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Grand jury indicts Dugan in Nicarico murder
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 7/22/2009 4:29 PM

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Originally published Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2005

The scruffy, brown-haired teen approached 10-year-old Barbara and asked for directions to the Lisle train station.

He walked with her a short distance, then grabbed the girl and tried to force her into a wooded area, her mother recalls.

"She screamed, and it kind of scared him," she said. "She had just enough time to get away."

The girl fled unharmed to her father's nearby liquor store.

Years later, Barbara's family learned just how lucky she was on the afternoon of April 21, 1974. She lived to tell her story; others who encountered Brian J. Dugan would not.

He was a punk 17-year-old with a growing criminal history when he grabbed Barbara. It may be the first time he forced himself on a young female, but not the last.

A DuPage County grand jury indicted Dugan on Tuesday for the murder of 10-year-old Naperville schoolgirl Jeanine Nicarico on Feb. 25, 1983.

Twenty years ago, Dugan said he alone killed Jeanine. His confession offer came during plea negotiations for two later slayings. Authorities, who had sent other men to death row for the crime, weren't convinced Dugan was telling the truth. He stipulated, too, that he would officially confess only if they agreed to spare his life, a deal prosecutors would not make.

That same month, Dugan was sentenced to a lifetime behind bars for the abduction, rape and murder of Geneva nurse Donna Schnorr and 7-year-old Melissa Ackerman of Somonauk, as well as three other sexual assaults.

He is now 49, and will never again live outside the impenetrable prison walls that surround him. Those who crossed paths with him say that's exactly where he belongs.

A rough start

Brian James Dugan was born Sept. 23, 1956, in Nashua, N.H. His parents, James and Genevieve Dugan, moved Brian and his four siblings to Lisle in 1967. They later moved to Aurora and Batavia.

His father struggled with alcohol problems, according to court records, and Dugan began acting up at an early age. He ran away to Iowa in 1972, the year of his first arrest for burglary. He was 15.

Dugan attended Lisle High School and then Aurora East High School, but did not finish. By 16, he was on his way along a path of violent crimes.

While still a teen, he became well-known to police as a petty thief and drug user. His extensive criminal background includes convictions in DuPage and Kane counties for arson, battery, criminal damage to property, and myriad burglaries, his crime of choice.

Dugan moved in and out of youth homes, jails and prison, but authorities always released him before the end of his term. In those days, sentences were much more lenient. Also, police often didn't know a suspect's full record upon arrest because departments weren't as computerized.

And, in other cases, such as the attempted abduction of the Lisle girl, the charges were dropped after Dugan got into more serious trouble for a burglary, even though her blood from a nose bleed was found on his jacket. She also identified him.

The longest time Dugan served in prison before his final 1985 arrest was three years for arson and burglary. He was paroled Aug. 13, 1982. Days later, a woman accused him of trying to attack her outside an Aurora gas station. Again, the charges were dropped.

Six months later, Jeanine Nicarico was abducted from her home, raped and killed. A few weeks went by and, on March 18, 1983, Dugan, still on parole, was suspected of breaking into the office of his employer, Art Tape and Label in Addison.

Police arrested him, and on Aug. 23 tossed him in the DuPage County jail - in the very same building where sheriff's detectives were working frantically to find Jeanine's killer.

No one connected the ex-con to the unsolved murder. The misdemeanor charges were dropped, later re-filed as felonies, then dismissed again. Dugan was set free.

"Frankly, I've felt guilty ever since because he (later) did terrible things," said Corinne Hallett, one of his attorneys in the case. "He seemed like a clean-cut kid."

Some 52 days after his release, Dugan was free early July 15, 1984, to kill Donna Schnorr, an outgoing 27-year-old.

In another cruel twist, hours before her abduction, at 10:15 p.m. July 14, 1984, Geneva police arrested Dugan for driving on a suspended license. They had seen him toss litter out of his car while driving along Route 31 on the south side of town.

He posted a bail bond card at the police station, officials said, then hitchhiked back to the site of the traffic stop. The old traffic report is not clear, but it appears Dugan had parked his car legally during the traffic stop so it would not be towed. He climbed back into his car, hours later using it to sideswipe Schnorr as she drove home.

Inside a killer's mind

Authorities say Dugan is in that rare group of cold-blooded killers who lack a conscience and commit their crimes at random.

Jeanine was home alone with the flu Feb. 25, 1983, when she vanished. Her mother, Pat Nicarico, a secretary at a nearby elementary school, came home three times and called throughout the day to check on her daughter. They last spoke at 1:30 p.m. Jeanine was gone by 3 p.m. Her body was found two days later near the Illinois Prairie Path.

Nearly 17 months later, Dugan spotted Donna Schnorr, sitting alone in her car at a stoplight early July 15, 1984, on Randall Road near Aurora.

After running her car off the road, he beat, raped and drowned her in a nearby quarry in unincorporated Kane County.

"He was very nonchalant and matter-of-fact about it," said Kane County State's Attorney John Barsanti, who prosecuted Dugan for the Schnorr murder and other sex crimes. "There was really no emotion at all. He described (the killing) as if swatting a fly."

Kane County Sheriff Kenneth Ramsey, then a deputy, was the first officer on the murder scene. Years earlier, Ramsey, as a juvenile officer in Batavia, had encountered Dugan.

"He was always a bad apple," the sheriff said. "In my estimation, he was a serial killer. I think he would have killed a lot more people if we hadn't caught him."

A few months after the Schnorr murder, Dugan went on a monthlong sex-crime binge.

- He followed a 21-year-old North Aurora woman home May 6, 1985, after helping her start her car. He pushed his way into her car, flashed a hunting knife, gagged and blindfolded her. Then he drove her to Batavia and raped her in the back seat. She survived.

- As a 19-year-old Geneva woman walked along Route 31 on May 28, Dugan tried to force her into his car. She escaped.

- The next day, Dugan forced a 16-year-old girl into his car after threatening her with a tire iron. He drove her to Will County, where he put a belt around her neck and raped her. He then took her home. She survived.

Dugan's attorney, Thomas McCulloch, has known him since 1974 when, ironically, as an assistant Kane County state's attorney, he prosecuted Dugan for theft. He later agreed to represent Dugan for $1 - a check he still hasn't cashed.

He disputes the notion that his client is passionless. He said Dugan has expressed remorse. In fact, he argues Dugan is rather likable.

"Really, he's been a pleasure to work for," McCulloch said. "He has his good days and his bad days."

Still, the defense attorney said he doesn't know what triggers Dugan - except to say his client doesn't mix well with drugs or alcohol.

One final crime

Whatever makes Brian Dugan tick went off June 2, 1985. He was 28.

He was working as a stock handler at Midwest Hydraulics just outside Geneva and lived in a $50-a-week rooming house on South LaSalle Street in Aurora.

Dugan woke up early that day and headed out to a secluded spot along the Fox River. He read a newspaper and smoked some marijuana.

A few hours later, he drove his blue Gremlin aimlessly along Route 34 through the cornfields of LaSalle County - until he saw two young girls riding their bicycles in Somonauk.

Dugan took off the knob of the passenger's-side door lock and hid it in the ashtray. He tried to abduct the girls.

One of them got away, but 7-year-old Melissa Ackerman was trapped. Similar to the Schnorr crime, Dugan bound the girl's hands, sexually assaulted her and drowned her in a creek. Her body was found June 17.

In his confession five months later, Dugan didn't offer any insight.

"It might have been for sex, but I don't understand why," he told police. "I wish I knew why I did a lot of things, but I don't."

Dugan knew enough about his actions to attempt to cover them up. He put rocks on top of Melissa's body and hid the brown Chevy Impala he used to force Schnorr's car off the road.

Authorities later found the abandoned car behind trees on a Plainfield farm, with chips of paint that matched Schnorr's light green 1979 Monte Carlo. Dugan also confessed to wiping his fingerprints off Schnorr's car door.

Gary Garretson, a former LaSalle County prosecutor who handled the Ackerman case, described Dugan as a "sociopath" and a "classic loner," though he committed many of his early burglaries with friends.

"He did not seem to be sorry for what he did, and he talked about it in a very cold, dispassionate way," Garretson said. "These little girls were just riding their bikes down the middle of the road and he stopped them under the pretense of asking for directions.

"He was more than deserving of the death penalty. The only reason he didn't get it at the time was because the Ackermans didn't want to deal with endless appeals. The most important thing for (Melissa's mother) and the community was to probably have finality."

One day after Melissa's abduction, investigators wanted to talk to Brian Dugan since they knew he had been in the area because of an unrelated traffic stop. They contacted Geneva police, who at the time were investigating the May 28 attempted assault of a 19-year-old girl in their town.

In a joint sting operation, Geneva police working with Kane County, DeKalb County and the FBI swooped in on Dugan June 3, 1985, while he was driving to work.

Now behind bars, Dugan's 13-year history of crime finally had ended.

It's been decades, but Geneva Det. Sgt. Joe Heinrich still recalls that day he sat across the table from Brian Dugan to question him about the attempted assault of the 19-year-old on Route 31. Dugan admitted being at the scene of the crime, but he did not confess to any wrongdoing.

"He seemed just like an average person," he said. "There was nothing about him that would stand out in a crowd.

"It's amazing how so many people's lives have been affected by this one guy."

It wasn't until months after his arrest that summer that Dugan admitted also killing Schnorr. He received two life sentences plus at least another 155 years in a plea deal for the two murders and three other sex crimes.

His life behind bars

Brian Dugan hasn't walked as a free man since the summer of 1985 when he was 28 - 13 years after his first burglary arrest.

He hasn't been a popular prisoner. Inmates who kill or rape children often become targets, too.

"It's never been a real acceptable thing to kill a little girl," McCulloch said.

In fact, a fellow inmate in prison for armed robbery stabbed Dugan nine times July 30, 1987, at Pontiac Correctional Center.

He suffered a collapsed lung, but survived.

Dugan's attacker told a judge he stabbed Dugan because he bragged about sexually assaulting the 7-year-old Melissa.

At Pontiac, he usually is housed alone in his cell, though he's had roommates in the past, and at his own request he remains in protective custody.

McCulloch said he is unaware of any visitors for Dugan in years. He said Dugan's family seems to have given up on him a long time ago.

Still, McCulloch hasn't. The attorney said he's seen a change in Dugan over the years.

"He has gotten very introspective," McCulloch said. "He's gotten older and a lot of the triggers have been taken out of his life. I think the lack of drugs and alcohol have gone a long way to mellow him out.

"He's trying to live in the world in which he finds himself and in which he will remain until his dying day."

But he will leave that world to face his accusers in the Nicarico murder. When he returns to DuPage County, it will be as a middle-aged man under heavy guard who may face the death penalty.

When he does return, his victims' families, including that of the 10-year-old Lisle girl he met on the street in 1974, will be waiting.

"We've been following him all along," said the mother of the girl, now in her 40s. "We've tried to forget about that day, as much as possible, but can't. She got away, but the others didn't. My daughter was the lucky one."