Known for corruption and crime, Chicago has a bad reputation with some of the most well known massacre stories out there and this week marks the 25th anniversary of one such massacre which left seven families mourning their losses.
January 8 brings a day of consideration for Frank Portillo Jr. who was the president of Brown’s Chicken and Pasta in 1993 when the Brown’s Chicken Massacre took place, according to the Daily Herald. It was that day that seven employees—owners, Richard E. Ehlenfeldt and Lynn W. Ehlenfeldt, plus employees Guadalupe Maldonado, Michael C. Castro, Rico L. Solis, Thomas Mennes and Marcus Nellsen—lost their lives.
The incident occurred when two assailants entered the restaurant in Palatine for a robber and the case remained open for a decade while police worked to convict the perpetrators, according to Rolling Stone. Portillo said he can still recall racing to the scene after seeing what happened on television early that morning.
“I’ve never experienced such emotion in my entire life,” Portillo, 84, told the Daily Herald. “It is just something that will probably be with me until the day I die. I don’t cry anymore. It used to be for a long time, I’d think of it and tears would come into my eyes when I would talk about it.”
The killers stole a sum of $2000 from the restaurant and placed the bodies of their victims in a walk in refrigerator where police recovered them and launched the investigation, according to CBS.
The case quickly gained notoriety and became one of Chicago’s greatest mysteries as the killers went untouched for 10 years until being convicted in 2002. Police were able to obtain a lead from Anne Lockett, a former girlfriend of James Degorski, who tipped police on her ex-boyfriend and his associate, Juan Luna.
Degorski was an employee at Brown’s Chicken at the time of the massacre and Luna had previously been employed at the same location. The men were 18 and 20 years old and Lockett, who had been dating Degorski at the time, was threatened to lose her life if she revealed their secret, causing her to hold onto the key to solving this mystery for nine years.
Luna confessed to the crime in May of 2002, telling detectives he and Degorski went into the eatery right before closing, ordered a meal and then forced employees into the back where they killed them. Luna was convicted for his crimes in 2007 on seven counts of murder and Degorski’s conviction followed two years later.
Both men were met to face imprisonment for life and almost saw the death penalty as a form of punishment, though their juries did not reach the unanimous consent to pass capital punishment on them.
Portillo said his feelings surrounding the events will never compare to those faced by the victim’s families who continue to face reminders of their losses. One such reminder was the news that Degorski, still serving his life sentence without parole, was awarded $451,000 in 2014 after winning a civil rights lawsuit against a former Cook County jail guard accused of beating the convict.
“To me, it’s like he was paid to kill,” Epifania Castro, the mother of 16-year-old victim, Micahel, told the Chicago Tribune in 2014. “He got rewarded and he’s a killer.”
Where seven murders once took place there now stands a Chase Bank which some customers still refuse to enter on the notion that the location is sacred to those who lost their lives.
The Brown’s Chicken franchise was never the same as they took a nose dive following the massacre and Portillo, who was advised to change the name of the chain, refused to do so as a sign of respect and loyalty to John Brown who opened the first Brown’s Chicken in Bridgeview in 1949.