Last Sunday, a couple was found in an apartment not far from here, their hands bound with television cable, eyes and mouth taped shut, throats slashed.
The killings brought to 14 the number of unsolved slayings in suburban Will County over the past two months.
State's Attorney Edward A. Petka said there is "no conclusive evidence linking any or all of these crimes." But investigators are searching hard for similarities in the 14 homicides--plus two just over the line in Cook County--that have caused great apprehension in a area that retains a rural flavor with wheat and cornfields nearby.
Some of the victims were shot, others stabbed. Robbery may have been a motive in one quadruple slaying that was discovered Saturday, but the motives seem obscure in most cases.
Gov. James R. Thompson, a former prosecutor, has offered to send state investigators to search for clues and the killer or killers. Publicly, county officials welcomed the offer, but privately one senior local official fumed that Thompson was grandstanding, painting local law enforcement officials as incompetent rural "hay throwers."
The lethal violence began with the June 25 discovery of the charred bodies of two elderly sisters in a house in Joliet Township, outside the city limits. They had been beaten and stabbed.
On July 2, a housewife and a suburban businessman were found shot to death in a car on a secluded road in southwest Cook County.
Two weeks later, on July 16, snipers attacked seven other people on rural back roads north of here--including two law enforcement officers who tried to find the gunmen. Five died in these attacks, known here as the "Homer Township" murders. One of the law enforcement officers died of his wounds a month later.
On July 17, a motorist was shot to death on Interstate 55, also in Will County. His fiance was abducted, raped, stabbed and left to die. But she survived, and law officers have constructed a composite drawing of at least one suspect based on the her recollections.
Investigators say they believe that pistols of similar calibers, possibly .357 magnum or .38, were used in the snipings.
Last Saturday, four women were found stabbed to death in a ceramics shop a few miles east of the Will County Courthouse in the center of Joliet. One woman also had a gunshot wound in the neck.
Investigators said that purses belonging to three of the slain women have been found in a nearby creek, the money gone. One senior investigator said that robbery may have been a motive in these killings.
But the purse of the fourth woman also has been found, untouched, in the store along with a cash box containing money. Police officers say they think the killers may have overlooked them in a rush to escape.
On Sunday, the bodies of Ralph Dixon, 40, and Crystal Knight, 25, were found in a Park Forest apartment. Dixon was a former Cook County deputy sheriff who left that force after being acquitted in a criminal trial in 1978. He was said to have no known job, but drove luxury cars.
Some investigators have said they think that these slayings may have been drug-related and therefore unlikely to have any connections with the other killings.
The media attention generated by the killings has angered prosecutor Petka.
Petka said that the Chicago news media has sensationalized the story by reporting that people are ready to move out of Will County because of fear.
"I know people are concerned, that's human nature, but if you look around and talk to people, you will find they are still performing their jobs rationally," Petka said.
Joliet, a city of 78,000 beside the Des Plaines River, 36 miles south of Chicago, has a proud tradition of hard work and conservative values.
Joliet now has the highest unemployment rate for any city in Illinois--26.4 percent--according to the Joliet Herald-News.
Petka said that the slayings have added to the sense of unease rising from the high unemployment.
A young secretary at City Hall pointed out that none of the killings had occurred inside the city. However, she added, "You wouldn't want to have your car break down at night on the back roads east of here. I don't go out alone at night any more. And those four murders in the ceramics shop--they were pretty close to downtown."