It was a plot line straight out of a crime novel: A self-pronounced white supremacist unhappy with a court ruling hatches a scheme to kill the judge who handed it down.
Only this wasn’t fiction for Joan Humphrey Lefkow.
Federal authorities took Matt Hale seriously enough that they provided the federal judge protection for at least a few weeks last year and Chicago police stepped up patrolling her neighborhood.
Then on Monday, a month before Hale was scheduled to be sentenced for his plot, Lefkow went home to discover the bodies of her husband and 89-year-old mother in the basement. Both had been shot multiple times, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.
Local officials investigating the shooting deaths of Michael Lefkow, 64, and Donna Humphrey were careful Tuesday to say that they haven’t ruled out anything, from revenge to burglary.
Chicago’s chief of detectives, James Molloy, said, “We are looking in many, many directions, but it would be far too early to draw any definitive links.”
Late Tuesday, a federal source speaking on condition of anonymity said physical evidence found at the house where the murders occurred includes a broken window that authorities hoped would produce fingerprints.
Investigators also were looking into the source of several of phone calls the judge and her family received Sunday night that may have come from a correctional facility and a mysterious car parked near the home Monday morning, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Wednesday, citing a police report.
But from the federal courthouse to the Lefkows’ North Side neighborhood, speculation was about a hate group out for revenge.
“After everybody expresses how terrible they feel, that’s the next topic of conversation,” said Thomas Breen, a Chicago attorney who has argued cases before Lefkow, a district judge. “Everybody is talking about white supremacist groups and how efficient they may be at what they do.”
By Tuesday morning, articles of the killings had been posted on white supremacist Web sites, along with “RAHOWA!”, meaning “racial holy war.”
In a discussion on a white nationalist Web site in 2003, members had talked about the case against Hale and posted the Lefkows’ home address. Anti-Defamation League official Mark Pitcavage said another white supremacist’s short wave radio show last April had discussed killing the judge.
Hale’s father, retired East Peoria policeman Russell Hale, dismissed the notion that his son was involved in the slayings, saying he is under constant surveillance and the FBI closely monitors his phone calls and visits with family members.
“There would be no way he could order anything,” said Hale. “It’s ridiculous.”
Hale’s mother, Evelyn Hutcheson, told the Chicago Tribune in Wednesday’s editions that FBI agents had come to her East Peoria home to ask where another Hale relative had been Monday. Hutcheson said the relative was at an area business Monday that had a security camera.
Molloy would not provide many details about the killings, but one federal source who spoke only on condition of anonymity said both victims had been shot in the head. Another source said that police found two .22 caliber casings and that a window at the house had been broken.
As they looked into a possible motive, more than two dozen members of the Chicago Police, FBI and U.S. Marshals Service were searching for clues in Lefkow’s professional life, including her role presiding over cases involving Hale and others.
Lefkow has presided over a variety of cases since she was nominated to the District Court bench by President Clinton in 2000. She has sentenced defendants in the political corruption case involving former Gov. George Ryan, decided the mental fitness of a man suspected of shooting a police officer and ordered the makers of Beanie Babies to pay $700,000 in a trademark case.
The judge was questioned for hours after discovering the bodies. She and her family were placed under the protection of the U.S. Marshals Service, said Charles P. Kocoras, chief federal judge for the Northern District of Illinois.
During Hale’s trial, prosecutors contended that Hale was furious when Lefkow ordered him to stop using the name World Church of the Creator because it had been trademarked by an Oregon-based religious group with no ties to Hale.
Friends of the Lefkows were stunned that anyone would want to harm Michael Lefkow, an attorney, who with his wife was active in the Episcopal Church.
“He was a delightful person,” said Eleanor Lukens, one of about 30 people who gathered Tuesday night at the family’s church, St. Luke’s in Evanston. “This is a terrible tragedy, a shock to the entire congregation.”
Associated Press writers Mike Robinson and Michael Tarm contributed to this report._