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'No words can describe what's happened'
By John Carpenter | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/4/2009 5:03 PM | Updated: 8/4/2009 9:53 PM

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Originally published Jan. 11, 1993

Sunday was a day of searching in Palatine, a suburb in mourning over one of the worst mass murders in years.

Family members of victims searched for solace in their grief.

The public searched for reassurance and for answers.

And police, immersed in the complexities of the case and offering little information, searched for clues and evidence.

As they did, police refused to acknowledge any suspects and spoke of broadening their investigation.

But sources said they continued to detain a fired cook taken into custody at gunpoint Saturday for questioning in the weekend slayings of seven employees at Brown's Chicken & Pasta in Palatine.

That man, Martin E. Blake of Elgin, was fired from his job at the fast-food restaurant after a recent confrontation with one of the establishment's owners.

Although sources have said Blake, a 1987 graduate of Fremd High School in Palatine, is a suspect, Palatine Deputy Police Chief Walt Gasior would say only that the investigation now includes more than the current and former restaurant employees questioned Saturday.

He would not elaborate.

Law enforcement experts contacted Sunday said a suspect can be detained until he asks to leave. At that point, authorities must either arrest him or let him go.

Many jurisdictions, however, have a policy that allows them to hold a suspect as long as 48 hours without filing charges. In Blake's case, that informal time limit would expire at about 3 p.m. today, but Palatine authorities said they do not feel bound by any specific time limits.

Throughout the day Sunday, investigators filed in and out of the now-famous fast-food eatery on Northwest Highway, rifling through trash bins and combing the roof in search of every shred of evidence.

Police also spent Sunday going in and out of Blake's house, though they would not elaborate on what, if anything, they found.

Rumors spread throughout the community, quickly filling what Gasior admitted is a vacuum of information created by tight-lipped police officials. Gasior pointed to an investigation in a critical phase and appealed for understanding.

"We recognize the public's concern and need to know," he said. "But our primary responsibility is to the law enforcement end of this incident. And we feel that if we are going to release information that would jeopardize that, that's something that we're not in a position to do."

He also appealed for help from anyone who might have information about the case or the restaurant and its employees. He urged those with information to call the Palatine Police Department at 359-9016.

Gasior would confirm only that the victims - the two restaurant owners and five employees, including two Palatine High School students - were shot and found in the two refrigerators at the back of the restaurant.

The bodies were discovered early Saturday morning after police were called to the store by a parent concerned that one of the employees had not come home.

The victims are co-owners Richard E. Ehlenfeldt, 50, and his wife Lynn, 49, both of Arlington Heights; Rico L. Solis, 17, of Arlington Heights; and Palatine residents Guadalupe Maldonado, 48; Michael C. Castro, 16; Thomas Mennes, 32; and Marcus Nellsen, 31.

Village President Rita Mullins said the same strong sense of community that made this violent crime such a shock also is carrying residents through the crisis.

"To say that this incident is a tragedy - there are no words that can describe what's happened," she said, "but what's come out of this is our community. We have a wonderful community full of families and they are rallying together."

At Palatine High School, students and parents gathered at a "crisis center" set up to help people sort through the tragedy. Although the news media outnumbered students, many arrived throughout the afternoon to talk to the 10 counselors on hand, including some family members of the victims.

Two of the victims - Castro and Solis - were students at the school, but many more knew them or knew people who worked at the restaurant, a popular gathering spot for local teens.

The school will be open as usual today and Principal Nancy Robb said she will make a special announcement in the morning and call for a moment of silence. Teachers, during the first hour of classes, will talk about the tragedy with students.

At a memorial service Sunday night at St. Theresa's Catholic Church, a regular monthly Mass for teenagers became an outpouring of grief for about 150 friends and relatives of Michael Castro, a member of the parish. Churches throughout the community paused during their Sunday services to remember the victims and pray for their families and friends.

"We thought our community was preserved from violence like this. But it has come to us," the Rev. John McNamara told worshippers at St. Theresa's.

Ann Teichow, sister of murder victim Richard Ehlenfeldt, came forward at a Sunday afternoon press conference both to thank the community for its support and to express sympathy for the other victims' families.

Also, she said, "I wanted everybody to know that the Ehlenfeldt family - Dick and Lynn and the girls - just have been a very closely knit strong family, a very religious family. I just wanted everybody to know what kind of wonderful people they are."

The Ehlenfeldts' three daughters, Teichow said, "are doing fine. I guess they're the biggest troupers I know."

Although police were giving few details about the progress of the investigation, interviews with acquaintances of Martin Blake may shed light on at least one avenue they are pursuing. That direction may include a party that friends said took place Friday night at Blake's house.

At least six people attended the party and they were being questioned Sunday by police, according to Roger Strauss of Hoffman Estates, father of one of those who attended.

Neighbors said Blake, a former Inverness resident, threw parties at least several times a week at the house he purchased about a year ago with proceeds of an insurance settlement.

Strauss declined to give his son's account of the party.

Another man, a friend of Blake's from Inverness, also said he was questioned by police. The friend also refused to give many details on the party or say what police asked him.

Sources said Blake was fired from the restaurant about a week ago after a confrontation with one of the owners.

Several sources said after the firing, Blake complained openly about his treatment and vowed to get even with his former bosses.

Police, meanwhile, declined to comment on what, if anything, investigators found inside Blake's house, which had been secured since Saturday afternoon. The green Ford Bronco sat in Blake's driveway just as he had left it when police took him into custody. The vehicle's hood was still open, as were its doors. The inside of the car was piled with snow.

Gasior said Palatine police are receiving help from Cook County Sheriff's police investigators as well as four Cook County State's Attorneys.

The bodies of all seven victims are now in the hands of the Cook County Medical Examiner and "preliminary evidence" taken from the bodies is already being analyzed, Gasior said.

Tony Calabrese, assistant Cook County state's attorney and chief of the office's criminal prosecution division, echoed Gasior's concern about revealing details of the case, saying they could compromise answers given by people being interviewed in connection with the case.

"Our answers have to be the same," he said. "And that is of critical importance to the integrity of the investigation that we keep some of this information within law enforcement circles."