Dissension in Task Force's Ranks Finger Pointing 'Inevitable' in Brown's Case
Rozek, Dan, Del Re, Sandra, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Dan Rozek and Sandra Del Re Daily Herald Staff Writers
Police hastily assembled a task force when students attending the University of Florida in Gainesville began falling prey to a knife-wielding killer in 1990.
Investigators probing the killings sorted through a mountainous pile of leads before arresting a 36-year-old drifter named Danny Rolling, who was later convicted of five stabbing-and-mutilation murders and sentenced to death.
That resolution, however, didn't satisfy everyone: Some investigators on the task force were convinced that Rolling wasn't the killer. Instead, a number of officers continued to believe that a one-time suspect questioned by police - an 18-year-old freshman with a history of psychotic behavior - was the murderer.
"Even here, where there's a conviction and a guy on death row, there's great dissension," said Jack Levin, a Northeastern University criminologist who has studied the case.
That's a common occurrence in high-profile crimes where a large number of investigators from different police agencies are involved - cases like the 1993 Brown's Chicken murders, Levin and others say.
The pressures of a high-profile investigation, the sheer volume of information obtained by police and an inevitable clash of egos and attitudes means disputes between the cops working the case are almost unavoidable even when the crimes are solved.
"There's very few cases where evidence is so overwhelming that all the members of the task force agree," said Levin, who has authored a book on the Gainesville murders and written on other mass murder cases.
A mix of professional differences and personality clashes between members of the regional police task force investigating the Brown's killings seems to lie at the root of the controversy over the probe into the unsolved murders.
The controversy has grown out of a bitter split between task force officials and several detectives who developed a once-promising lead into the killings and contend the lead was never properly checked.
Questions about whether investigators mishandled the murder probe resurfaced Wednesday when two civic groups announced the appointment of an independent panel to review the Palatine task force investigation.
While an outside review of an on-going investigation is extremely rare, vocal criticism from investigators who worked the case is not all that unusual in a high-visibility crime like the Brown's killings.
"On any investigation, you'll find people who can be critical of how it was conducted," said Elmhurst police Chief John Millner, who consulted with the Palatine task force on the Brown's murders. "That's the nature of it - there's so many variables, so many ways to reach an end."
Interviews with former task force members show a pattern early on of conflicts between a small faction of investigators led by Chicago police homicide investigator Rich Zuley and task force leaders, including Palatine police Chief Jerry Bratcher. …