Source: Note blames judge for loss of ‘his house, his job and family’
Investigators early today said a man who shot himself in the head during a traffic stop in Wisconsin had a suicide note claiming responsibility for the slaying of U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow’s husband and mother last week.
Members of the task force of Chicago police and federal agents said a van driven by Bart Ross, whose last known address was in the 4500 block of North Bernard Street in Chicago, was stopped in West Allis, near Milwaukee, about 6 p.m.
Ross was stopped in West Allis, Wis., about 6 p.m. Wednesday because his van had no taillights, West Allis police said today.
The van had been parked near a school. Noticing it had Illinois license plates and seeing that the occupant was doing something, perhaps writing, officers became suspicious and followed it when it left the school area, West Allis Police Chief Dean Puschnig said at a news conference early today.
The van had no taillights and made an illegal U-turn, prompting the pursuing officer to pull it over, Puschnig said.
As an officer approached the car, Ross killed himself with a gunshot to the head, police said.
Investigators said the man had a suicide note that included an admission that he shot the judge’s family.
The note included details in the case that were not released to the public, investigators said. Sources close to the investigation added that there was a list in the van of all the people who had mistreated him, including judges.
In the vehicle were about 300 .22 caliber shells. Investigators found three casings of the same caliber in the Lefkow home this week. Investigators also said they should have enough physical evidence, including DNA, a fingerprint and other items from the crime scene, to make a definitive comparison.
Sources close to the case said the judge had ruled against Ross in a civil matter. He was not immediately thought to have ties to any hate group.
The note indicated that the judgment had cost Ross “his house, his job and family” one source said. Records show Ross filed a lawsuit against the University of Illinois over cancer treatment in the early 90s. The suit first was ruled against twice before Lefkow rejected it on a technicality in 2004.
As investigators combed the Chicago murder scene again Wednesday, federal authorities were using bullets recovered from the bodies in an attempt to pinpoint the make and model of the murder weapon.
The bullets and casings have created a puzzle for investigators.
An early examination of unique markings on the bullets indicated the weapon could be a .22-caliber revolver, some familiar with the tests said, while other investigators said it could be another type of firearm. Indications the weapon might be a revolver raises more questions, investigators said, because true revolvers do not eject casings.
One theory was that the casings could have been dropped in the reloading of a very small handgun that holds only one or two rounds, investigators said.
Two casings were found just after the bodies of Michael Lefkow and Donna Humphrey were discovered by Judge Lefkow after she returned home from court on Feb. 28. One was located under one of the bodies, sources have said, and the other was found behind papers on a low shelf of books.
The third was found in the basement of the home on Tuesday after investigators returned to the home in a new, intense round of evidence gathering, according to sources.
Technicians have removed a significant amount of evidence from the Lefkow home in the last two days, sources said. Investigators took search dogs through the home on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, several doors were removed from the house to be examined for trace evidence. Pieces removed from the house were being analyzed at the Chicago police crime lab, investigators said.
Major evidence analyzed in the last several days has not produced information to break the case. Neither DNA collected from a cigarette butt left in the sink of the house nor a fingerprint found on a broken window have led to a suspect.
Both the genetic profile and fingerprint have been run through national databases, but no matches were found. Members of the task force of Chicago police detectives and federal agents were continuing to chase hundreds of tips Wednesday. The task force has now swelled to as many as 300 investigators.
Officials also hope a $50,000 reward being offered in the case might draw someone forward.
Also Wednesday, Glenn Greenwald, a New York attorney who has represented Hale in several past civil lawsuits, said Hale’s mother asked him to pass a clearly coded message from Hale to a follower about 2 to 2½ months ago. Greenwald said he declined to deliver the message because he didn’t understand what Hale meant in the note.
Tribune staff reporters David Heinzmann, Matt O’Connor, Tom Rybarczyk and Brett McNeil and the Associated Press contributed to this report.