When authorities charged Michael Jones last month with the 1985 murder of a 15-year-old Glen Ellyn-area girl, it marked the second time a cold case suspect has been arrested in connection with a DuPage County crime in the past five years.
During that time, members of the DuPage County Sheriff's three-person cold-case unit say they investigated more than 50 leads concerning Kristina Wesselman's slaying -- in addition to the countless others collected earlier during the 30-year search for her killer.
All of that work was worth it, they said, when detectives were able to travel to Colorado to tell Kristy's mom, Sandra Wesselman, that a suspect finally was behind bars.
"It's nice that the office can fly someone out there and have them personally discuss the case and break the news in person to a family that has been waiting 30 years to get justice," sheriff's department Major Frank Bibbiano said.
Bibbiano, who heads the sheriff's cold case unit, said it was ultimately the work of the first detectives on the scene of Kristy's murder that led authorities to believe they've solved the case.
The Glenbard South High School student was discovered along a wooded path near Butterfield Road and Route 53 that led to her home in the nearby Valley View subdivision near Glen Ellyn.
Jones, of Champaign, was charged last month after authorities said they tied his DNA to evidence collected at the scene of the crime
"The system worked, and that goes to reinforce that the detectives back in 1985 did their job thoroughly and collected the evidence properly," Bibbiano said. "Even though an offender wasn't identified in 1985, the fact that it was done correctly led us to the conclusion that we're in now."
In fact, they say the cold case unit has actually had more involvement in Kristy's case since Jones was arrested.
"Our job doesn't end when he gets locked up -- that's when it starts," said DuPage County Sheriff's Office Chief Al Angus. "With the suspect identified, there may be leads to be followed up on and information that needs to be looked at. Even though he's been identified, there needs to be inclusion or exclusion of anyone else."
Jones has pleaded not guilty, but prosecutors say DNA evidence left at the scene matches Jones and "only 1 in 1.5 quadrillion Caucasians."
"Solving a case like this is an extremely good example of how good, thorough police work helps in a case, from the get-go," said Sgt. Robert Harris, another member of the sheriff's cold case unit. "No one knows what the future holds and what kind of technology is out there. So if the evidence is collected properly and things are documented properly, who knows where it can end up in the future?"
Harris said the long search for Kristy's alleged killer demonstrates why it's important to have a designated cold case unit.
"Having someone constantly reviewing case files and evidence obtained back when the crime occurred is critical because they can match that information with current methods and trends," he said.
Harris said he believes it takes a special detective to work a cold case.
"You've got to be resilient because you're banging your head against the wall in a 30-, 40- or 50-year-old case and you ride the ebb and flow. You get a lead, it looks promising (and then it) doesn't pan out," he said. "You can wash, rinse and repeat that over and over through the years, but if you let that get you down, you would not be good at this particular job.
"When you actually do crack a case, there's an amount of re-energizing the unit. It certainly doesn't hurt."
The unit currently is focusing its efforts on Michael Jones until he is either convicted or exonerated. Then it will go back to working the remaining cold case murders on its list.
"Some of those cases are pretty cold. They're pretty old," Angus said. "But they were chosen because there's some solvability to them. There wasn't a 100 percent dead end. There's some viable techniques that could be employed or viable suspects that may or may not be generated through what the reports reflected."
Angus said he hopes residents will continue to view the department's cold case list online and alert members to even the most remote leads.
"As time passes, they may choose to report something they chose not to report earlier on, either out of fear of retaliation or repercussions. With passage of time we need to see if this jogs their memory. We follow up on every lead," Angus said.
"Everyone needs to know that we care about the voices who can't be heard from."