The Murder Next Door
Evan Hill and Jordan Weissmann
April 9, 2006 •
Six weeks after Linda Twyman was murdered in Evanston, a group of family, friends and neighbors fanned out across her neighborhood. They taped Crime Stoppers fliers to telephone poles and store-front windows.
Mary Krawczyk, a neighbor and friend of Twyman's, shivered in the frigid weather - a typical Chicago January. She felt energetic, hopeful that out of all the people who would see their fliers, someone might come forward with a tip. Krawczyk and others from the group worked their way around Twyman's neighborhood, then moved northwest to the intersection of Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue, a busy shopping area.
She ducked into the nearby Dominick's grocery store for warmth and asked if she could put fliers up inside. Clerks and pharmacists knew 43-year-old single mother Twyman as a frequent customer with a friendly charm. They used their own copy machine to make duplicates and started stuffing the copies into shoppers' grocery bags.
Krawczyk left Dominick's and moved on to a nearby dry cleaner. The shift manager was puzzled by her request to put up a flier inside.
"But I know this woman; what are you talking about?" Krawczyk, 41, recalls the manager saying.
"I had to tell her that she had been murdered," she says.
The 1100 block of Ashland Avenue, where Twyman lived in the lone apartment building, is a quiet street tucked into the beginnings of west Evanston. A five-minute drive from Northwestern's campus, it's a place where lawyers and social workers settle down with families, and a tall, red-brick church overlooks the lines of mid-sized houses.
Crime, when it happens, usually comes in the form of vandalism. Before Twyman's death, there had been a spate of broken windshields, nothing most people worried too much about. To the residents of that placid nook of Evanston, Twyman's murder seemed senseless and unreal. For everyone involved - her neighbors, friends and family - Twyman's death brought home the true meaning of a murder.
Evanston police are still searching for a suspect. Cracking a homicide can take months, even years, says Cmdr. Jim Hutton, who headed the Twyman investigation until he was promoted last week. Hutton has spent 22 years on the Evanston Police Department. The son of a policeman, he is a broad, heavy-set and amicable man who keeps his father's commendation ribbons pinned to his bulletin board. These days, the ribbons are joined by one of the Crime Stoppers fliers.
"Not a day goes by that we don't talk about Linda's homicide," Hutton says. "We want this one bad."
At 10:10 p.m., Nov. 27, police received a phone call from a neighbor who had overheard the sounds of a struggle and a woman's scream coming from Twyman's apartment. Seconds later, the witness saw two figures in hooded sweatshirts and baggy pants dash through the building's back yard, hop the fence and disappear.
By the time the squad cars arrived, Twyman was already dead. Her upper torso was covered in stab wounds. Hutton alerted the North Regional Major Crimes Task Force, a coalition that assists murder cases in the Chicago suburbs. It was officially a homicide investigation.
"(It was) like something out of a movie descended on our street," says Tona Kast, 35, who lived down the block from Twyman. Tona, a wife and mother of three, was one of Twyman's best friends.
Tona's husband, Mike, 47, decided to try to find out what was happening. An officer guarding the scene told him that there had been a break-in and "someone was slapped around." But after an emergency medical service van left empty, Mike thought something seemed awry.
Within the hour, police set up a white crime-scene tent in the front yard of Twyman's building. The Kasts called the landlord of 1144 Ashland Ave., Eric Judise. He said he had already spoken on the phone with Twyman's neighbor. They thought that meant Twyman had to be the one who was attacked. The scene looked serious; they decided she must have been raped.
Twyman's neighbor, who asks to remain anonymous out of fear for her safety, was the last person to see Twyman before the attack. She lived on the second floor of 1144 Ashland Ave., up a steep flight of stairs that faced Twyman's front door. A few minutes before 9:00 p.m., Twyman knocked on the neighbor's door. Water was leaking from her bathroom into Twyman's apartment again, and they were trying to figure out the source. Twyman complimented her on her Christmas tree, but the neighbor politely rushed the conversation so she wouldn't miss the opening scene of her favorite television show, Grey's Anatomy.
"I blame myself for not keeping her up there," she says.
At about 10:15 p.m., the police knocked. They told the neighbor to keep her door closed and wait for an officer to meet her.
The policeman came and asked the neighbor whether she had seen or heard anything unusual. No, she told them, confused about what was going on. She told the officer that if Twyman didn't want to stay downstairs, she could come to her apartment. The officer was silent.
"He looked at me; he gave me that expression like she wasn't alive," the neighbor says.
The officer told her to close the door again and left. At that point, the neighbor dialed Judise. The two traded phone calls until about 1:30 a.m. The landlord asked her to peek out of her door. She peered out for a brief moment before the police noticed. But she had seen enough.
At the bottom of the stairs lay Twyman's body. She could see it from the neck down, drenched, her blouse soaked a shade of dirty brown from the blood. Her chest was covered in white patches from the paramedics.
"I saw her lying there and that's when I said, to my observation, she's dead," the neighbor says. "I said she's not alive, she's dead. She's dead on the floor. And from there it became a nightmare for me."
The neighbor called Judise. He passed the terrible news on to Mike Kast, who kept it to himself. That night in bed, Tona woke up with her husband squeezing her hand. She thought that it was sweet that he was trying to comfort her. In truth, he was scared; he couldn't bring himself to tell her what had happened.
At about 6 a.m., another neighbor called and told Tona to turn on the morning news. Twyman had been murdered.
'A beautiful person inside and out'
David Bakke, a soft-spoken man with a Chicago accent, dark eyes and black hair trimmed 'high-and-tight,' noticed Twyman at their 25-year eighth-grade reunion at Longfellow Elementary School in Oak Park. They talked and took pictures together. Twyman remembered him; Bakke didn't remember her, but they connected when they left the reunion with their friends to go out to dinner. Both had recently quit smoking and discussed their attempts to kick the habit. Bakke was struck.
"She was the most beautiful girl there," he says.
After an e-mail from Bakke and a get-together at Froggy's French Cafe in Highwood, about 17 miles north of Evanston, they began dating. At the time, Bakke drove trucks for Cumbee Freight, taking loads for long hauls to Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, a job he had worked for 10 years. They found time to spend together when Bakke returned on the weekends. Twyman even joined him in the cab for a some trips.
Bakke joined the Army Reserve in 1980, when he was 17, and holds the rank of master sergeant. He usually trained for only one weekend a month and two weeks during the summer, but his unit, part of the 335th Training Support Battalion, was mobilized on March 31, 2005. They moved to Fort McCoy, Wisc., where Bakke helped military personnel prepare for Iraq, training them in first aid, gun safety and how to deal with improvised explosive devices.
One day last summer, he and his friends were watching "Black Hawk Down" when he received a text message from Twyman. "I'm at a hotel in Tomah," it read. Bakke hadn't been expecting a visit. But with Twyman waiting for him in a town that was minutes away, he left his friends beh
Despite Bakke's military career and Twyman's gentle personality, the two rarely argued or fought, Bakke says. He often tried to explain American policy to Twyman, describing the United States' role in World War II as a response to Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor and saying that Saddam Hussein needed to be removed because of the harm he inflicted on his own citizens.
"Just because I'm in the military don't mean I'm not a peaceful person," he says. "She had a lot of respect for me being in the military."
On August 24, Twyman's birthday, Bakke gave her a necklace and a promise ring. He thought they were on their way to getting married.
Twyman was selfless. She couldn't drive, having never earned a learner's permit, but she always found a way to visit her loved ones. When her sister moved to Steger, an hour south of Chicago, Twyman would take the El downtown, switch to the red line at the Howard Street stop, walk to the Metro station and ride the train to see her sister, Colleen Watson.
Twyman loved flowers so much that she tried to plant a new garden and grass in the front lawn of her apartment building, Krawczyk recalls. But as the water bill grew exorbitantly high, Twyman's landlord put a stop to her plans.
She even had trouble killing ants in the house, Bakke says.
"She was a beautiful person inside and out," he says. "She never intentionally hurt anyone or anything."
Tona Kast remembered speaking to Twyman for the last time about a day after moving Twyman's 20-year-old daughter Angela's car. When Twyman came to retrieve the car keys, she brought her a bag of apple pears from Bakke's backyard.
"I didn't even know what apple pears were," Tona says, "But Linda was like, 'Try them, they're good.'"
The two families became close when Angela began baby-sitting for the Kasts five years ago. Tona's husband often helped Twyman with chores and odd jobs, such as changing a hard-to-reach lightbulb. She always let him "talk her ear off," Tona says.
"You would never avoid her," she says.
Twyman's personality had an esoteric, spiritual side. She once stayed at a spa where she obeyed a strictly raw food diet, and she sometimes took courses at the School of Metaphysics on the 5000 block of West Irving Park Road in Chicago. Her pantry was often full of healthy food, stuff her sister Watson says was "nothing I wanted to bring home."
"She meditated on a regular basis, went on retreats - she felt a very spiritual connection to the world and people, to whatever you want to call it: God, a higher power," Krawczyk says.
Krawczyk, whose rear patio was next to Twyman's kitchen window, remembers the long conversations the two would have about their jobs and families over the fence separating their homes. Twyman realized that her lack of a university degree limited her job options and wanted Angela to understand that not going to college was "profoundly the wrong choice."
On Nov. 22, 2005, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Bakke came back to Evanston for a visit. The next day he took his daughter Jenna to Michigan's Upper Peninsula for deer hunting. He returned on Friday and drove to Steger that night to pick up Twyman, who had been shopping with her sister at the yearly "Black Friday" sales. They slept late in Twyman's apartment on Saturday. She cooked Bakke an omelet, an English muffin and hash browns for breakfast.
Bakke had to return to Fort McCoy by Sunday and wanted Twyman to come. Twyman stayed. She wanted to help pack for Angela's upcoming trip to visit her father, Twyman's ex-husband. Bakke left for Fort McCoy at about 1:00 p.m. on Saturday.
The next day, Twyman sent him a text message from her cell phone. The words glowed blue on a white background: "Hi. Hope u r having a good day. the weather is good here 2 day. xo Linda. Nov. 27, 1:18 p.m." It would be their last communication.
Bakke called her house that night. Twyman's caller ID lists the time as 9:15 p.m. She didn't pick up. He called her cell phone. There was no answer.
Bakke got a call from EPD between 2:30 and 3:00 a.m. the next day. The woman on the other end of the line asked him where he was, and when was the last time he had been in Evanston. He asked if there was something wrong, if Twyman was OK. She told him to come back as soon as he could and that, yes, Twyman was fine.
Bakke quickly went to his truck, but it wouldn't start. He drove an Army van through the dark, early morning hours down to Illinois. As he crossed the state line, he turned on a Chicago radio station, WBBM-AM.
"A 43-year-old woman has been stabbed to death on the 1100 block of Ashland Avenue," he remembers hearing. At that point Bakke said he knew, "with this, there's no coming back from it."
He went to the Evanston police station and met Watson, who had been driven there by her husband. It was their 13th wedding anniversary.
Three or four days later - he can't remember the exact date - Bakke drove to the coroner's office to identify Twyman's body. An officer from victims' services took him into a private room where they brought her face up on a television screen. She was hard to recognize, he says, but it was Twyman. He can't remember much of what went through his head as he looked, only that he was upset.
"I told them it was her and got out of there," he says.
Bakke eventually went to the apartment to try and piece together what had happened. He had hunted as a child and knew how to track the wounded. Sadly, the skill would come in handy again: He could tell where Twyman had been from her blood. It practically narrated the crime.
On Twyman's bedroom carpet, near where she was probably first attacked, a two-and-a-half-foot-wide puddle of blood had dried into a thick, red crust. It spotted the walls of the room as if sprayed with a water pistol, Bakke says. It was brutal, but it seemed she had stood up after being attacked and, balancing herself on the wall, walked to her daughter's room - Angela was away that weekend - where she picked up a phone. From there, Twyman made her way to the front door, collapsed and died.
As far as Bakke could tell, that was the path.
Two investigators, Detectives Joe Dugan and Ryan Glew, are assigned to the case. They have worked late nights and brought their work home on the weekends, following through on hundreds of leads, all dead ends. Because the investigation is ongoing, Hutton can share only a few details. Nothing was stolen from the apartment and there were no signs of forced entry. There was no sign of rape. No one is sure if the perpetrators knew Twyman. But Hutton doesn't seem to think she was an arbitrary target.
"That one block of Ashland, you're not going to find it by accident," he says.
The forensics department is still processing much of the material from the crime scene. EPD is asking every person who passes through the station if they have any information that might relate to Twyman's death. Any sliver of evidence might break the case.
"I mean, we could pick up someone for a suspended license, and they could turn us on to the information that would send us in the right direction," Hutton says.
He recalls a case in 1997, when a 16-year-old was shot in the head outside his family's convenience store at the corner of Church Street and Dodge Avenue. The investigation spanned a year and a half. It only broke after the department picked up a man for unrelated charges: harassing an ex-girlfriend over the phone. When they brought him in for questioning, he offered information about a local gun and drug dealer. The EPD conducted a raid and arrested the dealer, who struck a plea agreement where he revealed the teen's killers.
"Eventually we're going to get to the end of the road, and we're going to lock these people up," Hutton says. "If there is any fatigue, all I have to do is look up on that bulletin board and it's gone. That's the least we owe Linda."
Ten days after Twyman's murder, once
police removed the white crime-scene tent from the front lawn, Krawczyk lit a candle on the doorstep of the apartment building. Every night, for a month, she lit the candle. She still thinks about Twyman all the time.
"The last night I was laying in bed thinking, 'Wow, you're really gone,'" Krawczyk says.
This spring she might plant some flowers in memory of her friend, the ones Twyman always wanted.
Like most of those suffering through the aftermath of Twyman's murder, she wants to know who did it and why, but says there will never be a good answer. Twyman, innocent and sweet, a "nature girl" who never learned how to drive a car, is gone. Seeing her killers punished won't bring her back and won't allow her and Bakke to live happily ever after, Krawczyk says.
Since the murder, more than four months ago, Tona Kast's 7-year-old son has slept in his parents' bed every night. He has to know where his mother is at all times.
"He can't go anywhere without me, he's terrified for my safety," she says. "It's probably affected him more than anyone else."
The Kasts, who also have two daughters, ages 13 and three, bought a dog after the murder, a Labrador and German Shepherd mix, to help protect their home. Mike, she says, is adamant about keeping the house's doors shut and locked. After the murder, a man from the security company ADT went from door to door on the block offering home security systems for sale. The Kasts didn't accept one.
They have lived in their Ashland Avenue house for 10 years - Mike has lived in Evanston his whole life - but the two have decided to move their family out of the neighborhood to the northwest suburbs. The new house is closer to Mike's work, Tona says.
"I know murders happen everywhere, but you evaluate your surroundings more after something like this," Tona says.
Rather than fear every trip outside her house, Tona says she has become braver. To think that someone took Twyman's life so brutally makes her furious.
"I would love to come and confront that person," she says.
The tight circle of those who experienced the horror of that November night remains on guard, sometimes to the exclusion of newcomers.
At the end of January, a couple of weeks before the vigil the neighborhood held for Twyman, a new family moved into a house down the street from her apartment. The father had been living there alone for some time, but his new wife came up from Mexico City with her children. Late one night, as the family's two sons played soccer in the street, a neighbor came out of his house to confront them. Seeing two unfamiliar men in the street, he had already called the police.
A Jamaican family with two young daughters moved into Twyman's old apartment less than a month after the murder. Neighbors were quick to call the police one day when the father, still an unfamiliar face in the neighborhood, stood on his stoop talking with two friends.
After Twyman's murder, Tona sat down with friends several times a day to go over details of the case, trying to figure it out. She remembered that Twyman, who was interested in dream analysis, had written about a dream she had had of walking through muddy water, not long before her murder. After looking it up online and talking to friends, Tona realized the dream supposedly symbolizes bad luck and coming misfortune.
Tona kept busy by helping organize Twyman's vigil and constantly putting up fliers. One day, while Tona was fliering near the intersection of Emerson Street and Dodge Avenue, a woman told her she wouldn't be making such an effort if Twyman were black. Tona, who is white, replied: "Yes, ma'am, I would. If she was my neighbor and I cared for her, I would most definitely."
Once she taped fliers in the area around the intersection of Main and Dodge streets, only to find they were all torn down when she returned. The next day, she put up twice as many.
It tells you something when fliers in certain areas are torn down, said Cook County Crime Stoppers President George McDade.
"We're irritating somebody," he says. "I'm happy over that, I really am."
McDade says the person, or people, who murdered Twyman have to do the same things everyone else does every day, like shop for groceries. He thinks the murderer is still in the area and hopes that the $1,000 award offered by Crime Stoppers for any anonymous tip that leads to an arrest will convince someone to turn him or her in. Regardless, he wants to make the criminal nervous enough to cause a mistake.
"When he sees a squad car going down the street, he has to wonder in the back of his mind if it's coming for him," McDade said.
Bakke and Watson organized Twyman's possessions into boxes and stacked them on her bed. Watson found a battered women's shelter and arranged for one of the women moving into an apartment to pick items from some of Twyman's things. They donated what was left to a thrift store in the shelter's name, so the women could shop there at a discounted price.
The four-hour drive from the Evanston area to Fort McCoy is harder now for Bakke. The flat, open expanses of Wisconsin countryside offer plenty of time and space to think. Bakke remembers a vacation he took with Twyman in Red Wing, Minn., where Twyman experimented with driving a boat. Her lack of car-driving skills showed. Their little boat ended up in the wrong traffic lane, forcing larger vessels to dodge out of the way.
The emotional wounds are still raw, and Bakke finds it hard cope with his loss. He tries not to bother the police because "if you're on the phone with them, they can't do their job."
The plans Bakke had for them make it even harder. Last June he bought a house in North Chicago, a three-story Cape Cod, about 30 minutes north of Evanston. He planned for them to fix it up and then move in together. Three days after Twyman's funeral, he received the building permits. He called Watson to tell her how happy she would have been.
"I probably would have been asking her to marry me on a Valentine's Day or something," Bakke wrote in an e-mail. "We liked to surprise each other. I think that is one of the reasons her and I got along so well is that what I liked most was making her happy, and she did the same for me."
Reach Jordan Weissmann at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reach Evan Hill at email@example.com.