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Police still optimistic on solving Brown's murders
Jim Allen | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/29/2008 4:34 PM

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First published: November 23, 1997

Candy heiress Helen Brach, Libertyville millionaires Bruce and Darlene Rouse and Palatine homemaker Stephanie Lyng all were killed by people who didn't face arrest and successful prosecution for more than a dozen years. Such are the cases that clash with the conclusions of the Better Government Association, whose report this week suggested the first hours in the probe of the January 1993 murders of seven workers at the Brown's Chicken and Pasta Restaurant in Palatine were most crucial, and that they were mishandled.

Defenders of the Palatine police nonetheless acknowledge the trail has grown cold, and the prospects for solving the case have dimmed.

"I think it can be, but the probability is diminishing," said Gary Schira, chief of the Bloomingdale police and president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.

Palatine Police Chief Jerry Bratcher also maintained the case still can be solved.

"I have to cling to that," Bratcher said. "Clearly, the more time that goes by, the fainter it gets. We're hopeful something will break."

This week, Bratcher had to defend that assertion after the BGA issued a report that said the case was bungled. The report also laid the blame on Bratcher and his delay in assembling a task force until days after the crime.

"There's no perfection in the world in anything any of us do," he said. "But generally speaking the major steps we took ... we did the appropriate thing."

However remote Bratcher's chances may be, other cases have been cracked several years later.

Lyng was killed Oct. 25, 1977; her ex-husband, Edward, was convicted in 1994.

Likewise, the Rouses were shotgunned to death June 6, 1980, and their son, William, was convicted after he confessed in 1995.

Brach disappeared about Feb. 17, 1977, and her presumed killer was sent to prison in 1995.

BGA Executive Director J. Terrence Brunner nonetheless stood by his organization's findings and said he fears the Brown's case will not be solved.

"The (unnamed) woman at the (Northern Illinois Police Crime) lab says it's never going to be solved on a scientific basis, and the only way is if someone comes forward and they can check his story against the facts. I think she's probably pretty accurate,'' Brunner said.

Others experienced at solving murders with yellowed case files agreed with that conclusion.

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven A. Miller, who led the office's special prosecutions division, prosecuted Richard Bailey on charges that he swindled women, including Brach. Miller persuaded a federal judge 18 years after Brach's 1977 disappearance that Bailey was also probably responsible for her death.

Miller, now a partner with Sachnoff and Weaver in Chicago, said the troubles with old cases are numerous.

Things become increasingly more difficult with the passage of time. Leads grow stale. Investigators get assigned to other cases. Other matters that need attention fall on their desks. Recollections dim. Witnesses die or move away.

It all leads back, Miller said, to the thrust of the BGA's call for creation of a major crime task force of preassigned, well-trained veteran detectives to take charge of all major cases in the suburbs immediately after they are discovered.

"My experience is that suburban police departments are absolutely unqualified to conduct complex criminal investigations,'' Miller said. "At the level of the Illinois State Police, there ought to be a major crime SWAT team of highly trained individuals who ought to be dispatched, who ought to have the authority to take control.

"If you want a murder solved," he said, "hope it happened in New York or Chicago or Detroit or some metropolitan area where they have so many murders that they have built up a cadre of talented individuals. To be great at something, you've got to do it time and time again and, yes, learn under those people. It's not to say the people (on suburban forces) aren't smart enough to do it. It may be they never had the training, or the infrastructure may not exist."

Bloomingdale's Schira partly agrees. He noted that Northwest suburban police chiefs, as well as chiefs of police in DuPage County, are examining the model of the major crimes task force used in Lake County.

Schira agreed some cases may need a veteran investigator from Chicago. But he cautioned that the "trap'' some proponents fall into is the idea that "bigger is better.''

The talent exists in the suburbs, Schira said. The key is having the investigative team assembled in advance, he said.

"If the team trained together, and they're used to each other, when you need to activate that team, you can go about the organization without stopping and figuring out who's going to do what and how,'' Schira said.