Investigator: Time Has Not Run Out on Unsolved Percy Murder
In part two of Patch's Valerie Percy series, we hear from frustrated investigators and how history weighs on the case.
The following is the second-part of Patch's investigative look at the unsolved murder of Valerie Percy, Kenilworth's first homicide case. Read part one here.
Valerie was bludgeoned to death in her bed in 1966, five weeks before her father, Charles Percy, was elected Senator for Illinois. Former investigators claim that a combination of interference from Percy’s political aides, missed opportunities to gather evidence and a police force inexperienced in murders are to blame for the lack of an arrest. Patch spoke with former detectives as well as the current investigator on the murder to shed light on the cold case.
Former Illinois State Police Detective Robert Lamb, 78, and his colleagues joined the Percy case eight days after the killing, while Percy and his family were in California. Lamb recalls the investigation was monumental, and has retained an extensive case logbook and other information.
Lamb maintains state police were the only ones with the necessary resources to bring order to the high profile investigation, which included police from Kenilworth and surrounding communities, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, Chicago police and the FBI. Lamb said state investigators did not communicate directly with the Percys until after they returned to Illinois on Oct. 5 — 17 days after the murder. By that time the investigation had gone cold.
“The first week we were just trying to get the system going, the files,” said Lamb, who recalls hundreds of leads flooding in early on. State police assigned them to detectives from area communities but, according to Lamb, their reports often failed to reach the state’s team of investigators.
Joe Dileonardi, a former Chicago Police Detective, was also frustrated that other people he considered potential suspects were ignored.
Percy’s butler told the then detective that numerous Percy campaign workers had visited the family’s home that summer, meaning any of them could have known where Valerie’s bedroom was located, and would thus be suspects.
“I wanted to polygraph some of them,” Dileonardi said. But that idea apparently didn’t sit well with Kenilworth’s chief of police, the late Robert Daley. “(Daley) was really startled when I wanted to polygraph. I wanted to do the job I was sent there to do, and was asked to do. He was a-don’t-rock-the –boat-kind of guy. Daley said, ‘this is a pristine town.’”
Meanwhile a day after the killing, Dileonardi requested to see the victim’s purse and personal belongings. The purse was delivered, but according to Dileonardi, it had been tampered with.
“It appeared to be sanitized. In other words, there was nothing in the purse that was significant to the investigation,” Dileonardi told Patch. The purse contained nothing of a personal nature, no photos, addresses or business cards, only generic items like keys.
“[I] hope they tell the whole story sometime,” Dileonardi quipped after reading a Tribune story about Hohf’s account in June.
Current investigator Dave Miller, who was not involved during the start of the investigation, said no factual basis exists to support the allegation of tampering. “The crime scene was preserved by responding officers and processed by forensic specialists from the Chicago Crime Lab,” he said.
As Time Goes On
Other than the police spokesman’s comments in the Sun-Times story, no one in 1966 publicly questioned whether Percy’s political aides were interfering with a police investigation by positioning themselves between police and witnesses in a murder case.
Yet Dileonardi remains convinced that Percy’s aides hindered the investigation.
“The one reason for not solving the crime is the distinct lack of cooperation from Percy's handlers. They didn't want anything to come out that would hamper their campaign,” Dileonardi said.
But Miller said he knows of no interference and attributes the delay in solving the case to initial disorganization. And as the years roll on, Miller stresses the difficulty of accurately understanding the history of such a complicated case.
“I think the more time that passes the more of a disadvantage you have trying to solve the case. Time has not run out on this case however,” he said. “Every time I hear about a cold case being solved, I think of this case and hope that the same occurs with this one.”
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