They had been looking for the girls—sisters Colleen and Sheila– for almost a week, since two days after their mother had called the station and reported that they had not returned from the movies on the day after Christmas. The mother had recently moved the family to the 63rd and Narragansett area, but the girls had gone back to McKinley Park, their old neighborhood, to meet up with their friends and go to the show. The police verified that they had indeed attended the show at the Brighton Theater, and then hung around out front with their friends for a while after the movies were over. These friends later reported that the sisters had gotten into a blue or green older model Chevy, with either two, three or four other people in it, depending on who you asked. As far as the police knew, that was the last time they were seen alive.
Officer Mick Hyland had been on the job about ten years and was a beat cop assigned to the McKinley Park area around Kelly High School, in the neighborhood where the girls had lived most of their lives. He had been interviewing the girls’ friends after their disappearance but had turned up nothing of value. It was just a hunch that led him to ask some of these kids where they went when they wanted to do what they would later end up confessing to their parish priest, if kids even did that anymore. The most common answer had been the woods in Palos Hills, specifically 114th and Roberts, where the road ended. No one except people going to the high school ever took the road that far because nothing else was there, and at night it was dark and secluded. The perfect place for teenagers to have a good time. Still acting on his hunch, he decided to take a look at the area after work, since it was not his jurisdiction and he doubted his boss would okay it.
When Hyland walked into the wooded area, he could see evidence of partying all around. Beer bottles and pop cans. Empty cigarette packs and the occasional vodka bottle. And then, both surprised and dismayed that he had been right, he found the girls right where their friends had pointed him, at the end of Roberts Road in Palos Hills, in woods bordered to the south by a marshy area and to the northeast by Stagg High School.
He was startled at how close to the road the girls’ bodies were, as if whoever killed them had no concern about the bodies being discovered. If you knew what you were looking for, you might have been able to see them from the road, but it had been Christmas vacation, so there wasn’t anyone at the high school for almost two weeks. They wouldn’t be back for a couple of days.
But why hadn’t the bodies been discovered by other teenagers who came out here? From the amount of litter, it was a popular place. Then he remembered how frigid it had been the past week, a cold front having moved in and dropped temperatures into the single digits early on the morning of December 26th. He knew that teenagers, faced with freezing their asses off, would probably settle for buying some extra gas and steaming up the windows in the car.
It was the older girl, Sheila, that Officer Hyland saw first. She was lying on her side, naked, her wrists and ankles bound behind her, her knees slightly pulled up toward her waist, her arms arched away from her back. From 10 yards there did not appear to be a mark on her. If you imagined her arms as a pair of wings, she almost looked like one of those Victorian drawings of fairies in books he remembered seeing as a child. A dead fairy. She looked peaceful, and the snow that had started softly falling about an hour ago was collecting in the nooks of her body and in her hair, which was pulled back from her face. Up close, you could see that someone had given her a vicious beating about the face and upper body, and there were also bruises on her neck. Under the makeup she wore, Hyland could see the child that had still existed in this young teenage girl.
It didn’t take long to find Colleen, the younger sister, who had turned thirteen only a week ago. It was clear she was very much still a child. Also naked, and tied up just like Sheila, she probably was dragged—he didn’t think she could have crawled the way she was bound— into some bushes about thirty feet from her sister. She was face down, hair matted with her own frozen blood. More blood than he had seen in a while. Up close, you could see the parts of her skull that had been caved in, and there were bruising and blood on her torso and legs. Both the girls were frozen solid due to the long stretch of subzero temperatures. Hyland hoped they had passed quickly, unaware of their impending death, but he suspected that they had taken a while to die. He resisted the urge to take off his coat and cover Colleen and went back to his car and called into the station.
This was the suburbs and not CPD jurisdiction. After Hyland told his Commander what he had discovered, the Palos Police and the County Sheriff had been alerted, and they had all agreed to share jurisdiction. Although Hyland had made it clear the girls had been killed where they were found, everyone knew that any clue that might help them solve these murders would be found in the girls’ former neighborhood in Chicago. There would be no infighting or lack of cooperation on this case. These men all had children of their own.
Later that day, when detectives and the crime scene crew had arrived, and the snow around the bodies was brushed away to look for evidence, they would note that the dry grass to the left of Sheila’s body was matted for about 15 feet behind her. Following the matted grass backward, they found the place where the killer had originally left her. The police realized that what they at first thought might be the cause of the matting– that the killer had, for some reason moved Sheila’s body to another place–had actually been made by Sheila herself. Bound in such a way that it would have been difficult to stand up, and dying, she had desperately moved toward Colleen, arching and contracting her body over and over, trying to get to her little sister.
Three days later the autopsy report would conclude that each girl had been raped by at least two assailants. It also noted that the sisters had both died of hypothermia, the Coroner estimating it had taken four to six hours for them to freeze to death. The way in which each girl was killed, however, led the detectives to believe that, not only had there been at least two rapists, there had been more than one killer.
Sheila had been brutally beaten, far beyond what it would take to subdue her. Her killer also attempted to strangle her, but neither assault was sufficient to kill her. The bruising on her body indicated the killer used his fists; no weapon with her blood was found. And while there were bruises on her neck that indicated someone had used both hands to throttle her–probably after she had been pounded into submission to enable the rape–her hyoid bone was intact. This guy liked it up close and personal; liked feeling his hands on her body as he subdued her. She had fought hard, but at some point, she most likely lost consciousness, either from the beating or the attempted strangling. The killer, probably presuming she was dead, had left her to freeze to death. At some point, though, she had come to and tried to get to Colleen.
Unlike Sheila, Colleen had suffered multiple cranial fractures which caused cerebral hemorrhaging. Again, it had taken her hours to die of hypothermia, but she almost certainly had been unconscious the entire time, due to the damage to her skull. The murder weapon, a piece of discarded flagstone, was found next to her body. Whoever had killed her had struck her in the head repeatedly with such force that the flagstone eventually broke in two. Detectives also found shallow stab wounds on her chest and torso; someone had tried to stab her but couldn’t go through with it. Most people have no idea how difficult it is to take a life, and whoever stabbed her appeared to have no experience in killing.
The police considered whether two people had participated in the murder of Colleen; the first, raping and then trying to stab her, but failing. Did someone else have to step in and make sure Colleen would never draw breath after that night? Again, there was overkill, and he had gotten the job done. The viciousness of the beating with the flagstone did not jibe with the feeble attempt at stabbing. The cops agreed there were probably at least two killers. But had someone else entirely killed Sheila, or was it one of the two who killed Colleen? Were there two assailants or three?