What happened to the Dixmoor Investigation?

Almost two years ago, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart held an odd press conference: The conference was to announce that the Dixmoor police and the County Sheriff were going to re-open the investigation into the rape and murder of Cateresa Matthews in Dixmoor, Illinois in 1991.

Cateresa Matthews was 14-year-old rape and murder victim, whose partially-clothed body was found in a field in December 1991, 19 days after she went missing. She was killed by a single gunshot to her mouth.

The tragic and horrendous case, however, is less famous for its brutality, but more for the botched investigation. My former client, Robert Taylor, Exoneration Project client James Harden, and three other teenagers were all wrongfully convicted for this rape and murder. They later became known as the Dixmoor Five. They even have a Wikipedia page.

So, on the surface, the idea that the Cook County Sheriff would be re-investigating the case was not in-and-of-itself odd. But the timing was a bit odd. The press conference came more than two years after the Dixmoor Five were exonerated and awarded certificates of innocence. The press conference didn’t even coincide with anything going on with their civil suit – it would still be another month until the civil suit settled for $40 Million. And frankly, just announcing that law enforcement was going to investigate an “unsolved” murder of a 14-year-old girl is a bit odd.

But that said, upon learning the news, I was happy. And I was happy because the family of Cateresa Matthews publicly stated that they wanted the case to continue to be investigated. They needed closure.

Sheriff Dart promised a “thoughtful and strategic” investigation. That said, he noted he was “99.9% sure that we will as a team wrap this case up and bring some justice to Cateresa Matthews,” he announced at the press conference. ABC news reported that Sheriff Dart believes the case would “advance in the next few months.”

That was May 2014. Almost two years ago. I’ve heard nothing since.

Let’s be clear: Sheriff Dart and his team had a huge head start. The wrongfully convicted Dixmoor Five secured DNA testing from the rape kit of the 14-year-old Cateresa. Semen from that rape kit hit to a convicted rapist, who I’ll call W.R.

What’s more, the team of attorneys for the Dixmoor Five investigated W.R. At the time of the offense, he was a recent parolee living within one mile of where Cateresa’s body was found.

And there’s more. We spoke to a former “girlfriend” of W.R. This woman “dated” W.R. when he was an adult but she was a 13-year-old. She told us harrowing stories of being raped and beaten near to death by W.R. This woman described one instance where she hid in the trunk of a car in an attempt to escape W.R. When she later opened the emergency latch to get out of the trunk, W.R. was waiting with a crowbar, which he swung at her head. She blocked the blows and survived, but was hospitalized with a broken arm and a concussion. This courageous woman put all of this information in a signed affidavit, which was turned over to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Later, we learned that a County State’s Attorney investigator met with the woman. He took her to the remote area where Cateresa Matthews body was found. This woman told the investigator that W.R. used to take her to that exact spot two decades earlier to rape her. In the criminal justice world, that is what we call a modus operandi, and it is admissible evidence in a criminal case.

So, let’s review. We have semen in a rape kit of a 14-year-old murder victim that matched to a recently paroled convicted rapist who lived one mile from the crime scene. We have a signed and notarized statement from a woman who said when she was just about Cateresa Matthews age, this same man would repeatedly beat and rape her. On top of that, the rapes often occurred at the exact same remote locale that Cateresa’s body was found.

DNA, opportunity, and modus operandi. I’ve been doing this work for more than a decade: I’ve seen lots of good convictions based on a lot less.

And all that was uncovered years before Sheriff Dart announced his re-investigation. Certainly, if Sheriff Dart was interested in more than a press conference but a real re-investigation, his team of experienced investigators must have been able to uncover more evidence over the next two years. Right? Right?

Sheriff Dart: It seems like your investigation is stalled. If you are listening, I’m here to help. If you need some information, give me a call. I’m happy to share any information we can to help you “solve” this case.