The Lane Bryant Killings: Three Years Later
This week marks the third anniversary of the unsolved mass murders at a Tinley Park clothing store. What are the signs of hope for the investigation?
There's an empty storefront between a beauty supply shop and an undeveloped scraggle of field in Brookside Marketplace shopping center. The butcher paper taped over the windows has begun to peel in places, revealing a shelled interior and a fallen sign that says "Space Available."
Five women died here three years ago this week.
Wednesday is the third anniversary of the Lane Bryant shooting. A gunman who police believe was trying to rob the women's clothing store executed four customers and the store manager. To this day, he has not been caught.
Over the next few days, Patch will be looking at the after-effects of this horror. Today, we will look at the status of the investigation. Tomorrow, we will look at the fate of that empty storefront. And on Wednesday, the third anniversary of that day, we will share a heartfelt story of family shared with us by those whose lives were forever changed.
Feel free to add your own thoughts, memories and hopes for the families in the comments section below any of these stories. A community must mourn its tragedies as much as it rejoices in its triumphs.
"It's like a scar," Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki said of that terrible day. "The scar will slowly, slowly lessen, but it will never disappear."
A Cold Day
"It was a cold day and it was raw, it was like sleeting, that sort of thing," Ed Zabrocki said of the morning of Feb. 2, 2008.
Zabrocki has been mayor of Tinley Park since 1981. It's a suburb known as a great place to raise a family and a good place to see a rock concert. Everyone in Tinley knows Ed Zabrocki.
His phone rang. It was Police Chief Mike O'Connell.
"He said, 'Ed, we’ve got a homicide,'" Zabrocki said.
At first, only one death was confirmed. Zabrocki told O'Connell to keep him informed. O'Connell called back a few minutes later. Three deaths had been confirmed.
Zabrocki drove down to Brookside Marketplace, a large shopping center by Interstate 80. The entire area was closed off.
The mayor had to produce ID before the officer let him through. Everyone in Tinley knows Ed Zabrocki, but neighboring departments, the sheriff's office, the South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force, the FBI and even NASA had been called to assist. (NASA satellites were scoured for images of the fleeing suspect, Zabrocki said. Nothing showed up, he said; it was too cloudy that day.)
"I saw Mike (O'Connell) coming toward me and he had tears in his eyes and I rolled down the window and he said, 'We've got five dead in there.'"
Not a Cold Case
Tinley Park Police Cmdr. Pat McCain, who was incident commander the day of the shootings, now heads investigations.
"We don't consider this a cold case in any way, shape or form," McCain said. "We’re still working it. We haven’t stopped working it since the original day."
Four Tinley Park investigators, an intern and an Illinois State Police analyst are tasked solely with the Lane Bryant killings, McCain said. As of Friday, the department has received 5,920 tips via phone and e-mail (708-444-5394 or email@example.com).
Police are looking for a black man about 5 foot 8 to 5 foot 10, 230 to 260 pounds and between (at the time) 25 and 35 years of age. In 2008, he had cornrows in his hair, a receding hairline and one braid laying over the right side of his face, at cheek level, that had four light green beads on the end of the braid.
He is wanted for the murders of:
- Sarah T. Szafranski, 22, of Oak Forest
- Carrie A. Chiuso, 33, of Frankfort
- Connie R Woolfolk, 37, of Flossmoor
- Jennifer L. Bishop, 34, of South Bend, Ind.
- Rhoda McFarland, 42, of Joliet
There is a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer. Lane Bryant and a private citizen who wishes to remain nameless donated the reward money, Zabrocki said.
Tips Still Coming In
Of the nearly 6,000 tips the department has received, 293 came in 2010, McCain said. The flow of tips has slowed, but not stopped.
"Some of it is driven by what's out there. Every time America's Most Wanted throws a blurb out there we get hit with a bunch of tips," McCain said. "Every time a major media outlet covers the story, we get a lot of tips."
He expects many this week due to media coverage of the anniversary.
Zabrocki finds some solace in the eventual conviction of the killers in the so-called "Brown's Chicken Massacre." In 1993, in an incident eerily similar to the Lane Bryant shootings, robbers at a fast-food restaurant in north-suburban Palatine herded seven workers into the freezer and shot them to death. In 2002, one of the killers' girlfriend implicated him, an act that turned the tide of an investigation many feared had gone cold.
"I draw an analogy between this and the Palatine case. That took nine years," Zabrocki said.
McCain said the investigation would like – but isn't banking on – a lucky turn like that.
"Certainly that would be welcome," McCain said. "We're not waiting for that."