20 Years Ago Today: Brown’s Chicken Massacre
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Updated 01/08/13 – 9:43 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Tuesday marks the 20th anniversary of one of the Chicago area’s most notorious crimes: the Brown’s Chicken Massacre in Palatine.
It was on Jan. 8, 1993, that seven people were murdered inside the Brown’s Chicken and Pasta restaurant in Palatine.
Their bodies were found on the floor of a walk-in freezer.
The crime remained unsolved until 2002. But ultimately, the case was indeed solved, and the killers, Juan Luna and James Degorski, are now serving life sentences in prison. A break in the case came when a former girlfriend of Degorski’s approached police with information about the killings. Even then, it took seven more years before both men were convicted.
Prosecutors said Degorski and Luna wanted to do “something big” that night, when they entered the restaurant around closing time.
They shot the restaurants two owners, Lynn and Richard Ehlenfeldt of Arlington Heights, and five employees: Michael Castro, Guadalupe Maldonado, Thomas Mennes, Marcus Nellsen, and Rico Solis.
Police were called when family members of the workers became worried when the didn’t come home.
Officers found the seven bodies in a walk-in freezer around 3 a.m.
A number of things have changed in the years since the murders.
The restaurant was torn down long ago, and the site where it sat is now a bank.
The DNA techniques that helped convict Luna and Degorski have become even more sophisticated and common in the 10 years since police matched DNA left on a chicken bone at the scene to a saliva sample taken from Luna.
Some things haven’t changed, however.
Michael Castro’s parents, as they have through the decades, still visit him at the mausoleum where he was laid to rest. He was only 16 when he was killed.
On every anniversary of the murders, his family goes to a special mass in his memory.
His mother, Epifania Castro said the services give her comfort, “because then I know that they’re praying for him.”
“My faith saved us from all this; you know, to keep us sane,” she said.
Early on, she wasn’t so sure.
“I hate to say it, but I want to die; I thought of that. … Maybe besides that, I was so depressed, that I would want to hide in the closet.”
Twice a day, at precisely six o’clock, she prays at a shrine to her murdered boy, set up in the family living room.
Sometimes she remembers the trial and the faces of her son’s killers.
“First I said, ‘I want to do something to hurt them,’” she admits.
But those thoughts are mostly gone now.
“Just say … leave it to Jesus, he will do the judgment.”
Asked if she’s forgiven them, she says simply, “Yeah.”
At the penalty phase of the trial, the daughter of the restaurant’s slain owners, Joy Ehlenfeldt, addressed Luna in her victim impact statement.
“You are responsible for your own family’s suffering. Your family will now join ours in the circle of grief,” she said.