More than 30 years after a collection of skeletal remains was found beneath John Wayne Gacy's house, detectives have secretly exhumed bones of eight young men who were never identified in hopes of answering a final question: Who were they?
The Cook County Sheriff's Department says DNA testing could solve the last mystery of one of the nation's worst serial killers, and authorities planned Wednesday to ask for the public's help in determining the victims' names.
Investigators are urging relatives of anyone who disappeared between 1970 and Gacy's 1978 arrest - and who is still unaccounted for - to undergo saliva tests to compare their DNA with that of the skeletal remains.
Detectives believe the passage of time might actually work in their favor. Some families who never reported the victims missing and never searched for them could be willing to do so now, a generation after Gacy's homosexuality and pattern of preying on vulnerable teens were splashed across newspapers all over the world.
"I'm hoping the stigma has lessened, that people can put family disagreements and biases against sexual orientation (and) drug use behind them to give these victims a name," Detective Jason Moran said.
Added Sheriff Tom Dart: "There are a million different reasons why someone hasn't come forward. Maybe they thought their son ran off to work in an oil field in Canada, who knows?"
After so many years, the relatives could be anywhere, so the sheriff's department is setting up a phone bank to field calls from across the country.
Gacy, who is remembered as one of history's most bizarre killers largely because of his work as an amateur clown, was convicted of murdering 33 young men, sometimes luring them to his Chicago-area home for sex by impersonating a police officer or promising them construction work. He stabbed one and strangled the others between 1972 and 1978. Most were buried in a crawl space under his home. Four others were dumped in a river.
He was executed in 1994, but the anguish caused by his crimes still resounds today.
Just days ago, a judge granted a request to exhume one victim whose mother doubted the medical examiner's conclusion that her son's remains were found under Gacy's house. Dart said other families have the same need for certainty.
"They were young men with futures, who at some point had families that cared about their kid," he said. Until the dead are identified, "it's like they didn't even exist."
The plan began unfolding earlier in the year, when detectives were trying to identify some human bones found scattered at a forest preserve. They started reviewing other cases of unidentified remains, which led them back to Gacy.
"I completely forgot or didn't know there were all these unidentifieds," Dart said.
It was not a cold case in the traditional sense. Gacy admitted to the slayings and was convicted by a jury. But Moran and others knew if they had the victims' bones, they could conduct genetic tests that would have seemed like science fiction in the 1970s, when forensic identification depended almost entirely on fingerprints and dental records.
After autopsies on the unidentified victims, pathologists in the 1970s removed their upper and lower jaws and their teeth to preserve as evidence in case science progressed to the point they could be useful or if dental records surfaced.
Detectives found out that those jaws had been stored for many years at the county's medical examiner's office. But when investigators arrived, they learned the remains had been buried in a paupers' grave in 2009.
"They kept them for 30 years, and then they got rid of them," Moran said.
After obtaining a court order, they dug up a wooden box containing eight smaller containers shaped like buckets, each holding a victim's jaw bones and teeth.
Back in June, Moran flew with them to a lab in Texas.
"They were my carry-on," he said, smiling.
Weeks later, the lab called. The good news was that there was enough material in four of the containers to provide what is called a nuclear DNA profile, meaning that if a parent or sibling or even cousins came forward, scientists could determine whether the DNA matched.
But with the other four containers, there was less usable material. That meant investigators had to dig up four of the victims. Detectives found them in four separate cemeteries and removed their femurs and vertebrae for analysis.
At a meeting last week, the men who investigated and prosecuted Gacy reminded the sheriff that many victims were already lost when Gacy found them. One had not even been reported missing when his body was found floating in the Des Plaines River.
"I can almost guarantee you that one or two of these kids were wards of the state," said retired Detective Phil Bettiker. "I don't think anybody cared about them." Most of them were 17 or 18 years old and had been "through God knows how many foster homes and were basically on their own."
At the same time, they recalled, other people repeatedly insisted their loved ones were among Gacy's victims, but no evidence ever came to light confirming it.
"It's very conceivable that a kid in his teens didn't have dental records," said Robert Egan, one of the prosecutors who helped convict Gacy. "There could have been parents who would have loved to have brought in dental records but they didn't have any."
Dart doubts that all eight victims will be identified. But he is confident that the office will finally be able to give some of them back their names.
"I'd be shocked if we don't get a handful," he said. "The technology is so precise.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Jurors hearing the case against the final Blagojevich co-defendant William Cellini are getting a first-hand account of how political insiders stole money from the state of Illinois under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
They're getting the inside account from Steven Loren, an attorney who did work for the the Teachers Retirement System in 2003.
On Tuesday he told jurors how he drafted fake contracts to disguise illegal kickbacks as legitimate fees. He did the work for Stuart Levine, a corrupt board member of the teacher's retirement system.
Prosecutors say Cellini later joined Levine in a similar conspiracy to allegedly hold back a $200 million state contract until the contractor gave a campaign contribution to Blagojevich.
Levine has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors and is expected to testify.
Defense attorneys have already told jurors that they shouldn't convict Cellini based on anything Levine says because Levine's a career criminal and he's lied under oath.
Meanwhile, a former campaign finance director for Rod Blagojevich is scheduled to take the stand today.
Kelly Glynn is expected to testify Wednesday that Springfield Republican William Cellini hosted a campaign fundraiser in 2002 for Blagojevich that aimed to raise $300,000 for the Democrat.
On Tuesday, Judge James Zagel rejected defense arguments that much of Glynn's testimony would be hearsay.
Boston Red Sox executive Theo Epstein has agreed to a five-year contract with the Chicago Cubs, according to multiple media reports.
The 37-year-old Epstein would leave the Red Sox with a year remaining on his contract as general manager and take over what is expected to be an expanded role with the Cubs, who have gone 103 years without a World Series championship.
Radio station WEEI in Boston, ESPN the Magazine and SI.com all cited unidentified sources in reporting that Epstein has agreed to a deal. Details, which could include compensation to the Red Sox, were still being worked out.
The Cubs declined comment Wednesday and Red Sox officials could not be reached by The Associated Press. On Tuesday, a person familiar with the situation told the AP that Epstein was likely to join the Cubs within 48 hours.
With Epstein at the helm, the Red Sox ended an 86-year World Series championship drought in 2004 and won the title again in 2007.
Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts fired GM Jim Hendry in July.
The days could be numbered for more than 30 postal service facilities in Champaign County.
The U.S. Postal Service has been holding a series of public forums about post offices and stations that may shut down in an effort to close a $10 billion budget deficit.
About 40 people attended a meeting Tuesday night on the University of Illinois campus to defend two of them - one station located at 302 East Green Street in Champaign, and another in the U of I's Altgeld Hall.
Retired U of I employee Margrith Mistry showed up to the meeting, urging the postal service to keep these facilities open. Because of their proximity to campus, Mistry said these stations are a valuable resource to international students who attend the university.
"I think with all the international students in there sending very expensive packages home to Korea, China, or somewhere," Mistry said. "It must be a gold mind. So, I just can't understand how they could think of closing that."
Scott Fraundorf, a graduate student at the U of I, said he has been using both stations at different times over the last five years. He said without them, it wouldn't be possible for him to visit a post office because of his busy schedule.
"I often work late either on my research or helping out the students that I'm teaching," Fraundorf said. "I don't have time to go home, and then drive off to the post office. It's really unfortunate that at a time when everyone is trying to save fuel, we'd now be faced with a situation where he would have to drive out somewhere to get to a post office."
Moderating the discussion was Mike Pfundstein, who manages nearly 130 post offices in east central Illinois. In total, he said the U.S. postal service is considering closing 3,700 of its facilities across the country.
"We've never had a proposal to close that many post offices," he said. "Usually, they are considered individually based upon local factors. This is the first time we've looked at closing post offices based on wide spread criteria."
Pfundstein said as the postal service decides which facilities to close; it will look at the amount of business each one gets and whether there are other mail distribution alternatives located nearby. He said post offices could begin closing early next year.
If the service stations in Champaign-Urbana end up shutting down, both cities would still have a downtown post office.
A bank with 13 east central Illinois locations is merging with one about four times its size.
Pontiac-based Freestar Bank has agreed to be acquired by First Financial Corporation of Terre Haute, which has 51 offices in Illinois and Indiana.
Freestar President and CEO David Kuhl said its board of directors decided to expand early this year, and reached out to a Chicago investment banking firm in order to find a partner. He said First Financial was a good fit.
"Community focused in communities under 100,000 (people) primarly," he said. "Communities with university and medical (facilities), and somebody that has an agriculture orientation, because we're a fairly good-sized agricultural bank in the Pontiac-Livingston County area."
The combined banking company will mean three offices in Champaign, two in Urbana, one in Mahomet and three more in Danville, but Kuhl said more will be expected.
"We're hoping that we can continue to expand the First Financial presence throughout Central Illinois, and to locate in perhaps some communities that we're not in right now," he said.
Kuhl said the merger will have a minimal impact on employees, since the two banks don't currently have any overlapping branch locations. Combined assets between the two banks will be just under $3 billion.
The transaction is expected to close by the end of December.
It will likely be at least next week before the Champaign County Zoning Board of Appeals signs off on plans for a wind farm, and forwarding the proposal to the County Board.
The ZBA is scheduled to meet Thursday night, and Planning and Zoning Director John Hall says two of three agreements - a county road agreement and one for reclamation - have been reached.
But he says they haven't been sent to the board, and Hall says a state law requires no more than a 30-day window between the ZBA and county board meetings to discuss wind farm proposals. Hall says having another week to meet would work to the zoning board's advantage.
"Given that there are two large documents that still need to be considered, I think it would be difficult to take final action this Thursday," he said. "So, final action probably would be possible, but we need to continue anyhow, and frankly, we haven't yet got a copy of the township road agreement."
Hall says the zoning board will likely schedule another hearing for next Thursday, October 20th, prior to the 7 p.m. Champaign County Board meeting. He says that would meet the state's demands for the county board to take up the wind farm proposal by its November 17 meeting. The ZBA has been meeting on the plan since late August.
If the Vermilion County Board signs off on a road agreement with Chicago-based Invenergy this week, County Board Chair Jim McMahon says the company could begin the initial work on the county's 104 turbines as soon as Monday, starting just northeast of Kickapoo State Park. Thirty of the turbines are targeted for Champaign County.
McMahon says the lack of zoning in his county has allowed authorities to avoid other agreements that Champaign County is dealing with now.
"154 people have signed up and said 'we want wind turbines. 104 of them did get wind turbines," he said. "And without zoning, the county board has no input and should have no input without zoning on what they do with their land, unless it was an illegal action."
McMahon says the disadvantage of having no zoning is that Vermilion County can't increase setbacks on the property of anyone concerned about the noise or shadows caused by wind turbines. The Vermilion County Board meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Invenergy's wind farm is expected to start operations by early 2013.
UPDATE: Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon says the board unanimously approved the road agreement Tuesday night, and county officials plan to meet with Invenergy later this week with hopes of starting wind farm construction by Monday.
Champaign Police are investing a robbery outside a Campustown coffee shop Monday afternoon.
Officers say the victim was sitting outside Espresso Royale on East Daniel Street when a man came out the east door, and grabbed his IPad off a table before running away. Another man came out the same door, and displayed a handgun in the waistband of his shorts before walking away.
The first man is described as a 21-year old black male, 5 foot 10, and weighing 180 pounds, wearing a white baseball cap, black short sleeved shirt, black shorts, and white tennis shoes. The other man is described as a 23 to 24-year old black male, 5 foot 8, weighing 180 pounds, wearing a Milwaukee Brewers ball cap, black long sleeve shirt, khaki shorts and red tennis shoes.
Witnesses of the incident are encouraged to call Champaign Police.
Champaign City Council members will be given a set of proposals for new city council districts at their study session on Tuesday night.
The proposals come from members of the public, who used special software on the Champaign city website to design their own map proposals.
City Planning Director Bruce Knight said the council will be drawing up a new council district map for a city population that grew 22 percent over the last decade --- to 81,050 people. A special census in 2007 confirmed the growth in new territory on the edges of Champaign. But Knight said the full census in 2010 showed that growth occurred throughout the city.
"Probably the most interesting thing, especially working from the changes we made from the special census just a few years ago --- what we have seen is more population growth in the core of the city than we'd seen previously," Knight said.
Knight says the number of council redistricting proposals from the public has been small --- just four, as of Monday morning. But the city planned to take proposals through its website until midnight Monday night.
Assistance Information Technology Director Mark Toalson says users may find the special redistricting software slow to load. But once it's in place, he says it's pretty easy to design your own map of Champaign city council districts.
"It's pretty straightforward," Toalson said. " You just pick, essentially the pieces of the puzzle that you want in a new district. And the program will recalculate population and demographic statistics for you. So it kind of keeps a running total on the populations of your proposed districts."
There's a link to the mapping software on the city council page of the Champaign website. The Champaign City Council is scheduled to discuss designs for a new council district map at its Oct. 25 study session.
A man from the state of Kansas accused of fatally shooting his cousin near Mahomet on Friday is expected to make his first court appearance Tuesday.
News reports indicate 68-year old Gerard James allegedly killed Harlan James of Champaign after a dispute in a field northwest of Mahomet around 3 p.m. Friday. He's lodged in the Champaign County Jail.
Deputy Charles Glass with the County Sheriff's Department confirms Gerard James is scheduled for arraignment at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. The court appearance was postponed from Monday, due to the Columbus Day holiday.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
Nathan Scheelhaase and A.J. Jenkins hooked up on two long TD passes to lead No. 19 Illinois to a 41-20 victory Saturday at Indiana.
Illinois (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) is bowl eligible, and is off to its best start since the 1951 team was 7-0. Indiana (1-5, 0-2) lost its third in a row, still has not beaten a Football Bowl Subdivision team this season and has lost 13 consecutive games against Top 25 teams since a 31-28 victory over then No. 13 Iowa on Oct. 14, 2006.
Sparked by Shane Wynn's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the Hoosiers took a 10-0 lead early.
But Illinois came back with a 77-yard scoring pass to Jenkins, took the lead on Tavon Wilson's 66-yard fumble return for a TD and made it 27-13 at the half on Nathan Scheelhaase's 67-yard TD pass to Jenkins. Defensive end Whitney Merciless now leads the nation in sacks after dropping Hoosier quarterbacks three times.
"I was notified about two weeks back that I as starting to lead," he said. "It's a challenge to stay up there. Each week, when I go into it, I'm just thinking I want to keep contending to be in the lead with everybody else. Definitely I want to bring something to this program."
Merciless also forced a fumble which Tavon Wilson scooped from the turf and returned 66 yards to give Illinois its first lead.
"I feel like that was the momentum changer of the game," said Wilson. "Coach (Ron) Zook is always talking about turnovers, and helping the offense out with points."
The 6-0 Illini return to Champaign next Saturday afternoon against Ohio State.