50 years later: How the De Mau Mau murders changed Barrington Hills
Fritz Gohl remembers growing up in Barrington Hills during the 1950s and 1960s when nobody locked their doors. That changed on Aug. 5, 1972, after residents of the affluent Northwest suburb awoke to the news that four of their neighbors had been murdered in their home in what appeared to be a robbery gone wrong.
The tragedy, which unfolded 50 years ago Thursday, claimed the lives of 67-year-old Paul Corbett, a retired insurance executive; his 58-year-old wife, Marion, a pianist and composer; her daughter Barbara Boand, 22; and Marion's sister Dorothy Derry, 60.
One police officer described the killings as "wholesale slaughter."
Coming 10 years before the Tylenol murders based in the suburbs and more than two decades before the Brown's Chicken massacre in Palatine -- seven were killed in each of those cases -- the shooting deaths of four people inside a Barrington Hills estate dispelled the notion that the suburbs were somehow immune to the staggering violence that affects other communities.
In the aftermath, families bought guns and guard dogs, said Gohl, a Barrington Township trustee who previously served 16 years as a Barrington Hills village trustee.
"People were quite concerned," Gohl said. "Was this random, or was something else involved?"
In a 1972 report, Time magazine compared the slayings to the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders committed by the Manson Family and quoted then-Cook County Sheriff Richard Elrod positing that racial hatred "could have been one of the primary motives" for the murders. While the victims were chosen at random, published reports focused on the fact that the victims were white and the assailants were Black.
It all began when four strangers showed up at the Corbett house on Aug. 4, 1972, asking for directions.
Donald Taylor, his brother Reuben Taylor, Michael Clark and Nathaniel Burse were 20-something Vietnam War veterans identified as members of De Mau Mau, a loosely organized militant group whose members were implicated in slayings in Highland Park, Monee and southern Illinois. Authorities said the crimes were racially motivated.
The men drove from Chicago on the Northwest Tollway in search of victims and ended up at the Corbett home. Donald Taylor knocked on the door and pointed a .25 caliber pistol in the face of Marion Corbett, according to a 2016 Illinois Prisoner Review Board report from attorneys seeking parole for Reuben Taylor.
The home invaders forced the victims into the pantry at gunpoint, ripped out the telephone cord and demanded money and jewelry, according to the report. After the men ordered the victims to lie face down on the floor, one of the family dogs began barking.
Donald Taylor threw a knife at the dog, injuring him. When Boand yelled at him to leave the dog alone, Reuben Taylor shot her in the chest, killing her. The men subsequently shot the remaining victims.
The bodies were discovered later that evening by Boand's brother, Anthony, when he arrived to return a borrowed car.
The Taylor brothers and Clark were convicted of the murders in 1974 and sentenced to more than 100-year terms. Burse was killed in the Lake County jail, where he was being held on another matter.
Donald Taylor died in prison in 1991, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections.
On the website of the Uptown People's Law Center in Chicago, former intern Arielle Tolman described working on Reuben Taylor's 2017 appeal before the Prisoner Review Board. She characterized De Mau Mau as a group formed by Black Marines who served in Vietnam in response to the racism they experienced. According to Tolman, the Chicago branch was a loosely organized group established to "foster Black consciousness."
In the wake of such racially charged Chicago events as the riots after the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1969 murder of Black Panther co-chairman Fred Hampton, the Barrington Hills murders fostered "a full-blown racial panic," she wrote. That perception was fueled by elected officials characterizing De Mau Mau members as coldblooded killers.
Ultimately, Reuben Taylor was paroled on April 27, 2018. Clark was paroled on July 3, 2019. Information on their post-parole lives was not available from the Illinois Department of Corrections.
No community is immune
Cases like the Barrington Hills murders fall outside the norm, said criminologist David Olson, a Loyola University professor of criminal justice and co-director of its Center for Criminal Justice Research.
The typical homicide takes place in a large, urban area, and the victims and perpetrators have some kind of relationship, meaning they are known to each other. For that reason, homicides in suburban and rural areas, where the victims and perpetrators aren't known to each other, achieve a level of notoriety, Olson said.
"It strikes fear in people's minds that criminals go looking for victims, and that's not necessarily the case," Olson said, adding that the randomness makes people fearful.
Tougher sentences and increased resources for law enforcement result from such crimes, said Olson, who studies how crime affects policy.
"At the community level, it can result in concerns about outsiders, people who don't look like they belong," he said, leading residents to purchase security systems and firearms. In the individual, it can create trauma that "has a profound effect on people and can last generations," Olson said.
It creates a feeling that "even if you lock your doors, you're still not safe," he said.
Olson, who lives in Arlington Heights, looks at it this way: "Is Chicago dangerous? Not all parts of it. Is Arlington Heights safe? Is Schaumburg safe? Yes. Are there certain parts that are less safe? Yes," he said, "But again, it's not random. It's people who know each other who are victimizing each other."
No community, said DePaul University Professor Geneva Brown, is immune to violence. And the randomness of the Barrington Hills murders doesn't mitigate its horror.
"It doesn't minimize the pain and the actual violence that was meted on the family. It was a horrible crime," said Brown, who posits that poverty, alienation, anger and disillusionment may have factored into the assailants' motives.
"I can't explain why the crime happened, only the potential societal motivations that may have been an aspect of it," she said. "We have to brace ourselves for the social conditions that created the randomness of violence, whether it's in Barrington or on the South Side of Chicago."
The challenge is to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening in any community, Brown said. That means addressing "the underlying conditions that created the alienation, psychological trauma and disassociation to mete violence out for your own economic gain, or for the warped idea that you can take what doesn't belong to you simply because you don't have anything."
Regardless of motive, Barrington Hills Police Chief Joseph Colditz, who joined the department in 1998, said the murders serve as a reminder that no community is immune from violent crime.
"These things can happen anywhere," he said. "It's important to stay vigilant in terms of security and safety."