Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Chicago Rippers

First Inkling of Horror

Illinois map with Villa Park locator
Illinois map with Villa Park locator

On June 1, 1981, it was raining when three detectives went to check on a call about a corpse discovered at the Moonlit Hotel in Villa Park, an outlying area of Chicago.   It wasn't a surprise to receive such a call, since this hotel, located among junky shops, bars, and fast-food places, was known for its shady characters.  It was rumored to be a place where you could meet someone for quick sex or to find a drug fix.

A hotel maid first brought the grisly discovery to someone's attention.   Jaye Slade Fletcher, a Chicago police officer and author of true crime articles, collected the available information on the case in Deadly Thrills.  She describes how the maid reported a terrible odor from somewhere near the hotel that grew worse by the day.  The Moonlit's manager walked out into a trash-strewn field behind the hotel to see what he could do to get rid of it.  There he found the source of the smell, which was not, as he had expected, a dead animal.  It was a young woman, whose remains consisted largely of bones and some clinging flesh.  He turned around immediately and called the police.

Linda Sutton
Linda Sutton
Three detectives arrived and they could see that this victim had been there a while.   Quite a while.  In fact, she was so decomposed that they could see her skeletal structure, but the maggots were still there, doing their work—an unusual combination of postmortem characteristics.  The woman clearly had been murdered, because she had been bound with handcuffs before being left here—probably before she had died.  She also had cloth in her mouth used as a gag, and still wore a sweater and panties, but they had been pulled down to her thighs.  In her socks was a small wad of dollar bills, so robbery had not been a motive.

The key issue at the moment was to first establish the corpse's identity, and then figure out the time interval from the moment of her discovery to the moment she had died.   In the condition this body was in, that would be difficult.  In those days, there was no Body Farm, an institution set up in Knoxville, Tennessee to help establish time of death, for remains like this.  In fact, the best information they had at that point about such estimations was mostly anecdotal.  Only an expert could offer an answer.

Investigators also needed to establish whether this was the primary crime scene, where she had been killed, or rather a secondary scene, where she had been dumped after she was dead.   The fact that no one had yet reported the body indicated that it might not have been here long.  However, that possibility implied that whoever had killed her was able to tolerate decomposing remains long enough to carry them and place them here.  One thing the detectives knew they could check was the soil beneath her body, to determine whether body fluids had leached into it. 

But there was no use trying to analyze the situation at the moment.   They had to deliver the body to the deputy coroner, Pete Siekman, so that he could attempt to determine the cause and manner of death, as well as take fingerprints and teeth impressions to compare to records, if they existed.  Then they could stake out the scene and start searching for evidence.

A search of missing persons reports turned up no leads, so detectives called the Chicagodepartment, who told them that the practice of rolling money inside socks probably indicated that the victim had been a hooker.  That made the process of identifying her much more difficult.  But the fingerprints and dental records helped, and in less than two weeks, they had an ID: Linda Sutton, 21.  As they had suspected, she proved to be a prostitute with a string of arrests.  She was also the mother of two children, both of whom lived with Sutton's mother.

But a twist in the case came from the coroner: Despite the advanced state of decomposition of the body, he had determined that she had been dead for only three days.  The remains' advanced rate of decomposition was due to two rather large wounds to her chest where her breasts had been removed, which had allowed for an invasion of parasites that had devoured the body in record time.  This woman had been brutally assaulted and mutilated.

And she was not to be the last one to be found.

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