At nearly the same hour Kelli O’Laughlin’s parents buried their 14-year-old daughter this morning, police in Illinois announced an arrest in the teen’s brutal killing.
They also revealed that they believe the suspect had sent “taunting and disturbing” text messages to the girl’s mother, using her dead daughter’s cell phone.
John L. Wilson, Jr, whose last known address was in Chicago, was charged with first degree murder and residential burglary. He is being held without bond.
According to prosecutors, Wilson, 38, attacked Kelli with a knife from the O’Laughlin’s kitchen butcher block after the high school freshman came home from school and walked in on a burglary. She was stabbed repeatedly in the back, neck and chest.
“It was obviously a very horrific crime that was committed, and then to have the mother of the victim to be subjected to taunts from someone who did this..words can’t describe this,” said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.
“There are no words to really describe how horrific this is,” said Cook County Prosecutor Anita Alvarez, who said this case brought veteran investigators and prosecutors to tears. “All of us who have teenagers are haunted by the sickness of this crime and the total disregard for life displayed by this defendant.”
Kelli O’Laughlin got off her school bus at 3:40 p.m. last Thursday, and walked in on Wilson, who had broken into her family’s home, Alvarez said. Wilson allegedly stabbed the teen, and fled with a bowl of foreign coins, the girl’s Ipod Touch, and her cell phone. Investigators say three witnesses saw Wilson leave the house, and were able to later identify him in a police line-up.
Detectives had tracked Wilson down using a key piece of evidence left at the scene. A wool cap with a rock inside had reportedly been used to break a window in the home. DNA tests conducted on the hat led investigators to Wilson, who has a long criminal history, including a conviction for armed robbery.
Then, investigators zeroed in on Wilson using Kelli’s stolen phone, authorities said. ”Using cell phone technology, law enforcement agents were able to track victim’s cell phone and the accused’s cell phone,” Alvarez said. “They were tracking in tandem together.” Police, the F.B.I and Secret Service all took part in the search.
In another break in the case, a police officer responding to a disturbance at a convenience store in the neighboring town of Willow Springs spotted Wilson.
“There were hundreds of leads that brought people to this individual,” said Dart. “That was a significant break.”
Investigators say Wilson left the store in a taxi that took him to a neighborhood near Chicago’s Midway Airport. He allegedly paid the fare with coins taken from the O’Laughlin’s home.
If convicted, Wilson cannot face the death penalty. Illinois abolished the state’s most serious punishment earlier this year.
“This is a case that definitely would have qualified for the seeking of the death penalty,” said Alvarez. “It’s felony murder. It’s a case that would have qualified and we would have sought it.”
Kelli O’Laughlin’s murder was the first ever in the bedroom community of Indian Head Park, a quiet suburb of about 3,700 people. The violent and seemingly random act rattled neighbors and shattered the comfort of many who regarded their town as safe. Today, hundreds of those neighbors lined the route of Kelli’s funeral procession, releasing white and purple balloons in her memory.
Dart said there could never be justice for the O’Laughlins in the violent and tragic loss of their child. But for the community, the arrest brings some comfort. “People should be able to sleep a lot easier tonight.”