30 Years After Illinois Girl's Murder, a Tip Yields Alleged Killer

Image: Michael R. Jones | Kristina Wesselman
Michael R. Jones has been charged with the killing of 15-year-old Kristina Wesselman in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.DuPage Co. Sheriff | Family photo

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By Jon Schuppe

On the day she buried her 15-year-old daughter, Sandra Wesselman made a silent promise: to never let the search for her killer be forgotten.

"I didn’t know that was going to be a lifetime process,” Wesselman said in 2011, two-and-a-half decades after Kristina Wesselman was found raped and stabbed in a field near their suburban Chicago home.

The mother can now put her vow to rest.

On Sunday, authorities announced that they'd caught the suspected killer: a 62-year-old man who lived 150 miles south of the crime scene.

Michael R. Jones has been charged with the killing of 15-year-old Kristina Wesselman in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.DuPage Co. Sheriff | Family photo

The big break came on Sept. 10, when investigators "obtained new information" on the case, DuPage County Sheriff John Zaruba said in a statement. That tip led detectives to Michael R. Jones.

On Friday, detectives searched Jones' Champaign, Illinois, home. They arrested him, and on Sunday Jones was charged with two counts of murder and one count of aggravated criminal sexual assault.

Jones is being held in the DuPage County Jail and is expected to appear in court Monday morning.

Sheriff's office representatives declined to elaborate on how the case was solved, saying there would be a news conference on Monday.

The arrest ends a 30-year search in which detectives ran down hundreds of leads that sent them all over the country, Zaruba said. "Their work will now bring closure to the Wesselman family," he said.

Kristina Wesselman, a popular athlete and president of her high school freshman class, was last seen by her mother on July 21, 1985. It was Sunday, and the two of them planned to spend the afternoon watching old movies, Sandra Wesselman later recalled. She sent Kristina out to buy a candy bar, telling her, "Be careful princess, I love you."

Her daughter never returned. Early the next morning, her body was found near a dirt path between her home and a nearby grocery store. She was believed to have been ambushed in broad daylight.

Detectives brought in suspects for questioning. They analyzed DNA from semen found on her body. They searched pawn shops for the victim's pearl ring, which was taken from her body. Decades later, they canvassed the neighborhood for people for new clues, new memories. But they got no closer to the killer.

Sandra Wesselman, who now lives in Colorado, declined to speak about Sunday's arrest. Other members of her family did not respond to requests for comment.

The news brought relief to people who grew up with the victim in a middle-class neighborhood in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, which was haunted by the murder and the long search for the killer.

"Our naivete was brought quite rudely to our attention — that this sort of thing can happen in our neighborhood, and that it's not just a thing that happens to other people," recalled Kevin Powell, who was among many children in the Valley View subdivision who used the field as a shortcut to a nearby commercial strip. "It was a shock to the community at large that someone could do such a thing to one of our neighbors, in our home."