Police search for man who killed 5 women in clothing store

Monday, February 4, 2008
Greg Zanis, of Sugar Grove, Ill., put up five crosses and left flowers Sunday in front of the Lane Bryant store at the Brookside shopping center in Tinley Park, Ill. (JERRY LAI ~ Associated Press)

TINLEY PARK, Ill. -- Authorities stepped up their hunt for a gunman Sunday as they released the names of five women killed inside a suburban Chicago clothing store during a robbery attempt gone awry.

Police were tightlipped on the status of their investigation and gave no indication they were any closer to finding the man -- described as a stocky black man, about 5-foot-9, who was wearing a black winter coat, a knit cap and dark pants -- suspected in Saturday's brazen attack.

"This has been an extremely sensitive investigation," said police chief Mike O'Connell, who asked community members to come forward with any clues.

The dead include the plus-size clothing store's manager, a nurse and a high school social worker, along with two others.

They were identified Sunday as: Connie R. Woolfolk, 37, of Flossmoor; Sarah T. Szafranski, 22, of Oak Forest; Carrie H. Chiuso, 33, of Frankfort; Rhoda McFarland, 42, of Joliet; and Jennifer L. Bishop, 34, of South Bend, Ind.

The Will County Coroner said all five were shot to death.

Tinley Park police would not confirm media reports Sunday that a sixth woman was shot and survived.

Tinley Park Mayor Edward Zabrocki said Sunday he feared for the entire area and was stepping up police patrols.

"We are concerned about the safety of Tinley Park, but also the entire region," he said. "This tragedy should not have happened in any town."

Zabrocki ordered flags at half-staff on municipal buildings in the community for five days -- one for each of the victims.

Only one murder was reported in the growing suburb of nearly 60,000 between 1999 through 2006, according to annual reports compiled by Illinois State Police.

"It was a real shock to all of us," said Frank German, who has been the Tinley Park Village Clerk for 40 years.

Lane Bryant's parent company, Bensalem, Pa.-based Charming Shoppes Inc., said it was offering a $50,000 reward for information that could lead investigators to the gunman.

"We grieve for the innocent victims and our primary concern at this time is for the families and loved ones of those fatally injured," the company said in a statement Sunday, adding that it was closing its Chicago-area stores on Sunday in honor of the slain.

Meanwhile, Cook County Crime Stoppers also offered a reward -- $1,000 per victim -- for information on the incident.

At the mall on Sunday, police tape flapped in the wind in front of the boarded-up Lane Bryant store while a dozen investigators scoured the area, climbing rooftops and re-checking roads.

Mourners erected a makeshift memorial of five white crosses and flowers outside the store as shoppers returned to the mall and tried to make sense of the brutal killings.

A tear rolled down Cindy Sorenson's cheek as she brought a bouquet of bright red roses to the Lane Bryant store.

Sorenson, who works as a store manager at a nearby mall, said she didn't know any of the victims, but couldn't stop thinking about the women who died.

"Your job is your home," the 34-year-old Tinley Park resident said. "You spend so much time in a store and you never think anything like this will happen."

David Korbel knelt down on one knee and bowed his head in prayer by a curb in front of the store.

"I simply prayed for the families and for the authorities, so that they would get the man who did this," said Korbel, who lives in nearby Frankfort.

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