2019's most notable suburban crimes

A mass shooting at an Aurora factory, a heartbreaking conclusion to a case of a missing Crystal Lake boy, a 25-year sentence for a South Barrington cold case homicide; the release of a “Ripper Crew” killer and the deaths in the line of duty of Illinois State Police troopers and a McHenry County sheriff's deputy were among the suburbs' most notable crime stories last year.

<h3 class="leadin">Troopers killed in the line of duty

A difficult 2019 for the Illinois State Police hit close to home with the on-duty deaths of Trooper Christopher Lambert of Highland Park and Trooper Gerald Ellis of Antioch.

Lambert, 34, was struck and killed by an SUV on Jan. 12, after he stopped to assist drivers involved in several crashes on I-294 near Willow Road. The SUV's driver is charged with reckless homicide of a police officer.

Ellis, 36, died March 30 when his patrol vehicle collided head-on with a wrong way driver on I-94 near Green Oaks. Witness accounts on social media said Ellis intentionally drove into the oncoming vehicle's path to protect others on the highway.

A third Illinois State Police trooper, Brooke Jones-Story, 34, who lived near Stockton, west of Freeport, was hit and killed by a semitrailer while she was making a traffic stop March 28.

<h3 class="leadin">Aurora mass shooting

  Mourners place a flower at the crosses outside of the Henry Pratt company in Aurora in memory of five employees killed in February. Jeff Knox/

Five people were killed when a co-worker, angry that he was being fired, opened fire Feb. 15 at the Henry Pratt Co. factory in Aurora. The shooter also wounded five Aurora police officers when they responded and chased him throughout the building, before he shot himself to death. The shooter had legally purchased the handgun he used because he was mistakenly issued a firearm owners identification card although he had a conviction for armed violence in the 1990s in Mississippi. The error was discovered when he applied for a concealed-carry permit, and his FOID was revoked in April 2014. He was supposed to turn the gun in to police or to another FOID-carrying person, but authorities had not checked to ensure he had done so.

<h3 class="leadin">Buschauer sentence

Frank Buschauer, 70, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the 2000 drowning of his wife in their South Barrington home.

Convicted in August of the February 2000 drowning death of his wife in a tub in the couple's South Barrington home, Frank Buschauer was sentenced to 25 years in prison, essentially a life sentence for the 70-year-old former chemical engineer.

A Cook County medical examiner had determined Cynthia Hrisco, 47, drowned, but listed the manner of death as “undetermined.” South Barrington Police Sgt. Bryant Haniszewski, who responded to Buschauer's 911 call on Feb. 28, 2000, was convinced Hrisco was murdered. That sparked a new investigation and led to Buschauer's 2013 arrest. Prosecutors said the couple's dispute over shoddy construction and cost overruns on their Overbrook Road home led Buschauer to kill his wife and mother of their 13-month-old son in a “fit of rage.”

<h3 class="leadin">Charges in student's death

A Downers Grove North High School student was killed in front of the school by a man authorities say fell asleep behind the wheel of a car after taking Xanax while coming off a four-day cocaine bender. Beth Dunlap was crossing Main Street the morning of Feb. 19 when she was struck by a vehicle driven by Joseph Kucharski of Naperville. Kucharski was charged with reckless homicide and aggravated driving under the influence. He remains free on bond. His next court date is Jan. 9.

<h3 class="leadin">Deputy killed

McHenry County Sheriff's Deputy Jacob Keltner was shot to death March 7 while assigned to a U.S. Marshals task force trying to arrest a fugitive at a Rockford hotel. Floyd E. Brown, 39, who was wanted on warrants related to burglaries downstate, fled through a window and encountered Keltner and shot him in the head. Brown faces federal and state murder charges.

<h3 class="leadin">Child killed in crash

Eight-year-old Izaiah Lopez was killed, and his grandfather injured, when they were crossing Lake Street in Aurora the evening of March 25. Police say Christopher Carillo, 28, was racing in an SUV and blew through a red light. Carillo is charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving death.

<h3 class="leadin">Mom killed in Campton Hills

A Campton Hills man was charged with second-degree murder and accused of beating his mother to death with a baseball bat March 24. Thomas Summerwill, 21, argued that he mistook his mother for a home intruder; his attorney says he was suffering jet lag after returning from a trip to Ireland. Prosecutors say his belief was “not reasonable due to his alcohol impairment.”

<h3 class="leadin">AJ slaying

The body of missing Crystal Lake 5-year-old AJ Freund was recovered from a field near Woodstock April 24, less than a week after his parents reported his disappearance. The boy's parents, JoAnn Cunningham and Andrew Freund Sr., were ultimately charged with his murder. Cunningham pleaded guilty Dec. 5 and faces up to 60 years in prison. The boy's father remains in jail awaiting trial. Police said the boy's father admitted AJ was dead after police recovered video that had been deleted from Cunningham's phone showing the aftermath of a beating the boy suffered for wetting the bed, which was taken a month before AJ's death. Freund Sr. told investigators on the day AJ was killed, Cunningham forced AJ to endure a 20-minute cold shower and beat him on the head for lying about hiding soiled underwear. His father admitted to burying his body in the field, prosecutors said.

<h3 class="leadin">Missing Aurora boy

Hopes of finding Timmothy Pitzen rose and then were quickly dashed after an Ohio man falsely claimed in April to be the missing Aurora boy. Pitzen was 6 in May 2011 when his mother, Amy, took him from his elementary school. Authorities determined they went to Brookfield Zoo, a water park in Gurnee, then Wisconsin Dells. Amy Fry-Pitzen killed herself in a Rockford hotel room, leaving a note that said Timmothy was with people who loved him and that he would never be found. In April, police in Kentucky said a person there claimed to be Timmothy and said he was 14 and had been held captive for seven years. But DNA tests proved he was not Timmothy. Brian Rini, 24, faces charges of aggravated identity theft and lying to federal agents. He has been in jail since his arrest. His next court date is Jan. 8.

<h3 class="leadin">'Ripper Crew' killer released

Aurorans protested in April when they learned “Ripper Crew” killer Thomas Kokoraleis was going to live at the Wayside Cross Ministries shelter. Kokoraleis, 58, was released from prison after serving half his 70-year sentence. He was convicted of the rape and murder of Lorraine “Lorry” Borowski of Elmhurst in 1982 and sentenced to life in prison, but his conviction was overturned on appeal. He then pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 70 years. He was given day-for-day credit in prison. Kokoraleis was one of four men suspected of killing as many as 17 women in Chicago and the suburbs in the early 1980s. His younger brother, Andrew, was executed in 1999 for the crimes. Another was sentenced to death, but that sentence was commuted to life without possibility of parole. The fourth was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 60 years in prison, with a possible parole date of 2042.

<h3 class="leadin">Home invasion

A Sleepy Hollow woman was raped and stabbed, and her brother stabbed, when a man invaded their home April 8. Fabian J. Torres, 32, had met the woman's mother the day before and decided to kidnap her, buying bear repellent, rope and pepper spray, authorities said. He brought those, plus an over-the-counter “male enhancement” supplement and a penis pump, with him to the attack. Torres is charged with attempted murder and aggravated criminal sexual assault. He was on probation at the time for firebombing the deli section of a grocery store in 2011.

<h3 class="leadin">Life sentence for Schaumburg sexual assault, slaying

After more than two years, the family of Tiffany Thrasher received justice for the 2017 sexual assault and murder of the 32-year-old in her Schaumburg apartment. Her neighbor, 32-year-old Bulmaro Mejia-Maya, who lived about 50 feet from the apartment Thrasher shared with her niece, was convicted in June of murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault and home invasion following a two-day bench trial. Describing Mejia-Maya's crime as “violent, brutal and barbaric,” County Judge Steven Goebel sentenced him to life in prison.

<h3 class="leadin">Domestic violence

Deborah J. Martin, 43, was charged with stabbing her parents - David and Anne Martin - to death last June in their Arlington Heights home.

The daughter of an Arlington Heights couple was charged with stabbing them to death June 8 hours after the family dined with neighbors. Deborah Jane Martin, 43, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of David Martin, 72, a Motorola retiree, and Anne Martin, 71, a retired Wheeling High School teacher.

Among the unsettling details prosecutors revealed during Martin's bond hearing was the discovery of a journal in which they say Martin made multiple references to killing her parents. Prosecutors also described a “bone-chilling call to 911” in which Anne Martin can be heard moaning, gasping for air and pleading “no, Debbie.”

In a separate case days later, an argument over finances and the upkeep of a home led to the shooting death of Nick Karras, 56. William Karras, 84, is accused of shooting his son in the head while Nick Karras prepared dinner in his Schaumburg home.

Prosecutors say William Karras, after being told he'd have to move out, retrieved a loaded handgun he kept under his pillow, shot his son and called police, telling them he would place the handgun he used on a table in the garage.

<h3 class="leadin">Baby killed

An Aurora woman was charged with murdering her 6-month-old son in late June by slamming his head against a piece of furniture. In December, a Kane County judge deemed Trivea S. Jones, 24, mentally unfit to stand trial and ordered her to be placed in a state mental-health hospital for a year for treatment to regain fitness.

<h3 class="leadin">Jealousy leads to murder

Kenneth Seplak, 40, was convicted of first-degree murder in June and sentenced to 78 years in prison for the fatal shooting of David Gorski on Dec. 23, 2016, in Libertyville. Authorities said Gorski was murdered for going on a date with a woman who'd rejected Seplak as a romantic partner and accused him of stalking.

When handing down a sentence in September, Lake County Judge Mark Levitt called Seplak an exceptionally dangerous man.

“In addition to destroying your life, you destroyed two families who had nothing to do with this,” Levitt said.

<h3 class="leadin">Lake County Five

Six young people from Chicago drove a stolen vehicle to a secluded Old Mill Creek neighborhood in August planning to break into a car. Instead, they were confronted by the vehicle's 75-year-old owner, and the youngest member of the group, a 14-year-old boy, died of a gunshot wound.

Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim charged the teen's five accomplices - four of them his relatives - with murder, under a state law that says participants in a criminal act that result in a person's death can be held criminally responsible for the killing.

The decision drew both praise and criticism for Nerheim, but the prosecutor ultimately did not press forward with the murder case and instead struck a plea deal with the only adult charged in the case, 18-year-old Diamond Davis, on burglary and trespassing charges. The four others faced prosecution on lesser charges in juvenile court.

<h3 class="leadin">12 years in bitcoin case

A former Loyola University Medical Center nurse who tried to hire a hitman on the dark web was sentenced in August to 12 years in prison for attempted first-degree murder. Tina Jones of Des Plaines wanted to kill her ex-lover's wife, authorities said. She turned to the dark web and paid more than $12,000 in bitcoin currency to Cosa Nostra International Network in January 2018 to kill a Woodridge woman. The site turned out to be a scam. The television program “48 Hours,” investigating such sites, discovered the hit request and reported it to local police.

<h3 class="leadin">Killing over coffee pot

Larry Lotz of Barrington was found guilty in August of second-degree murder in the deadly 2016 shooting of his wife - a slaying prosecutors said revolved around a dispute over a coffee pot.

In finding Lotz, 69, guilty, Lake County Judge Daniel Shanes dismissed testimony that the defendant was in a dissociative state when he shot his wife, Karen, during the dispute. Shanes later sentenced Lotz to 16 years in prison.

“This case started over what most married couples would call a stupid argument,” the judge said. “The argument should have stopped, but tragically it did not.”

<h3 class="leadin">Brothers charged with murder

Brothers Isaiah Y. Butler, 23, and Xavier L. Butler, 25, were charged with murdering 24-year-old Tyler Bey of Elgin Aug. 6. The shooting followed a fight and an argument in a parking lot, police said.

<h3 class="leadin">Home Depot charges

Twin brothers from Round Lake were charged by DuPage County authorities in October with retail theft and continuing financial crime enterprise, accused of stealing from Home Depot stores throughout the suburbs, including ones in Oakbrook Terrace and Downers Grove. Prosecutors said John and Michael Miotke, 43, are also suspected of doing the same, often through return fraud, in at least 19 other states, with the value estimated at more than $900,000.

<h3 class="leadin">Algonquin optometrist faces murder charges

Algonquin's Anthony R. Prate, who authorities say stabbed his girlfriend Malgorzata B. “Margaret” Daniel, 48, following a November dinner party at Daniel's Schaumburg home, faces first-degree murder charges.

Prosecutors say Prate, 55, who had optometry offices in Barrington and Lake Zurich, became upset after the dinner conversation turned to death. They say before police arrived, Prate called family members admitting he stabbed Daniel “a lot of times.”

Prate's arrest attracted the attention of McHenry County authorities, who say they are monitoring the Schaumburg case for information that might relate to the death of Prate's wife Bridget Prate. Authorities say Bridget Prate died following a March 2011 car crash in Lake in the Hills. Anthony Prate told police he lost control of the car after his wife unbuckled her seat belt to retrieve her purse and a bottle of water.

<h3 class="leadin">Bombing averted?

Batavia police and the FBI, acting on a tip from a science-supplies store, arrested a 15-year-old boy Nov. 26 after finding bomb-making materials and other explosives in his bedroom. Authorities say the boy searched online for floor plans for Batavia High School and other public buildings, and information about the Columbine High School shooting, gun simulators, the Hiroshima bomb and the school's police resource officer.

<h3 class="leadin">School bus driver charged

A school bus driver was charged with endangering the safety of children in Aurora in November, accused of drinking beer while driving them to school in the morning. According to Aurora police, a Speedway gasoline station clerk noticed that 44-year-old Michelle Passley of North Aurora, who bought two cans of beer at the station around 6 a.m., drove off in a school bus. He called the East Aurora school district, who called the bus company, who called police. Surveillance video appears to show her drinking from a 25-ounce can of Bud Ice.

<h3 class="leadin">Marci Webber case

Marci Webber, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity of killing her 4-year-old daughter in 2010 in Bloomingdale, was given conditional release from state mental-health hospitalization in December - but then ordered to return when prosecutors appealed the ruling. Webber stabbed the girl to death to prevent Satan from kidnapping her and selling her into sexual slavery, authorities said when they arrested Webber in November 2010.

Daily Herald staff writers Doug Graham, Susan Sarkauskas and Barbara Vitello contributed to this story.

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