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HBO probes Oak Park cold-case

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

September 10th, 2019 3:03 PM

Kathleen Lombardo's senior photo from Trinity High School in 1978. | Photo provided by the Lombardo family.

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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."

tim@oakpark.com