River Forest woman murdered on street

Estranged husband being held; killing first River Forest homicide in seven years

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By BILL DWYER

A 41 year old woman who had an order of protection against her estranged husband was beaten to death on a River Forest street just 200 feet from the River Forest police station Wednesday evening.

Therese Pender was bludgeoned, likely with a hammer found at the scene. Her husband, James Pender of Harwood Heights, was arrested without incident by police shortly after the murder when officers found him walking along nearby railroad tracks. 

The murder took place near the intersection of Park Avenue and Lake Street just after after 6 p.m. Wednesday evening. River Forest police responded to a phone call at 6:17 p.m. reporting that a woman was being beaten in front of a town home at 500 Park Ave.

At a Thursday morning press conference, Police Chief Nicholas Weiss said an officer immediately ran out of the police station, just across Lake Street on Park Avenue, and found the victim, whom he said was "non-responsive." Additional River Forest squads and officers from Oak Park and Forest Park arrived quickly on the scene. Police began searching for the attacker, who a witness stated had run northbound on Park.

Therese Pender was taken to Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, where she was pronounced dead at 7:13 p.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner's office. An autopsy is planned for later today to determine the cause of death.

As of noon Thursday James Pender was being held for questioning at the River Forest police station, and had not been charged with any crime.

According to River Forest police, Therese Pender had been living with friends for the past two months in an effort to avoid contact with her husband, James, whom she was in the process of divorcing. Ms. Pender had filed for divorce from her husband in Cook County Circuit on Dec. 17, 2004. Ten days later James Pender applied to the court to be represented as an indigent person. On Jan. 17, Therese Pender filed for the first of at least two court orders of protection, which were granted. According to Weiss, Therese Pender had contacted his department and informed them that she had a court order against her husband, and requested a special watch on the house in which she was staying.

Therese Pender, whose maiden name is Acheson, was a 1981 graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School where she was a member of the school's Symphonic Orchestra. She had reportedly lived in Oak Park until moving in with friends two months ago.

Court records indicate that the Penders may have been having financial difficulties--in 2003 the General Motors Acceptance Corp. had filed a lawsuit against a James and Therese Pender, seeking the return of a vehicle valued at $39,297.

The murder is the first homicide in River Forest since June 1998, when an Oak Park dentist, Dr. Charles W. Smith III killed his wife, Smith, now 61, is currently at Stateville Penitentiary, and is not eligible for parole until 2028, when he will be 84.

Freddie L. Williams, now 38, was convicted in 2001 of the February 2000 attack on a 53 year old River Forest woman. He's serving a 26 year sentence for a variety of felonies related to that attack.

Look for further details in the March 23 Wednesday Journal.

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