'They never gave up on the case': DuPage detectives honored for solving Wesselman murder
The hunt for 15-year-old Kristy Wesselman's killer was more than three decades old by the fall of 2015, but it wasn't a "cold" case. Not for Kristy's family, and not for the DuPage County sheriff's detectives who relentlessly pursued the case.
Kristy, then a sophomore at Glenbard South High School, was sexually assaulted and stabbed to death July 21, 1985, while walking along a wooded path not far from her Glen Ellyn-area home. Her body was found in a pile of leaves the next day.
For a long time it seemed like her killer might never see justice. Then came the unexpected: a DNA sample taken from a Champaign man after his domestic battery conviction linked him to the slaying. Detectives Tiffany Wayda and David Molzhan pounced, and in a matter of days they had Kristy's killer behind bars.
Their efforts earned the pair the Chicago Crime Commission's Law Enforcement Meritorious Service Award, which they accepted Wednesday during the organization's Stars of Distinction dinner.
DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin nominated Wayda and Molzhan for the honor. He told us Kristy's murder cast a "dark cloud" over the community for decades.
"These two detectives worked tirelessly on it for many, many years," he said. "They never gave up on the case."
For Wayda, a 19-year sheriff's office veteran, a byproduct of working the case was developing a close relationship with Kristy's family, particularly her mother and sister. They spoke as recently as last week.
"To me, it did not feel like a cold case. To them, it was just like it happened yesterday," she told us Thursday. "It consumed me. They needed some justice. It meant everything to be able to give them that justice."
Before Michael R. Jones' arrest in September 2015, Kristy's murder was the "most notorious" and disturbing open case in DuPage County, Molzhan tells us. "He was the boogeyman."
The detectives' work went beyond just tracking down Jones and the evidence that led to his arrest. Once authorities decided to charge Jones, Wayda flew to Colorado to inform Kristy's mom, Sandra Wesselman, in person.
"It required something more than just a phone call," Berlin said. "To me, that just speaks volumes about the detectives' dedication to this case. That's how much it meant to them, and they knew how much it meant to Sandy and the family."
Jones, 65, pleaded guilty to Kristy's murder earlier this year. He's serving an 80-year prison sentence.
<h3 class="leadin">Other honorees
Wayda and Molzhan weren't the only suburban law enforcement officers honored by the crime commission Wednesday night.
The McHenry County sheriff's Narcotics Task Force won the Law Enforcement Excellence by a Task Force Award for its work to track down and arrest drug dealers responsible for deadly opiate overdoses.
And the Paws of Distinction Award went to Lake County sheriff's canine Boomer and his human partner, Deputy Brian Kilpatrick. The aptly named Boomer is the only police dog in Lake County trained to detect explosives and recently won first place in multiple categories at a police dog competition.
Kilpatrick and Boomer are regulars at local schools, where they make appearances to help build relationships between students and law enforcement.
<h3 class="leadin">No break for classroom killer
Ricky Quezada didn't have the best childhood and at 15 years old had fallen under the influence of older gang members who led him far astray.
Is that enough to cut him a break on the 45-year prison sentence he's serving for executing a 14-year-old rival in an Elgin classroom?
A state appeals court said no this month, rejecting Quezada's argument that the Kane County judge who gave him the long term - effectively a life sentence, the former Elgin resident says - failed to consider his youthfulness and other life circumstances. The Supreme Court has ruled such lengthy sentences for juveniles unconstitutional except in rare cases.
Quezada's case, the appellate court found, is one of those exceptions.
His killing of Hugo Rodriguez shocked many in the suburbs, not just because it happened in a classroom but for a ruthlessness that had a judge calling Quezada a "coldblooded, coldhearted, merciless killer."
Authorities said Quezada, egged on by older gang members, walked into the Ombudsman Educational Services school on Elgin's west side Feb. 11, 1999, armed with a .45-caliber handgun and wearing a bandanna covering part of his face. He found Rodriguez sitting at a computer station and shot him in the back several times as the boy tried to flee.
While Rodriguez was on the floor unable to escape, Quezada placed the gun behind his right ear and fired one last shot before fleeing in a getaway car.
In their unanimous decision, appellate court justices shared the opinion of the Kane County judge who sentenced Quezada that a long prison stay was deserved, even at his young age.
Quezada is serving his time in the maximum security Stateville Correctional Center. As it stands, he won't be eligible for parole until 2045.
<h3 class="leadin">Holidays behind bars
"Festive" doesn't spring to mind when you talk about the Illinois Youth Center in St. Charles, home to more than 300 young men who've run far afoul of the law.
But for more than 20 years, the Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva has held a holiday party for residents there who don't normally have visitors.
The church is looking for donations to buy personal-care items for the young men, such as socks and body wash. It also needs volunteers to help with the party, which will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Dec. 15.
Volunteers need to submit their names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers today to Melissa Auer, at firstname.lastname@example.org, so a background check can be done. She's also the person to contact about making a donation.
<h3 class="leadin">Missing something?
Can't find your keys, eyeglasses, iPad? Naperville police is reminding people that it has a pile of found items.
Items found on Naperville streets, without any marks that identify their owners, are kept at least six months, under state law. After that, Naperville sells the items on propertyroom.com.
Not surprisingly, 28 of the 63 items are bicycles. There's also a Tiffany bracelet. And perhaps the most unusual, "money production props." As in, fake money used in the entertainment industry. (Wonder if it was dropped by whoever was using prop $50s last year in Aurora.)
Want to check for something? Visit naperville.il.us, on the police department's page.
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