In most mass murders, there's no need for an investigation. The killer is usually dead at the scene, done in by his own hand or by a bullet from police.
The massacre of seven people last weekend at Brown's Chicken & Pasta in Palatine was not like most mass murders.
There was no killer lying dead, no clear motive, no obvious link between the victims and their assailants.So police are left with a daunting task: finding the killers, even as their trail grows colder.
The 60 members of the investigative task force have no eyewitnesses, have not recovered the murder weapons and have yet to identify any primary suspects. And the clock is ticking.
"The longer it goes, the more chance you have of developing more information," said Cmdr. James Maurer of the Chicago Police Department, looking at the bright side. "But as a general rule, the longer homicide cases go, the harder it is to reach a conclusion."
On top of the time pressures, investigators are laboring under intense public scrutiny, where their mistakes are magnified and their leads can take on unwarranted significance.
Take, for example, the arrest Friday afternoon of a Schaumburg man wanted on two warrants unrelated to the Palatine case.
After police reportedly got a tip that the man may have been involved in the massacre, they looked into his history, staked out his home and then brought him in.
If he ended up being connected to the crime, as now appears unlikely, it would be hailed as a great move; if he didn't, well, he was wanted on other charges anyway.
It was basic work. Get a lead, check it out and follow it up. But under the glare of media lights and community interest, the arrest was momentarily deemed a major break in the case.
Investigators, and the community still grieving over the seven deaths, face more days like Friday because there is no handbook for solving mass murders. It's a basic homicide investigation, only the physical evidence is greater, the spotlight is brighter and the stakes are higher.
"What it boils down to in any homicide investigation is shoe leather," said Maurer, who has been involved in thousands of homicide investigations in Chicago. "It takes a lot of walking and a lot of talking, it takes following things that lead you absolutely nowhere."
It also may take something else.
"They'll need some luck," said Jack Levin, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University in Boston and the author of "Mass Murder: America's Growing Menace."
"Mass murders have never been a challenge to law enforcement, and they still aren't, because the vast majority of mass murders are resolved at the scene," Levin said. "Most times where that's not the case, it's killers who commit armed robbery and then kill large numbers to eliminate witnesses."
Often, Levin said, those crimes are solved only when police catch a break.
"One of the killers makes a mistake and is arrested, or searched, or brought in on another charge and then snitches," Levin said.
That was the case in 1979, when Verna Stafford was arrested by police investigating the murder of six people at a Sirloin Stockade restaurant in Oklahoma City in July 1978.
Stafford told police where her husband, Roger Dale, was living, then testified against him at his trial. He ended up on Death Row; she is serving 30 years to life in prison for her role in the massacre.
Tips from citizens also play a major role in solving homicides, and mass murders are no different.
An anonymous informant helped solve the 1974 slaying of six people at a bakery in New Britain, Conn., according to New Britain police Detective Ronald Bielomyza.
"It started out as an armed robbery of a package liquor store next door that went sour," Bielomyza said. "The store closed at 8 o'clock, the robbers were drunk and got there late, so they went to rob the bakery."
Someone in the store recognized the men, the detective said, and they opened fire on all five people, 2 employees and 3 customers.
A man who came in during the robbery to ask for directions also was killed.
Police arrived at the scene within minutes. The state police were called in, hundreds of pounds of evidence were collected, and for three weeks detectives looked into every lead.
After a caller's tip, police dragged a local lake and found one of the murder weapons. Then an informant who knew the killers came forward, leading police to the arrest of Ronald Piskorski and Gary Schrager.
Both men are in prison.
"It was superior investigative techniques," Bielomyza said, laughing. "Well, we got lucky."
In Austin, Texas, where four teenage girls were robbed, raped and then shot at a yogurt shop in December 1991, police are still hoping for the lead that will break their case.
A multi-jurisdictional task force made up of an agent from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, an FBI agent, an arson investigator from the Austin Fire Department, a Texas Ranger and five Austin police detectives is working exclusively on the case.
The Mexican government has arrested two men in an unrelated crime and accused them of culpability in the yogurt shop slayings, but Austin police officially remain unconvinced. "The two men are among the 1,081 suspects we have in this case," Austin police Senior Sgt. R.R. Smith said without exaggeration.
Texas officials appear committed to funding the task force until the crime is solved, and that aspect in itself shows how different mass murders are from other homicide cases.
Maurer points out that after a while, his detectives would have to abandon certain dead-end cases for fresher, more promising ones.
That's not going to happen with the Palatine murders, no matter how bleak the investigation may become.
"They'll stay on this until they solve it," Maurer said. "Somebody's going to talk. Somebody's going to shoot his mouth off."
Until that happens, the Palatine task force is fielding hundreds of phone calls a day-a total of more than 1,150 by Friday evening-and continuing to examine the physical evidence and follow up on statements by witnesses.
Two more FBI agents were dispatched from the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., to help put a priority on leads and judge the value of tips to the Palatine Police Department hot line.
"There is a sense of team-building, a mingling of talents," one law-enforcement source said Friday night.
"There are a number of very good leads yet to pursue. The case is not dead by any sense of the imagination."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun