Image: William Curl
Dekalb County Sheriff's Dept.  /  AP
The DeKalb County Sheriff's Department issued a photo Friday of William Curl, 34, of DeKalb, Ill. Curl was charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of 18-year-old Northern Illinois University freshman Antinette "Toni" Keller.
NBC News and news services
updated 10/29/2010 11:25:02 PM ET 2010-10-30T03:25:02

A DeKalb, Ill., man was charged with first-degree murder Friday in the slaying of 18-year-old Northern Illinois University freshman Antinette "Toni" Keller.

William "Billy" Curl, 34, faces five counts of first-degree murder along with charges of criminal sexual assault and arson.

Curl, who was arrested by U.S. Marshals in Covington, La., was extradited to Illinois and is being held at the DeKalb County Jail on $5 million bond.

Image: Antinette Keller
lostnmissing.com
Antinette Keller

Keller, who was from Plainfield, was last seen about noon Oct. 14 when friends said she was headed to a nearby park and nature preserve. Two days later, burned remains were found in the park, and a week later, forensic experts confirmed the remains were human.

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DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen said at a news conference Friday that Curl was a frequent park visitor who did not know Keller, and it appeared to have been a crime of opportunity, said NBC television station WMAQ in Chicago.

Investigators said they became suspicious of Curl when he didn't show up for a scheduled interview. Curl fled to Mexico, credit card records indicate, but crossed the border back into the U.S., ending up in Covington, La., where he was looking for work as a day laborer.

He was arrested at a Covington hotel, questioned, and extradited back to Illinois Friday afternoon.

Police in DeKalb, a city 65 miles west of Chicago where the 25,000-student campus is located, still haven't positively identified remains found in a park near the school as belonging to Keller, though they reclassified her case as a homicide investigation.

Keller's parents have little doubt they belong to their 18-year-old daughter, said the missing girl's cousin, Mary Tarling.

"There doesn't seem to be an alternative explanation," she said.

Among the indications the remains are Keller's is that her camera and sketch pad were found nearby, Tarling said, citing what police have told the family.

A talented watercolor painter and nature lover, Keller may have headed to the wooded park just south of the campus to take pictures or sketch drawings for an art project, Tarling said.

"She painted flowers and landscapes," Tarling said. "She loves camping and rock climbing."

Feithen said Curl was known to be among the people who frequented the 150-acre park and had been questioned, along with others, early in the investigation.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Video: Man charged in murder of NIU student

  1. Transcript of: Man charged in murder of NIU student

    LESTER HOLT, co-host: Now to Illinois , where a 34-year-old man has been arrested for the death of a college freshman who vanished two weeks ago. This morning, a school and a family mourn her death, and react to his capture. Thirty-four-year-old William "Billy" Curl was charged with five counts of first degree murder, criminal sexual assault, and arson. Police called it a crime of opportunity.

    Mr. BILL FEITHEN (DeKalb Police Chief): She had walked to the park and he was in the park, and, you know, found her.

    HOLT: Eighteen-year-old Antinette Keller , or "Toni" as she was called by family and friends, was last seen October 14th . The freshman art student told classmates she was going to a park near the university to work on an art project.

    Ms. MARY TARLING (Family Spokesperson): She was just a very positive, vibrant, sweet, young 18-year-old girl.

    Mr. DENIS MITCHELL (Friend): She was such a great person. She had this ray of sunshine to her.

    HOLT: Days later, human remains were found in the park. And though police have not yet positively identified the remains as those of Keller , some of her belongings were found nearby.

    Mr. MYKAL RODRIGUEZ (Friend): I just really hope she didn't have to suffer.

    HOLT: At the university, students are expressing relief at news of the arrest.

    Unidentified Woman: I hope that's like the guy, for sure, but hopefully -- like, it does make me feel a lot safer.

    HOLT: In a statement released after the announcement, the university's president called the crime a "senseless act of violence" and encouraged students to "continue to follow precautionary measures" for their safety. William Curl could face the death penalty for two of the murder charges.

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