Chicago Tribune


Naperville mother driven by marital woes, sources say

By Eric Ferkenhoff
and Jeff Coen

Tribune Staff Writers
March 10, 1999

Naperville police officers were at the Lemak home on Loomis Street Tuesday gathering crime-site clues. (Tribune photo by Milbert Orlando Brown)

Police who responded to Marilyn Lemak's 911 call last week not only found the bodies of her three smothered children but also discovered macabre hints of the motive she would soon describe in a Naperville hospital room, law-enforcement sources said Tuesday.

Crumpled on a bathroom floor was a wedding dress, the sources said.

Also inside the home, where her path from room to room was traced in the blood from her suicide attempt, police found a wedding photograph with an X-acto knife stuck through it, the blade piercing the image of her estranged husband, David Lemak, in the chest, the sources said.

Unanswered for days during the bleak progression of mourning and criminal proceedings in Naperville has been the fundamental question about the slayings of the three children and the attempted suicide: Why?

Although attorneys had said the divorce was proceeding amicably, law-enforcement sources said Tuesday that Marilyn Lemak indicated the dissolution of her marriage was one of the primary factors that precipitated the slayings.

Since the bodies were found Friday, investigators have guarded many details of the killings and her suicide attempt. But sources on Tuesday shed some light on the alleged motives of a mother charged with killing her children: Nicholas, 7; Emily, 6; and Thomas, 3.

The sources said Lemak gave two statements to police: one during her 911 call Friday morning and another during her early treatment at Edward Hospital, where at least two Naperville detectives were present.

At the hospital, Lemak, a nurse, told police that she drugged her children and suffocated them, one by one, by putting one hand over their mouths and pinching their noses closed, the sources said.

After describing how her children died, Lemak was asked by investigators why she allegedly had done it, the sources said.

She responded that she had been driven by a recent discovery relating to her deteriorating relationship with her estranged husband, the sources said.

Marilyn Lemak's attorney, John Donahue, said Tuesday that the divorce "factored into it," but there were other issues involved.

"We will be able to explain the inexplicable," Donahue said.

Sources on Tuesday described the home this way:

In the upstairs hallway, a trail of blood led from the bathroom, where the wedding dress was on the floor, to the rooms where the drugged children allegedly were tucked into bed and suffocated after they came home from school Thursday.

Emily was found in her mother's bed. Marilyn Lemak apparently had lain beside her after slashing her right forearm, bleeding onto the floor, sources said.

There was no note, the sources said.

After waking up Friday, Marilyn Lemak called police.

She spent most of Tuesday lying on her jail mattress under 24-hour watch, a sheriff's department spokeswoman said. She had not asked to attend her children's wake on Wednesday or funeral mass, scheduled for Thursday.

Donahue said that he would return to court Monday and ask a judge to send Marilyn Lemak from DuPage County Jail back to a hospital for her "well-being and mental health."

At Donahue's request, she has been examined by Dr. Lyle Rossiter, a forensic psychiatrist.

He added that he had been told an X-acto knife had been found in a wedding photo but had not heard there was a wedding dress in the bathroom.

The Lemaks married Sept. 7, 1985, in Winfield after meeting while David was attending Rush Medical College on Chicago's West Side and Marilyn was finishing her degree at Rush College of Nursing.

His family members have said Marilyn Lemak plummeted into a deep depression after giving birth to Thomas in 1995. She filed for divorce in April 1997, according to court records, withdrawing the request four months later.

She continued to go in and out of the depression but appeared to sink again last year and never came out, the family members said.

Marilyn refiled for divorce last June. The couple went through counseling and mediation, agreeing to child custody and visitation rights. Authorities have said David Lemak had regular visitation schedules with his children and had cut back his work hours to spend more time with them.

As the divorce case proceeded, Marilyn Lemak asked the court last summer for exclusive possession of their home because living with David Lemak was "causing serious episodes of stress which have resulted in physical symptoms," according to court records.

The records show David Lemak said that it "is not in the best interests of the parties' children to remove (him) from the marital residence . . . and it is in the best interests of the children to continue to have a close and loving relationship with their father on a daily basis."

The judge denied her petition in September. About three weeks before the slayings, though, David Lemak moved out of the house and moved to another residence nearby.

On Jan. 19, the judge signed an order indicating that the couple had reached agreement on visitation and custody issues.

Neither of the two attorneys in the divorce case could be reached for comment Tuesday.

Through his family, David Lemak has declined to comment on the murder case.

Tribune staff writer Ted Gregory contributed to this report.

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