Detective reflects on '85 murder near Glen Ellyn

Kevin Buchholz was still a young detective when he found the body of 15-year-old Kristy Wesselman in a field near Glen Ellyn 26 years ago Friday.

The blonde, blue-eyed teen had been raped and stabbed — apparently in broad daylight and just feet from a family's Sunday afternoon barbecue.

Buchholz, then 32 and lead detective on the case, spent the following five months checking out alibis, searching the field for clues, and canvassing Kristy's neighborhood.

Nearly three decades later, however, he continues to wait for answers.

"The challenging thing was the fact there really was nobody to zero in on," Buchholz, who is now retired, told the Daily Herald from his home in Hollywood, Fla. "Pretty much all we had was a little bit of DNA from semen. There was nothing else."

Authorities believe Kristy's killer attacked from behind as she walked a path between her home in the Valley View subdivision and a now-closed Jewel-Osco store at Butterfield Road and Route 53, where she had just bought a liter of soda and a chocolate bar. Her mother reported her missing around midnight.

On Thursday, DuPage sheriff's officials held a news conference aimed at sparking renewed interest in the case. They divulged for the first time details about a pearl ring they believe the killer took from Kristy's left hand.

Authorities also said they plan to re-canvass the more than 120 homes in the neighborhood for clues. Many of those residents still live there today.

Buchholz, a violent crimes detective for the DuPage County sheriff's office, discovered Kristy's body the morning after she was reported missing. It was shortly after he interviewed a Jewel worker who said he saw Kristy walk away through a field behind the store.

There, Buchholz found her body — assaulted and stabbed eight times — on a bed of leaves beneath a pair of trees.

"I saw some grass was broken down off the path and I followed it, which is where I found her," he said. "At the time, I didn't have a portable radio, so I had to run back to the Jewel and use the pay phone. I called a sergeant and told him, 'I think I found her.'"

In the ensuing years, investigators would explore a variety of theories, including more than 25 potential suspects. But there was never a major break in the case.

Heather Christie, a friend of Kristy who turned 15 the day her body was discovered, said the tragedy left a "surreal" discomfort among the normally quiet community — especially when no killer was found.

"I had walked that path with Kristy a number of times," she recalled. "But overnight, it was like everything changed. My mom would watch me go out to the mailbox. It was a 'we don't know who's next' kind of thing."

Christie said it took years to come to terms with the death of her friend, whom she remembers as "really funny, very outgoing, very genuine and very sweet."

"It's hard enough to handle a death. But when you have a murder, and certainly at the age we were, it left me angry for a really long time," said Christie, now an attorney in Fort Myers, Fla. "It was easy to be angry because it was something that shouldn't have happened. And it's hard to forgive a nameless, faceless person."

In 2000, officials entered DNA taken from the crime scene into a national database consisting of more than 500,000 profiles of people convicted of violent crimes.

But still nothing.

Buchholz said he believes Kristy's killer was a young man at the time, but that he never became a habitual offender.

"The gut feeling I had was cleared when they ran the DNA of the person I believed was personally involved in it," he said. "The ones you zeroed in on either had great alibis or were (later) knocked out through DNA."

Buchholz, who is writing a crime novel dedicated to Kristy, would go on to solve about a dozen murders during his 27-year career. He left the sheriff's office in December 1985 and worked the rest of his career in Florida.

Even 26 years later, though, he said he holds onto hope that renewed attention to Kristy's case will eventually lead to her killer.

"Time can do a lot of things. It may spark somebody's memory. It may spark somebody's guilt. You've got to keep it in the memories of the people around there," he said. "Whoever it is knows what he did and if nothing else, God will punish him, even if the state of Illinois doesn't."

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The 1985 murder of Kristy Wesselman remains unsolved.
  Sandy Wesselman finishes speaking at a news conference at the DuPage County sheriff’s office with Sgt. Robert Harris. Her daughter Kristy was murdered on July 21, 1985, near Glen Ellyn. The case remains unsolved. Bev Horne/
  A photo of a ring was unveiled during a news conference at the DuPage County sheriff’s office in Wheaton on Thursday. Police said Kristy Wesselman’s killer took a ring similar to this one from her left hand in 1985. Kristy’s 4½-size ring had a different mounting and a smaller, chipped pearl. Bev Horne/
  Sgt. Robert Harris reveals a photo of a ring during news conference at the DuPage County sheriff’s office in Wheaton on Thursday. Kristy Wesselman was wearing a similar ring when she was murdered on July 21, 1985, near Glen Ellyn. Bev Horne/
  Sandy Wesselman talks to the Daily Herald in 2000 about the unsolved murder of her 15-year-old daughter Kristy. Bev Horne/
Kristy Wesselman was murdered on July 21, 1985, near Glen Ellyn.
Fifteen-year-old Kristy Wesselman was murdered on July 21, 1985, near Glen Ellyn.
Kevin Buchholz