Thursday, February 16, 2017

Brown's Chicken Massacre in the Palatine, Illinois, Restaurant on January 8, 1993.

On January 8, 1993, two assailants robbed the restaurant and then proceeded to murder seven employees at Brown's Chicken and Pasta at 168 W. Northwest Highway in Palatine, Illinois.

The victims included the owners, Richard E. Ehlenfeldt, 50, and his wife, Lynn W Ehlenfeldt, 49, of Arlington Heights, Illinois.
Restaurant owners Richard Ehlenfeldt, 50, and Lynn Ehlenfeldt, 49.
Also killed were five employees: Guadalupe Maldonado, 46, of Palatine, via Mexico, the cook; Michael C. Castro, 16, and Rico L. Solis, 17, both Palatine High School students who were working there part-time; and Palatine residents Thomas Mennes, 32, and Marcus Neilsen, 31.

The assailants stole less than $2,000 from the restaurant. Two of the Ehlenfeldts' daughters were scheduled to be at the restaurant that night but happened not to be present at the time of the killing; a third daughter, Jennifer, was later elected to the Wisconsin State Senate.

When Palatine police found the bodies, it was more than 5½ hours after the 9 p.m. closing. Michael Castro's parents called the police a couple hours after closing time.

Later, Guadalupe Maldonado's wife called the police, concerned that her husband had not returned home from work and that his car was still in the apparently closed Brown's Chicken parking lot.
Officers spotted the rear employees' door open when they arrived at the building. Inside, they found the seven bodies, some face-down, some face-up, in a cooler and walk-in refrigerator.
The victims of the January 8, 1993 massacre at the Palatine Brown's Chicken & Pasta were, top from left, franchisees Richard and Lynn Ehlenfeldt and employees Michael Castro, Guadalupe Maldonado, and bottom from left, Thomas Mennes, Marcus Nellsen, and Rico Solis.
Emergency crews remove a body from a Brown's Chicken restaurant in Palatine on January 9, 1993, a day after seven workers were shot to death during a robbery.
The building no longer exists. It was razed in April 2001, after housing a dry-cleaning establishment and a deli, then stood vacant for several years. A Chase branch office is located at the former Brown's location.

In March 2002, more than nine years after the murders, Anne Lockett came forward and implicated her former boyfriend, James Degorski, and his associate, Juan Luna, in the crime. Luna was a former employee of the restaurant.

In April 2002, the Palatine Police Department matched a DNA sample from Luna to a sample of saliva from a piece of partially eaten chicken found in the garbage during the crime scene investigation. The chicken was kept in a freezer for most of the time since the crime; testimony at trial indicated it was not frozen for several days after discovery and was allowed to thaw several times for examination and testing in the hope of an eventual match via increasingly sophisticated testing methods not available in 1993.

The Palatine Police Department took the two suspects into custody on May 16, 2002.
Luna confessed to the crime during interrogation, though his lawyers would later claim that he was coerced to do so through corporal punishment and threats of deportation. The pair met at Palatine's William Fremd High School and subsequently went to trial.

On May 10, 2007, Juan Luna was found guilty of all seven counts of murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole on May 17. The state had sought the death penalty, which was available then, but the jury's vote of eleven-to-one in favor of the death penalty fell short of the required unanimity to impose it.

On September 29, 2009, James Degorski was found guilty of all seven counts of murder, mainly on the testimony of his former girlfriend Anne Lockett and another woman, who both stated that Degorski had confessed to them. On October 20, 2009, he was sentenced to life without parole. All but two of the jurors had voted for the death penalty.

The incident hurt the entire Brown's Chicken franchise. Sales at all restaurants dropped 35 percent within months of the incident, and the company eventually had to close 100 restaurants in the Chicago area.

Jury Awards Brown's Chicken Killer $451K in Civil Rights Case.

In March of 2014, a jury awarded James Degorski $451,000 in compensation and punitive damages for being beaten by a Sheriff's deputy in Cook County Jail in May 2002. He suffered facial fractures requiring surgery; the deputy was eventually dismissed.

Chicago Tribune Article on March 8, 2014 - Jury awards Brown's Chicken Killer $451K in civil rights case. 

A judge ordered a reduction of $120,000, and the Illinois Department of Corrections demanded that it get the money to pay for the upkeep of  Degorski. However, no claims against the award were reportedly made by any of the families of the seven murder victims.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. That jury award money should have gone to the families of he victims from their own civil suit but our laws don't consider tort case awards as income

  2. I had just moved my wife and children to Palatine in the summer of 1992 to get away from the increasing crime that was happening in Rogers Park. The evening of that tragedy I was coming home on Northwest Highway from visiting a friend in Hoffman Estates. I was stopped at the red light on the corner of Smith Road right in front of that very Browns Chicken. It was very late and I remember seeing the lights on and cars in the parking lot. It peaked my curiosity that someone would still be there that late. I heard about it the next day.

  3. it's shame the palatine police botched this so badly leaving the families with no answers for so many years.i saw the 3 in the store at 9:20 pm while sitting in the left turn linen 14 onto Smith heading west. there was a car parked on the east side of the building with the drivers door open, and car running. you could see the shadows thru the cafe curtains that separated the counter from the dinning room, the girlfriend standing between the 2 men. we had just left the DQ further east and I question my future wife why the Brown's sign was still on at 9:20. the McDonalds just west had just opened and we figured they were trying to compete or there was a basketball tournament party and someone was picking up catering for the bash.when we discovered the mishap the next day I did call the hot line, but to this day they never returned that call.some years later, 2 I believe, Cook County came by on a Saturday unannounced asking for time to go over my info. they spent about 2 hours walking the neighborhood and the site. the information they were going on was way off they were looking for an adults car when it was a high school kids model so they were not close at all to solving the issue, thank god the girlfriend came forward and the evidence officer saved the plate of food. I wish the Herald would stop the praise for the police and the village as they did very little to solve this horrible crime.


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