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John Wills – Novelist

John Wills is a friend of mine from my Chicago Police gym days. John was a physical phenomonen. He ran 25-mile marathons, and I mean he ran them fast, and he could bench press the rear end of a John Deere tractor. For those of you that are not health freaks, and for those of you who are, most athletes do one or the other, but not both. John took several bullets on the west side of Chicago when he was a Chicago Police Officer and narrowly escaped death. He later joined the FBI. When he retired from the FBI, he began writing. He puts forth the same effort into his writing that he did into running marathons, lifting weights, and his law enforcement careers. He recently released, “The Nightstand Collection”, which is available as an E-book, and it’s FREE. You can’t beat the price, so please give him a read. The information is listed below.

Please enjoy a FREE download of my 5-star anthology on Amazon Kindle: The Nightstand Collection

John M. Wills
Award-winning Author / Freelance Writer
Reviewer for the New York Journal of Books
Read my book of short stories: The Nightstand Collection
(540) 226-9478


And Justice for All

In 1976, I investigated the brutal sexual assault and slaying of nine-year old, Lisa Cabassa.  The coroner’s post-mortem examination concluded she had been sexually violated in every way conceiveable by multiple offenders.  A pubic hair was recovered from the body and seminal fluid from the victim’s anus.   Later, an eyewitness identified two men she saw abducting the little girl.  Eyewitness identifications are sometimes not deemed reliable, however, in this particular case, the eyewitness knew the offender personally.  The offender lived two or three doors away from the witness.  We did not have DNA in 1976, so we couldn’t prove beyond a doubt who may have been the sperm donor, but we could absolutely eliminate someone as not being a donor.  Both arrestees were eliminated as being the men that had anal sex with the nine-year old victim.  The prosecuting attorneys stipulated to that at trial.  Both defendants were subsequently convicted of murder by a judge.  The eyewitness feared for the safety of  herself and her family after testifying so the State’s Attorney’s Office paid for her moving expenses.  The appelate court ruled the State had erred by not notifying the defense of providing moving funds to the witness, and a new trial was ordered.  The defendants asked for a jury trial this time.   Both defendants were again found guilty of murder.

With the advent of DNA technology, twenty-nine years later the semen recovered from Lisa Cabassa’s rectum was subjected to DNA testing, and it was found not to belong to either of the two defendants.  No surprise to anyone.  We knew they weren’t the donors 29 years ago at the first trial, and we knew they weren’t the donors at the 2nd trial.  They were pardoned by the governor of Illinois.   Of course, pursuant to their release, all the policemen involved in the investigation, and the City of Chicago, were sued for the tidy sum of $70 million dollars.  For those of you that have never been the subject of a civil lawsuit, or sat on a jury in a civil lawsuit, this is what usually happens.  The plaintiffs ask for an outrageous amount of money, like $70 million, and the jury awards them some lesser amount to appease them.  The plaintiffs go home with their $10 million, so they’re happy, and the defendants don’t get whacked for the whole $70, so they’re happy.  A compromise.  That didn’t happen in our case.  The plaintiffs were awarded zilch, nada, nothing. 

So, you may wonder why I’m still ragging about this incident after celebrating such a resounding victory.  Several reasons.  The two defendants in this case were tried and convicted twice for murdering Lisa Cabassa.  They’re out on the street, and Lisa Cabassa is still dead.  The two murderers were portrayed in the media as victims of the system. 

Then, while our civil trial was in progress, the federal judge gave a statement to the press saying he thought we (the police) were lying about certain police department policies and practices that existed in 1976.  Do you think a judge’s comment like that could adversely influence a jury’s decision?  I don’t like being called a liar, not even by a federal judge.  Does the federal judge know how often we were required to take our squad cars in for an oil change in 1976?  Or how often we had to qualify at the range?  Does he know anything, anything at all, about the Chicago Police Department policies and procedures that don’t pertain to criminal law?   I have difficulty believing a federal judge can unintentionally be that stupid?

I was peeved with the media for their coverage of the incident.  I wrote a letter to a columnist named Judy Topinka explaining to her how the two defendants had been convicted twice, first by a judge and later by a jury, despite the DNA evidence, and why the jury in the civil suit against the police officers declined to award damages to the plaintiffs.  Ms. Topinka excerpted segments of my letter, put it into a different context, and I must admit, quite successfully, made me sound like a fool.  Some other dweeb excerpted a part of that letter, too, and finished his article with something like, “Yeah, right.  Chicago’s Finest.”  I’m certain he’s well-versed in criminal investigations, too.

Lastly, I wanted to sue the People’s Law Office, et al,  for falsifying and tampering with evidence in this case and their persistent and malicious prosecution of all cases involving Area Two Homicide personnel.  I learned it is not easy to get lawyers to sue lawyers or bring lawyers before a judge, who was a lawyer.  Closed shop.  I guarantee you this, if a copper had ever pulled what the People’s Law Office pulled, he’d be on his way to jail.  I’ll post that letter later.  

For now, here’s the letter I sent to Governor Blagojevich before he went to prison.  It may help clarify my position.

 Governor Rod Blagojevich

Illinois State Capitol Building

2nd and Capitol

Springfield, Illinois

Dear Governor Blagojevich,

 I was shocked and dismayed to learn that on or about January 6, 2005 you granted a full pardon to both Michael Evans and Paul Terry, both serving life sentences for the brutal sexual assault and slaying of nine-year-old Lisa Cabassa in 1976.  According to Evans’ and Terry’s attorneys in their pursuant lawsuit filed against the City of Chicago and the members of the Chicago Police Department involved in the investigation, you reportedly called Evans’ and Terry’s wrongful convictions, “tragic” and went on to say that thanks to DNA technology, these men are now exonerated. 

Did you not read the file, Governor, before you executed this egregious miscarriage of justice and issued such an irresponsible, irrelevant statement?   While it is true that DNA technology was not available in 1976, it is a moot point.  If DNA testing had been available at that time, I don’t believe it would have changed the judge or the jury’s findings.  In fact, the defendants were tried twice for this crime, once in a bench trial before the Honorable Judge Earl Strayhorn and later by a jury.  Both Judge Strayhorn and the jury returned guilty verdicts in both instances. If you had bothered to review the file before rubber stamping the petition for pardon and returning these two criminals into society, you would have learned that there was semen recovered from rectal area of nine-year-old Lisa Cabassa’s body.  The rectal swab was tested by the Chicago Police Department’s Crime Laboratory and determined not to have come from either of the two defendants, a fact which the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office was aware of and stipulated to at trial twenty-nine years ago.  So, the fact that twenty-nine years later DNA testing concluded that the physical evidence recovered from nine-year-old Lisa Cabassa’s body does not belong to either of the two offenders comes as no surprise to the prosecutor or the detectives involved in the prosecution.  How can this be then, that Michael Evans and Paul Terry are responsible for this horrific crime if the DNA doesn’t match?  Perhaps you should have asked yourself that question before releasing them.  Nine-year-old Lisa Cabassa suffered a horrendous death.  The Medical Examiner’s Office conducted a postmortem examination and determined that Lisa Cabassa had been raped vaginally, orally and anally and concluded that there had been multiple offenders.  Therefore, the fact that the recovered physical evidence does not belong to Evans or Terry, did not then, and does not now, preclude Evans or Terry from being at least two of the perpetrators of this heinous crime.  It does not exclude them as the offenders that abducted Lisa Cabassa, nor that raped her vaginally or orally, or strangled the child to death. They were convicted on the basis of eyewitness testimony, not physical evidence.  And, as I stated earlier, they were convicted not once, but twice.  Both Judge Strayhorn and a jury found the eyewitness’s testimony credible, despite the results of the physical evidence and convicted Evans and Terry of criminal sexual assault and murder.  Twice. 

With all due respect, sir, had the eyewitness recanted her identification I would have to concur wholeheartedly with your decision to release the subjects, but that is not the case here.  Absolutely nothing has changed since Evans and Terry were convicted of this heinous crime twenty-nine years ago.  The facts remain exactly the same.  Your decision to release them undermines the jury process and dissuades potential witnesses from coming forth.


                                                                                    Ret. Lt. Dennis M. Banahan

Her Name was Joanne

I received a comment yesterday from retired Chicago Police lieutenant, Jim Padar, which started me thinking about fiction vs non-fiction.  Jim writes non-fiction police stories, and very well I might add.  Anybody interested in really well-written, entertaining police stories, visit his blog at  Primarily, I write fiction, because it is easier for me to deal with make-belief.  About ten years ago, I wrote an article for the Police Writer’s Association, titled “Her Name was Joanne”.  It was a true story, tragic beyond belief.  I am not ashamed to admit I cried while I wrote it, and I cry now when I read it.  In the early seventies, there was a song of the same title, written and performed by Michael Nesmith.  One of the verses goes, “And I saw as she went, a most hopeless situation”.  I hope you enjoy the article.


Her Name was Joanne


Dennis M. Banahan



            I remember the first time I saw her face, her dark eyes were haunted by inconsolable pain.  It was from a distance.  She wept loudly and her body convulsed as she labored down the stairs of the Catholic Church behind the flag-draped casket of Chicago Police Officer Thomas Kelly.  Family and friends flanked her on each side for support.  A cold March wind tried in vain to sweep her tears away but there were just too many. She was a portrait of despair; of utter devastation. 

She was Tommy Kelly’s fiancée and they had just recently finished their final wedding preparations.  All I could think of as I watched the stricken figure stumble behind the casket was that she should have been wearing white this week, not black. It should have been the happiest time of her life, not the saddest.  I wished I could have reached out from the crowd and touched her hand or said or done something that would have eased her pain and her heartbreak. But it was evident that her agony was far beyond the comfort or consolation a stranger in the middle of a crowd of hundreds could possibly offer.  She didn’t know me and I knew very little about her.  Just that she was Tommy Kelly’s fiancee and her name was Joanne.

            Tommy Kelly and I grew up in the same neighborhood.  The neighborhood, simply known as 69th Street., was a tough, predominantly Italian neighborhood. There weren’t many Kellys and Banahans around but it didn’t matter to any of us.  The Italians are great people and anybody from 69th Street was considered family regardless of whether your name began with a vowel or ended in a vowel.  It was a great place to grow up.

Tommy Kelly was a few years older than I.  I knew his younger brother, Bob, who was my age, better than Tom when we were growing up.  Bob and I had attended St. Mary of Mt. Carmel Catholic Grammar School together.  The Kelly Brothers were a tight knit Irish family.  They always reminded me of the famed Fightin’ Sullivan Brothers, the five siblings all killed in action aboard the USS Juneau during WWII.  The Kellys were pretty tough kids and they all looked out for one another.  They weren’t known for starting trouble but they weren’t known for backing away from it either.  Mostly, they were just known throughout the neighborhood as nice guys and good softball players. 

            Tommy Kelly joined the Chicago Police Force a few years before I did.  By the time I came on the job in 1969, he had already established a reputation as being a good street policeman.  Whenever coppers with a few years under their belts would  mill around the roll call room drinking coffee and telling war stories, I always waited for the opportune opening to casually inject that Tommy Kelly and I were from the same neighborhood. As a rookie policeman, it was a great source of pride to me to know a policeman the caliber of Tommy Kelly.  There was also a subtle, or maybe not so subtle, underlying suggestion that I wanted to be that type of policeman too.

            In the early 70’s, Tommy Kelly and his partner, Tom Neustrom, were assigned to Area One Task Force, affectionately known at that time as the “Big Red One”.  The unit was defined as a mobile strike force and utilized to augment district manpower in those police districts experiencing a particularly high incidence of crime, or assigned to a specific trouble site where the potential for violence was imminent.   The Big Red One guys were crammed into the back of police vans like cattle and shipped to the west side for the King Riots; downtown for the Democratic National Convention; the Petrillo Bandshell for the Grant Park Riots; and thrown into hundreds of other like situations. Whenever, or wherever, things got ugly, they were activated. The officers assigned to the unit, by the very nature of their duties, had to be aggressive, hard working policemen. 

            Back in those days, the Big Red One, more often than not, was usually assigned to the 2nd District when their services were not needed elsewhere.  The 2nd District had acquired almost as many aliases over the years as some of the people that had been detained in its lock-up. The station was referred to as “The Deuce” by some, or  “The Bash” by others (a derivative of Wabash), long after the old red brick station house at 48th & Wabash had been razed and the new facility was located at 51st & Wentworth.  The location and the name of the police station may have changed but little else did.  The 2nd District was still the 2nd District: a rose by any other name.  Geographically, it was the smallest district in the city and yet it maintained the dubious honor, year after year, of having the highest crime rate in the city.  The city’s political architects gerrymandered the district’s boundaries to ensure all the public housing complexes, and the crime associated with them, were contained within its perimeters. The district was only eight blocks wide and thirty blocks long, and home to twenty blocks of high-rise public housing buildings on State Street called the Stateway Gardens and the Robert Taylor Projects.  Whoever named Stateway a “garden” should have been arrested for a felony misnomer.  The broad expanse of land that surrounded each unit was anything but a garden.  It was a veritable blanket of refuse and broken glass.  The Ida B. Wells low-rise projects encompassed the east end of the district.

March 3, 1970 was the anniversary of my first year on the job. Several of the officers I graduated from the police academy with were planning a celebration party for later that evening so I took the day off time-due. Tommy Kelly and his partner, Tom Neustrom, weren’t celebrating that day though.  They were assigned to patrol the mean streets in the “Deuce” as they had so many times before.  They were cruising the area around 44th & King Drive when they observed a vehicle containing two occupants commit a minor traffic violation.  They curbed the vehicle and exited their squad car.  The driver of the car also got out and walked back towards Kelly and Neustrom while removing a traffic ticket from his pocket.  Officer Neustrom noticed the passenger in the vehicle was acting unduly nervous. His police instincts told him the man’s demeanor warranted further investigation. Upon walking over to the passenger’s side of the car, Officer Neustrom initiated some general on the scene questioning. The man became more tense, and his responses to the Officer Neustrom’s questions were deliberately evasive. Feeling his suspicions were correct, Officer Neustrom asked the passenger to step out of the vehicle.  The man readily complied and Officer Neustrom conducted a protective pat down.  After determining the man wasn’t in possession of any dangerous weapons, Officer Neustrom instructed him to step to the rear of the vehicle where Officer Kelly was still talking to the driver of the car.  Officer Neustrom was conducting a cursory examination of the car’s interior when suddenly from behind him, there was a thunderous explosion.  Officer Neustrom bolted upright and turned to look in the direction of the loud report just in time to see the driver of the vehicle rushing toward him with a gun aimed at his chest.  Tommy Kelly was laying face down on the street with a single gunshot wound in the forehead fired from point-blank range. The driver of the vehicle pumped five bullets into Officer Neustrom’s chest.  Still conscious, but unable to move, Officer Neustrom fell across the front seat of the offender’s car and lay motionless, feigning death.  It was every policeman’s nightmare enfolding before his eyes. The killer, his lust for blood still not sated, ran to the passenger side of the car and yanked Officer Neustrom out by his ankles and threw his bullet-riddled body onto the street. Officer Neustrom lay defenseless as the offender put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger six more times… but, fortunately, the gun was empty.  Miraculously, Officer Neustrom survived the attack. The two suspects fled from the scene on foot.  They were captured sometime later miles and miles away from the scene.  They were holed up in a house, ironically located directly across the street from the high school where Tommy Kelly’s father had worked for so many years as the school engineer and only two blocks from where the Kelly boys grew up.

Though the swift apprehension of the murderer may have provided the Kelly family and Tommy’s fiancee with some peace of mind, it did little to comfort them.  Nothing would bring Tommy back.  There would forever be a black hole in their hearts that nothing, or no one, could ever fill.

I didn’t attend my first year anniversary party that evening.


Pat Crowley had been a good friend of Tommy Kelly’s.  He was also a good friend of mine. They were a cut from the same cloth. Both men regarded among the rank and file as outstanding policemen and both men came from similar backgrounds.  So, it was no surprise when Pat offered Tommy’s fiancee a strong shoulder to lean on in her time of grief.  And, it should have come as no surprise to anyone that the qualities she found in Tommy Kelly she also found in Pat Crowley.

 “In every adversity, there is a seed of an equivalent or greater benefit,” as the saying goes.  And so, out of the despair and loss of a great friend and lover, blossomed a beautiful relationship.  Tommy Kelly would have wanted it that way.  To know the woman he loved most in the life was being looked after by a man he loved and trusted.

Joanne was still haunted by the terrible events, which had inexorably altered her life.  When Pat proposed to her she told him candidly that although she loved him, she couldn’t marry another Chicago policeman, an Irishman at that.  She couldn’t sit at home, night after night, afraid that the phone might ring.  Afraid to watch the news and hear that another Chicago policeman had been shot and they couldn’t release his name until the family was notified. She wouldn’t be able to sleep at night, knowing he was on the street patrolling the bowels of the city.  No, unless Pat changed occupations, there would be no marriage.

Pat was brokenhearted.  Joanne was brokenhearted.  Each understood the other’s misery.  The police department wasn’t just a job for Pat; it’s who he was.  But could Joanne survive another tragic ordeal like that again?  Pat knew the answer.  No.

Consequently, Pat took the Chicago Fire Department exam and placed high on the list.  He tried to convince Joanne that it was a less hazardous job but she knew better. As it turned out, it was a moot point. When Pat was called to report to the Fire Academy, he declined the position.  He was a policeman, not a fireman.

Joanne’s friends and family tried to convince her to look at this grave misfortune from a logical perspective.  They all agreed that what had happened to Tommy Kelly was a terrible, terrible tragedy but it was an isolated incident.  There are over thirteen thousand men on the Chicago Police Force at any given time, the overwhelming majority of whom will live to retire from the job with thirty or more years of service and collect a pension.

Finally, after a lot of prayers and cajoling, Pat Crowley and Joanne were wed.

* * *

On September 13, 1976, while conducting a narcotics raid, Officer Patrick Crowley was shot and killed.  He sustained a single gunshot wound to the forehead, as did Officer Thomas Kelly six years earlier.

* * *

I remember the second time I saw her face.  It was from a distance.  Her dark eyes were haunted in pain.  She wept loudly and her body convulsed as she labored down the stairs of the Catholic Church behind the flag-draped casket of Police Officer Patrick Crowley.  She didn’t know me and I knew very little about her…but I never forgot her name.  Her name was Joanne.



Joanne, wherever you are, if you should ever happen by chance to read this, I want you to know you’re still in the hearts and the minds and the prayers of Chicago Police Officers.