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Police still tracking more than 100 leads on massacre
By John Carpenter | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/4/2009 5:03 PM | Updated: 8/4/2009 9:47 PM

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Originally published Feb. 6, 1993

Four weeks after the bodies of seven people were found in the coolers of a Brown's Chicken & Pasta restaurant in Palatine, police say they've whittled down nearly 2,000 tips into more than 100 leads that still are being followed.

In all, 385 of the tips were considered worthy of investigation, and the rest were dismissed, Palatine Police Chief Jerry Bratcher said during an interview Friday. Of the solid leads, 119 still are being tracked.

"There are some very good leads in there, and there is also some information that just needs to be pursued," Bratcher said of the remaining leads. "The value of those leads kind of goes across the spectrum. But all of them, we've determined, are areas that need to be checked out."

Police also revealed that they are using two high-tech methods to analyze evidence gathered in the case.

Using computer networks, police are comparing fingerprints from the restaurant with millions of other fingerprints on file with law enforcement agencies. Police also have sent blood samples from the restaurant for genetic testing.

Bratcher said the past month has been frustrating for investigators who want nothing more than to solve the case. Nevertheless, he said, detectives are following every path of the investigation until it ends or until it leads to the killer or killers.

"We've clearly gone down certain avenues that we've now closed, investigative avenues. And others have been opened to us and we're actively pursuing them," Bratcher said.

"There was a tremendous volume of physical evidence that was collected at that crime scene that's now being processed, which includes a number of latent fingerprints, the bullets, blood, items of trace evidence, hairs and fibers, and a number of other pieces of evidence that we're hopeful will be significant in this case." he said.

Among the evidence sent for analysis were items taken from the home of an Elgin man originally considered a suspect in the case, said Assistant Cook County State's Attorney Pat O'Brien, the chief legal adviser to the investigation.

Martin E. Blake, 22, a former employee of the Brown's restaurant, was arrested the day after the murders were discovered but was released by police after being questioned for more than 48 hours.

"Obviously, evidence is being processed," O'Brien said. "And some of the evidence that's being processed is evidence from Martin Blake."

Bratcher said police might want to question Blake again. But he said police also have talked to others.

"We've questioned a number of people," Bratcher said.

Along with using human sources, police have turned to two sophisticated techniques to analyze information in the case.

Several blood samples collected at the restaurant have been sent to laboratories for DNA analysis, Palatine Deputy Police Chief Walt Gasior said. The blood, like all human tissue, contains DNA - coded genetic material - that is unique to one person.

When used properly, some crime specialists say, DNA screening can be as reliable as fingerprinting.

Palatine police used the technique in the case of Elizabeth M. Ehlert, who is on trial now on charges she drowned her newborn in a retention pond more than two years ago. Prosecutors in Ehlert's trial contend the DNA analysis showed the child was hers, although defense witnesses questioned the reliability of the test.

Gasior would not say what information investigators hope to glean from the analysis.

Investigators also are using a new method of comparing fingerprints from the restaurant against those of known individuals. Called automated fingerprint identification systems, or AFIS, it gives police departments access to millions of prints on file with law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the Illinois State Police.

"We've still got a lot of work cut out for us," Bratcher said. "There's a great deal of tenacity here, good investigators. We'll be digging as long as there's any thing to dig for."