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Elgin mom joins parents nationwide in search for son's killer
By Harry Hitzeman | Daily Herald Staff

Brian Welzien, then 21, of Elgin before he first went missing in 2000.

 

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Published: 8/10/2008 11:58 PM

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Their sons are gone, but their hope and energy remains.

Families of men believed to be victims of the Smiley Face serial killers are gathering signatures to pressure the FBI to investigate the string of deaths and working to raise money so a private investigation may continue.

"The goal is to make sure there's not another family that will go through what we went through," said Bill Szostak, who founded the Smiley Face Victims Investigation fund after his son, Josh, 21, was found drowned this spring in the Hudson River in New York.

Elgin resident Stephany Welzien also plans to help.

Her 21-year-old son Brian disappeared on Jan. 1, 2000 in downtown Chicago and was later found in Lake Michigan.

"Somehow they do need to get the FBI involved," said Welzien, who doesn't believe her son accidentally fell into the icy waters. "That's a lot more manpower. They can cover a lot of territory."

Two private detectives believe a serial killer or killers have been preying on young, college-aged men who usually are visiting an area and are out late at night after parties or visiting a bar.

The men turn up in a river or lake, with authorities usually ruling their drowning deaths accidents.

But the detectives determined in May that Chris Jenkins, a 21-year-old student at the University of Minnesota who disappeared on Halloween 2002, was abducted and tortured in a cargo van before being dumped in the Mississippi River.

His case was reclassified as a homicide.

The detectives, Kevin Gannon and Anthony Duarte, also found "smiley faces" spray-painted at points where each man went into the water in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa and Ohio.

They believe Brian Welzien was targeted; Chicago police have ruled his death accidental and have refused to discuss the case.

Gannon began investigating these deaths in 1997, but now he's out of money. That's where Szostak comes in.

He hopes to raise money so Gannon and Duarte can continue. He wants to use the petitions to pressure lawmakers to get the FBI involved.

Tax-deductible donations can be made at www.smileyfacevictimsfund.com. Petitions also may be downloaded there.

Szostak hopes to have signatures by mid-September and then make a big announcement in New York with other families in mid-October.

"The way the game is played, it puts it closer to election time," he said. "I want to make a statement. I want a lot of family members there. I want a lot of signatures."

So far, Szostak has raised about $1,000 - which covered the cost of applying for official not-for-profit status.

"Obviously, the more (money) you bring in, the more you can do," Bill said. "(Gannon and Duarte) are not ones to stay in five-star hotels and eat in five-star restaurants. They want to stretch the money as far as they can go."

How to help

What: The Smiley Face Victims Investigation Fund has been established to continue the efforts of private detectives and to petition lawmakers to get the FBI involved.

Who: The fund was started by a man whose son disappeared in New York in December 2007 and was found drowned in April 2008.

Web: Tax-deductible donations may be made through www.smileyfacevictimsfund.com. Petitions also may be downloaded there.