THREE KIDS FOUND DEAD IN NAPERVILLE HOUSE
Mother taken to hospital; poison suspectedBy John Chase
and Jeff Coen
Tribune Staff Writers
March 6, 1999
As police sifted through their evidence Friday and friends and neighbors sorted through their memories for clues to what had happened at the cranberry-red Victorian house in downtown Naperville, there was one horrid and indisputable fact: Three small children had been killed.
One investigator working the case said it appeared that the Lemak children -- Nicholas, 7; Emily, 6; and Thomas, 3 -- had ingested poison or drugs, perhaps at dinner time or later Thursday night. There was no evidence that they had been given injections.
The two boys were found in their own beds, and the girl was found in what appeared to be the parents' room, the investigator said.
The children's mother, Marilyn Lemak, 41, was lying near her daughter, but still alive.
The grim discovery came shortly after a call to 911 was made to Naperville police at 11:08 a.m. Friday. Police said the caller was Marilyn Lemak, who is the estranged wife of Dr. David Lemak, an emergency room physician at Hinsdale Hospital and its affiliate, Bolingbrook Medical Center.
Although officials would not comment on what had happened to the mother, she was taken to Edward Hospital in Naperville, where she was listed in fair condition Friday evening.
Shortly after the children's bodies were found, David Lemak, also 41, sped past police barricades, parked and ran up to the home on South Loomis Street, where he was stopped by police officers.
Neighbors said the officers led David Lemak to a police car parked nearby, and as he sat inside talking to officers, he suddenly broke into sobs.
Officials said the couple had recently separated and the father was no longer living in the home.
Eight hours after the bodies were discovered, police formed a screen at the rear of the house while the bodies of the three children -- contained in red body bags -- were wheeled to a waiting gray van with funeral home plates.
The family lived in a Victorian house built 127 years ago, possibly for the first president of North Central College, which is across the street.
Tom Klingbeil, who lives just around the corner, said he watched the three children grow up in what he said was an obviously loving home, where the harshest discipline meted out was an occasional "time out."
"And it wasn't like they were absentee parents," said Klingbeil. "They loved their kids, and one of (the parents) always seemed to be with them. I remember David walking the kids to school."
But Klingbeil conceded, and others agreed, that all did not appear to be well at the Lemak home in recent weeks.
"I remember thinking that it looked like David was moving," said Klingbeil. "I saw him taking a lot of stuff out of the house."
And he said he noticed seeing less and less of the three children since the time David Lemak left, and especially over the course of the last two or three days.
"I would always see Nicholas playing outside with his friends," said Klingbeil. "But I haven't seen him recently. I had just been thinking how weird it was."
Marilyn Lemak filed for divorce in April 1997. There apparently was a reconciliation, and she asked that the divorce case be dismissed, which it was on Aug. 7, 1997.
But the peace between David and Marilyn Lemak proved to be short-lived, and she filed again for divorce on June 1, 1998.
In the divorce papers, Marilyn Lemak said there were "irreconcilable differences" that were tearing the marriage apart, and she asked for child support for her children. The papers said she and her husband had been living under the same roof, but separately.
On July 29, she filed papers with the court asking that she be given exclusive possession of the home, because, she said, living in the same house with her husband was "causing serious episodes of stress, which have resulted in physical symptoms."
David Lemak fought the request that he be forced to move out, noting that he had been making the $3,500-a-month mortgage payments.
Marilyn Lemak's request was denied in September, and David Lemak stayed at home.
Meanwhile, the couple completed a court-ordered divorce education counseling program given by the DuPage County Psychological Services Department, and they then were ordered to undergo mediation.
Through that mediation process, they came to agreements on child custody and visitation rights, court records show. A court document on those subjects that was signed Jan. 19 does not spell out the specifics of the agreement.
The couple were to appear in court again on Feb. 25, but sources said that neither party showed up.
During a news conference late Friday at the Naperville Police Department, officials offered few details about one of the most horrifying crimes in DuPage's history.
"There is no evidence to suggest that there is any suspect outside of the immediate family," DuPage County State's Atty. Joseph Birkett said. "All evidence at this point suggests that this was a domestic homicide."
Birkett sought to allay fears that the family was the victim of random poisoning.
"Just to put the community at ease, this is not the type of situation similar to the Tylenol scare or anything like that," he said, referring to the case in 1982 when seven people died in the Chicago area after taking poison that had been put in Tylenol. "This is nothing like that," he said.
Finding out exactly what happened could take weeks because toxicology reports take a long time, officials said.
Naperville police said the bodies showed no signs of trauma.
Under questioning from reporters, Birkett said several times that the murders appeared to have stemmed from problems at the Lemak home. And while he would not get into specifics, he emphasized several times that David Lemak had been cooperating with police throughout the short span of the investigation.
But Birkett also did not identify Marilyn Lemak as a suspect.
He would not discuss the details of the telephone call made to 911 nor Marilyn Lemak's medical condition, saying the matter remained under investigation.
Naperville Police Capt. Robert Marshall said no one in the Police Department could remember another triple homicide.
The county's Major Crimes Task Force has been activated for the first time since its creation last year. The task force is a special unit developed among area police departments to bring to bear special areas of expertise in significant crimes.
"Obviously, family, friends and the community are in shock," Birkett said. "They are grieving."
Officials said they would open Ellsworth School from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, and school District 203 and Naperville Police Department social workers would be on hand to counsel children and their families.
Nicholas was a 2nd grader at Ellsworth, and his sister was in kindergarten at the school, which is just blocks from the family home.
News of the tragedy spread quickly through the area, prompting neighbors to gather in the midday chill and discuss the events unfurling before them.
Rumors spread that the family had been victims of carbon monoxide poisoning, as if those who lived in the quiet community could not believe--would not believe--that murder had transpired.
"They're nice, friendly, social people," said a woman in the crowd who declined to give her name but said she lived just doors away. "They're just the typical American family."
Crime is rare in Naperville, as many of the neighbors noted. "I can't believe it," said Mitch Harris, an area resident. "It's a wonderful neighborhood."
Hal Wilde, North Central College president, came across the street to disperse some students. "This could happen anywhere," he said.
Tribune staff writers Janan Hanna, Eric Ferkenhoff, Ginger Orr, Art Barnum and Allan H. Gray and freelance writer Gene Kuleta contributed to this article.
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