Search continues for Rolling Meadows teen in 1975 cold case
Rolling Meadows police continued digging for clues Thursday at a home near Joliet in their attempt to close a cold case more than four decades old.
The disappearance of Michael Mansfield 41 years ago has led police to a single-story ranch home on Barber Lane just northwest of Joliet in unincorporated Will County. Authorities say they are looking for remains or other evidence of his whereabouts.
Rolling Meadows police detectives and evidence technicians from the Cook County Major Case Assistance Team, many dressed in protective bodysuits, have been searching inside the house and backyard since Monday. Yellow police tape has been placed around the property, and temporary white tents have been set up in the yard where much of the work has taken place.
"We're not leaving until we're completely satisfied -- until we've done everything we need to do over there," said Rolling Meadows Police Commander Tom Gadomski. "We don't know how long this is going to take. We're certainly in no hurry. Possibly something's there, or not."
Mansfield, a 19-year-old college student, was last seen on New Year's Eve 1975 when he left his Rolling Meadows home to visit a friend in Arlington Heights.
In October 2011, Mansfield's one-time college roommate, Russell Smrekar, gave a deathbed confession to killing the teen, but police never located his body. Smrekar, who hailed from the Joliet area, was serving a 300-year prison sentence for a 1976 double-murder when authorities say he confessed at the downstate Menard Correctional Center.
Property records show the house being searched near Joliet at one time was owned by a relative of Smrekar.
Police haven't said what led them to the house or why they're searching it now. But they long suspected Smrekar. The two were fellow students living in different dorms at Lincoln College, about 25 miles northeast of Springfield.
Mansfield was scheduled to testify against Smrekar in a theft case just six days after going missing. Smrekar was suspected of stealing record albums from a girl's dorm room, but the charges were dismissed after Mansfield disappeared.
Smrekar was convicted of killing a man and his pregnant wife a year later in Lincoln. That man was scheduled to testify against Smrekar in a separate theft case -- this one alleging he stole steaks from a grocery store.
Rolling Meadows police have taken the lead on the investigation at the Joliet-area house. Officers are being assisted by the Cook County Major Case Assistance Team, which includes investigators from 23 law enforcement agencies in the Northwest suburbs. The team was formed after the Brown's Chicken murders in 1993 in Palatine.
Will County sheriff's office officials are also providing logistical assistance on site.