Wheaton woman working to let a "hero" rest in peace
Heidi Quitter says she won't be able to live with herself if she doesn't give a proper burial to the man who lost his life saving hers.
Sitting on the bed she shares with their 7-year-old daughter in the rundown basement of an already crowded home, her eyes well up as she envisions longtime boyfriend Lionel Lane's body in the Cook County morgue, among dozens of others waiting to be laid to rest.
"He died a hero and I'm not going to let his death go in vain," Quitter said. "Part of that is to put him in the ground and give him a headstone so our daughter can visit and put flowers on his grave."
A difficult life -- marked by abandonment, homelessness and a criminal history that included a wrongful murder conviction -- met a violent end early Jan. 5 when a gunman fatally shot the 51-year-old Wheaton man in Chicago's West Garfield Park neighborhood.
Six weeks later, Quitter, 46, is desperate to scrounge up thousands of dollars needed to bury him despite being physically disabled and unable to work. She'd settle for cremation, a far more affordable option, if Lane had a headstone and a "final resting place."
She pores over the growing stack of papers -- claims for a lapsed life insurance policy, discounted funeral home estimates and applications to the Illinois Attorney General's Crime Victims Compensation Program, none of which help now.
She's also researching the Archdiocese of Chicago's offer of 300 graves to alleviate overcrowding at the morgue and anything else she encounters that might benefit Lane, who others say was working to turn around his life.
On top of filling out every application he could after being laid off in 2009 as a machine operator, Lake met with temp agencies and enrolled in training programs.
DuPage PADS Executive Director Carol Simler said Lane utilized the agency's support services during periods when he stayed at the shelter.
"The fact he was coming in and getting help speaks a lot to his character," Simler said. "He was working on becoming a whole person."
Quitter's resolve to give Lane a proper burial is evident as she describes the night of his murder.
She and Lane, who met in a homeless shelter and dated on and off for 12 years, were staying in Chicago with his nephew, helping him settle into a new apartment. She went to buy cigarettes around 1:30 a.m. when a man with a gun approached her and forced her into a gangway.
Quitter pleaded for help, loudly. Lane came running.
"My guy grabbed me, threw me to the side and pushed the gunman down," Quitter said. "Then the gunman jumped up and popped him in the face. (Lane) stood there for a few seconds and then fell over."
Quitter said the man, who she believes was in his 20s, threatened to shoot her next but fled as she started wildly beating on a window.
Chicago police spokesman Mike Sullivan said nobody is in custody and that the investigation is ongoing.
Though the rest of the night is mostly a daze to her, Quitter remembers sitting at the police station for hours holding out hope Lane would survive, only to find out when the sun came up that he died at the scene. And she'll never forget the strangers who went out of their way to help as she made her way out to Wheaton, from the construction worker who escorted her through a work zone to the woman who drove her home from the train station.
Those were the kinds of selfless acts Lane was known for.
A homeless woman who attended his Jan. 28 memorial service at Parkview Community Church in Glen Ellyn told Quitter that Lane gladly handed over all his bus and train passes to ease her worries about getting around.
"She said, 'Your guy was the most beautiful person,'" Quitter said. "He would, and sometimes did, give his last dollar to someone who needed it more."
Lane managed to "have good in his heart" despite a life plagued by injustices and poor decisions.
At 8 years old, he and his brother were abandoned by their mother at a hotel. He bounced around foster and group homes on the South Side. As a young adult, he did prison time for residential burglary.
But Lane's downward spiral really began in January 1994 when he was charged in the 1993 murder of Virginia Johannessen, a 76-year-old widow shot at home in an affluent neighborhood near Aurora.
Kane County prosecutors called it a botched burglary, and based their case largely on the testimony of Lane's former girlfriend, whose cooperation resulted in a reduced sentence for her ex-husband in an unrelated case, according to Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions.
Lane spent 13 months in jail leading up to his trial and despite the absence of fingerprints, blood samples or any other physical evidence, a jury convicted him. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison.
About three months into his incarceration in the maximum-security Pontiac Correction Center, two other men confessed to the killing.
Edward Tenney of Aurora and Donald Lippert of Woodridge were convicted of murdering both Johannessen and neighbor Mary Jill Oberweis, heiress to the dairy chain.
Lane was released and the case against him dropped, but he was back in trouble before long.
Kane County court records show that in 1999, Lane was sentenced to jail for possession of a controlled substance. He also pleaded guilty to criminal trespass and another narcotics charge. In 2002, he went to jail for criminal damage to property, disorderly conduct and criminal trespass to state land.
In 2009, Lane, then living in Crest Hill, served 20 days in jail for misdemeanor attempted obstructing justice. DuPage County prosecutors said he supplied false information to police to prevent the prosecution of another person.
Quitter doesn't dispute Lane's run-ins with police, but said the murder conviction was a cloud that never cleared.
"I remember he got pulled over for a traffic stop and the officer looked him up said to me, 'Do you know you're with a murderer?'" Quitter said. "It was always with him."
She wants the world to know the effort Lane made to turn around his life.
In addition to seeking employment, he didn't hesitate to seek treatment at the DuPage County Health Department when he went into a deep depression.
Quitter also said Lane recently decided to "turn his life over to God." They were approved for permanent housing through PADS and planned on moving into their own apartment with daughter Alexis this month.
"I believe he's in heaven, and I'll always work to honor his death," Quitter said. "But I won't have a clean conscience until we bury him."
How to helpA bank account is set up to help pay for Lionel Lane's funeral. Send donations to Heidi Quitter for Lionel Lane, Chase Bank, 727 Roosevelt Road, Glen Ellyn, IL 60137.