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updated: 1/6/2014 5:22 AM

Lake County murders rise to 14 in 2013, but numbers down overall

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  • Police officials investigate the murder of Diane VanDycke-Kephart, 61, near Antioch in March.

      Police officials investigate the murder of Diane VanDycke-Kephart, 61, near Antioch in March.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Andre Sharkey

    Andre Sharkey

  • Billy Varner

    Billy Varner


Fourteen murders were committed in Lake County in 2013, a 40 percent rise from the previous year, authorities said.

Lake County officials said the increase from the 10 murders committed in 2012 and 2011 is disturbing, but the figure remains far below the high-water mark of 25 murders recorded in each of 1982 and 1994.

"While there is a spike upward in 2013, we have seen a decrease in overall murders in the past 20 years," Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim said. "I'm proud of the effort between state and federal agencies, the police community and civic organizations all working together to strive for the safety of our residents."

Last year featured a few high-profile murders, including one that claimed two family members.

Authorities said Billy Varner killed his wife, Peggy Henderson, 61, and his mother, Dorothy Varner, 82, in October in the Antioch apartment they shared. Billy Varner, 54, has pleaded not guilty and remains held in Lake County jail without bond.

According to authorities, Varner killed Henderson with a machete on Oct. 26 then suffocated his mother two days later. Varner confessed to killing Henderson because he said she was suffering from headaches, then killed his mother when she started to figure out what happened to her daughter-in-law, officials said.

A preliminary trial date is set for March 3, but that's expected to be pushed back until late 2014 at the earliest.

Another murder case involved Jim McPherson, 21, who faces a Feb. 18 trial for killing 17-year-old Janay McFarlane in the 1300 block of Jackson Avenue in North Chicago. Prosecutors said McFarlane was with two friends near Jackson and 14th streets in North Chicago about 11:30 p.m. Feb. 15 when McPherson shot her in the head with a handgun.

The shooting made national headlines because it took place hours after McFarlane's sister sat near President Barack Obama while he spoke about controlling gun violence in the nation.

Also on the list of notable murders was the slaying of Diane VanDycke-Kephart, 61, who was killed March 15 during a murder-suicide outside of her parents' Antioch-area home. Authorities say ex-boyfriend Paul Neff, 57, killed VanDycke-Kephart with a butcher knife before taking his own life a short time later while evading police in a nearby trailer. At the time of the killing VanDycke-Kephart had an order of protection against Neff.

Two men will face trial for killing infants in 2013.

Victor Salinas-Corona, 17, is scheduled to face trial Jan. 21 on charges he killed his 5-month-old son, Ayden, on Feb. 28. Authorities said Salinas-Corona slammed the infant's head into the corner of a metal crib to stop him from crying.

Authorities also charged 32-year-old Andre Sharkey with eight counts of first-degree murder in the death of a 2-month-old child he was baby-sitting. Sharkey is being held in the Lake County jail in lieu of $3 million bond. His trial is scheduled for Feb. 7, but is expected to be postponed until the end of the year.

Officials at the Lake County Coroner's Office ruled there were 21 homicides in the county last year, but 10 were attributed to heroin overdoses and car crashes.

Nerheim said a homicide is defined as the killing of one human by another, but not all homicides are murders. For example, he said, reckless homicides and drug-induced homicides are not classified as murders.

"Homicide isn't necessarily a crime," he added. "If you kill someone in self-defense, it's still a homicide, but it may also be deemed justifiable."

Orlando Portillo, chief deputy of the coroner's office, said the number of homicides in 2013 is expected to grow after an official cause of death is determined during a coroner review of the Varner case and a pending case in Zion.

The first homicide of 2013 was recorded Jan. 31, when Timothy McCann of Libertyville overdosed on heroin in the basement of his Libertyville home. Byron Sullivan, 21, pleaded guilty to drug-induced homicide in September for supplying the drugs to McCann. He was sentenced to 30 months probation and 18 months of periodic imprisonment.

Last year also included the death of 16-year-old Cynthia Perez of Antioch, who died in a June 24 crash during an illegal street race in Gurnee. The case was ruled a homicide.

Michael Dawson, 19, was sentenced to 30 months probation and 18 months periodic imprisonment for his role in the crash, while Jeremy Betancourt -- who was behind the wheel of the car in which Perez was a passenger -- faces trial later this year.

Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran said his office is working to reduce the number of homicides by attacking street gang violence and providing better education about heroin overdoses.

"We would like the number of homicides to be zero, but that won't happen until everyone realizes the value of human life," Curran said. "We are remaining proactive in our attack on street gangs, and generally making life as difficult as possible for them."

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