The deaths of beloved community members and highly accomplished lawyers Leslie Ann Jones and Tom Johnson rocked the wider Chicago area, after the married couple sustained fatal multiple sharp force injuries in their Fair Oaks Avenue home April 13. Almost six months later, the Oak Park Police Department has given little in the way of updates into the double homicide investigation, leaving some people frustrated and concerned.
“It’s begun to feel like it’s a cold case,” said Diane Redleaf, a neighbor and former colleague.
From the onset of the investigation, police stayed mum on a multitude of details, including whether they had found a murder weapon, knew of any suspects or the type of assistance they have received from other law enforcement agencies, including the West Suburban Major Crimes Task Force and the FBI.
Even now, the police have little to say when pressed for information.
“There are no new updates to be shared,” Detective Sergeant Angelo Epsicopo wrote in a Sept. 8 email to Wednesday Journal.
Redleaf believes that the investigation may have taken a backseat after protests and calls for police reform swept the nation in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
“Yes, they’re under fire but that would suggest they need to do a better job of responding to the community and being more responsive,” Redleaf said.
The investigation and the frustration surrounding it has become a common topic of discussion among friends and neighbors of Jones and Johnson.
“I’ve had this conversation with around a dozen people,” Redleaf said. “I think people are starting to feel like we should have heard something by now.”
The lack of police communication has also caused Redleaf to worry about the safety of the neighborhood.
“You start to worry. You start to wonder because police had indicated that neighbors had nothing to worry about,” Redleaf said. “There were things that were said early on I think that made people who were neighbors and friends feel like the police investigation was proceeding expeditiously.”
The crime at the center of the investigation is deeply upsetting and the limited insight the public has into the process of solving it has engendered consternation.
“I think murder is rare in Oak Park. It’s rare with people too who are leaders of the community. I think there’s this sense of it’s unacceptable for it not be solved,” said Redleaf, who acknowledged that many murders go unsolved.
Former colleague Bob Lehrer believes that any communication from police would be better than the current silence.
“Even if police said, ‘We’ve done what we can. We’ve reached a complete dead end. We really have no evidence to point to anyone in particular,’ that would be better than the situation now,” said Lehrer.
Lehrer, an attorney himself, stated that police are able to give plenty of updates without compromising the investigation.
“They don’t have to disclose names or anything like that, but just give a summary of what’s been done,” said Lerher.
Rita McLennon, former colleague and neighbor said she checks the internet every morning for updates into the investigation.
“The first thing I do is Google the Oak Leaves and Wednesday Journal for updates,” said McLennon.
The lack of information police have given the community she finds deeply frustrating.
“We know that it’s an investigation, so they can’t talk a lot. But there’s some things that they can say to reassure their family and friends and the community that, you know, something is going on here,” said McLennon.
McLennon called the gruesome nature of Jones and Johnson’s deaths an “extraordinary murder” that is not “typical of Oak Park.”
“It’s just really a great concern for all of us, and we all need to have some sense that the police are still working on this,” said McLennon.
For local artist Margot McMahon, who worked with Jones on the Oak Park Area Arts Council, the murder has added a new layer to the national discussion of police practices.
“The silence about Tom Johnson and Leslie Jones death has contributed to tides of anxiety and ebbs of low feelings with upwells of great sorrow,” McMahon said. “I’m cautious about a breaking point.”