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Palatine ready to leave stain of slayings behind
By Sara Faiwell | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/11/2007

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People looked at each other differently in those days after seven bodies were found inside the Brown's Chicken on Northwest Highway.

Palatine became a different place, Palatine Mayor Rita Mullins said Thursday. People looked at their neighbors and tried to imagine who could do such horrible things.

"Families didn't let their kids work at fast-food restaurants," she said. "We don't have that same stigma anymore."

There obviously was a negative connotation associated with Palatine, she said, because the crime garnered international attention.

"I think we've moved past that and today's verdict, I hope, has restored the confidence of the people in our community," Mullins said.

The mayor said she's relieved by the conviction -- mostly for the sake of the families.

Once the crime scene was cleared two months after the murders, no one wanted the job of cleaning the restaurant.

So Jack Wagner, a local business owner and village councilman during the 1993 crime, stepped up.

His company manufactures chemical disinfectants for hospitals and other health care-type businesses.

"None of the janitorial services would go in there. I got a couple guys together and we cleaned up the place for the families," he said. "It cost me $1,000 in equipment and supplies."

The gruesome scene, with blood and debris everywhere, still is something he thinks about.

Hours after the verdict, the site of the former Northwest Highway restaurant was vacant. Crushed cement is the only reminder of what once was there.

Mullins and Wagner both say confidence also must be restored to the town's law enforcement officials.

"I feel that the Palatine Police Department has been exonerated," said Wagner. "They were accused over and over again that they didn't do things right."

What most people don't know, he said, is that when the hundreds of leads came in, police would assemble teams to both prove and disprove them.

"(Former Police Chief Jerry) Bratcher and these guys followed these things to the very end. No one wanted to solve it more than the Palatine police," Wagner said. "They didn't want to solve it to solve the crime; they wanted to find the people who actually committed the crime."

Frank Portillo, president of all 40 Brown's Chicken restaurants, was pleased by the verdict, but he was skeptical about how much closure it would bring victims' families.

He said Juan Luna and high school pal Jim Degorski's arrests, accompanied as they were by compelling evidence, were a bigger turning point.

"What those two men did, they destroyed six families' lives and a company," Portillo said. "Animals don't even do what they did. I think death is too good for them."

sfaiwell@dailyherald.com

• Daily Herald staff writer Eric Peterson contributed to this report.