I was called into my Chief’s office on a cold winter Friday evening in the early 90’s. The Chief had received a Crime Stoppers tip about suspicious activity occurring at a local house. Crime Stoppers had provided our agency with numerous tips that were dead ends. I’ll admit, when I was listening to my Chief brief me I doubted the validity of the information.

A confidential caller called Crime Stoppers reporting suspicious activity at a neighbor’s house. What got the neighbor’s attention was that there appeared to be man wearing a badge on a chain around his neck and what was described as dark tactical clothing. He made periodic visits during the week to a neighbor’s house. The caller also said he routinely visited the house every Friday evening between 5:00 and 6:00 PM. He always drove a full white sized travel van with side windows.

This officer never thought that a small tip would rip a 5-year mystery wide open. (Photo – George Filenko)

 

On one of his visits during the week, the tipster happened to be outside when the van arrived. The caller’s driveway bordered the neighbor’s driveway. When he got out of the van, the caller noticed he was wearing the same outfit and badge as he had on his previous visits. This was an opportunity to approach him and ask a few questions. He identified himself as a federal agent. The conversation was short. The neighbor had a feeling something just wasn’t right about him.

The tipster kept an eye on her neighbor’s house, more often keeping track of his comings and goings, narrowing down a time frame within an hour on Friday evenings.

When I looked at the tip and the detailed information, I believed I could have an impersonating a police officer case.

I set up shop in what we referred to as the “ Death Mobile” – an old, unmarked Chevy with a major exhaust leak. You could only keep it running about 15 minutes before the fumes started getting to you. It was freezing outside; the temperature was in the teens so we just went with it.

Our streets are narrow with no curbs or sidewalks, exposing you to burn any target under surveillance. I had to double-up on the distance and use binoculars. For those of you assigned to surveillance, you know that this is one of the worst assignments you could get. Percentages were always against getting any actual results.

Almost an hour into it and still no van. I started hearing strange noises outside of the car. I cracked my door open to find about a dozen or more feral cats surrounding the death mobile. I started up the car, revved the 350 and they scattered. I looked up and saw headlights pulling onto the street. The vehicle turned into the driveway of the house I was watching. To my surprise it was a full sized van, as described.

I could see an outline of a male exit the van and walk straight into the house. I decided to stay put and wait for him to leave and pull a probable cause stop. About another hour passed when the same male got into the van and started heading north, away from me. I noticed he had a burned out tail light. I called for a marked unit in the area to stop him.

A patrol officer located the van and stopped it. I arrived within a few seconds and went up to the driver and didn’t notice any tactical gear; he appeared to be dressed for a night out at the club. I did notice a badge on a chain on the center console. I asked him about the badge and he explained that he was a Security Guard at Waukegan High School. I explained why he had been stopped and asked for his driver’s license. I still had no probable cause to get into the van. Someone was definitely in my corner that night. His driver’s license was revoked.

The suspect drove a white van which police found handcuffs, tactical gear and more. (Wikipedia)

 

The patrol officer took him into custody and secured him. We started an inventory search of the van prior to towing it. As soon as we opened the double-back doors we saw a tactical vest, handcuffs, boots, an asp baton and a variety of other gear.

Our security guard explained that those were items he used at his job. We didn’t find anything that indicated or implied he was police officer. The van was towed and he was transported back to the police station for processing.

I headed back to house I had been watching to ask a few questions. The house was a two-story structure, typical for that part of town. Probably built in the 50’s and a little beaten down. A middle aged white female answered the door and invited me in. I noticed a heavy-set white male sitting in a recliner and a teenaged female sitting on the couch. Before I could get a word out, the female on the couch, who appeared to be Hispanic and in her late teens, stood up and said, “you’re looking for me.”

She completely caught me off guard. I asked her for her name and date of birth and contacted dispatch to do an inquiry. Again I was shocked when dispatch informed me she had been reported missing about 5 years ago from Waukegan. I did the math in my head. She went missing when she was 13 years old.

The story she began to tell me was incredible… almost unbelievable. She had been a student at Waukegan High School when she first met our target. She had very few friends and was in a special education program. The suspect was a security guard at the high school that approached her one day and started a conversation. It sounded like our suspect slowly began to gather information from her about, friends, family and school. This was the beginning of “grooming”.

Grooming is the process by which someone befriends and gains the trust of a child (and sometimes the child’s friends and family) in order to take advantage of the child for sexual purposes. To accomplish this, predators are masters at manipulation, often appearing kind and helpful.

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Over a period of months our suspect continued to talk to our victim always cautioning her that their friendship was a secret. He occasionally brought her treats like candy and small gifts. Eventually he began to convince her that she shouldn’t trust her family, that they were going to send her way, that they had no use for her.

At this stage a predator tries to gain the trust of the victim completely. The predator convinces them that they share a special bond. Often the concept of love and care are introduced.

Never give up, every tip should be taken seriously, anything is possible!

Examples: Feelings of love and exclusiveness are expressed by the predator. Strong compliments are given. They will say things like, “You are a sweetheart,” or “You are so cute when you look like that,” or “I feel a deep connection with you I don’t feel with anyone else.”

Eventually our predator convinced our victim that he was the only one that cared about her and that he would protect her if she went with him.

This started a journey that would take our victim to multiple locations between Illinois and Wisconsin. The suspect would rent rooms in cheap motels, rooms in houses he identified as ‘don’t ask don’t tell’

locations. These houses were usually owned or rented by individuals desperately in need of money. His fake persona as a “Federal Agent” also added to the deception and intimidation. Medical care was paid with cash. The predator provided our victim with, food, clothing and even gave her a cat as a gift to keep her company.

During the years she was missing she was repeatedly sexually assaulted and continuously reminded that her family didn’t care about her. At some point as she became older she began asking questions about her family. The predator’s attitude became more aggressive. He began telling her he would harm her family if she attempted to contact them or told anyone about their relationship.

The monster eventually made detailed admissions and was subsequently charged and convicted. He also admitted that the inquisitive neighbor worried him and he was planning on moving our victim.

I was shocked when dispatch informed me she had been reported missing about 5 years ago from Waukegan.

There are those moments in your career you never forget. Our victim’s mother and sister were at our station within an hour after they were notified. Our victim’s appearance had changed from being a child when she went missing to blossoming into an adult that her mother and sister barely recognized. There were plenty of tears hugs and thanks.

I don’t know where our victim is now or how much damage this animal did to her. I do know that when she was finally reunited with her family she at least felt a few minutes of safety and love.

Never give up; every tip should be taken seriously, anything is possible!

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