HBO probes Oak Park cold-case

Family hopes Golden State Killer documentary shines light on killing of Kathleen Lombardo

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

A former Oak Parker, whose bestselling book helped capture a notorious serial killer, is bringing renewed attention – by way of an HBO documentary series – to a 35-year-old cold case in Oak Park.

The late Michelle McNamara, author of the posthumously published true-crime book "I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer," is credited with helping to spark police interest in the California case, which led to the arrest of retired police officer Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. in April of 2018.

Family members of late Oak Parker Kathleen Lombardo, who was sexually assaulted and murdered in Oak Park on Aug. 1, 1984, hope an upcoming HBO documentary series based on McNamara's book could similarly help capture the Oak Park killer.

The documentary series is directed by Academy Award nominee and Emmy winner Liz Garbus, who directed the HBO documentaries "Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper" and "There's Something Wrong with Aunt Diane."

McNamara, who was 14 at the time of the Lombardo murder, lived a few blocks from the alley – between the 100 blocks of South Wesley and Euclid Avenues – where Lombardo's body was found. She wrote about it in her New York Times best seller, noting that it spurred her interest in investigating cold-case murders.

"Kathy Lombardo was gone. She wasn't coming back. But he, whomever he was, was still out there," McNamara wrote in her true crime blog in 2012. "The hollow gap of his identity was violently powerful to me. I wanted to see his face. I wanted to know who he was."

Kathleen's brother, Chris Lombardo, said HBO film crews have been to the village several times over the last year working on the documentary series. The village denied a request by Lombardo and HBO representatives for an on-camera interview with Oak Park police detective Timothy Unzicker, who is in charge of the investigation, Lombardo said.

Lombardo and HBO also met with Oak Park Police Chief LaDon Reynolds and Village Manager Cara Pavlicek in March and requested the release of evidence from the scene of the crime to be tested by a private lab with the hope of linking DNA to the killer. Oak Park also declined to release the evidence, Lombardo said.

He was told that the Oak Park Police Department has sent three pieces of evidence to the Illinois crime lab for retesting, but it is uncertain when they will see the results.

It's not the first time Lombardo has been turned down in his search for information from the village. In 2004 and 2005, he filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the police department and village but was denied by then-assistant village attorney Jack Tibbetts in December 2004, saying that releasing the documents would "interfere with a criminal investigation."

"It would also result in significant harm to a future criminal prosecution for the criminal acts against Ms. Lombardo," the rejection letter stated.

Oak Park Police Chief LaDon Reynolds recently declined to discuss the March meeting with Lombardo and HBO or the particulars of the case, but he noted that it is an active investigation. 

"The Oak Park Police Department routinely reviews cold cases to ascertain whether or not the latest forensics technological advances can help us to solve these cases," he told Wednesday Journal.

Lombardo said the cold case has been on Unzicker's desk for more than a decade. 

"Oak Park keeps saying there's an ongoing investigation, but there's not much going on with it," Lombardo said.

Lombardo noted that he is not being paid by HBO and is working with the filmmakers to "bring attention to the case." 

"Oak Park would look bad if a video production company solved the crime after they sat on it for 35 years," Lombardo said.

Chris is not the only family member holding out hope that new information could help solve the crime.

Dominic Lombardo, Kathleen's older brother, said in an interview that he is encouraged by the growing interest in cold-case murders from shows and podcasts such as "Serial" and "Making a Murderer" to help solve the case.

He said throughout the years he said he has returned to the site where the murder took place on the anniversary of his sister's death to pray the rosary. 

"If you look at that alley now, it's paved and there's bright lighting up and down that alley," he said. 

He made an impassioned plea on Facebook on the 35th anniversary of her murder, calling on anyone with information to come forward.

Dominic Lombardo said he believes someone knows about the crime and could still help put the murderer behind bars. "There may not be an active investigation going on right now, but law-enforcement agencies NEVER completely close the door on cold cases like this one until it is solved," Dominic Lombardo wrote.

He later added: "I remain convinced that there is at least one someone, possibly more than one, still out there wrestling with his/her conscience – possibly living in fear," he wrote. "Pray that he/she may have the courage to do the right thing TODAY by picking up the phone and calling both the Cook County State's Attorney's Office (773-674-2700 or 312-603-1880) and the Oak Park Police Department (708-434-1636; that's the anonymous tip line) and giving both agencies complete, truthful, up-to-the-minute information as to the name and current whereabouts of the perpetrator at this time."

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Reader Comments

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Carl M. Cole  

Posted: September 26th, 2019 7:35 AM

I have no personal knowledge of the case, but if it were me researching it I would be wondering if there is some connection to Scoville Park, since the crime scene was near there and I happen to know that some unsavory characters were hanging around at the park around that time period. (I hung out a lot there in the seventies, but my late wife Debi was often there in the early eighties, and had an incident where one guy tried to abduct her).

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: September 12th, 2019 7:41 PM

And a former uniformed police officer.

Wendy Milewski Planek  

Posted: September 12th, 2019 7:08 PM

Joseph James DeAngelo, the Golden State Killer and focus of the Michelle McNamara's book "I'll Be Gone in the Dark" was captured. The killer of Kathleen Lombardo has never been caught.

Debbie Brown  

Posted: September 12th, 2019 9:49 AM

I thought they arrested someone for this last year?

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: September 12th, 2019 9:44 AM

This is not a question of being incompetent or unprofessional, this is a question of what an agency "sees" in the evidence, and the mind set of the agency as to approach or structure. Since there are some 12 unsolved murders and an unsolved child abduction structure and approach must be taken into consideration. It may be possible that there is no further evidence or presently no new technology to test the evidence on hand. Structure, and control. approach. As a Resident Beat Officer I attended the Chicago P.D. 2513 CAPS meeting. I took a flyer with a photo of a suspect wanted for a subject living in Beat 2513.I marked down on my work sheet that I distributed the flyer to Chicago Officers only. I was told that the distribution of the flyer, marked for police officers only was improper because I didn't seek authorization to distribute the flyer and that the warrant was sent to the Area detective to serve the warrant. The 2513 officers picked up the subject within hours after the end of the 2513 meeting. Structure ,control and approach. Please consider the police want control over the investigation and evidence or lack of evidence in hopes of arresting someone on a guarded fact or unstated evidence, plus the planting of fake information to sort the people who might want to confess to something they did not commit Out of sight out of mind.. I have posted this before. In the roll call room post the photos of all murder victims in life and death with a written reminder to all officers that there is work needed to be completed on these cases. just to make a statement clear, no police officer will ever testify on the stand for a felony until a complaint has been authorized by a States Attorney. Checks and balances. .

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: September 12th, 2019 9:18 AM

Thank you, Wes. Very well put. I'd emphasize that HBO will not be held to any legal standards of procedure in their handling of whatever story they craft, while OP police will most certainly be held to those standards.

Wes Gathings  

Posted: September 12th, 2019 2:20 AM

Really guys? This is not Law & Order. It is not uncommon for decades to pass before there are new developments in a cold case. That's what makes it cold. They review it over and over and over, only to find the same results they've been finding. Roxy says it's a ridiculous amount of time and nothing has happened. Well what's an acceptable amount of time when you don't have. Ew evidence or leads? Devona says OPPD needs to remember who they work for. They work for Oak Park, not for HBO. HBO is for profit and they won't produce a show, I don't care how much closure it provides, if there is no profit to be made. In the end, it'll be Oak Park cops on the stand at the trial and responsible for mistskes and errors in evidence. There is nothing in this article suggesting that their handling of this case was incompetent or unprofessional but here people are on the reality TV bandwagon.

Devona Traver from Spring Grove   

Posted: September 11th, 2019 4:15 PM

Oak Park Police Dept. needs to remember who they work for. They need to do everything they can and test every piece of evidence again or finally. Growing up in Oak Park, I can't imagine they would not. I know both families from St. Edmunds and Michelle McNamara dedicated most of her life to solving this horrific crime which was unheard of in Oak Park. OPPD needs to honor both of their memories by helping solve this case.

Roxy Cheely Kazda from Oak Park  

Posted: September 11th, 2019 2:15 PM

That is a ridiculous amount of time with nothing happening with the Lombardo case. I applaud the brothers working with HBO. The family deserves closure!

Kevin Manion from Rochelle  

Posted: September 11th, 2019 11:34 AM

I think the family deserves closure and that the best outcome could be that the killer/killers be caught!!!

Jolyn Crawford  

Posted: September 10th, 2019 4:56 PM

This is good news. I hope the killer is still alive, so he can be found and punished and the family can have closure.

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