Fair Oaks murder causes public frustration

Lack of police updates

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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."

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Reader Comments

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Jonathan Konrath from Niagara Falls NY  

Posted: September 12th, 2020 12:07 AM

Tom was the most nicest person i ever met. i got to known him for 8 years. on each of my birthdays. H would send me a birthday card with 100 dollar check in it. He would never forget my birthday. I remember when he took me to dinner last december. and he paid for it. i remember me and him at home run in pizza in hillside. and i never met someone. Who generally cared about someone.That always wanted the best for someone. I remember him asking how's my mental heath was doing and when i told him i struggled with ptsd he was generally interested in knowing more. and asked how i was doing with it. He never judged me for it. Tom was the most nicest non judgmental person. I ever dealt with. When my dad walked out of my life. Tom comforted me. and was like a replacement i needed. And was always there to answer my texts or emails regarding how my dads situation was bothering me. I remember when i had to go to colorado for scans due to my brain injury from several years ago due to my decline. I was short on money. and he paid for my hotel. I remember before i had my scans. He pray with me. Before my scans. I remember when i was going to see my dad for the first time since he tried to kill me from 2012. And tom thought i was nuts seeing him. But tom saw my courage and bravery. Tom showed people who needed love sometimes a real kick in the but. I lost my best friend. Who always encouraged me to keep getting back up and keep trying. Who showed me love that i needed. If the oak park police reads know this. this incident has effected me so much emotionally and mentally even though im not even family. Do what all you can to find the person that did this. That means if a cop did it. It means doing the right thing and turning them in for justice. Its not fair to the family and friends of those to suffer from mental anguish and depression among other things. Do all you can to find the person or people. Please for all of the people suffer from this nightmare.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: September 11th, 2020 10:25 AM

40% of murders are never solved

Patricia McMillen from Chicago  

Posted: September 11th, 2020 9:26 AM

Tom Johnson was my dads law clerk in 1975-77; one of Dad's favorite people thereafter, though I'm sad to say I didn't get to know him during my 20 year residency in the Village. (I'd point the finger at my ex husband Sam Bader, or his lawyer David Goldman, but doubt that even they would go quite as far as murdering two adults in cold blood. Character assassination, gaslighting and fisticuffs is more their style.) I'm truly sick to learn of Toms and his wife's murders in Oak Park in April. With others, I call on OPPD, FBI, local police misconduct boards (Given Toms life work challenging police misconduct, I presume they are already involved in the investigation?"?), and all who love justice to double down, solve this crime and release the victims' family, friends and especially neighbors from the terrible fear and suspense they're under. As one who attended the murder trial of Rodney Adkins (which rested on some truly mind-blowing investigative work by OPPD), I know OPPD has solved knife crimes in the past; and I'm sure this one too is solvable, if the will exists.

Ernie Morales  

Posted: September 10th, 2020 6:28 PM

Les, I said the same from day one!

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: September 10th, 2020 12:31 PM

Careful, Dion. You're asking Les to let you peek into his head.

Dion Ewald  

Posted: September 10th, 2020 12:10 PM

Les, would you care to share these "obvious" reasons?

Jim Frenkel  

Posted: September 10th, 2020 8:52 AM

While it's possible (and frustrating and sad) that there's no new info to share, communication of some kind is at least warranted. I was saddened to see this new info about another horrible death here in OP that's finally getting closed--- over 2 years later. https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/oak-park/ct-oak-park-murder-solved-tl-0917-20200909-ppzhif64kfejbke2hj7eom2ime-story.html

Les Golden  

Posted: September 10th, 2020 6:49 AM

When the news of this savagery committed on fine, civic-minded, educated, cultured people broke I told Dan Haley that the case will never be solved. No clues will ever be uncovered. No progress will ever be made. For very, very obvious, and horribly frightening, reasons.

Jonathan Konrath from Niagara Falls   

Posted: September 10th, 2020 3:16 AM

Beyond bs. I just dont understand who in gods name would do this too two of the nicest people i ever met. I think its shame on the police. I also really think if they tried hard enough they could find the son of person that did this. Its not fair to the family of friends of them. To deal with the aftermath trauma and stuff on what happened to them. Come on police your better then that.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: September 9th, 2020 5:30 PM

I think, going back 25 years, the OPPD has managed to solve a very small fraction of the murders in the village. Well less than one in five. Would be interesting to see a list.

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