February 2, 2008, was a cold and windy day in Tinley Park, Illinois. Tinley Park is a village in Cook County, a suburb of southwest Chicago. In 2009, Business Week named Tinley Park as the best place in America to raise a family.
Rhoda McFarland was the manager of the Lane Bryant store in the Brookside Marketplace in Tinley Park. It was a Saturday morning, and the store planned a big $9.99 sale. Rhoda was off that day but came to work to help an employee who had to open the store alone that morning.
Shortly after 10:00 am, the first customer walked into the store. Around the same time, a man entered the store with some paperwork and said he was a delivery man. Rhoda knew they never received deliveries on a Saturday, so she grabbed the phone and called another store to verify.
The man spoke with two customers and with the two employees. He hung out in the store for around 15 minutes and then he pulled out a .40-caliber Glock and announced that he was robbing the store. He demanded the employees give him the money from the cash registers and the money and valuables the women had on them.
The gunman forced the four women to a back room of the store. He forced them to bind each other with duct tape and placed them face down on the floor. He retrieved underwear from the store, and place them over their eyes. Two more women entered the store, and he forced them to the back. One of the women, Connie Woolfolk, resisted and fought with him, and he hit her several times in the face and head with the weapon. He took them to the back room and bound them with the other four women.
Even though she was bound with duct tape, Rhoda McFarland managed to use her Bluetooth in her ear, and at 10:44 am, 911 received a call.
The Tinley Police Department shared the following recording on their website:
Dispatcher: 911 emergency
Rhoda: Lane Bryant
Dispatcher: Where at?
Rhoda: Tinley park. Hurry
Dispatcher: Stay on the line, stay on the line. Let me get you to Tinley Park. Don't hang up.
Rhoda: Please hurry
During the call, you can hear the gunman talking in the background.
You can hear him say, "I'm losing it."
Moments later, he shot five of the women execution style. Rhoda was shot directly in her forehead. There was a Tinley Park police officer at a Target about 1 minute from the Lane Bryant store. When he received the call, he immediately responded.
When police arrived around 2 minutes after the 911 call, five of them were dead, and one woman, the employee who opened the store with Rhoda, was clinging to life. When the gunman placed the gun to her head, she moved just enough to be shot in the neck. She survived by pretending to be dead. Her identification has remained anonymous for her safety.
After the attack, she told authorities she could hear their sirens even as the gunman was still in the store. He managed to escape the scene in that small window of time and has never been identified. He shot six people, killed five, and escaped within 1-2 minutes of police arriving.
All for around $200 in cash.
The Tinley Park Police Department locked the area down, and a massive search and sweep ensued. They never recovered a weapon or suspect.
The strip mall sits next to Interstate 80, where the killer could have quickly escaped the city.
"Certainly, the surviving witness didn't seem to recognize the killer, but maybe one of the dead victims knew him. We don't know," Commander Pat McCain with the Tinley Park Police Department told CNN.
There were no security cameras at the Lane Bryant store. Investigators searched video footage in the area and found two suspicious vehicles. The cars, an SUV and a sedan pull up in front of the Target store at the same time and leave together. Officials have never identified the occupants or determined if they are accomplices in the robbery and murders.
The killer is described as a black male, with a medium complexion, clean-shaven, 6'0" with a husky build, between 25-35 years old. He had a receding hairline with cornrow braids that were pulled back with light green beads on the end of one braid.
About the victims:
Rhoda McFarland is from a large and loving family who grew up in Joliet, Illinois. She was a Nurse Practitioner in the US Air Force. She returned to the Chicago area after getting out of the service, where she kickstarted many youth programs for her church. At 42 years old she was newly engaged and Rhoda was the type of woman to give a person her last. Her decision to come in and assist an employee on her day off is just one example of the helpful, compassionate, and giving person she was.
Sarah Szafransky at 22 years old, was the youngest of the victims. A bubbly, loving person, she was an academic scholar who had just recently graduated from Northern Illinois University and was starting a new job at C&A Financial in Chicago. She went shopping at Lane Bryant that morning to purchase new clothes for work.
Carrie Chiuso, 33 years old, from Frankfort, Illinois had just been married to her husband, Tony, two years before the shooting. A social worker who helped at-risk youth, she was planning to meet with some former classmates who finally convinced her into a long-awaited "girl's night out" and Carrie went shopping at Lane Bryant to get a new outfit.
Connie Woolfolk, 37, was a mom of two sons, one of who suffered from spina bifida. Working overnight at the Target across from the Lane Bryant, Connie had just left a manicure and pedicure appointment and stopped at the Lane Bryant to shop. Connie was badly beaten by the gunman. Blood under her fingernails was taken for DNA samples as it is possibly the assailant's blood.
Jennifer Bishop, 34 years old and the mom of several children, 3 under the age of 8, Jennifer was from South Bend, Indiana. She was an Intensive care nurse at South Bend Memorial Hospital. Described as a caring nurse, she traveled to Tinley Park with her husband, Bryan, who was in town for a roofing work conference. Someone gave her a Lane Bryant gift card and she was in the store passing time and shopping while Bryan attended his conference.
The surviving unidentified 33-year-old part-time employee who worked on weekends was a nursing student. She was privately admitted to a local hospital and discharged the following day. As the only survivor and witness, she provided the police with information. She eventually moved out of state. She penned this heartfelt letter in a public statement:
"On Saturday, February second, an unspeakable tragedy occurred and five of the bravest women I have ever met were senselessly murdered and taken from their families. My deepest sympathies and condolences go out to their families and friends. Please know that during the unfathomable events of that day, their thoughts were focused on you and coming home. My heart aches that they were unable to do so, and I am working with the authorities in any way possible for all of the victims. I ask that the media please respect all of our families and allow us to grieve and cope privately with the horrific crime that ripped our worlds apart. I also ask that everyone respect that neither I nor my family can discuss the horrible events of that day. I thank everybody who has expressed concern and ask that any person who can assist in the investigation contact the authorities immediately."
A woman helping out a co-worker, a woman shopping for a new job, a young graduate shopping for a new job, a woman preparing for a girl's night out, a mom treating herself to a day of self-care, a wife and mother passing time waiting for her husband, and a weekend employee working part-time while in nursing school.
Ironically, the one person who was "expected" or scheduled to be at Lane Bryant that day, is the only one who survived.
Who is the Lane Bryant Killer? Is he a drug addict searching for a quick fix that day? A gang initiation? Was this planned or a last-minute robbery? Did he know one of the victims? Why did he spend 40 minutes in the store? How did he manage to escape so quickly in a small window of time? How many crimes/murders has he committed before/since this? Why he has not been caught? Where is he now? So many unanswered questions about this killer who has eluded police for 15 years.
There is currently a $100,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest of the killer. If you have any information, please contact the Tinley Park police at 708-444-5394 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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