.”
Another senior law enforcement official with over 30 years of experience present at the scene put it this way: “You have got to understand … a police officer anywhere in the world would have a huge problem with that. It is an unforgivable offense … it doesn’t matter if the guy would apologize or offer to shine your shoes. You’d have a problem with them for the rest of your career. Police simply don’t do that no matter what the reason.” He went on to say, “then to let someone’s suspect go after talking to them is beyond a fighting offense.”
This official was a member of the Task Force and assumed Koziol knew what he was doing. After all, he was one of the bosses.
But after spending less than an hour between Cruz and Sanchez, Koziol and Robertson had decided that he was not involved with the Palatine killings.
Koziol told Valdez that he “had looked into his [Cruz’s] eyes and believed that he didn’t do it.” Valdez asked Koziol to clarify his statement, to be sure that he did indeed want the suspects released. Koziol reiterated that Cruz and Sanchez were not involved in the murders. A senior law enforcement official notes, “most police that know about Lead 80 know about the ‘I looked in his eyes’ statement and they think it’s just stupid.”
Zuley had by now finished his conversation with Chief Milner and he had just learned of Koziol’s decision. He shouted, “What did you do? You’ve only worked on two murders in your life! You talked to him for 25 minutes and determined he didn’t do the murders and it took Fowler six hours to get him to confess to an armed robbery. How many gang-banging, murdering, robber Puerto Ricans have you ever interviewed in Palatine?” Zuley screamed at Koziol. Koziol responded, “That shouldn’t matter. I’ve been to the Reid School of Interrogation.”
Zuley remembered what his Chicago superior had told him when he had first been assigned to the Task Force. He had warned him not to fight with anyone at Palatine, “remember, it’s their murder case.”
Zuley had already caused problems in his week on the Task Force. Individuals close to Zuley recalled one of his first interactions with Chief Bratcher. Zuley had been complaining to Bratcher about the incomplete canvass attempt. He criticized Koziol and Bratcher looked surprised. Early in the investigation, a large group of Task Force members went out to dinner. During dinner, Zuley was overheard to say to the chief, “Boss, this is solveable. It’s punks. It’s a shitty stick up team that fucked up. This case is not seven murders, it’s one R/D number. The number of victims doesn’t change anything.”
Zuley decided he didn’t want to interfere again. It was Fowler who insisted that Cruz not be released. “I’m not releasing him—I want him charged from Skokie.”
The Unraveling of Lead 80
Zuley believed that the command had not liked the lead from the initial tip. They were easily intrigued by more sensational explanations. A county detective related they were intrigued by the facts that Ted Kennedy had called the Ehlendfeldt’s daughters to express his sympathy over their loss. Were the killings political? Was the Mafia involved? Had they financed the restaurant?
From the beginning hours of the investigation, there were several officers who discussed the possibility of a robbery gang being responsible for the murders. But Zuley felt that the command didn’t look at the obvious. The command was simply too stunned by the magnitude of the case.
Yet the FBI seemed supportive of the lead. One agent told Zuley that while the FBI could not initiate an investigation, they would be supportive of the detectives’ work and help in any capacity that they could.
There was little the Lead 80 investigators could do after Koziol’s decision was made. Cruz and Sanchez were released from Palatine and Cruz was charged with the Skokie armed robbery and booked.
The next day was January 27, 1993. Longos of Gang Crimes and Fowler had another brief conversation with Cruz in Skokie. In an attempt to confuse Cruz, Longos explained that perhaps he had been implicated because he was caught on film, or because detectives might have his fingerprint from the bakery employee’s paycheck and it matched one in Brown’s.
Cruz took the bait. He shouted out, “man, there was no camera in that restaurant!”
Cruz had told Fowler that he wanted to talk to Zuley. Zuley arrived at the Skokie station and went in to see Cruz. Fowler sat in on the interview. They noted that Cruz cared about his wife and children, expressed great concern for them and that he feared for them. He was in tears and said he couldn’t sleep. Cruz told Zuley and Fowler that he wasn’t involved, but that his roommates were. “Look, man, I didn’t do it but man, they didn’t have to shoot them all, man they just shot all of them, they shot five of them in one place and two in the other—and just for chump change … there was a fight and they killed them all.”
Aviles had initially told investigators that there had been a fight. Cruz’s statements again validated Aviles’ story and corresponded to the physical evidence at the scene.
Cruz identified his roommates by their gang names. Gang Crimes intelligence revealed that they were Eric Huber and Brian Deering, white males that were members of the TJOs. Both men had recently been released from the penitentiary. They had records for violent criminal behavior. Huber and Brian Deering’s brother Patrick were incarcerated for nine years for their participation in a wild shoot-out with police on the North Side.
In an October 1984 drug deal gone awry, Huber, Deering and their ringleader Gary Kellas, attempted to sell $22,600 worth of cocaine to an undercover officer. The Chicago Police Department’s Organized Crime Division had set-up a sting. After attempting to take the money without turning over the cocaine, the gang members took out Uzis and began firing at the individuals now identified as police officers. A car chase ensued, the gunfire continued, and the TJOs were arrested and tried.
It was this same group of violent criminals who Cruz was implicating in the Brown’s massacre. But Cruz was due in court. The investigators had to finish their questioning. Cruz would not talk about his relationship with Aviles. They had to let him go.
But Lead 80 was not dead. Zuley and Fowler planned a SuperBowl Sunday sweep to pick up the area TJOs, including Huber and the Deering brothers, and “front them” against one another. Gang members often talk.
The suburban gang sweep involving Gang Crimes, Skokie, State and Task Force members, was planned for Sunday, but that was evidently not soon enough for Task Force command. Koziol and Robertson picked up just Huber and Deering on Saturday, without the knowledge of the lead investigators and without picking up their associates. Zuley and Fowler had been overridden again, their experience in murder and gang cases dismissed as inconsequential.
Afterward, Zuley and Fowler were asked if they wanted to talk to both men. Before they entered the interrogation room, Koziol described the content of his interviews with the suspects. He said that they did not appear to be involved.
Zuley interviewed Huber with Bryan Opitz of Palatine. Opitz was pretty quiet during the interview, as if he didn’t want to interfere. In fact, Opitz admitted his lack of investigative preparation and deferred to Zuley’s expertise.
The interview was short. Huber described his recent haircut and discussed the Friday night of the murders. He said that he had been driving around with Cruz in Cruz’s girlfriend’s car. She had come down from Fon du Lac, Wisconsin in her 1985 silver Ford Thunderbird with four round headlights. Reports taken from eyewitnesses who were around Brown’s between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. confirm that a silver car with four headlights was seen parked behind the restaurant. But Cruz’s girlfriend didn’t remember if she was in Chicago that night. Her story changed. She originally said she picked-up Cruz before dark and arrived in Fon Du Lac around midnight. She later said she wasn’t sure.
Fowler learned little additional information from Brian Deering. Huber and Deering were consequently released, Lead 80 was declared dead, and the investigating officers were assigned to new leads. Zuley and Fowler were both assigned to investigative teams led by officers of a much lower rank. Shortly thereafter, Zuley, and later Fowler, left the Task Force.
According to Chief Bratcher, Zuley was dismissed from the Task Force for leaking to the press. Zuley maintains he left the Task Force of his own volition. But Kavanaugh would seek greater revenge against the detective who had publicly embarrassed him. He would go to IAD.
Lead 80, however, was not completely dismissed. Two separate follow-up investigations, conducted by Medrys of Cook County and Peters of Barrington, along with the FBI, were ordered. But the trail was cold, the initial investigators were not consulted, and key witnesses were not called. But years later, Bratcher could say: “This lead is dead. It’s been beat to death. It has no legs, it can’t stand on it’s own.”
Zuley, Valdez and Fowler, along with the other lead 80 investigators, were angry. They admit their frustration with Task Force command. Their opinions of the events are obviously colored by their emotions. But there were other officers present who were not directly involved in the interrogations. They observed the events and had this to say about why the feeling was that the murders were the result of a botched robbery attempt:
“They had all kinds of strange theories, but if you came to kill a guy, you don’t kill six people with him … you wait and you get him in the parking lot without any witnesses.”
“As far as Lead 80, I know Dick Zuley and murder is his thing. I’ve talked to a lot of guys and some like Zuley and some hate him. But none of them question his skill at solving murders.”
“In my mind, Lead 80 was the best we had. I remember we were going to follow Cruz. We had everything set up, and the word came down that there would be no surveillance. I don’t know why Kavanaugh ordered that … Remember that your [the BGA] report will be read by a lot of chiefs and police officers and it is an example of how the wrong people were in charge.”
Lead 80 Response
At one point, Channel 7’s Chuck Goudie appeared to put out inaccurate information he had gathered regarding the investigation of Lead 80. Zuley, who knew Goudie from contact in Chicago, offered to call Goudie to straighten out the facts. He was roundly told to keep out of it.
From the beginning, key members of the command had chosen favorites among the press corps to leak information to. Jay Levine was consistently stroked by the Task Force and was also liked by Bratcher—they had other favorites too. Goudie was not one of the chosen. Goudie had taken a very hard line toward the Task Force and was therefore widely detested by the command. One witness close to the Task Force told us, “they hated Goudie and posted his picture up on the wall next to the mug shots of wanted criminals.”
Zuley’s attempts to provide Goudie with correct information were heavily criticized by management members of the Task Force, and Chief Bratcher maintains that Zuley was in fact fired from the Task Force for leaking to the press. Information on lead 80 did not reach the media, however, until September of 1993. Zuley had left the Task Force in February of that year.
The Lead 80 document that was leaked was a copy of a draft report. This report had been accessible to many people from many different agencies. Nothing Zuley had worked on during his time on the Task Force was reported by the media during the first nine months after the murders. Zuley insists that he was not responsible for the leak. And no one involved with Lead 80 on the task force could supply any evidence that Zuley had indeed leaked to the press.
But at one Illinois Police Chiefs’ Conference, Captain Pope of Schaumburg bragged of having caught Zuley calling the media. Pope was a close friend of Bratcher, and he forwarded this information to the Palatine chief.
Bratcher, attempting humor, later said, “I didn’t really fire him. I just had him sent back to Chicago and terminated his work with us … I had the Task Force requirements lowered by one.”
Zuley was publicly chastised by Andy Knott. Knott, a former Tribune reporter, made tactical investigative decisions from a position of apparent authority based on his closeness to O’Malley. Knott was thought by investigators to be nothing more than an inexperienced PR man. He had only sat in on a few investigative meetings and his actions against Zuley were thus deemed disproportionately harsh.
What was the reaction of other members of the Task Force to the news about Zuley’s alleged improper actions?
Bratcher’s initial response to Goudie’s Channel 7 news segment on Lead 80 was to downplay the importance of the lead. “It’s not an official document. The real Lead 80 is a book this [inches] thick. Our reports are on official stationery.”
When asked about Zuley’s possible motive for authoring the “unofficial” report, Bratcher replied, “I think he wrote it to give to the press, to give it to Chuck Goudie.” Bratcher maintains that he did not receive a copy of the Lead 80 document until a member of the press gave it to him. Zuley insists that he forwarded all documents to the Task Force. If he had not, his Chicago superiors would have pushed him to hand over all information reports in order to complete his task force assignment. But obviously a report would have been required from the time spent on interviews with Cruz.
Bratcher issued a press release from the Task Force to counter the Lead 80 information reported to the public which stated the following:
The Palatine Investigative Task Force and FBI investigators conducted a thorough follow-up investigation into a lead connecting Chicago robbers with the Palatine mass murder case. As with all significant avenues of investigation pursued by our task force, this investigation has been carefully supervised, monitored and assessed.
This investigation started with tips provided by questionable sources. Reynaldo Aviles, a convicted murderer and armed robber facing mandatory life in prison, gave conflicting statements about alleged conversations which were materially inconsistent. When an attempt was made to overhear subsequent conversations, Aviles prevented it. The other related tip was provided by Robert A. McQueeny, 20, of Elgin. On April 6, 1993, McQueeny pleaded guilty to providing false information to police, a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to twelve months non-reporting probation and a period of community service.
While the large investment of investigative time resulted in the clearance of other robbery cases in Skokie, it did not develop a productive link with the Palatine case. I am satisfied with the course of this investigation.
Bratcher was discounting Lead 80 on the basis of unreliable witnesses providing false information. Aviles was incarcerated on charges of armed robbery and was awaiting a May 26, 1993 court date.
Aviles never made it to court. He was found dead in his cell on May 15, 1993. An apparent suicide note to his girlfriend was found in his cell. Part of the note read: “I hope they will leave you alone Jose Cruz and his gang.” The official autopsy report concluded that Aviles had died of theophylline intoxication. Several abrasions, bruises, and hemorrhages were found on his body, however, showing evidence of a struggle.
The detectives who had interviewed Aviles maintain that the information he provided to the Task Force was correct and reliable. It was corroborated by other sources and actual reported robberies. According to one investigator, “Aviles looked like gold.”
Why was the Task Force so anxious to discount Aviles’ previous statements, especially when they had at one time been deemed credible enough by O’Brien to justify an arrest warrant for Cruz?
In fact, if Aviles was providing “conflicting statements” to the Task Force, why was Bratcher taking credit for clearing a Skokie armed robbery case? Didn’t the Skokie case corroborate Aviles’ information?
The response to Lead 80’s appearance in the news media was thus twofold. First, Zuley was attacked and insulted for his alleged actions. Second, and more importantly, the Task Force sought to discredit the information contained in the lead. In the summer of 1995, the Task Force would go so far as to hire media analyst Rick Rosenthal, a former Channel 9 anchorman, to “draft a response to lead 80.”
Current Task Force Coordinator Jim Bell had this to say on the Zuley issue: “It is not uncommon to have maverick operators who run amuck and go to the press.”
Kavanaugh now had the ammunition he needed to get even with Zuley.
Kavanaugh, who had made his reputation as “Mr. Clean,” catching cops in his position at IAD, was going to retaliate against Fowler, Valdez and especially Zuley for their confrontational conduct in the investigation of Lead 80.
He attempted to file disciplinary charges against all three detectives. Fowler’s supervisor Jerry Adams stood behind Fowler and told the State’s Attorney’s office to forget the beef.
Valdez’s superiors in the Illinois State Police refused to entertain Kavanaugh’s equest.
But the Chicago PD’s Internal Affairs Department took the charges against Zuley seriously.
An IAD sergeant called Skokie and asked Fowler and his supervisor Adams to come to Chicago to give statements on the Zuley matter. Fowler and Adams decided that if the Chicago PD wanted to ask the questions, the IAD sergeant could come to them. The sergeant came a few days later and asked about the veracity of the Lead 80 report. He did not seem concerned with how the report was leaked.
Fowler told the sergeant that, “the report is more honest than I would be.” He went on to say that although he did not author the report, that job was delegated to Zuley because he was the faster typist, he was an active participant in the investigation and maintained that the document was 100% accurate.
After the interview, IAD decided to go ahead with the charges against Zuley for filing a false report, stating that Fowler had never seen the Lead 80 report and that it contained several inconsistencies. Fowler was so angered by this that he wrote a letter to IAD confirming Lead 80 and his support for Detective Zuley.
Role of the State’s Attorney’s Office in the “Beef”
Kavanaugh did not stop his vendetta at IAD. He approached the Public Integrity Unit of the State’s Attorney’s office in the fall of 1993, suggesting that the charges against Zuley should be disclosed to Judge Strayhorn, the judge in the Dantrell Davis Cabrini Green sniper case. Kavanaugh argued that these charges could be relevant to Zuley’s credibility as a lead detective testifying in the Davis case. This case of the Cabrini Green sniper was one of the most important, high visibility cases in Chicago and it was solved by Zuley. It appeared incredible that Kavanaugh would go this far, endangering a case of this magnitude to get even with Zuley.
It appeared to one State’s Attorney the BGA spoke with that someone was trying to damage Zuley’s career. He thought that Zuley was a good detective. He suggested that at a given time 25% of all detectives are under investigation by internal affairs. The attorney felt that someone had “a hard-on” for Zuley because these internal affairs were never brought up to judges or defense attorneys. He said he had never seen anything like it before. The State’s Attorney contended that if a detective’s credibility was successfully questioned based upon an internal affairs investigation, that detective would “have to find another line of work.”
Another State’s Attorney said, “I cannot imagine that even O’Malley would go after a detective like Zuley because he didn’t like the way a report had been written.”
One of O’Malley’s top assistants was aware that Kavanaugh had filed a beef against Zuley. He revealed that that knowledge was widespread in the State’s Attorney’s office. He said that, “although disagreements among investigators are not uncommon, it is horrendous for a State’s Attorney to file a beef against a working homicide investigator since we’re going to be dependent on the testimony of guys like Zuley in the future.”
Another State’s Attorney was given an opportunity to read part of Lead 80. He thought it looked good. Checking with Kavanaugh, he was told that the report was inaccurate and had been written without the knowledge of the other reporting detectives, Fowler and Valdez. But this State’s Attorney felt that Kavanaugh had gone off “half-cocked” in his efforts to get other cops and that Zuley was good, “as good as they come.”
He argued that throughout the Palatine investigation, Kavanaugh wanted to play “police” for O’Malley because he saw himself as an overseer of the Task Force. But when Zuley hit on a good lead, the credit would be taken away from Kavanaugh.
And what of Pat O’Brien, Task Force legal advisor, who had never liked lead 80 from the start?
O’Brien explained that Zuley was not fired from the Task Force but “detailed back to Chicago” and that he was “a cop that took many short cuts and few notes.” O’Brien went on to discredit Lead 80 by saying, “Deering and Huber were questioned extensively and lead 80 led nowhere, although it was damn interesting.” O’Brien now feels, “it still could have been Cruz, but there’s just not enough evidence to convict.”
O’Brien explained that the prints of the Lead 80 suspects were not in the restaurant and argued that Cruz knew only certain general facts about the murders. He differentiated these facts from what a killer would know. O’Brien attributed Cruz’s emotional state during questioning to the gang member’s drug addiction. He says it is common for a withdrawing addict to become emotional after long periods of questioning.
O’Brien admitted that Zuley did not leak Lead 80. He felt that there was too much time that had lapsed between Zuley’s involvement on the Task Force and the media reports.
Results of the “Beef”
Zuley was exonerated on the original Lead 80 complaint of writing an unauthorized report but received a one-day suspension on a second complaint.
The second complaint stemmed from Zuley’s refusal to drop the investigation of Lead 80. Months after leaving the Task Force, Zuley interviewed a source who owned the store next to Manny Castro’s T-shirt shop on Montrose Avenue. The source told Zuley that Manny’s son, murder victim Michael Castro, had worked several times in his father’s shop.
Gang Crime investigators learned that Castro had been arrested in May 1992 for a failure to exhibit a firearm registration certificate. Castro was selling guns to gang members, including the PR Stones, and Cruz had volunteered an accurate physical description of Manny Castro in the interview with Zuley and Fowler. Had Cruz known Manny Castro’s son who was murdered at Brown’s?
The PR Stones were now linked to one of the murder victims. Zuley and the others felt it necessary to push this lead, even though they knew it was against procedure. He had been told by his supervisor to stay away from the Palatine matter. He was, after all, no longer on the Task Force.
Therefore, Zuley ultimately took a one-day suspension. He had been given the option of signing an admission and giving up eight hours time but he wouldn’t sign and took the day.
Current intelligence continues to implicate Jose Cruz and his gang in the Brown’s Chicken massacre. Chicago Gang Crimes continues to receive leads, tips and other intelligence almost weekly saying Brown’s was “a PR Stones thing.” But this information is no longer forwarded to Task Force officials. The “beef” against Zuley, Fowler and Valdez set a precedent. Task Force command would not tolerate dissension in their ranks. Gang Crimes, when asked about situation, replies “you know what happened to Zuley.” The Task Force had effectively cut off the best source of current intelligence in Illinois.
The Anniversary Press Conference
On January 9, 1996, the Palatine Task Force held a press conference to release new information regarding the investigation and to commemorate the anniversary of the murders.
Jim Bell revealed four pieces of evidence deemed critical by the Task Force, in an effort to “trigger the recollection of someone who may know the person responsible for this crime.” These items were: the type of shoe worn by the killer, the type of gun used to kill the victims, the type of vehicle seen in the vicinity of the restaurant during crucial times, and the approximate time of the murders.
To this day, the Task Force insists that the large shoe print found at the scene provides overwhelming evidence that the killer was a very large man. This, despite the fact that news media tapes made at the time when the bodies were removed show a very large man in shoes, which were uncovered, helping to remove the bodies.
Similarly, the Task Force appears convinced that a white vehicle, in the size and shape of a late 1980s Camaro, was the car of the offender(s), despite several witnesses who describe a silver 1970s Cougar or Thunderbird model with four round headlights at the scene.
And the Task Force had hired a media relations consultant, Rick Rosenthal to help persuade the public that these facts, and not those contained in lead 80, were the key bits of evidence that would bring the killer(s) to justice.
Rosenthal, President of RAR Communications, Inc., was paid the sum of $1200 by the Task Force for 12 hours of service. His tasks were to attend three Task Force conferences, draft a lead 80 response, and monitor the actual news conference.
What was the “Lead 80 response” drafted by Rosenthal? It was an attempt to attack those reporters that had reported on the lead in their broadcasts. The brunt of most of Bratcher’s critique during the press conference fell on Dave Savini of Channel 5 News. Savini had aired several segments regarding lead 80 and Bratcher worked hard to discredit the Unit 5 investigation.
To do so, Bratcher, in a script prepared by Rosenthal, attacked several aspects of the lead. He stated that the nine-page Lead 80 document in the possession of the media was not the real lead document, but an unofficial report authored by an investigator who had only worked on the Task Force for two-and-a-half weeks. Bratcher’s inconsistency argument with regard to Lead 80 portrayed the lead as based on a car with Wisconsin plates and a composite sketch. Bratcher pointed out that both pieces of information were given by witnesses who later admitted to filing false reports. Bratcher also discredited Aviles’ testimony again, emphasizing his criminal record and inconsistent statements.
But wasn’t there much more to lead 80 than these few points? What about the string of robberies with the same M.O. as Brown’s? What about the Castro connection? Even the testimony of key Lead 80 suspects corroborated the information given by Aviles. But there was a 1985 silver Ford Thunderbird with four headlights and Wisconsin plates owned by Cruz’s girlfriend. Aviles noted they had access to it. Huber said they were riding in it that night. Task Force detectives found the car at Cruz’s girlfriend’s. She says she was in Chicago that night and independent witnesses said they had seen such a car at Brown’s.
Bratcher said that the Task Force liked Lead 80 in the beginning, but it had been “beat to death.” A follow-up investigation was conducted by another team of investigators in an effort to leave no stone unturned. One team of investigators, Medrys of Cook County and Peters of Barrington, would privately complain at parties about members of the Task Force while publicly telling the BGA, “I was privileged to work with them.”
The press conference, a forum for the rebuttal of Lead 80, ended with Bratcher’s admission that Cruz was still a suspect.
Law and Order
Rick Rosenthal’s work in support of the Palatine Task Force was not through. He authored an article in Law and Order magazine in July 1996. Law and Order has very limited circulation—distributed primarily to police chiefs, sheriffs and other local law enforcement agencies. The purpose of the magazine is to provide upper-level law enforcement management with “how to” articles in running more efficient agencies.
Rosenthal’s piece, entitled Media Brutality: A case history of how one department was attacked, boasts about the merits of the wondrous Palatine Task Force. “This multi-agency task force has investigated more than 4,000 leads. There are still seven skilled investigators working the case full time … Together, the seven task force officers have 119 years of combined investigative experience.”
Rosenthal goes on to attack the work of Channel 5’s Dave Savini, finishing the job Bratcher began in the January press conference of that same year. He describes Savini’s reports as being at odds with the details of the case, which he became aware of while working as a paid consultant for the Task Force.
“Aviles was not a ‘key informant’ and what he told police simply was not true.”
“Also, the supposed ‘lead’ about Wisconsin plates was one of 15 to 20 bogus leads phoned in by a man in a neighboring community. He admitted he made up the lead about Wisconsin plates and all his other leads.”
Once again, the same two pieces of information are discredited—Wisconsin plates and Aviles’ statements. What about the other information that corroborates Lead 80? What about the information provided by Aviles that was solid enough to lead to the successful solution of a Skokie armed robbery?
How much of Rosenthal’s piece can be considered an objective look at the facts when he was a paid consultant, hired to promote positive press about an admittedly botched investigation?
Bratcher had done it again. His paid consultant was engaged in an active PR offensive: attacking the critics, destroying their credibility, and putting out inaccurate information.
Response to the BGA/Crime Commission Probe
The support for Bratcher within suburban police circles has been duly noted. Thus, it was no surprise when the Blue Ribbon Panel was attacked for looking into the inner workings of the Palatine Task Force. After all, it was an ongoing murder investigation.
Critics fired back at the BGA and Crime Commission probe, and Bratcher himself told BGA investigators that he would not allow his Task Force to be put up before a Tribunal. He stated that the Panel’s look at the facts were wrongfully inspired by an angry Frank Portillo. Bratcher felt that Portillo’s involvement in a civil lawsuit brought forth by one of the victims’ families had colored his perceptions of Task Force conduct.
A Resolution was issued by the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. It cited the following:
• The Palatine Police Department is an agency of the Village of Palatine
• The Village President and Board of Trustees are the elected officials of the Village of Palatine accountable to the voters of the Village
• The Better Government Association and the Chicago Crime Commission are accountable to no one
• Because the Better Government Association and Chicago Crime Commission have no legal or procedural standing to investigate ongoing criminal matters they should immediately end this ill-advised and wasteful investigation and allow this professional, multi-jurisdictional task force to concentrate on its task of solving this crime.
This Resolution was adopted by various agencies, including the Lake County Chiefs of Police Association, the DuPage County Chiefs of Police Association, and the North Suburban Association of Chiefs of Police. Other letters of support for Bratcher and his Task Force were sent to the BGA.
Suburban forces were clearly behind Bratcher and his troops. But the BGA investigation has illustrated the myriad of personal relationships Bratcher has formed with the Trustees and the Mayor of Palatine. Bratcher’s work is to be accountable to the Village Trustees, yet he is soliciting for their private business. The State’s Attorney’s office should be a check on the actions of suburban police, yet Bratcher is a contributor to O’Malley’s political campaigns. The Palatine Police Department officers need to be accountable to the citizens they work to protect, but many of them were hired as favors to Bratcher’s friends, fellow chiefs with sons that desired a position on Bratcher’s force.
The citizens of Palatine must hold their appointed officials accountable. It is imperative that they have full information to do so. The BGA/Crime Commission probe is an attempt to educate village citizens about the conduct of their officials. It is also an effort to build support for the creation of a permanent Task Force, staffed with experienced investigators and efficient command. An agency that can be called to action should a tragedy occur.
According to several law enforcement officials who worked on the case, the Palatine Task Force was an example of “how not to run a Task Force.” The BGA is proposing how one should be run.BGA Report — Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4)