Man freed from prison after reversal of murder conviction of Johnsburg Ill. teen suing for “millions”

Mario Casciaro – convicted and sentenced to 26 years in prison for the 2002 murder of a Johnsburg Ill. teen and later released – is suing those who brought on his conviction for “millions” of dollars.

After two murder trials, the first ending in a hung jury, Casciaro, 33,
was convicted in 2013 for the murder of 17-year-old Brian Carrick in a mysterious case that has rattled the quiet far northwest town.

The jury found Casciaro guilty of the rarely used charge of murder with intimidation, meaning he set into motion the events that led to Carrick’s death.

Carrick worked as a stock boy at a grocery store across the street from his home on Johnsburg Road. He was a well-liked boy who grew up in a large Irish Catholic family with 13 siblings.

The store, at the time named “Val’s Finer Foods” was partially owned by the Casciaro family. Authorities have long said that Casciaro sold pot from the grocery store and used Carrick as one of his dealers.

During both trials, a third co-worker, Shane Lamb the alleged “muscle” of the operation according to prosecutors, said Casciaro summoned him to the store on the night of Dec. 20 2002 to “talk” to Carrick about a drug dealing debt.

The confrontation turned violent and Lamb testified that he punched Carrick knocking him unconscious on the floor inside a produce cooler. He said Casciaro told him to leave the store and he would take care of the body.

Lamb said he never saw Carrick again.

Carrick’s blood was located in an around the cooler area and on boxes in a dumpster outside the store – but his body has never been found.

Rumors of his disappearance and presumed murder swirled around the small town nestled near the Wisconsin border for nearly a decade before Casciaro’s arrest.

In 2010, while facing a lengthy prison term in an unrelated drug case, Lamb — with a growing rap sheet who gave varying accounts to authorities over the years of what happened to Carrick — was given a deal to testify against Casciaro in exchange for immunity.

But, in a nationalized television program, while in jail facing weapons charges, Lamb recanted the tale he told on the stand twice and accused prosecutors of telling him what to say to convict Casciaro — accusations prosecutors vehemently deny.

About a year later, Casciaro was released from prison after an appellate court ruled that the state’s case was improbable and Lamb’s testimony did not match the physical evidence found at the scene.

The appellate judges also believed Casciaro’s lawyer Kathleen Zellner who asserted there was blood evidence and testimony that the jury never heard that did not match up with Lamb’s story. She claims blood evidence shows Carrick died not by a punch and fall to the cold, concrete floor, but by a knife wound to the neck.

Zellner pointed the finger at another store employee, whose blood also was found in and around the cooler. In earlier police interviews this man was asked why his blood would be found in the cooler and he said he often bit his nails low and he would bleed. This man was never charged with the murder and had died of a drug overdose while staying in a halfway house sometime between the two trials. In 2008, he was charged with concealment in the case but those charges were later dropped.

In the lawsuit, Casciaro is seeking monetary damages from Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Combs, McHenry County and the entire McHenry County State’s Attorney’s office, as well as Johnsburg Police Chief Keith Von Allmen, the city of Johnsburg and the entire Johnsburg Police Department.

In the lawsuit, Zellner accuses authorities of “deliberately withholding” exculpatory evidence including this other co-workers behavior in the days after Carrick went missing and his alleged absence during his work shift. She wrote that evidence was not shown to jurors that would have shone light on this man as the “actual culprit.”

The lawsuit also accuses Von Allmen of being biased in the investigation because he was friends with this man’s father. The motion further claims interviews were not reported or presented to jurors regarding witnesses where it was supposedly said that this man had “hostility” toward Carrick.

Zellner, who requested a jury trial in the civil matter, also made strong claims that Combs out of his “sheer dislike” of Casciaro “fabricated” and “concocted” the story that jurors heard Lamb testify to. She claims that authorities knew Casciaro was innocent and ignored evidence that could have been presented to jurors to show his innocence.

Zellner claims that Casciaro’s ”unjust conviction” was done “intentionally” and was a violation of his rights resulting in a loss of his freedom, emotional distress, great mental anguish … humiliation, indignities, and embarrassment … natural psychological development … personal contact .. personal fulfillment … .”

The McHenry County State’s Attorney’s office firmly stands by its prosecution of Casciaro and zealously denies any wrongdoing or fabrication of any type.

Prosecutors have argued their case was not based solely on Lamb’s account of what happened that night -as Zellner asserts- but also by testimony of several other witnesses who testified that Casciaro was selling marijuana out of the store and Carrick owed him money. During the trials they identified one man who claimed he saw the two allegedly arguing that night. Prosecutors also stand by one witness who testified that Casciaro allegedly claimed that he can “make people disappear.” They also note to another  witness who testified that Casciaro allegedly told him a similar account of what happened the night Carrick went missing. They further point to Casciaro’s own alleged unaccounted for whereabouts for a period of time that night and his own inconsistent stories and behavior during police interviews as disinterested and arrogant.

Authorities in the case say they are not surprised by the latest motion.

“We knew this was coming,” said McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally who along with Combs prosecuted Casciaro. “This is an opportunistic lawsuit filed on behalf of a defendant convicted of felony murder by a McHenry County jury. The allegations in the lawsuit, while imaginative, are entirely without merit. We are eager for our day in court to prove where the real injustice lies and, once again, the sad truth about what happened to Brian Carrick in 2002.”

Casciaro’s release was held up by the Illinois Supreme Court which denied the state’s objection.

Casciaro, who is currently attending law school, also is seeking a certificate of innocence from the county. In an earlier court hearing Kenneally passionately argued that just because the appellate court ruled there was not sufficient evidence to convict Casciaro “beyond a reasonable doubt” that  is a “far cry from declaring him innocent.”  This matter will be back in court May 11.

Carrick’s parents, William and Terry, both have died not knowing what happened to their son or allowed the opportunity to properly bury or grieve him.

Neither Von Allmen nor Carrick’s family could be reached for comment.

In past statements, a family member of the co-worker on whom Zellner places the blame for Carrick’s death, has strongly defended his innocence. He was not identified by name in this story because he was not charged with murder, never testified in the Casciaro case and has since died.  The relative and the man’s former lawyer have voiced strong opposition and disgust with this man being used as a “scapegoat” in Carrick’s death, and have asked that his name not continue to be tarnished.  The female relative has described this man as a son, brother and father and proclaimed he had nothing to do with Carrick’s murder.

McHenry County lawyer convicted of manufacturing child porn

A Crystal Lake attorney was found guilty this week of manufacturing child pornography involving a 14-year-old girl inside a family changing area at an Algonquin fitness center.

A McHenry County judge ruled that James T. Zeas, 48, of Lake Barrington, recorded video of the girl as she undressed inside a bathroom at LifeTime Fitness Club in Algonquin. His case was heard before Judge Michael Feetterer rather than a jury.

Feetterer read his ruling stating that he had considered all the evidence including the factors present which made the video rise to the level of being lewd. Saying the video did show the young girl “partially nude” revealed her breasts and its recording appeared to be “intended to illicit a sexual response.”

He also noted that Zeas was seen on the video during both attempts to record the girl and seen trying to hide the camera with paper towels and a red hat.

The video appeared to be shot by a “voyeur” as part of “sexually deviant behavior,” Feetterer said.

Zeas, whose bond was immediately revoked, nervously ran his hands through his hair, rubbed and wrinkled his face several times during the judge’s ruling.

In closing arguments held last month Assistant State’s Attorney Kate Lenhard likened Zeas to a “voyeur” and a “peeping tom.”

Lenhard said in the summer of 2009, without the girl’s knowledge, Zeas set up a camera inside the bathroom, left then waited for her to change from her street clothes into a bathing suit. But his first attempt failed as the girl was out of the camera’s view.

Lenhard said that later that day after the girl swam Zeas tried again. She said he is seen on the video adjusting the camera’s angle to capture a larger view, he then covers the camera with a red hat and leaves the bathroom. Shortly after the girl enters and changes from her swimsuit into street clothes. This time she was captured on the video and her breasts were “exposed” to the camera as part of Zeas’ ”covert observation.”

Lenhard said the girl was not posing or aware of the camera. She thought she was alone and private not knowing “the peeping tom is watching.”

“He took the innocence of a child … he manufactured that into a voyeuristic (video) … that he then kept.” Lenhard said.

The images were discovered on Zeas’ laptop in 2011 by his wife who was “horrified” by what she saw, Lenhard said. The woman kicked Zeas out of their Crystal Lake home and filed for divorce. The videos were eventually turned over to authority.

When his then wife asked about the videos Lenhard said Zeas’ response was: “You don’t understand them, It’s not what it seems, I’ll lose my (law) license … he never says ‘I didn’t do it,’ “ Lenhard said.

However, Barry Lewis, Zeas’ defense attorney, argued that when the videos were turned over to authorities in 2015 the couple was in a “contentious” divorce and custody battle.

Lewis charged that Zeas’ ex-wife, who works with mainframes in the banking industry, somehow manufactured the videos herself. He also said that the girl did not look underage in the videos and that the images do not rise to the level of pornography because they are not sexually provocative, not recorded in a sexually suggestive setting and do not show the girl’s lower genitals.

“There is nothing sexually suggestive about the way she was in the video,” he said.

The lawyer also argued that in 2009 iPhones did not have the capability of video recording, however the state has said in previous court proceedings that they never specified what device actually made the recordings.

You “have to believe someone else created this video,” Lewis said.

A representative from LifeTime Fitness said in an email that Zeas’ actions “clearly were not in line with our policies or expectations.”

The company cooperated with the investigation and will remain “vigilant” in enforcing their policies, said Natalie Bushaw, director public relations

There is “no tolerance for unacceptable behaviors or actions,” she wrote.

Zeas is set for sentencing March 29.

Man sentenced to prison after violating probation for delivering heroin that ended his young girlfriend’s life

After violating the “gift” of probation received last year for delivering the heroin that led to his 21-year-old girlfriend’s death, a McHenry County Illinois man was again scolded by the presiding judge then sentenced to three years in prison.

Though with time served and day-for-day credit authorities say Cody Hillier, 25, will likely spend just days in an Illinois Department of Corrections facility.

Hillier admitted to using drugs in October which violated terms of his two year probation he received in July. After his arrest he was remanded back to McHenry County jail to await his sentencing.

“What is it going to take to get you off drugs and turn your life around,” asked Judge Sharon Prather, the same judge who sentenced him to probation in July and told him he must testify against anyone related to his girlfriend’s death.

Last month Hillier, dressed in orange jail issued clothing, testified against James Linder, 36, of Zion. He said on Jan. 30, 2015 he bought 1 1/2 grams of heroin from Linder. He testified that he ingested the heroin throughout the day with his girlfriend who died hours later in the early morning hours of Jan. 31.

When help arrived Hillier lied and said his girlfriend was having an asthma attack delaying the use of naloxone, a substance used to reverse the deadly affects of opioids. By the time he told first responders she had ingested drugs it was too late for the substance to work. Soon after she was pronounced dead at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin.

Linder was found guilty of drug induced homicide and is set to be sentenced Feb. 24.
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-drug-induced-homicide-all-white-jury-met-20170113-story.html

Since being back in the county jail where Linder also is being held, Hillier has been in protective custody. During the trial Hillier said he had been threatened by Linder and another man not to testify.

Hillier told Prather at this week’s sentencing hearing he relapsed on drugs at a time when he was under a lot of pressure knowing he was going to testify against Linder.

He said now that the trial is over that pressure has been lifted.

Prather asked what his plans are and he said that he has a union job waiting for him in Wisconsin.

In asking for a prison term of seven years Assistant State’s Attorney Randi Freese said Hillier’s “repeated selfish … criminal behavior” has carried “tragic and fatal consequences.”

In referring to the night of his girlfriend’s fatal overdose she said Hillier lied to those who could have saved her life.

“He knew he had the chance to do the right thing and he didn’t do it,” Freese said.

Then, just roughly three months into his probation, what she referred to as “the gift of a lifetime” Hillier violates his probation.

Freese asked for a sentence that would send a message to the community.

“He watched his girlfriend take her last breath from a drug he gave her,” she said adding that she does not know what else it will take for Hillier to turn his life around.

“(Hillier) is going to wind up dead or in IDOC,” she said.

In asking for probation so he could get the treatment he needs for his drug addiction, assistant public defender Rick Behof said Hillier “has a good heart” but he “made bad choices.”

“He has a substance abuse problem,” Behof said. “No matter what this court does to him he’s gonna have to address that.”

As his late girlfriend’s father silently looked on in the courtroom, as he has done for most court events for Hillier and Linder, Hillier told the judge he is “sorry for what happened.”

Prather, like the first time she sentenced him, gave Hillier a stern warning.

“I don’t think you are a bad person … I think you are a heroin addict. If you don’t get off the drugs you are gonna have a miserable life. Your consequences will get worse and worse. You will be in and out of IDOC or wind up dead.”

Man released from prison after murder conviction of Johnsburg teen, seeks to be declared “innocent”

Mario Casciaro was released from prison after his conviction for the murder of his teenage co-worker was overturned, but authorities in McHenry County are balking at formally declaring him innocent.

Casciaro — the only person ever convicted in the 2002 disappearance of 17-year-old Brian Carrick — wants a McHenry County judge to grant him a certificate of innocence. But the prosecutors who took Casciaro to trial three times before getting a guilty verdict — once for perjury and twice for murder — have formally opposed the certificate.

If granted, the court document would allow Casciaro to seek compensation from the state for the 22 months he spent in Menard Correctional Center before his conviction for murder with intimidation — a rarely used charge — was reversed on appeal. Innocence certificates can also help exonerated former inmates get employment and generally reintegrate into society.

“It is unfortunate that the McHenry (County) state’s attorney continues to deny this grave miscarriage of justice,” said Casciaro’s attorney, Kathleen Zellner, who has won several high-profile murder conviction reversals and now represents Steve Avery, the Wisconsin man from the “Making a Murderer” Netflix series. “We are confident Mr. Casciaro will prevail, even if we have to take this matter all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court.”

But prosecutors argue that, although the appeals court determined they lacked sufficient evidence to convict Casciaro, that doesn’t mean he is “actually innocent.”

Casciaro “wishes to cast himself as the victim. He is not. The real victim is lying nameless in an unmarked, unhallowed grave,” prosecutors wrote, in reference to the fact that Carrick’s remains have never been recovered. “The defendant’s disinterest, deceit and contempt … during the investigation exposed his callousness and consciousness of guilt.”

Prosecutors further argued in their 300-page motion that, “even conceding that the state’s evidence of guilt was weak, it does not follow that (Casciaro) is innocent. Rather, (he) must still present evidence of actual innocence that overrides evidence of guilt. (Casciaro) offers no exculpatory physical or DNA evidence, no credible alibi during the time of the attack or thereafter, and no new witnesses or information.”

The case has attracted national attention and has become one of the most notorious murder mysteries in McHenry County. Carrick disappeared days before Christmas 2002 after being seen at the Johnsburg grocery store where he worked with Casciaro, whose family was part owner.

Authorities contended at Casciaro’s two murder trials that Carrick had been dealing marijuana for Casciaro and that he ordered another co-worker, Shane Lamb, to confront Carrick about a debt he owed. Lamb testified that- at both murder trials- he delivered a fatal punch to Carrick inside a grocery store cooler. At Casciaro’s second murder trial in 2013,  Casciaro was convicted of first-degree murder with intimidation and sentenced to 26 years in prison. Prosecutors told jurors that if it were not for Casciaro- acting as the “kingpin”of a drug dealing operation and putting into motion the wheels that led to Carrick’s death- Carrick would not have been killed.

Carrick’s blood was found in and around the cooler, but his body has never been found.

Lamb, who received immunity in the case but is now in prison on an unrelated weapons charge, later said he lied on the witness stand under pressure from prosecutors seeking to convict Casciaro of the murder, a claim officials have vehemently denied.

In their objection to Casciaro’s innocence certificate, prosecutors called Casciaro’s conviction reversal “problematic” and “imprudent.” They cited, for example, witness testimony that supported Lamb’s account, as well as a polygraph test Casciaro took that prosecutors say showed Casciaro being deceptive. They also noted letters Lamb wrote to a local newspaper – while in jail on the weapons’ charges- where he wrote he felt remorse for what happened to Carrick.

They cited trial testimony from one witness who said he saw Casciaro and Carrick arguing that night, as well as testimony from various former grocery store employees,  who said  that Casciaro was selling marijuana and that Carrick worked for him. Prosecutors also pointed to testimony that Carrick owed Casciaro money at the time he disappeared and that Lamb worked as an “enforcer” in Casciaro’s drug business.

In overturning the conviction outright last year, the appellate court noted, among several factors, the lack of physical evidence to convict Casciaro. They also questioned Lamb’s credibility and said his account did not prove intimidation by Casciaro. Additionally, they wrote that details of the alleged physical altercation did not match up with blood spatter found in and around the produce cooler.

“Lamb’s entire testimony was so inconsistent, contradictory and incredible that it was palpably contrary to the verdict,” appellate judges wrote in their ruling.

Prosecutors, however, said Lamb only recanted and claimed he was told what to testify because he was upset about the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence for the weapons charges. They also noted that he had learned he would be featured on a national TV news program about the Carrick case and wanted to “leverage the notoriety and exposure to undercut his prosecution.”

In her appeal, Zellner sought to cast suspicion on another grocery store co-worker, who has since died, as the possible killer. She noted that this man’s blood was found near the crime scene and that he had motive.  Prosecutors called that theory “fantastical” and said it did not match the facts of the case.

After Casciaro’s release from prison in September, prosecutors attempted to have their case heard at the Illinois Supreme Court but were denied.

Carrick’s disappearance and the drawn-out aftermath — nearly eight years went by before Casciaro was charged with the murder — have long been a source of interest and grief in the small town, where both families were well-known. Carrick was one of 14 siblings and his family lived across the street from the grocery store where he was likely killed. His mother, Terry, died months before Casciaro’s arrest. His father, William, saw Casciaro convicted of murdering his son but died before the conviction was overturned.

Prosecutors noted those turns of events in their objection.

“Since Brian’s disappearance … both of his parents have gone to their grave without ever having known their son’s ultimate fate,” they wrote, adding his siblings remain “haunted” by his presumed death.

The filing also noted that the attention given in recent years to wrongful convictions “has aroused a healthy skepticism of convictions reached without” DNA evidence or a firsthand witness account.

“It is important not to attribute injustices elsewhere to circumstances here,” prosecutors wrote. They added that, “If one accepts the criminal justice system is imperfect” and sometimes convicts the wrong person, it follows that the same system sometimes “acquits those who are guilty, in fact.”

Since his release from prison Casciaro, now 33, has pursued admittance to law school and his family has opened up another grocery store in McHenry County.

*I welcome anyone with information/thoughts on this case to contact me.

Attorney asks trial court to agree exonerated man is innocent in Johnsburg murder of teen

Mario Casciaro, the only person imprisoned in connection with the haunting 2002 disappearance and presumed death of a 17-year-old Johnsburg resident — who eventually walked free — is asking a McHenry County judge to officially acceede to his innocence.

Today Casciaro is a free man about to pursue a law degree, and is seeking to have the presiding judge in his conviction, McHenry County Judge Sharon Prather, issue a “Certificate of Innocence.”

The move – essentially asking the trial judge to agree with the ruling of the appellate judges who exonerated Casciaro last year – is a step toward Casciaro seeking compensation from the state for the 22 months he spent inside Menard Correctional Center in Chester Ill. as an innocent man, his attorney Kathleen Zellner said.

Zellner won Casciaro’s freedom last year after arguing details of his conviction in the infamous cold case mystery of missing teen Brian Carrick at the 2nd District Appellate Court in Elgin. On Wednesday, Casciaro’s 33 birthday, she filed the petition in the McHenry County Clerk’s office.

In court Wednesday McHenry County State’s Attorney Michael Combs asked Prather for time to review and respond to the petition. The matter is up next June 29. Outside the courtroom Combs declined to comment.

Prosecutors have stood by their case against Casciaro that he is guilty of first-degree murder with intimidation because he set into motion the events that led to the death of Carrick inside a grocery store cooler on Dec. 20, 2002.

Casciaro, whose family were part owners of what was Val’s Finer Foods in Johnsburg, faced two juries. The first in 2012 ended in a mistrial and the second a year later resulted in his conviction.

Casciaro, who has long maintained his innocence, was sentenced to 26 years in prison. The state’s case relied heavily on the words of another man, Shane Lamb, who said at Casciaro’s instruction he confronted Carrick on a drug dealing debt owed to Casciaro.

Lamb, currently in prison on unrelated weapons charges who received full immunity in the Carrick case in exchange for his testimony, testified that he argued with Carrick inside a produce cooler.

He detailed for jurors in both trials that he became angry and punched Carrick out cold. He told jurors as Carrick laid bleeding and unconscious Casciaro told him to leave and he’d handle the body.

At the time all three men worked at the grocery store.

Carrick’s blood was found in and around the cooler but his body has never been recovered.

In overturning the conviction outright, the appellate court noted, among several factors, the lack of physical evidence to convict Casciaro. They also said that Lamb’s details of the crime did not show there was any intimidation by Casciaro nor did his tale, if at all true, line up with blood spatter found in and around the produce cooler.

“Lamb’s entire testimony was so inconsistent, contradictory and incredible that it was palpably contrary to the verdict,” appellate judges wrote in their ruling.

The judge’s also noted Lamb later said he made up the story at the instruction of McHenry County State’s Attorneys seeking to convict Casciaro. Combs has vehemently denied this accusation.

Zellner has pointed to another man as being responsible for Carrick’s death. But this man was never brought to trial and died of a heroin overdose between Casciaro’s two trials.

After Casciaro’s release from prison in last year, prosecutors said they stood by their case. They attempted to have their case heard at the Illinois Supreme Court. They were denied in March.

Motioning the court to issue the certificate of innocence is a state law sought in cases where a person is exonerated and there is an outright reversal, Zellner explained.

“It is state law. Many of these have been granted to those (wrongfully convicted) who have been released,” Zellner said. “The statute provides that if you have an outright reversal, which is what we have that we can apply for this … I believe that this will be granted.”

After this certificate of innocence is granted, Zellner can move forward with filing a petition with the Illinois Court of Claims for compensation owed to Casciaro for the time he was “wrongfully incarcerated,” she said.

Should the trial court deny the petition Zellner said she would take it to the appellate court.

Carrick was one of 14 children from a strong Irish Catholic family who grew up in the large white farmhouse across the street from the grocery store. Both of his parents, Terry and William, have died without fully knowing what happened to their son. Neither ever turned vengeful in their quest for answers. Over the years, each expressed just wanting to know the truth so they could forgive and move on.

5 Illinois high school students facing criminal charges after “threatening” comments made

Five Illinois high school students are facing criminal charges as a result of comments “threatening in nature” made in the hallways of Huntley High School and on social media websites.

Authorities from the for northwest suburban high school and Huntley Illinois Police Department reported that between Feb. 3 and 5, officials were made aware of a “small number” of comments made that ultimately resulted in an increased absenteeism, especially on Feb. 8.

“The Huntley Police Department and Huntley Community School District 158
take these matters seriously and vigorously investigate the intent and authenticity of such issues,” read a police news release. “The Huntley Police Department, in cooperation with Huntley High School, continuously takes measures to safeguard the student body and facilities to ensure a safe environment for students and staff.”

After police met with McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office five male students, two 17-year-olds, two 16 year-olds and a 15-year-old student were charged with disorderly conduct. One of the boys faces a misdemeanor charge and the remaining four face felony charges, according to police.

All have been petitioned to McHenry County Juvenile Court.

Police and school officials ask that parents remain vigilant of “unsafe or suspicious” issues that raise concern for student safety. They also encourage parents to use these incidents as opportunities for parents to speak to their children about appropriate use of social media and the potential consequence of bullying, harassment or threats.

Dan Armstrong, director of communications for Huntley Consolidated School District 158, said after a thorough investigation it has been determined that the incidents “for the most part … (were considered) ill-advised jokes.”

Though the postings are now deemed to have not “constituted a real threat in anyway to students” they were “taken seriously.”

Armstrong could not say what the messages said, but insisted there never was a concern about keeping school open.

“When we first heard about these messages we (took) them seriously, at first and … working closely and quickly with police we were able to determine that there was no legitimate threat to students’ safety. In that time we were able to make a decision we were able to keep school open as planned.”

Mystery on Johnsburg Road: How it all Began

It was 2002, five days before Christmas.

My 13 siblings were all in different stages of their lives, some living on their own and some with their own spouses and kids. All were preparing to make the trek home to Johnsburg Il. for our big Irish Catholic family Christmas feast.

I still lived at home with my mom and dad, and a couple of the younger siblings in our small rural town located near the Wisconsin border. I grew up surrounded by lots of family, and cool wooded areas and rivers to explore.

I love my big family and they love me.

I was excited for Christmas. It was my favorite holiday. I loved helping to hang lights and decorate the tree. Mom already had a wrapped present for me under the tree.

Dec. 20, 2002 was the last day of school before Christmas break. It was a Friday and although I didn’t have to work that day, at about 6:30 p.m. I left my big white farmhouse style home where I lived for the last -and only- 17 years of my life.

I didn’t walk far. I just crossed the road to the grocery store. The store I grew up seeing everyday outside our family’s living room window. I’d worked there as a stock boy. I loved that job. Many of my siblings also worked there over the years.

The grocery store was owned by another large, well-known family from the area.

Our families were close — at one time.

I passed my older brother Eddie on my way into the store as he was going out to the parking lot to gather grocery carts.

He never saw me again.

A few employees working that night said they saw me in the store. But no one ever said they saw me outside the store again after that night.

My blood was found pooled in a produce cooler and spattered on boxes and walls leading to a back door exit. My blood also was found on boxes in an outside dumpster.

My blood.

But I was no where to be found.

All the searching. All the praying. All the tears and candlelight vigils. All the rumors, accusations, finger pointing and courtroom dramas.

I have never been found.

(Watch an update to the latest twist on ABC 2020 9 p.m CT Saturday Jan. 2)