CHICAGO, March 1 -- Last year U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow spent weeks under federal protection after a white supremacist in her court threatened to have her killed. But when the suspect was behind bars, Lefkow felt safe enough to drop the security detail provided her by the U.S. Marshals Service.
On Monday night, Lefkow returned from work to discover the bodies of her husband and her elderly mother in the basement of her home on Chicago's North Side. Both had been shot. On Tuesday, as marshals were again providing Lefkow with around-the-clock protection, and dozens of detectives and FBI agents began searching for a motive and suspect in the homicides, speculation centered on the followers of Matthew Hale, convicted last year of obstruction of justice and ordering Lefkow's killing.
The bodies of the husband and mother of U.S. Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow were found in their home on Chicago's North Side.
(Jeff Roberson -- AP)
Lefkow had enraged Hale and his supporters when she ordered Hale's group to change its name after it lost a trademark-infringement suit to an Oregon church with a similar name, and later held Hale in contempt and fined him $200,000. More than once since then, someone posted the judge's address on the Web and pasted in a biography and photograph of her husband, Michael Lefkow, 64, a lawyer.
Careful not to push the evidence too far too fast, a police supervisor said Tuesday that investigators are looking in "many, many directions."
"The case is too new. The evidence is still being worked up," said James Molloy, chief of detectives. He said police found much to study at the crime scene near Chicago's lakefront.
Molloy said the killing took place sometime between 10:30 a.m., when Lefkow's mother, Donna Grace Humphrey, 89, took a call from one of her granddaughters, and about 5:30 p.m., when Lefkow returned home. At 4 p.m., one of the Lefkows' four daughters hurriedly entered the house to grab a gym bag, but did not see her father or grandmother before she left for a workout.
At the federal courthouse, where Joan Lefkow had worked since her 2000 appointment to the bench by President Bill Clinton, disbelief defined the day.
"She is one of the loveliest, most principled human beings who has ever walked the face of this Earth," said one friend, who described the Lefkows, married in 1975, as "caring and compassionate people. They are family-oriented people, very religious people, but not in a judgmental way."
Because of the notoriety of the Hale assassination plot, few seemed to believe the killings could be a coincidence. In the upscale, tree-lined Edgewater neighborhood where Lefkow lives, Eddy McDonough said he had seen squad cars parked outside the judge's house in the past. He considered it a targeted attack.
"This is a hit," McDonough said. "Most people living here don't feel threatened, since this wasn't aimed at them, but we're in shock."
On average, about 700 threats are made against court officers each year, according to the Marshals Service, which secures federal courthouses across the country. In 2003, marshals managed special security for 20 federal judges and prosecutors.
If the Chicago killings are eventually connected to Lefkow's work on the bench, it will be the first time that relatives of a federal judge have been killed. Three judges have been assassinated.
Mark Potok, chief of the hate group monitoring project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said he believes it is "highly likely that a follower or sympathizer of Matt Hale is responsible. This is a group with a really remarkable record of criminal violence. The members of this group have been involved in murder, bank robbery, innumerable beatings and aggravated assaults."
Hale is now being held in a federal prison under rules that severely restrict his contact with outsiders and is scheduled to be sentenced for the murder solicitation conviction April 6.