Palatine official wants closure on Brown's reward

Published: 10/22/2009 12:01 AM

Haunted by the murder of seven restaurant workers on a cold January night in 1993, dozens of people donated money in an effort to catch the killers and put a community at ease.

Now that the mystery has been solved, the fate of the $98,000 reward fund will be determined.

Palatine Councilman Jack Wagner, who started the fund, hopes the decision-makers will get together within a couple days. He's putting in calls to Police Chief John Koziol, Mayor Jim Schwantz, Village Manager Reid Ottesen, former Police Chief Jerry Bratcher and Councilman Greg Solberg to set up a meeting.

"I'm hoping those guys can meet soon so we can settle this thing," Wagner said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, James Degorski was spared the death penalty and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. A jury handed down the same sentence to accomplice Juan Luna in 2007.

Wagner said he's willing to listen to input, but remains steadfast in his belief that neither of the women who kept the killers' identities secret for nine years receive a dime. Degorski and Luna confessed exactly how they went about the murders to friend Eileen Bakala the night of the crime, and to Degorski's girlfriend, Anne Lockett England, a few weeks later.

Instead, the councilman wants to reward Melissa Oberle, a Lake County woman who called Palatine police within minutes of learning of the men's confession from Lockett in 2002.

Later that year, Oberle told the Daily Herald she would maybe take a small percentage. However, Oberle believed Lockett should receive most of the money because she was planning on coming forward to police.

Oberle hasn't responded to recent requests for an interview.

The exact amount of the reward could be significantly more than $98,000. Another $51,000 was pledged, including $25,000 from Brown's Chicken owner Frank Portillo, $15,000 from the Northwest Community Hospital medical staff and $10,000 from the Holy Family Hospital medical staff.

Portillo has said he divvied up the money among the victims' families years ago and that the restaurant isn't in position to donate more. Representatives for both hospitals said they were looking into whether the pledges would be honored.