Nobody will say for sure why Kelli O’Laughlin met her brutal end in her own suburban home, allegedly at the hands of a career criminal wielding a long knife he took from the 14-year-old’s family kitchen.
But something about the terrible stabbing of the high school freshman and the taunting texts her killer is accused of sending to her mother pushed investigators to chase down leads around the clock for a week until they got murder charges approved, late Thursday night, against 38-year-old John L. Wilson.
The pointlessness of the slaying of a lovely young lady by someone who ransacked her Indian Head Park house and stole a bowl of coins inspired thousands of friends, neighbors and Lyons Township High School classmates to line the streets Friday morning as her body and grieving family rode to her funeral.
And the sheer callousness of the crime lured sitting judges and working attorneys out of their offices and courtrooms — where murders are heard all the time — to witness as spectators the story of how Kelli died.
Wilson, a 170-pound parolee, a 38-year-old who’s spent 17 of the last 20 years in prison, stabbed her in the neck and chest and back, Assistant State’s Attorney Peter Troy said. Then he sent taunting text messages to her mother, using the teen’s cell phone, Troy said.
Wilson had attacked before, court records show. He’d rammed his bike on purpose, records say, into a lady’s car on Chicago’s West Side, so he could get close enough to grab her throat and her purse when she offered to help him. He held a gun up to a driver’s head on Chicago’s South Side to steal a car.
This time, prosecutors say, he killed. He attacked the 14-year-old with the knife as she returned home from school at 3:40 p.m. Oct. 27. He’d busted a back window of the house with a rock wrapped in a red knit hat. He stabbed her, dropped the 8-inch blade in the family room and dragged her body into the kitchen.
And then he made off with a bowl of change, American and foreign coins he used to pay for the cab he’d called from nearby Willow Springs to the Orange Line L stop near Midway Airport, Troy said.
He also took Kelli’s cell phone and iPod touch, Troy said. The phone was on Wilson when he was arrested, Troy said.
The U.S. Secret Service was able to use cell-phone tracking technology to determine that Kelli’s phone and Wilson’s phone were traveling together throughout Chicago, he said.
And it was that same cell-phone tracking that sources said allowed police to finally nab Wilson on Wednesday near 95th and State in Chicago, a few miles from his home in the 7900 block of South Lafayette Avenue.
DNA recovered from the red knit hat matched Wilson, prosecutors said.
At a press conference in Indian Head Park Friday, neither Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez nor Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart would reveal details of the taunting texts Wilson sent to Kelli’s mom, who discovered her daughter’s lifeless body that day.
“A horrific crime was committed here, and then to have the mother of the victim subject to taunts by the person who did it ... I can’t describe it,” Dart said.
Alvarez said even hardened investigators became tearful at the horror of the case.
Orland Park police Chief Tim McCarthy, head of the South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force that worked on the case, said investigators worked thousands of hours to crack it.
Dart said it was their sense of loss for the family that “drove people so relentlessly until someone was charged.
“You name it, we did it.”
Wilson will await trial on first-degree murder and burglary charges in the Cook County Jail, held without bail. Besides facing life in prison if convicted, he also poses a danger to society, Judge Peter A. Felice said Friday morning, denying bail.
Wilson did not speak during the hearing, much as he has refused to talk to investigators since his arrest, sources said. He appeared in khaki pants and a gray sweatshirt that covered the tattoos — “Trust No Bitch” and “RIP Carol” — on his arms.
He was paroled in November 2010 after serving 7-1/2 years of an 11-year prison sentence from a 2002 robbery, according to records from the Illinois Department of Corrections.
He had served prison time on prior convictions for drug possession, carjacking, aggravated battery and possessing a stolen vehicle.
Outside Wilson’s Chatham apartment Friday, his older brother, Shun Dantzler, apologized to the O’Laughlin family.
“I put my hands up to God and say, ‘Please have mercy for the little girl and my little brother’s soul. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,’” Dantzler said.
He claimed his brother in mentally unfit to stand trial, something he said he’s told a judge on Wilson’s behalf before.
“As you know and I know, if he had any brains — or should I say if he was in his right mind — he wouldn’t be texting the young lady’s mother,” he said.
A neighbor, Stefon Givens, 23, said Wilson “deserves to be where he’s at right now.”
“You could tell something was wrong with him because he used to always walk past you and look at you crazy,” Givens said. “And he used to always want to know about people’s cribs, wanting to break in people’s houses.”
Earlier Friday, mourners lined the roads near St. John of the Cross Church in Western Springs, where Kelli’s funeral was held Friday morning. She was buried in Fairmont Willow Hills Memorial Park in Willow Springs.
Rest in Peace Kelli