Politics can be a rough-and-tumble business at the highest level or as small as a local village. So we weren’t surprised when WGN Investigates received tips about the mayoral candidates in Schiller Park. A skeleton or two was bound to come out during a nasty campaign. What we didn’t expect to find was a police department choosing sides and a slipshod investigation into the deaths of not one, but two girlfriends of one candidate.
The first girlfriend, Mary Fatigato, was called a spitfire with a great personality by her sister. Sheree Clark also acknowledged her sister had a dark side too.
“She was trying to get clean and sober to go through the rest of her life, but was having a hard time, clearly now, living through her son’s death,” Clark said.
Mary’s three-year-old son died trapped in the rung of his crib. When Schiller Park Police found Mary hanging nearly 17 years ago, only the timing was a surprise. Mary had tried suicide before.
“It was nine years after. It was when we finally let our guard down,” Clark said. So Clark says they didn’t expect to learn Mary had killed herself.
Then the second girlfriend, Lorraine Michalski, overdosed on methadone eight years ago. Her daughter says she was the strongest woman she knew. Lorraine was a single mom who lived for her son and daughter. Cecily Padilla said she and her mom went through a lot in their lives.
“For her to be the person that she was after everything we went through, was just incredible,” Padilla said.
Both Mary’s and Lorraine’s death investigations were closed by the Schiller Park Police a long time ago.
Schiller Park is a neighborhood split between blue-collar and white-collar workers. Folks there seem to know one another. So, when Nick Caiafa, who sits on the Schiller Park Fire and Police Commission, tossed his name into the mayoral race the stories of Mary and Lorraine came to life.
Why? Because two girlfriends, linked to one house, died.
This kind of rare event had us taking a second look. WGN Investigates obtained the police and coroner reports. (Read the report on Mary (Kolodziej) Fatigato here (pdf) and Lorraine Michalski here (pdf) ) Reading them left us with more questions than answers. So we asked Sergio Acosta, a former Assistant State Attorney in Florida and federal prosecutor in Chicago, to look them over. Acosta says since these are death investigations, “they require a lot more attention to detail and thoroughness in terms of the investigation.”
Simple things are missing from the police reports, like talking to the family of the victims. WGN Investigates did, the Schiller Park Police Department did not.
The police report says the last time Mary was seen alive she went over to a party at a detective’s house and “had a verbal argument with her boyfriend Nick Caifia.” [sic]
“It doesn’t appear that the investigator asked what they were arguing about. Was it the type of thing that might lead someone to commit suicide?” Acosta said.
After that argument, Mary was missing for three days. It was Caiafa’s father who found her hanging in his son’s garage while he was doing some yard work.
Mary’s family had no idea she was missing, according to Clark.
"What I don’t get is she’s missing from your home so you look through your home. You look through the garage. You look on your grounds. Especially if she’s not completely stable. Maybe you call the family because apparently you think she called her mother. You love this woman, you don’t call and say, ‘is Mar there?’” Clark adds.
According to Sheree Clark, Caiafa never reached out to the family.
In response to our freedom of information request, the Schiller Park police agreed to show us the photos of the scene, but they would not provide copies.
There was a pile of landscaping dirt in Caiafa’s garage. An electric cord looped over a rafter. Mary’s body was right over the pile of dirt even though there was plenty of room on either side.
Mary was 5’4”.
There were two chairs tipped over nearby, but the dirt looked undisturbed. In the photos, there was no impression of a chair or anything else.
Clark said she was told by Caiafa that her sister had used a ladder to reach the rafters of the garage.
“I remember him saying a ladder. How else would she have gotten up there?” Clark said.
Mary’s tennis shoes were set on the opposite side. There was dust on the tipped chairs, even signs of a footprint. There was no sign of dusty footprints seen on the garage floor. Earrings were sitting next to her tennis shoes. The side garage door was locked, but Caiafa doesn’t know if Mary had a key or not.
The police report says: “Mr. Caifia stated in the past after an argument the victim would always go to her mothers house for a few days, and then return home, so the victim not being home when Mr. Caifia returned was nothing unsual.” [sic]
Yet, if the Schiller Park Police Department had bothered to ask the family, they would have heard a different story. Clark says Mary wouldn’t call her mother much less visit for a few days.
“Never never did that happen. I can’t even think of one time,” she said.
Acosta also said it seemed unusual that one of the reports indicated Mr. Caiafa was going to contact the victim’s family himself.
“Which is a little bit curious simply because if in fact her suicide was brought in part by an argument she was having with this gentleman, it would seem to me that the police department might not want that person to be the one notifying the family of what occurred,” Acosta said.
Fast forward eight years later to deceased girlfriend number two. The same Schiller Park Police detective returned to investigate another crisis at Caiafa’s home. Lorraine Michalski was found unresponsive.
Caiafa told police; Lorraine took recreational drugs in the past, specifically cocaine, and that she was attending Narcotics Anonymous. Caiafa told us, but it’s not in the police report, that he scheduled an intervention for the morning Lorraine died.
Cecily Padilla, Lorraine’s daughter, maintains Caiafa said they were going to get her help.
"He like we’re going to get her help. We’re gonna meet with an interventionist. We’re going, I’m gonna take care of everything and we’re gonna make sure she gets the help that she needs. So, I said, ok,” Padilla said.
Yet, according to the police report, the responding officer, “did not observe any illegal narcotics or paraphernalia.” The officer, “did observe a pamphlet containing information about cocaine addiction.”
But, here’s a head scratcher. It wasn’t until days later that Caiafa dropped off some prescription bottles at the police department that he said he found in her purse. One bottle had 30 methadone pills along with a variety of other medications in a bottle labeled for something different.
“A couple of things stand out there. First he said he found some of the pills in the deceased purse, yet the officer who filed the report on the scene said he looked in the purse and didn’t find any drugs in there,” Acosta said.
The report says, “a follow up by the detective division is requested pending the results of the M.E. report.” Acosta points out that didn’t happen.
“That officer who received the drugs a week later specifically said he was asking for detectives to follow up regarding the drugs and it appears there was no follow-up and any kind that was done,” Acosta said.
When the toxicology came back, there was no cocaine as Caiafa suggested, nor opiates. Lorraine overdosed on methadone. There was no prescription and no explanation where it came from. It came as a complete mystery to her family.
“I didn’t know what to believe. But the big thing that jumped out to me about the autopsy there was no cocaine that we were going to do an intervention for. And none of that stuff was in there,” Padilla said.
Remember, once again; the police talked only to Caiafa. No one else.
“That was one of the questions I had as I read the report is the information was there that the son was staying at the residence, yet there is no indication that the son was interviewed at all, asked what might have happened with the mother,” Acosta said.
The written police report says: “Caiafa stated Michalski went to a bachelorette party on 28 Sept 08. Caiafa was not awake when Michalski returned home early this morning.”
WGN Investigates learned that was simply not true. Lorraine’s son had flown in from military duty for his mom’s 40th birthday party. He told us off-camera, his mom was home all night with him and Caiafa. After midnight, he walked up to kiss his mom goodnight, but she was asleep in bed with Caiafa awake beside her.
Padilla questions why he would have said that, saying she believes Caiafa is hiding something.
“I don’t know why he would have said that unless he’s hiding something,” she said.
In a statement, Caiafa now says the police report is “flat out wrong” that he never said Lorraine had gone to a bachelorette party. (Read Caiafa's entire statement here (pdf) )
So, where did that come from, thin air?
Caiafa and Lorraine’s relationship was rocky, something that Padilla witnessed often.
“Behind closed doors, you know, they would be in a room they’d be yelling at each other,” she said. “There was a lot times, where I would open the door and say, ‘we’re leaving, let’s go. You don’t need to put up with that.’ So we would leave.”
Six months before she passed, Lorraine had moved out. Her sister, Tammy Hansen says Caiafa would follow her around, “Oh yeah, he used to follow her and everything.” Hansen said her sister was worried about that.
Padilla was worried about her mom’s death and was suspicious from the start about the circumstances. Padilla warned Caiafa’s new girlfriend and even went to the F.B.I.
"I just said if something is to happen to this lady, I just want you guys to know and be aware because obviously three times is not – there is something wrong. Two times there is something wrong. Three times yeah,” Padilla said.
We reached out to the Schiller Park Police last week and it didn’t go so well. We had an interview set up for the chief, but it was cancelled. Instead, we received a statement:
“An outside observer might view the deaths as suspicious only because they occurred at the same address, but the investigations uncovered absolutely no evidence to suggest anything other than the original findings. As a professional Police Department, we take pride in our integrity and our quality of work. With a contentious election coming up, we hope no one is trying to distort the facts and undermine our investigations for their own nefarious reasons.”
Interesting since our off-camera conversations with the police were then shared with Caiafa, who by the way admits he and the current police chief are best friends.
“The person that was investigating (the case) was one of his best friends Tommy. Best friends. Tommy couldn’t even look at me. As soon as I walked in the door he turned around and didn’t look at me,” Padilla said.
We asked Acosta if the Schiller Park police should have recused itself in this case since Caiafa is on the police board.
“That’s a decision they have to make internally,” Acosta said. “Certainly it would be a better practice to maybe have someone else do some of the follow-up investigation to make sure there was no questions raised later regarding the quality of the investigation.”
Politics can indeed be ugly, but so is death. The failure of the Schiller Park Police Department to conduct a thorough investigation leaves two grieving families left to question years later what might have happened to their loved ones.
“I’ll get through it, but there are lies. And I’m mad at myself and my dad, my mom and my brothers, why didn’t we? Why didn’t the police contact us? Why?” Clark said.
The sloppy police work in these two old cases involving a village official running for mayor is why WGN Investigates repeatedly asked for an on-camera interview with Caiafa. He declined. He and his public relations firm did provide a statement that you can read in full below. You can also read the police reports there as well.
Lorraine’s daughter told us Caiafa helped her brother while growing up. Her brother says at Caiafa’s request he wrote a letter of support which he now regrets after seeing the inaccurate police report.
WGN did receive letters and email praising Caiafa before our story even aired. After all, there is a political campaign underway.
Both cases continue to be considered closed. Caiafa has never been referred to as a suspect by police. To this day Caiafa says he mourns their loss.
- Police report on the death of Mary Fatigato
- Police report on the death of Lorraine Michalski
- Full statement from Nick Caiafa
- Statement from Caiafa's public relations agency Mack Communications