Percy Killing: The Forty Year File

Friday, September 15, 2006

Since 1966, investigators have been trying to solve one of metro Chicago's most mysterious and notorious crimes: the murder of Valerie Percy. Investigative reporter Chuck Goudie has new information on one of the longest unsolved murders in Illinois history.

Forty years ago, Charles Percy was the golden boy for Illinois Republicans. He had one eye on the U.S. Senate and one on the White House. Percy had wealth, ambition and twin daughters who returned from college the summer of '66 to campaign. But only one of the Percy twins lived to see Election Day. For the first time in 40 years, we hear from the twin who was spared.

"We were identical twins, so I feel like she's pretty much a carbon copy, or we were carbon copies of each other. Everything changed that day and nothing has really ever been the same," said Sharon Percy Rockefeller.

Sharon Percy Rockefeller still tries to comprehend the nightmare she was awakened by on the morning of September 18, 1966. Inside her family's sprawling mansion, perched above the beach on Lake Michigan, her twin sister Valerie lay dying.

"It wasn't possible. I didn't know what people were talking about," said Sharon. "The last time I saw her was midnight, and I had returned her raincoat to a closet which belonged to her in her bedroom and she was already asleep. And I said good night Val, and she murmured good night. I mean, she heard me and then around 5 o'clock the tragedy happened."

Tragedy began when someone used a glass cutter on the Percy back door and found his way to Valerie's second floor room. She was stabbed and beaten to death.

For 40 years the killer's identity and motive eluded federal state and local investigators whose best clue was a bloody palm print, the killer's glove and this sketch of a possible suspect.

Twenty-one-year old Valerie Jeanne Percy had graduated from Cornell that summer and was two days away from postgraduate studies at Johns Hopkins University. In the days leading up to her murder she was campaigning alongside her father.

"Val was going downtown all summer, so she was riding the el, she was walking to the office and she was out campaigning," Sharon said.

Chuck Percy had already made his fortune as the head of Bell and Howell Corporation, had run unsuccessfully for Illinois governor and was beginning a career in national politics.

The murder of his daughter put the campaign on hold, but when several weeks passed without an arrest or even a solid suspect, Percy resumed campaigning. At stake was a highly coveted Senate seat about to be snatched from the incumbent Democrat Paul Douglas. Percy won the election and went on to serve in the Senate until his defeat in 1984.

For years, the investigation went no where. Then in 1973 a newspaper series pinned the murder on a ring of mob sponsored home invaders looking to steal silver and jewels. Even though the Sun-Times series won a Pulitzer prize, there was a problem with that theory: nothing had been stolen from the Percy home.

"Was it burglary, heck no. This person went there to kill Valerie Percy, and that's my belief 40 years ago, and that's my belief today, 40 years later," said Joseph Dileonardi.

Joe Dileonardi knows murder. The former Chicago police superintendent was an Area 6 homicide cop in 1966 called into the Percy case when Kenilworth realized the murder was more than it could handle.

"She was found Sunday at 5 a.m. We got there Monday morning and it was 24 hours old, and we get to the crime scene and there was none, no crime scene, the room where she was murdered was completely renovated. You cannot conduct a homicide investigation like this," said Dileonardi.

"If this crime were to happen today, you would have a group of people who would immediately begin investigating. There would be no delay, there would be no chaos involved in trying to figure out who's going to investigate what or who is going to be part of the investigation," said Sgt. David Miller.

"This was not a burglar, nothing was touched, not a thing was touched in that house," said Joseph Dileonardi. "A burglar would not strike a victim 14 times, a stick up person does not strike a victim 14 times. the other motive, the last motive, was revenge and that's what I think happened to Valerie Percy."

Today, the tragedy of Valerie Percy remains a mostly inactive, but an open murder investigation and clues that could still crack the case sit in storage in Kenilworth.

"In 2002, we did a complete inventory and review of the evidence. All of it was analyzed for suitability for testing with modern forensic techniques and testing was initiated and continues to this day with the hope that some additional DNA evidence will be produced," said Sgt. David Miller.

"It's been a source of sadness all our lives, but we have also had fortunate lives and lucky lives in other ways, and I think understanding the balance is important too," said Sharon Percy Rockefeller.

Within a year of the murder, twin Sharon would marry and move to West Virginia to support another political career, that of her husband Jay Rockefeller. Today, the couple have four children, including a daughter named Valerie.

Sharon Percy Rockefeller has worked for women's causes, serves on corporate and charitable boards, and has led public broadcasting's Washington affiliate the past 18 years.

"I think I have probably tried to live for two," Sharon said. "I have had every year a sort of celebration on September 18 for my family, I have brought them together. I visit her grave every time I go to Chicago, send flowers. You just want to remember the person."

In 1966 the Percy family posted a $50,000 reward for the name of the killer. Unfortunately, no one has ever provided information to crack the case and claim the money.

In Valerie's memory, the Percy family tells ABC7 that they will pay a $100,000 reward for information leading to the successful prosecution of the killer -- someone who has gotten away with murder for 40 years.

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