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It's not our place to question how a privately funded reward in the Brown's Chicken murder case is disbursed, but we will say this: The release of the money is a welcome coda to the long, painful dirge of this case.
Palatine City Councilman Jack Wagner and a panel of citizens created the reward fund 17 years ago when it appeared the killers had carefully and skillfully eliminated nearly every piece of physical evidence. To solve the case, it would fall to - in the words of then-Police Chief Jerry Bratcher - some person who knew something who would pick up the phone and provide a tip.
That person, in 2002, was Melissa Oberle.
Oberle herself was not familiar with particulars of the killings, but her friend Anne Lockett had just unloaded on her a wrenching secret she'd been protecting for nearly a decade - Juan Luna and James Degorski told her they had committed the murders on a lark.
It's clear that the reward itself did not break the case. Oberle immediately took her friend's information to police and doesn't appear even to have known there was a reward. Lockett, who has since married becoming Anne England, was not yet ready to go to police on her own, authorities have said.
But the money at least serves as a form of tangible acknowledgment of people who did the right thing, and perhaps some incentive in future circumstances to induce others to do the same. Certainly, it is difficult to consider rewarding the nine years of agony and yearning that the victims' families had to suffer while England kept her secret, and we are left to accept her testimony that it was fear for her own life that held her back.
Ultimately, though, her conscience was stronger than her fear, and but for the chance she took, the arrests and prosecution of this case may have never taken place. How many other witnesses are out there whose testimony could soothe the aching hearts of a grieving family?
Perhaps the presentation of this reward will stir one of them to act.
Crime Stoppers International reports on its Web site that its reward programs totaling more than $94 million over the years have been involved in the clearance of more than 1.2 million cases, the recovery of billions of dollars worth of property and the seizure of billions more in drugs and other contraband.
That's an impressive record. In the Brown's case, it appears human nature was more at play than the lure of a big payday, but the Crime Stoppers results show how valuable rewards can be in getting witnesses to come forward.
Reportedly, Oberle may transfer some portion of her allotment to charity and that would surely add a fitting touch to the end of the Brown's tragedy. But whatever she or England does with the money, the delivery of the $98,000 reward provides a sense of finality in a case that has had precious few redeeming moments.