Famed private investigator Ernie Rizzo dead at 64
October 23, 2006 (WLS) -- Private investigator Ernie Rizzo has died. He was 64 years old. Rizzo was sometimes called the private eye for the stars. He was colorful, flamboyant and he loved the spotlight.
Sixty-four-year-old Ernie Rizzo was known by many as a brilliant private investigator and an equally brilliant self-promoter. He could find the answers to what you were looking for even if you may not want to know how he found them. He made sure the media was aware of his work.
His sudden death Sunday night stunned many people who knew him.
He was involved in some of the highest profile legal cases of our time, from OJ Simpson's murder trial to Michael Jackson's child molestation case, to rape charges against William Kennedy Smith.
It was the disappearance of Helen Brach that was the first big case of Ernie Rizzo's four-decade long career. He began as a Franklin Park Police officer and quickly went out on his own as a private investigator. The cases that drew media attention were cases that seemed to draw Ernie Rizzo.
"Whatever the case was, somehow Ernie got himself into the story, which was quite remarkable, and he was a colorful character full of stories. Even to his friends, he seemed larger than life," said Michael Monico, defense attorney.
Rizzo was a colorful character, full of stories. Even to his friends he seemed larger than life.
"I really believe he was from a different era, like the Rat Pack age," said Alan Rovin, family friend.
Rizzo made a name for himself following many high-profile Chicago cases as well. It was his idea to try to re-enact part of the Riley Fox murder case to prove that her father's alleged confession was untrue. Attorney Kathleen Zellner worked with Rizzo on that and a number of cases over the years.
"Sometimes he would work off intuition and hunches and get an idea about things. He was skilled in getting information. He could find out things," said Zellner.
Rizzo spoke with ABC7 a couple months ago after John Mark Karr was arrested for the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. It was a time when every one else was making the case against Karr. Rizzo, however, said right off that he believed Karr was not involved. Within a week, DNA evidence proved Rizzo was right.
"Ninety-nine percent of the time he was right. He had a real keen sense of human behavior," said Rovin.
Rizzo could certainly be controversial as well. His state license was actually suspended 30 years ago after a conviction for wire-tapping. So he worked as a subcontractor for a licensed agency.
Rizzo is survived by a wife and two children, including his daughter Tracey Rizzo, who is a prominent defense attorney. The wake is going to be Wednesday and Thursday with the funeral set for Friday morning.
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