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Investigators vow not to give up on Brown's case
Detectives sift through leads six years after the murders
By Sandra Del Re | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/29/2008 4:33 PM

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First published: January 7, 1999

The mountain of leads in the Brown's Chicken & Pasta murder case matches the height of an eight-story building. Memories have faded in the 2,189 days since the killings. And a task force of about 100 investigators has been whittled down to 5. Yet despite what seems to be insurmountable odds, Palatine police Chief Jerry Bratcher said he refuses to entertain the thought the Jan. 8, 1993, murders of seven people are destined to remain unsolved. "We've never even given mental recognition to the thought," Bratcher said. "Why? We have seven victims brutally murdered. We are not giving up." As the sixth anniversary of the killings approaches Friday, Bratcher still won't discuss suspects or evidence. It's a case that has generated 50 tips from the national TV show "America's Most Wanted" and has taken investigators to places like Nashville, Tenn. He won't talk about three fingerprints found on an unnamed piece of evidence last year using new Canadian technology. And he won't say anything about a former suburban resident with an inconsistent story who moved to Colorado. Or about Paul Dennis Reid, a man authorities say committed similar murders in two Nashville fast-food restaurants and has not been completely ruled out as a Brown's suspect. Instead Bratcher points to another case. He said it was tenacity that helped the Palatine police solve the 1977 murder of Stephanie Lyng after 17 years. Her husband, Edward, was convicted in 1994. "There wasn't a month we didn't work that case," he said. "We persisted. It was solved." The Brown's task force - now made up of three Palatine detectives and a Cook County Sheriff's investigator working full time on the case and a part-time computer analyst with the FBI - has the same resolve. "They have persistence. They stay focused. When they exhaust one avenue, they go down another," he said. "That's 1,000 percent dedication." But Joy McClain, a friend of murder victim Marcus Nellsen, is still waging a battle to see a victims' memorial erected. She said she has little hope the murders will be solved. "Now it seems almost impossible unless someone comes forward," she said. Similar public criticism came in the form of a stinging 1997 report from the Better Government Association and Chicago Crime Commission that found fault in the investigation. James F. Bell, a former FBI major case specialist who has worked cases ranging from the Unabomber to the Ted Bundy serial killings, said police are carefully focusing on anyone that comes to light as a suspect. "Anyone that comes across our line of vision is looked at," he said. "No one is eliminated unless we know where they were the night of the murders." Bell said computerized leads amount to thousands and thousands of pieces of paper. "The computer tracks single leads," he said. "One lead may require 50 or 60 interviews or lab work before it's closed. If you were to stack up paperwork, it would be the same as an eight-story building. That gives you an idea of how massive it is." Bell said detectives collect an average of 500 new leads a year. A Web site set up two years ago has only generated 10 leads, none very promising. "Sometimes people contact us with a hidden motive," he said. "It's a guy mad at another guy. Or a woman angry at her boyfriend." But publicizing four pieces of evidence in the case two years ago has generated calls. Police said one or more people may be responsible for the killings. But they think one person did the shooting. Police told the public the killer wore a Nike Air Force athletic shoe, size 12 1/2 to 14, used a .38- or .357-caliber gun, drove a light-colored or white car similar to a late 1980s Chevrolet Camaro, and purchased a meal at 9:08 p.m. after the restaurant was closed. The murders took place between 9:08 and 9:48 p.m. on that Friday night, police say. Police are still hoping a $107,000 reward for information leading to a conviction will continue to raise interest. Anyone with information is asked to contact the task force at (848) 705-1600. Those killed were franchise owners Lynn Ehlenfeldt, 49, and her husband, Richard, 50; employees Michael Castro, 16; Guadalupe Maldonado, 47; Thomas Mennes, 32; Marcus Nellsen, 31; and Rico Solis, 17.