Crooked City

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Renegade Commission Eyes Release of Killer, Tortures Families of Victims

In what might very well be a nail in the coffin of the Illinois criminal justice system, a controversial state commission ruling may initiate the release of perhaps the most depraved killer in the city’s modern history. 

The Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission (TIRC) may recommend that Jerry Mahaffey’s murder conviction be reviewed by the courts, based on Mahaffey’s spurious claim that he and his brother, Reginald Mahaffey, were tortured by investigating detectives for a 1983 double murder on the far north side of Chicago. This review could pave the way for Mahaffey’s release, should the case be remanded and prosecutors decline to retry him. 

Here’s what happened:

The brothers, career criminals both, traveled from the south side in a friend’s beat-up van, planning the burglary of a store at Howard and Western. When they arrived early in the morning, there was a police car parked in the lot, so they abandoned their plan.  

They decided on a possible home burglary and headed down the alley on the 2500 block of Jerome, near the border of Evanston. Their van broke down, so they got out and began to walk. They spotted a bedroom window of an apartment open. Here was their opportunity. 

The Pueschel family was inside, sleeping. They had packed many of their belongings in boxes. They were moving into an apartment in Skokie. 

Reginald and Jerry entered the room of 11-year-old Ricky Pueschel. One of the Mahaffeys placed him in a chokehold and covered his mouth and nose. Jerry then stabbed Ricky repeatedly. Ricky passed out. 

Ricky was a baseball fan and there were several bats in his room. Reginald Mahaffey found one and began beating Ricky with it. The Mahaffeys figured Ricky was dead. 

The Mahaffeys entered the other bedroom where Jo Ellen and Dean Pueschel were sleeping. They both struck Dean Pueschel repeatedly with the bat in the head. Jo Ellen awoke. 

The brothers took her into the kitchen. 

The brothers raped Jo Ellen repeatedly, in different manners. 

While they were attacking Jo Ellen, they heard a noise back in their couple’s bedroom. They went back there and found Dean Puschel attempting to load a gun. Unfortunately, Dean Pueschel could not load it before the Mahaffeys attacked him again, this time killing him. 

It turns out the Mahaffeys had not killed Ricky Pueschel. He woke up and walked out into the apartment. Ricky wouldeventually witness the Mahaffeys murder his mother after she begged for their lives. Then they beat Ricky again, thinking once again that they had killed him. The brothers left in a car they stole from the Pueschels, a car packed with guns, jewelry and other items they stole from the apartment. 

Later that day, around eight a.m., Ricky’s grandparents became alarmed when he was not dropped off at their house. The grandfather drove over to the apartment. There he found Ricky walking around the alley, covered in blood and disoriented. Ricky was rushed to St. Frances Hospital. He survived and testified in court against the Mahaffeys. He would eventually lead a distinguished career in law enforcement. 

In 1984, while awaiting trial, the Mahaffey brothers staged one of the most daring escapes in the history of the Cook County Jail. They convinced a paramedic to smuggle a gun into the facility, taking a corrections officer hostage. They opened up the cells of other inmates, many of whom joined them. They were recaptured. 

What would happen if the Jerry Mahaffey’s case was remanded for another trial? Since the Mahaffeys’ murder case is more than 30 years old, many witnesses have died. In addition, the detectives in the case, hounded for decades by members of TIRC and their respective law firms, are no longer willing to testify. TIRC’s ruling, therefore, could set in motion the release of Jerry Mahaffey, once sentenced to death for the murders. 

It could happen. Just a few weeks ago, TIRC resurrected a long settled case involving Shawn Whirl, convicted of a 1990 robbery and murder of a cab driver. TIRC’s actions in that case eventually resulted in Whirl being set free from prison. 

There are other dire consequences looming in the TIRC’s recommendation in the Mahffey case. If they can get Jerry Mahaffey out, they can get other killers out and frame a whole new generation of detectives on little or no evidence. The evidence against Mahaffey, after all, was overwhelming, including detectives finding a vast collection of items in their homes that was taken from the Pueschel apartment. There is little if any evidence of torture, particularly when one reviews the police investigation of the case. 

What is clearly taking place in the criminal justice system is the fact that convicted killers like the Mahaffeys, who have exhausted all other legal remedies, are taking advantage of the opportunity afforded by TIRC by falsely claiming torture merely as a means of getting out of prison. 

The members of TIRC, a collection of activists with an extraordinarily biased record against police and prosecutors, appear all too willing to oblige. 

There is another tragic dimension to the case. Just last year, relatives of the Pueschels had TIRC on the ropes, fighting for its life. They had revealed one piece of evidence after another that TIRC was violating the law in the execution of its mandate, not just in their case, but many others. Even timid prosecutors and politicians were on the attack.


Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has written a scathing letter to Gov. Pat Quinn, saying the state board that looks into police torture allegations has acted illegally.

“There’s no oversight to this commission. I don’t know who they report to, if anybody. I don’t think anybody’s watching or vetting what they’re doing,” she said.

Part of what the the relatives of the Pueschels revealed was an almost macabre pleasure the commission took in torturing the family members of the victims, including laughing when they reviewed the cases. 

This is from Joe Heinrich, brother of murder victim Jo Ellen Pueschel:

I listened to the audio tape from your July 17th meeting where Dave Thomas (former head of the commission) is clearly heard snickering and giggling as he presented the Jerry Mahaffey case to this Commission.  I have that audio here today for anyone to hear.  I am having a very difficult time trying to figure out what was so funny about what Jerry Mahaffey did to JoEllen, Dean and Rick.  Was it the rape?  The beatings?  The stabbings?  Or was Thomas just acting like a child, giggling with excitement and a sense of delight that this case was being heard?  Or is he just an insensitive and callous human being who couldn’t care less about what Jerry Mahaffey did to my family? Where was the adult in the room?

If we had been there on July 17th he would not have laughed.  But we weren’t there, were we?  And at that meeting all of you sat on your hands and heard him laugh and you said nothing.  To tolerate it is to condone it.

The family also gathered evidence that the establishment of the commission itself was in violation of the constitution, as the commission fundamentally alters the criminal justice system in the state, affording its unelected, biased members to resurrect cases that have already been legally settled. 

In fighting the constitutionality of the commission, the family members knocked on the door of one state entity after another, one attorney after another, many of them agreeing that commission was constitutionally dubious, but none of them were willing to take up their cause. 

This failure to fight the legitimacy of TIRC also stands as one of the great failings of the FOP, the union that represents police officers in Chicago. The reason is that the singular goal of the commission is to frame cops. With each successful release of a killer through the machinations of the commission, their ability to wage war on cops with little or no evidence increases. After these convicted killers are set free, wrongful conviction law firms are free to file lawsuits and tap into the reparations fund recently established by the city council. 

In an executive board meeting on November 3, FOP President Dean Angelo announced that the FOP will attend the November 18 meeting of TIRC in which the commission will likely announce their ruling on the Mahaffey case. While it is a good thing that the union is finally getting involved, the FOP’s actions are somewhat late. The horse, as it were, is already out of the barn. 

Angelo’s comments at the executive board meeting revealed, incredibly, that neither he nor the FOP board members know much, if anything, about the Mahaffey case or the torture commission itself, though the commission was established all the way back in 2009 and has been waging war on FOP members ever since.    

What does it say about a union administration when that administration knows little or nothing about the institution that poses the greatest threat to its members? 

As important as it is to attend the next TIRC meeting on behalf of the FOP members caught in the crosshairs of this movement and showing support for the family members of the murder victims, fighting TIRC on every level, including their constitutional legitimacy, should be a top priority at the FOP. The union’s lawyers should be sitting down with Heinrich and Pueschels to begin the campaign to legally undermine TIRC. 

The union should be fighting TIRC cases in the courts and the media, in every sordid corner of the Crooked City.  

Please support the family members of the victims of the Mahaffey murders. Check out their face book page and see if you can attend the meeting. If you are a police officer, let your FOP representatives know it is time they started fighting TIRC. 

Justice for Dean, Jo Ellen and Rick


Martin Preib is a Chicago Police Officer and writer. His first book, The Wagon and Other Stories From the City, was published by the University of Chicago Press. His second book, Crooked City, is available on Amazon. His articles have appeared in Playboy, The Chicagoan, Virginia Quarterly Review, Tin House, and New City. He is currently working on his third book about former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and an arson in 1987, titled Burn Patterns. 

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