With her soft eyes, smooth skin, and an innocent smile, Madalynne Obenchain’s beauty transcends the years. Her story, however, is anecdotal proof that we can’t judge a book by its cover — or, if you prefer, beauty is only skin deep.
In the early part of the 20th century Madalynne left a trail of men in her wake — some who were willing to kill for her and others who were willing to pay to get her out of the deepest trouble one can get into.
It’s not quite accurate to call Madalynne a black widow because she was only accused of one murder and most of the men who stumbled into her web emerged alive; instead, Madalynne was a vamp: a woman whose allure could drag a man to his doom.
And Madalynne did have allure. In addition to her beauty she was rich and smart: Madalynne was once called the most beautiful co-ed at Northwestern University, which even in the 1920s was an exclusive private college. She possibly had other qualities that made men flip over her, but her skills in the bedroom were never discussed at either of her two trials for the murder of one of the men who chased her.
Of course, Madalynne’s inclusion in the Register is not because she went through men the way some of us use tissues; what qualifies her for an entry here is because she was once the center of one of the 20th century’s many Trials of the Century. Between 1921 and 1923, Madalynne and her co-conspirator, Arthur C. Burch, were tried a total of five times for the murder of one of the few men Madalynne could not twist around her little finger.
She received the best defense money could buy thanks to her wealthy ex-husband, who those same reporters dubbed “The Human Doormat” or, more favorably, the “Man in a Million.” In the end Ralph Obenchain’s money helped secure her freedom despite a hillock of evidence that pointed to her guilt.
Burch, who loved the unattainable Madalynne until his dying day, also benefited from Obenchain’s largess and got away with murder.
Madalynne’s story begins in 1914 while she was a 21-year-old student at Northwestern University outside Chicago. Prior to that time Madalynne Connor had spent most of her life in exclusive boarding schools, thanks to the wealth of her father, who was apparently unable or unwilling to care for his daughter because his wife had left him.
While at Northwestern Madalynne met and was pursued by Ralph Obenchain, a lawyer-in-training. In 1915 the “well-knit president of the senior law school class” proposed to Madalynne, who accepted.
Obenchain would have been a good catch if that is all Madalynne wanted. He was handsome, came from money, and had a good future ahead of him. But at that time Madalynne wasn’t quite ready to settle down. A spat a few months after the banns were published ended the engagement for the time being.
After her father’s will left her independently wealthy, Madalynne bid goodbye to Obenchain as well as to a much more shy admirer: Arthur Burch. Although he too came from a good family (his father was a minister), Burch was never much more than a substitute for Obenchain when the aspiring lawyer was too busy to spend time with Madalynne.
Madalynne headed to Southern California where she reunited with her estranged mother. Around the same time she met the one man that apparently she could never tame: J. Belton Kennedy, an insurance broker from a wealthy Los Angeles family. For the first time in her life she was the pursuer rather than the pursued while Kennedy remained standoffish. Madalynne chased Kennedy with the same energy that her suitors expended on her.
The accepted reason for Kennedy’s reticence to become intimate with Madalynne is perhaps the oldest in the book: a domineering mother who felt that no woman was good enough for her baby. While Kennedy’s mother was heavy-handed and overbearing, whether that truly explain’s Kennedy’s reserved manner is debatable. His conduct does seem to indicate a great deal of confusion and reluctance to commit to an intimate relationship. In the Roaring 20s, a man with Kennedy’s family background and standing was not allowed to be gay, and no newspaper would ever hint that Madalynne was only one of millions of women who held no attraction for him. Of course, it is entirely possible that Kennedy just did not like her.
“Belton felt strong stirrings, but the experienced Madalynne had to tell this timid young man he was in love,” wrote one reporter in a wire service story after the case had been concluded. “Before this his dealings with women had been formal and cautious. His mother often warned him that all women were schemers. Consequently, Belton hadn’t met many girls.”
The girls he had met were nothing like Madalynne. Throughout the rest of her life she would claim that she was truly in love with Belton Kennedy, but a more likely explanation is that she viewed the young man as a challenge. After all, he was the first man whoever failed to fawn over her.
Their relationship went beyond cordiality. They exchanged poems and letters, but while she wrote that she wanted “to tell the world” about their love, he replied that he wanted to keep the relationship secret from his parents.
“If you won’t marry me, I’m going back to my friends in Evanston,” she wrote in 1916.
When Kennedy demurred, she made good on the threat, left California, and headed back east. There she found Obenchain working as an attorney for Aetna Insurance and still single. The pair picked up where they left off. In addition she reconnected with Burch, who was married with a child. It was clear that Burch still carried a torch for the beautiful woman.
Madalynne also corresponded with Kennedy who begged her to “have faith” that one day his parents would come around and allow him to marry. Over the next several years Madalynne and Kennedy set several dates for a wedding only to have Kennedy’s cold feet prompt him to cancel them. Madalynne was also keeping time with Obenchain and continuing to string along poor Burch.
The influenza epidemic of 1918 struck both Kennedy and Madalynne; the woman who nursed her back to health was paid for by Burch. Meanwhile, Obenchain also visited her during her convalescence and proposed marriage.
“I’ll never forget (Kennedy),” she responded. “I’m going to him as soon as I am able.”
She returned to the West Coast, this time followed by Obenchain, who quit his job for her. Obenchain had to be happy playing second fiddle to Kennedy, who was still hesitant to settle down with Madalynne. Just happy to be in the orchestra, Burch willingly accepted demotion to third chair.
Kennedy did welcome her back, however; but when he continued to balk at marriage, Madalynne went back to Obenchain, who renewed his proposal for marriage.
“In a fit of pique Madalynne married Obenchain on Jan. 1, 1919,” a journalist reported during one of her trials. “The next day she told him she ‘would always love Belton.'”
Apparently resigned to his fate as Madalynne’s second choice, Obenchain returned to Chicago while his bride stayed in Los Angeles. Madalynne’s strange bluff apparently worked on Kennedy. He berated her for her “silly act” and told her his parents had acquiesced to his marriage.
Madalynne returned to Chicago where Obenchain readily agreed to a divorce.
“I’ll give you anything you want,” Obenchain reportedly said. “I just want you to be happy.” Obenchain was a man of his word. The divorce was granted 18 days after the marriage and Madalynne returned to Los Angeles expecting to marry the one man she apparently loved. It was not to be.
Despite what he told her after learning that she had married Obenchain, Kennedy continued to act aloof toward Madalynne and sealed his fate. In the spring of 1921 Kennedy made plans to marry Madalynne in Banff, Alberta, Canada, in June but once again he backed out. Next he made a date for a nice weekend in San Francisco and stood her up.
By July Madalynne had endured enough. She sent a telegram to Burch, asking that he come to Los Angeles in two weeks.
“I need you and your friend I had last summer,” the telegraph read. It was signed, perhaps inviting hubris, “Goddess.”
Even more wrapped around Madalynne’s little finger than anyone else, Burch quickly left his wife and child and headed west. He checked into the Russell Hotel across the street from Kennedy’s office and awaited instructions from his crush. The “friend” Madalynne referred to was never identified, but it is assumed that it was the shotgun Burch brought with him.
From behind jail bars a few weeks later, Burch denied that Madalynne sent him any telegram.
“I am in jail and under indictment for his murder because I threw part of a torn telegraph blank in a waste paper basket in my room at the Russell Hotel,” Burch told United Press reporter Frank Bartholomew. “They charge that this telegram was from Madalynne Obenchain, telling me to come to Los Angeles from Illinois. That is absurd. It was a message from my business partner. I will prove it.”
While not as exact as determining a suspect’s location from cell tower pings, it was not difficult to establish through Western Union records that Burch was lying to Bartholomew. According to testimony at Burch’s trial(s), he and Madalynne saw each other several times in the days before Kennedy was murdered.
While he was in Los Angeles Burch rented a car from a garage owned by Dick Parsons. After reading of Kennedy’s slaying and Burch’s involvement, Parsons told police that Burch was frequently in the company of a woman when he rented the vehicle. The cops took Parsons to a line up where he identified Madalynne as that woman.
It was Aug. 5, 1921 when Kennedy and Madalynne were driving through the foothills above Los Angeles where Kennedy had a cabin in Beverly Glen — an area bordered by Mullholland Drive on the north and Sunset Boulevard on the south. Madalynne asked Kennedy to drive to his cabin where she had once — these are her words — buried a lucky penny beneath a rock. Kennedy agreed and headed up the hills toward his death.
No one except his killer expected Kennedy to show up at his cabin that night, which makes Madalynne’s description of what happened next seem unbelievable.
When the couple arrived at the cabin they began heading up a long staircase from the parking area to the cabin itself in search of Madalynne’s lucky penny. It was too dark to see without lights, so Kennedy turned back toward the car to get some matches.
“Just as he started down the stairs to the car for matches, I heard a man’s voice and then a shot,” Madalynne told the police. “I heard him say ‘good night, Madalynne.’ I screamed. Then there was a second shot and I ran down the steps to Belton.
“Two roughly dressed men stood in the underbrush near the stairs. Both wore caps. That’s all I could see of them before they ran away.”
Madalynne ran to Beverly Glen Boulevard where she met George Deering driving on his way to work. She convinced him to return to the cabin where he found Kennedy.
It was obvious that Kennedy was dead; he had been hit by a blast from a shotgun to the head. The blast tore a two-inch hole below his right ear. The second shot missed and splintered a tree nearby.
By the time the police arrived there were plenty of gawkers, some of whom had helpful information for investigators. Elizabeth Besanty, who, along with her husband, Louis, had taken Madalynne to the Beverly Glen police station, recalled that someone who didn’t belong in the area had visited Kennedy’s cabin in the days before the murder.
“There was a young fellow up here a few days ago,” Elizabeth said. “He asked which one was Kennedy’s cabin.”
The police found new tire tracks near a gravel pit that didn’t match any vehicles in the area — a pair of Lancaster cord back tires.
While detectives combed over the crime scene, Madalynne was being questioned down at the Beverly Hills police station. When she could not explain how anyone might have known the couple was going to be in Beverly Glen that night, police began to suspect her of something more sinister than looking for a lucky penny at an unlucky time. She was held at the police station as a material witness.
The murder hit the local newspapers and even more witnesses came out of the woodwork with clues for police. The one who can honestly claim to have broken the case open was Thomas Haley, manager of the Russell Hotel. He had an interesting story to tell.
“It was July 24, about 3 o’clock when this fellow telephoned me asking if I had a room overlooking South Broadway,” Haley told Los Angeles County Prosecutor Thomas E. Woolwine. “He gave his name as Arthur C. Burch and asked me where he could rent a car. A woman he said was his cousin called on him often.
“Yesterday (the day of the murder), this cousin called in the afternoon…I gave Burch the message when he got back. He went to his room and came right down with a package about a yard long, wrapped in newspaper. He left about 7:30 and returned around 11 without the package.”
At this time this was the only lead police had to follow and Woolwine confronted Madalynne with the information that the cops were on to Burch. She immediately lawyered up and stopped cooperating. It didn’t make much difference to Woolwine who felt he had enough to take to a grand jury.
The grand jury agreed and indicted both Madalynne and Burch for the murder of Belton Kennedy.
Justice moved fast in the 1920s and on Nov. 21, 1921, Burch stood trial. The prosecutor’s explanation to the jury was that Madalynne was a woman scorned who reached out to a former beau who was willing to do anything she asked to gain her approval.
Evidence presented at the trial included the testimony of a Pullman porter who told jurors that Burch carried a shotgun with him on the train from Evanston, Ill. to Los Angeles.
Haley, the hotel proprietor, and Parsons, who rented Burch a car, also testified and identified Burch as the man with whom they dealt. Prosecutors showed that the mileage for a round trip from Parsons’s garage to Beverly Glen and back was exactly 44 miles, which is what was reflected on the odometer when Burch returned the car.
Both Elizabeth and Louis Besanty identified Burch as the man who was scoping out Kennedy’s cabin before his murder. The medic in the county jail also testified that he removed a small thorn from Burch’s knee. Similar thorns were found at the murder scene.
Burch took the stand in his own defense, recanting the claim that he had come to LA to visit a business associate. This time he told the court that he came to visit his “platonic friend” Madelynne. The “friend” to whom she referred was the nurse who had cared for her when she was ill with the flu. The nurse backed up his story that he asked her to accompany him to LA.
He held up well under cross-exam: “Burch’s demeanor during the cross-examination was one of injured innocence,” was how one reporter described it.
It took the jury three days of deliberation to announce it was hopelessly deadlocked at 11-1 for conviction. A mistrial was declared and the prosecutors vowed to retry the case.
They then turned their attention to Madalynne, a much tougher case. Recalling the witnesses who could place her with Burch, the prosecution also bolstered its case by reading more than 50 letters between Madalynne and Kennedy, and produced a surprise witness who rocked the courtroom with his testimony.
Paul Romans, another inmate in the jail had apparently made Madalynne’s acquaintance while they were incarcerated. In addition to testifying that she had asked him to claim he had heard two blackmailers discussing the murder of Kennedy, he revealed a yet-unseen side of Madalynne.
His testimony may have been false, but the series of love letters Madalynne sent him were not and they were read for the jury.
“Tonight I have a little pale pink rose near me–the rose will be your soft warm lips, dear Paul; Your nearness as I try to sleep seems like a caress.”
What you need is lot of attention, and I’m the guy to give it to you,” he wrote back, sounding more like a con than a poet.
Madalynne’s trial lasted 30 days, but it took the jury just two days to determine that it also was deadlocked. This time it was 9-3 for conviction.
Over the next couple of years the County of Los Angeles tried without success to convict Burch and Madalynne, but after a total of five deadlocked juries the state tossed in the sponge.
Madalynne disappeared from the newspapers until 1925 when the Oakland Tribune reported that she was going to give a recital at the county jail.
Ralph Obenchain married again and reportedly never saw Madalynne after the trial concluded. He died at the age of 49 in 1939.
When Burch, who was divorced twice after the trial, died in 1944, he left Madalynne $1,500 in his will, saying she was his lifelong friend.
Madalynne never remarried.
Tag Archive for Illinois
With her soft eyes, smooth skin, and an innocent smile, Madalynne Obenchain’s beauty transcends the years. Her story, however, is anecdotal proof that we can’t judge a book by its cover — or, if you prefer, beauty is only skin deep.
Police agencies across the country have adopted the Los Angeles Police Department’s motto of “To Protect and Serve,” but for the most part the motto is just something painted on a cruiser or printed on letterhead.
The question for today is just how much protection does any particular citizen deserve from law enforcement? In other words, when are the cops obligated to serve as bodyguards? Just to make it more interesting we’ll also think about how much a private citizen owes to another when the possibility of serious harm is in play.
To help answer the question, we’ll look at the tragic story of Glenview, Illinois, residents Mary Lacey, 38, and her 60-year-old mom Margaret “Dolly” Ballog. They were murdered shortly before Christmas 2004 by Mary’s common-law husband.
Their family would later claim that the police failed to protect the women despite a collection of strong circumstantial evidence that Steven Zirko, 42 years old at the time, was planning on killing Mary. Most of that evidence was in the hands of the Glenview Police Department long before the women were slain in Mary’s home.
In the end we’ll examine how the Illinois Supreme Court addressed the problem.
Mary and Zirko met and began dating in 1994. Mary had two children from an earlier marriage, and by 1998, the couple had two children together.
At Zirko’s trial for the murders in 2009, Mary’s older children both testified that after the youngest child was born, Zirko began physically abusing their mother. The children were witnesses to at least a pair of incidents. In 2000, the boy testified, he was visiting his aunt when Mary ran into the house crying that Zirko had hit her. On the day after Christmas 2002, both children saw Zirko hit Mary in the mouth. The blow was strong enough to knock her to the ground.
That punch ended the relationship and led to Mary obtaining the first of several protection orders against Zirko. She moved with the four children to Park Ridge, Illinois, while Zirko returned to live with his parents in Richmond, Illinois when he wasn’t working at his job as a piano player on cruise ships sailing the Caribbean Sea.
The ex-couple set up a system that allowed Zirko to have the children for visitation from time to time by meeting at the house of Mary’s sister. The agreement allowed Mary to keep her residence a secret from Zirko because she was so afraid of him. It was a good system in theory but not in practice.
By September of 2003 witnesses saw Zirko outside Mary’s Park Ridge home. On the 13th of September, testimony at the trial revealed, Zirko broke into Mary’s minivan and took something. Later that day, Mary’s older son saw Zirko’s car near the Park Ridge apartment as the young man was driving to visit his girlfriend. According to his testimony, Zirko spotted the boy and began following him. Rather than lead Zirko to his girlfriend’s house, the boy returned home.
Those acts resulted in Zirko’s arrest for violating the P.O. and in Mary relocating to Glenview. The arrest, which didn’t lead to any conviction, clearly infuriated Zirko, who was already taking court-mandated anger management classes. His fury led him to begin plotting Mary’s death.
The first evidence that Zirko was planning to kill the mother of his children arose in early December 2003 when Zirko complained to his chiropractor, Dr. Chad Larson, that Mary was getting parking tickets in the minivan that was registered to him. At that time Zirko asked Larson if the doctor knew of anyone who could help him regain custody of the vehicle. Larson gave Zirko the telephone number of a friend, Perry Mazlo. It’s unclear whether Larson intention was to help Zirko get the van back by fair means or foul, but Mazlo’s limited participation did not lean toward fair. As for Larson, eventually he went to the police with his suspicions that Zirko was doing more than just venting.
Mazlo met with Zirko in January 2004. He later testified that Zirko complained about Mary and said that he wanted his kids back. Mazlo also testified that Zirko said that he wanted to “off” Mary. Mazlo told Zirko that he would have to think about it and that they should have another meeting.
At their second meeting, Zirko brought a picture of Mary and said again that he wanted her “offed.” Mazlow suggested planting drugs on Mary instead, but Zirko refused and said that he still wanted her “offed.” In the end, Mazlo agreed to run surveillance on Mary for $1,000. Zirko paid him and after Mazlo followed Mary once, he asked Zirko for more money. Zirko refused and Mazlo’s role in the scheme ended.
Zirko continued to visit Larson’s office and the chiropractor became increasingly alarmed at his patient’s seething hatred for Mary. At first Zirko asked Larson if he knew anyone willing to break Mary’s legs (if you want bones broken, who better to ask than a chiropractor?) but the doctor just shrugged it off as vented frustration.
In their next appointment Zirko continued to pester the doctor for help, but raised the stakes: breaking bones wouldn’t do, he said. Zirko wanted someone to kill Mary. Larson replied that he would “look into it,” but said on the stand he had no plans to follow through. He added that he believed by promising to help but delaying things, eventually Zirko would come to his senses.
That’s not an unrealistic belief, but this was an unrealistic case.
When Zirko offered the doctor part of a $25,000 insurance policy and ten grand in cash to do the job or find someone to do it, Larson realized that things were out of control, but still he did nothing. We can argue whether Larson was acting in a moral fashion, but it is not debatable whether he violated any law by his inaction — there was none.
In the summer of 2004, when Zirko told Larson that he would be out of the country and that this would be the perfect opportunity to kill Mary, Larson again told Zirko he would look into it. Zirko called the doctor several times from Australia and even left messages asking if “it was time for him to come home.” When Zirko did return home in July, Larson finally told him that he had no intention of helping Zirko in any way kill his ex. Larson said he never expected to see Zirko again, but was surprised in October when Zirko showed up for an appointment.
This time Zirko told Larson that he had a plan to kill Mary and he needed Larson’s help in establishing an alibi. According to court documents, Zirko told Larson that he would start a pattern of visits to Larson’s office, and once the pattern was established, he would need Larson to swipe his credit card to show that he was at Larson’s office when he really was not there.
Unlike most criminals, Zirko was really thinking this through. He told the chiropractor that all of this would need to take place at the office in Palatine that did not have security cameras.
Finally sufficiently frightened, the good doctor reached out to a friend who was a Chicago detective and told him what was going on. As is typical in these types of situations, the cop decided to set up a sting operation because there was no real evidence to show that Zirko was looking for co-conspirators in his murder-for-hire plot. Larson went along with the plan and told Zirko he had found a potential killer, but perhaps something spooked Zirko because he told the chiropractor that he had made other plans and didn’t need the doc’s help anymore.
At this point (October 15, 2004) the Palatine police department became involved because the conversations between Zirko and Larson had taken place in its jurisdiction. Detectives at the department asked Larson to consider wearing a wire, and set up surveillance of Mary’s home. They briefed her on what was happening and when Larson opted not to stay involved, the cops brought Zirko in for questioning.
During that interrogation — Zirko wasn’t under arrest — he denied that he said his father was a bagman for the Chicago mob and that he had worked out a plan with his dad to whack Mary. The cops warned Zirko that they were on to him and released him, closing their case.
However, at the same time the Glenview Police Department made some promises that it may or may not have ended up keeping. That’s what the courts had to decide.
According the Mary and Dottie’s family, both Palatine and Glenview officers assured Lacey when she received her protective order that they would protect her by placing a 24-hour watch over her. The family claimed that this 24-hour watch was to include an officer posted outside Mary’s home when she was there, and an officer to follow her when she left her house.
The family also claimed (there were never any facts of this entered into evidence) that Mary called the cops multiple times requesting that they either arrest Zirko or provide the supervision and protection they promised. The departments never disputed that they did not provide her with the police protection, but later said that it didn’t matter because when Mary and Dottie were murdered, the promise had “expired” any way.
When Zirko told Larson that he had made other arrangements he wasn’t entirely lying. It’s fair to say that Zirko was aggressively trying to make other arrangements. It is clear from his actions that autumn that he was going to try to kill Mary.
Zirko approached two members of his anger management class. One he asked to procure a gun, and the other he offered $10k to “intimidate” Mary because she was keeping him from his children. He also mentioned that he had $50,000 available for anyone who might be willing to kill her. The classmate testified that Zirko repeatedly used the word “exterminate.” Fearing he was being set up for something, the man refused to help.
Evidence produced later in court showed that Zirko was planning a murder. A computer forensic investigator testified that he found the following activity on Zirko’s computer:
- A search was made on www.MapQuest.com for Mary’s Park Ridge residence at the time;
- A search for “GHB” was made;
- The web site www.legalsteroids.com/google/GHB was accessed;
- A Map Quest search from Zirko’s house to Mary’s old residence in Park Ridge was made;
- The web site www.anesthesia-nursing.com/ether was accessed;
- Searches were performed for “nitrous oxide,” “unconscious” and “liquid,” and “contract” and “killer”;
- The web site www.evidence-eliminator.com was accessed;
- There were searches performed for “hire plus mercenary,” “private detective,” “private detective Chicago,” “Chicago, private detective,” and “mercenary for hire”;
- The web pages www.privateinvestigator.com and www.youspystore.com were accessed;
- Searches were made for “hire a hitman.”
In addition there were life insurance policies on Mary and Dottie worth a total of $600,000 that also served as motivation apparently, because Zirko was also searching on real estate sites for homes for sale for more than $300,000.
On December 13, 2004, Zirko put his plan in motion. Taking matters into his own hands, he drove his girlfriend to the train station and then took her Jeep to Mary’s residence. Maybe he knew it or maybe he didn’t, but Mary had recently broken her ankle so Dottie was staying with Mary, her daughter’s new boyfriend, and her grandchildren.
It was easy for police to set a window for the time of the murders. At 10:22 a.m. Mary’s nephew heard his aunt leave a message for his mother on the answering machine, and at 11:05 a.m., Mary’s boyfriend received a phone call from a Comcast technician who was at the house to install a telephone saying no one was answering the door.
Ten minutes later Mary’s sister, Tracy, arrived and with the tech entered the house to find Mary’s bloody body lying in the doorway of her bedroom. Dottie was found near the front door, also dead. She had been shot three times in the chest.
Mary received the brunt of Zirko’s rage. The autopsy revealed that she had been stabbed 48 times mostly in the chest area with some defensive wounds on her hands and arms, sliced across her throat, and shot three times. Take a moment and think about how long it takes to stab a person 48 times and the fury a person must feel to become so violent.
With the plethora of circumstantial evidence that tied Zirko to the murder a conviction was a foregone conclusion.
- First, who else would want Mary dead that bad, and who else had made such an effort as Zirko to bring about Mary’s death.
- Next, there was evidence that bleach had been used to clean up the vehicle Zirko was driving that day and in such a fashion that damaged the carpet and fabric inside the Jeep.
- There was blood found inside the Jeep although it could not be definitively linked to anyone.
- There was all of the evidence on the computer.
- There was Zirko’s history of violence.
- There were the life insurance policies as additional motive.
- Gunshot residue was found on Zirko’s right hand.
- His cell phone pinged off a tower less than 4 miles from the crime scene around the time of the murder, although Zirko told the cops he was with his family in Chicago.
Despite the evidence, the wheels of justice would grind exceedingly slow in this case and in fact a civil suit against the cities of Palatine and Glenview went all the way up to the Illinois Supreme Court and was decided before Zirko went to trial. Zirko was convicted and sentenced to life+ in prison, where he remains to this day. He has doubtless appealed his case, but as of whenever you are reading this, he is still rotting behind bars.
What Does “Protect” Really Mean?
So, did the cities of Palatine and Glenview fail to protect Mary and Dottie? We can discard two things right away: the crimes didn’t take place in Palatine, and under the terms of the Illinois Domestic Violence Act of 1986, the courts found that Dottie wasn’t entitled to the special protection afforded under the law. The Act protects “any person abused by a family or household member” and “any person residing or employed at a private home or public shelter which is housing an abused family or household member.”
The fact that Dottie had not been listed in the original protective order trumped the fact that she was temporarily living with her daughter at a place other than her legal residence, the courts found. Because Mary was covered under the act, the court addressed the question of what duty the police have to protect any particular individual.
Section 305 of the Domestic Violence Act provides “Any act of omission or commission by any law enforcement officer acting in good faith in rendering emergency assistance or otherwise enforcing this Act shall not impose civil liability upon the law enforcement officer or his or her supervisor or employer, unless the act is a result of willful and wanton misconduct.”
Of course, there’s a legal definition of willful and wanton misconduct at play here which must be explained to the jury prior to deliberation.
One never knows when one will be asked to serve on a jury, so one should not skip the next section. Referring to oneself in the third person may help one avoid jury duty…
According to the Illinois Jury Instructions, this instruction provides: “When I use the expression ‘Willful and wanton misconduct’ I mean a course of action which [shows actual or deliberate intention to harm or which, if not intentional,] shows an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for [a person’s own safety] [and] [the safety of others].”
The parts in brackets are optional; the decision to use them is the judge’s after hearing arguments from the prosecution and defense. The last set of options is either/or, or both.
At first the trial court found that the police action (or lack thereof) did not constitute willful and wanton conduct and dismissed the suit against the police. The appeals court differed and said the Glenview PD’s actions (or lack thereof) constituted willful and wanton misconduct and sent the matter back to the court for trial.
Enter the Illinois Supreme Court.
The court described the duty of law enforcement to protect vulnerable members of society — particularly those who already at risk like victims of domestic violence.
Basing its decision on an earlier case, which held that a police department’s duty to preserve the safety of the community is owed to the public at large, rather than specific individuals, the court ruled in favor of the municipalities: “Were this court to hold to the contrary, we would create a situation where once officers were aware of the potential for violence, they would remain liable for the prevention of that violence for an indefinite period of time.”
In reality the Court had no other option when we look at recent domestic violence case statistics.
So if you wonder why — as I do from time to time — people feel the need to carry concealed weapons, or if putting more cops on the street really will prevent crimes and not just boost statistics, remember Mary Lacey and Dolly Ballog left to fend for themselves against a relentless monster.