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For investigators, 'You're always thinking about it'
By John Carpenter | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/4/2009 5:03 PM

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Originally published Jan. 9, 1994

Jack McGregor doesn't answer when the question is asked. "We're in it for the long haul," he says.

And yet the question remains. What if the Palatine murders are never solved?

For people like McGregor, who is Palatine's deputy police chief and a key member of the task force investigating the year-old slayings of seven employees of Brown's Chicken & Pasta, the frustration at the heart of such an inquiry must be held in check; it must be used to motivate, not immobilize.

"If your question is, Is there frustration?" answered Palatine Police Chief Jerry Bratcher, "hell yes, there's frustration. There's frustration at a level that I couldn't find words to describe."

Most people only think about the Palatine murders from time to time, perhaps when they drive by the restaurant or read a story in the newspaper.

Yet people like Bratcher and McGregor - and the dozens of detectives who either worked or are still working the case - live it every day.

They live it at the police headquarters, poring over report after report, looking for something that was overlooked, some angle that was not explored.

They live it when the phone rings and someone tells them a robber has struck another restaurant, perhaps herding employees into coolers as the Brown's victims were.

They live it when they check into those robberies and find they were pulled off by a small-time crook - nothing to do with the Palatine case.

"A policeman is really goal-oriented, really good about getting something done and going to the next case," Palatine Police Sgt. John Koziol said. "This one, we haven't been able to do that. You are obsessed with their capture.

"But when you think you're having a bad day, all you have to do is think about those families."

The frustration is not limited to work hours, which for the 19 investigators still run from the early morning until late at night.

McGregor said that even at social functions, a barbecue or a holiday party, people constantly discuss the case, eager to run their pet theories past a real investigator.

"Everywhere you go, somebody will mention the Brown's thing," he said. "Or something will come back and you're back thinking about it. You're always thinking about it.

"I used to keep a note pad right at the bed. You'd wake up in the middle of the night thinking about this. So I wouldn't lose the thoughts when I go back, I'd take notes."

"You wish it would be solved tomorrow, but I don't have illusions that's going to happen," he said. "This case is going to be solved by a lot of hard work. You just have to keep trudging on the investigation. There's plenty to do right now."

Sgt. Robert Haas also was detached from his regular duties to work full-time on the Brown's case

He said it has been all-consuming, that his children, ages 2 and 5, "have grown up" in his absence.

As for frustration. Haas said investigators take encouragement wherever they can get it.

"You used to get it a lot," he said, adding fellow officers, early in the investigation, constantly came up to him, patted him on the back and said. "This is a solvable case.'"

Koziol noted Jim Bell, the FBI's expert on major crime task forces, joined Palatine early in the case.

Bell has worked on or studied every major criminal investigation in the past 10 years, Koziol said.

Bell was able to warn investigators of the emotional pitfalls.

Bell said this kind of advice is important to investigators, whose adrenaline can collide violently with their frustration.

"We can inform them, tell them what to expect, what the news media is likely to do," he said. "It can give detectives who are usually feeling overwhelmed the knowledge everybody feels like that."

Still, McGregor said, task force members also must remember not to ignore tips or insight either from reporters or amateur detectives or other police officers.

"I don't care if a patrolman on the street stops someone and solves it," he said. "We'd all like it to end tomorrow."

"The hardest part," Koziol said, "is the fact that it's still open. We're still investigating such a horrendous crime."