Patty Columbo - the baddest girl in Chicago's Northwest suburbs
This past weekend marked the thirtieth anniversary of the brutal murders of three members of a middle-class family in Elk Grove Village by one of their own kin. On May 4, 1976, Patricia "Patty" Columbo and her sleazeball 37-year-old boyfriend, Frank DeLuca, busted into her childhood home killing Patty's parents, Frank and Mary, in cold blood, along with Patty's little brother, Michael, who was just 13.
The murders were an embarrassment to Chicago's Northwest suburbs, long touted for their excellent schools, sprawling lawns and wholesome family values. The Columbos' neighbors refused to cooperate when police came knocking on their doors asking if they had seen or heard anything unusual the night of the murders. Instead, residents locked their doors and closed their drapes to the melange of news media, cops and police tape strung around the innocuous split-level home that Frank and Mary Columbo had purchased new in 1964, like the hundreds of thousands of other young couples fleeing the city for the good suburban life at that time. The sight of police detectives bustling in and out of the house did not even draw a crowd of curious gapers waving to the TV news cameras behind the field reporters broadcasting their live reports from the sidwalk in front of the Columbo house.
After DeLuca shot Frank, who had been killed first as he tried to escape by running up the living room stairs, Patty bludgeoned her father with a bowling trophy. Mary was found cowering in the bathroom - her favorite room in the house where she had once lovingly hand-painted each bathroom tile with gold filigrie - who had been shot dead center between the eyes. Patty or DeLuca slit her throat just in case the bullet didn't take care of her, although the Cook County medical examiner said that Mary was probably dead before she even hit the floor.
The last victim was Michael, who had slept through the initial gunshots. The two woke Michael up and stood him upright half-alseep in his bedroom while DeLuca shot him. Patty then stabbed Michael 87 times with her mother's sewing scissors. When police found Michael's body, they said on first glance it looked as if Michael had had a case of the measles, until they realized that the "measles" were dozens of tiny red gashes.
This is the detail that always amazes me. After finishing their carnage, Patty and DeLuca turned on the furnace inside the family home and set the thermostat at 97 degrees to hasten decomposition. The next morning, DeLuca showed up as usual to his job as a Walgreen's pharmacist at Elk Grove Village's "Go-Go Center" strip mall.
The bodies weren't discovered until three days later on May 7, when a village police officer showed up to inform Frank that one of the family cars had been found in a poor, black neighborhood on the city's West Side. (Patty and DeLuca wanted to stage the murders to make them look like mob hits or the work of black street gangs.) Noticing the front door ajar and undelivered newspapers piled up on the front step of the otherwise immaculately landscaped home, the patrolman pushed open the door and saw Frank's body sprawled across the living room stairs with a piece of the bowling trophy sticking out of his gashed skull, and immediately radioed for backup.
For the next eight days, Patty roamed free. (Frank would not be arrested for the murders until that July.) Police were amazed at Patty's "Frederick's of Hollywood" getup and her heavily made-up face when she was summoned to the Elk Grove Village police station to be told of her family's murders. Instead of rushing to scene after learning that her entire family had been slaughtered, Patty began helpfully offering potential leads of her father's supposed mob ties, who she claimed ran a mob chop shop for stolen cars behind the auto parts store that he managed in the city. (Frank Columbo's alleged ties to organized crime were quickly discounted by detectives, and Frank was vindicated as an honest, hardwoking, devoted family man at wit's end with his headstrong daughter.) Village detectives immediately smelled a rat.
The detectives quickly established roles for themselves to make Patty crack. Instead of "good cop, bad cop," one of the detectives described as looking like Tom Jones, assumed the role of "boyfriend." At her family's wake and funeral, Patty flirted openly with the detective, to the point where her grieving relatives thought he was the despised DeLuca who had alienated Patty from her family. (DeLuca skulked unnoticed in a corner of the funeral home.) When Patty wasn't joking, smoking or flirting, she flung herself on top of her parents' and little brother's closed caskets, wailing with grief.
A few days later, Patty was charged with three counts of first-degree, premeditated murder. The cops determined that Patty had originally set out to hire "hit men," a couple of losers she met in a motel cocktail lounge, to murder her family. She had even gone so far as to draw a map of her parents' house, along with a warning that the family's white miniature poodle was a "yapper." After the supposed "hit men" had strung Patty along, having sex with her and ripping her off of $2,000, Patty persuaded DeLuca to help her carry out the job.
For the next year, Chicagoland was riveted by lurid front-page headlines of group sex, betrayal, bestility (DeLuca had filmed Patty with an 8mm movie camera having sex with his German shepherd) and evil. The public learned of Patty's seduction when she was 16 years old, working the lunch counter at the Go-Go Center where DeLuca, a suave, 36-year-old married father of five, lured the pretty teenager who he thought was of age, into a sexually-charged affair that allowd DeLuca to fulfill all of his sick fantasies. (At one point, after Frank Columbo threw Patty out of the house, she went to live with the DeLucas. Patty would blow DeLuca while his wife and children froliced outside in the family's above-ground swimming pool.)
Patty was no angel herself. Her father was a controlling, Old World Italian whose ideas of raising a daughter meant locking her in a room until marriage. Patty had been the apple of Frank's eye, until the birth of her little brother when Patty was six. Frank's attentions soon focused on his male heir, and Patty became just another broad. While neighbors marveled and often commented on Patty's almost excessive doting on Michael, it was apparent that she had long harbored a seething hatred and jealousy for her brother, unleashed by the mutilation of his body. Patty had also been arrested for running up thousands of dollars on stolen credit cards, for which Frank made restitution. Still, Patty scorned her father by running to the arms of the despotic DeLuca.
The next summer, Patty and DeLuca were tried and convicted of the brutal murders. The public seemed fascinated by Patty in particular, who prosecutors had pegged as the violent crime's mastermind. She was beautiful, and could have been anyone's pretty daughter. Both were ordered to serve "indeterminate" life sentences of 200 to 300 years. Soon after, Patty and DeLuca broke off their ties after each was sent to a separate prison to beging serving their sentences. Since then, Patty or "Trish" as she now likes to be called, has become the first inmate in the Illinois Correctional System to earn a bachelor's degree, as well as the state's longest-serving female inmate. During the 1980s, she was busted for running a "prostitution ring" at the Dwight Correctional Center, pimping off fellow female inmates to prison guards. She has cleaned up her act, however, becoming a model prisoner and tutor for illiterate convicts.
Patty is also the subjet of two books, the laudable "Dad, Mom, Mike and Patti," and the more marginally successful but notorious, "Love's Blood" by Clark Howard, an eccentric whack-job who lives in a creepy, Addams Family-house in Uptown, and was rumored to have fallen in love with Patty while interviewing her behind bars. (Following the book's publication, Patty allegedly dumped the author, her interest mainly being in the candy bars and chips that he purchased for her from the prison's vending machines.)
In the book, Patty claims she was molested by a family friend, her "godfather." "Love's Blood" is full of raunchy, molestation scenes in the back of her godfather's candy truck. Patty also claims that she was deathly afraid of her father's temper, who she said would fly into blind rages during Cubs games at supposed strategic blunders by Cubs manager, Leo Durocher.
Patty Columbo has always intrigued me. We both attended high schools just a few miles from each other at the same time during the mid-1970s. Six months older than me, I knew a million, pretty, hot-to-trot chicks, some of them Italian American princesses just like Patty. A girl in my freshman art class who was a dead ringer for Patty, ended up becoming the barely legal mistress of a well-known pop singer whose character was recently whacked on "The Sopranos" after we graduated. Like Patty, I was 19 years old when the murders occurred, reading the grisly accounts in the Chicago Daily News while riding the bus to community college. I even had a little brother the same age as Michael Columbo, and could not imagine myself stabbing him 87 times with a pair of sewing scissors, as much as I would have liked.
I shared a lot of commonalities with Patty, growing up in the same middle-class suburbs where jet planes from O'Hare International Airport constantly screamed overhead, browsing and shoplifiting cheap earrings from the same suburban shopping malls. I immediately understood how the usurping of her family position - from doted-on little girl to undervalued female child after the birth of her brother - sewed the seeds of her pathological dysfunction, because I also grew up in such a household. With just a few flicks of the neurological connectors that prevent most of us from becoming family killers, I, or any or my friends, could have just as easily become Patty Columbo.
Patty, now a haggy 49-year-old, is up for parole on June 1. As the thirtieth anniversary of her family's murders comes to pass, Patty claims she is rehabilitated of her twisted adolescent self, during which early sexual molestation colored her view of men and the world. She says that she is full of remorse for the violent rage that granted her the three wishes she had most hoped for when she was 19, the deaths of her father, mother and little brother.
She also purports that the lead detective in the case, Ray Rose, who led a sophisticated investigation unheard of for an inexperienced suburban police force in the pre-DNA era, is as much a victim of her heinous crimes as her family, "only he survived."
It's hard to follow Patty's logic on that one. What distinguishes her upcoming parole hearing from all the rest, is that this time there is a glimmer of hope that she will be released. Given the number of stab wounds in her little brother, I don't think that Patty has even begun to serve her sentence. Before she was incarcerated, she never traveled outside of Illinois. Given the opportunity, she may have eventually broken herself free of her co-dependence on DeLuca and reconciled with her family. All that remains of Patty's short, free life are the faded 8mm images of her making it with a dog.