The case went cold 20 years ago.
But now, police in Lisle, Ill. say they have made a breakthrough in a murder mystery that had stumped authorities since Aug. 4, 1994, when 71-year-old Illa Venard was found dead in her apartment.
DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert B. Berlin charged Thomas Spear, 43, with first degree murder on Monday in the long-unsolved case of Venard’s death – accusing Spear of breaking into the woman’s apartment, grabbing her by the neck and forcing her to the ground.
Then Spear ransacked her home, stealing jewelry, her checkbook and her ID, prosecutors say. Spear then allegedly forged Venard’s signature on several checks and took money from her bank account. He even dressed up as the 71-year-old woman, wrapping himself with a headscarf, according to the Chicago Tribune, so he wouldn’t raise suspicions at the bank, prosecutors say.
For that alleged crime, Spear faces four counts of forgery and four counts of delivering a forged document.
Venard was found dead in her second-floor apartment days after the alleged murder and burglary occurred, the Tribune reports.
“It’s good to know there is some kind of justice out there,” the woman’s son, Keith Venard, told the Chicago Tribune.
Spear was 20 when the crime was committed. If convicted, he could face life in prison, according to Fox News.
“Her loved ones have waited a long time to find out what happened that horrible day,” Berlin, the state’s attorney, said in a statement on Monday. “It is my sincerest hope that with today’s charges those who loved Illa Venard may begin to feel some measure of closure knowing that the man allegedly responsible for her death has been charged.”
The case was reopened this year, Fox reports, and Spear was arrested on Sept. 28 in connection with the case. At the time he was charged with delivering forged documents.
But about three years after the alleged murder, in 1997, the victim’s neighbor allegedly spotted Spear with checks that had belonged to Venard, and reported it to police, according to WLS. That raised questions in court this week about why it took 20 years for charges to be filed in the case, according to the Peoria Journal Star.
“The defendant has had numerous contacts with law enforcement, yet nothing ever happened,” Judge George Bakalis said in court, the Journal Star reports. “Why?”
Prosecutors couldn’t explain why it took so long. But the DuPage state’s attorney thanked law enforcement for reopening a case that had gone cold.
“They never gave up on justice for Illa,” Berlin said.
Spear’s next court appearance is Nov. 6. Bond was set at $3 million, according to Berlin.
Spear allegedly told police in an interview that he broke into the woman’s second-story apartment by using a rope and grappling hook to climb onto her balcony, according to the Journal Star.
Venard had lost her husband two years before the alleged murder, the Tribune reports. Her children said they’ve been waiting 20 years for justice for their mother.
“She would give you the shirt off her back,” her son, Keith, told the Tribune.