Update: The Man with the Hammer, Part Two

Date Published 07.01.06
On May 8 True Crime Diary posted an entry about the mysterious murder of Peter D'Agostino. D'Agostino was killed on June 22, 2005 in Oak Park, Illinois. He was walking home in the early evening when he was attacked and beaten on the head with a blunt instrument. It's now been confirmed that the instrument in question was a sledgehammer. Eric Herman of the Chicago Sun-Times quotes D'Agostino family lawyer John Galarnyk as saying it's a "full-size construction type sledgehammer." Police believe that D'Agostino was attacked from behind, without warning, and that the motive was random. It was daylight. Oak Park is a low-crime suburban community. An act of madness seemingly erupted without provocation, and then...nothing. Police are stumped.

True Crime Diary wondered if D'Agostino's murder was possibly connected to the random hammer attack of a young girl on the Southwest side of Chicago months later. On April 26, 2006 a 14-year-old girl on her way to school was approached from behind by a thin, slightly built black man wielding a hammer. He hit her on the head, but she was able to run and get help, and survived. The suspect in the D'Agostino murder was also a thin, slightly built black male. Compare their composite sketches. First is the D'Agostino suspect, then the Southwest side suspect.

Similar-looking men living in the same city happen to both hit the sidewalks and go on stealth hammer attacks? A connection was likely, and terrifying. Especially since the man with the hammer seems to have no motive except to inflict random fear and pain.

Worse yet, he may have been more successful than initially thought.

He didn't kill the girl, and her survival probably made him furious. He needed to find another victim, and soon. If the hammer man has a type, it's "vulnerable." D'Agostino has invariably been described as a short man, 5'4", and he was a professor, bookish down to his briefcase. The hammer man's next victim was a 14-year-old girl. Slight, bookish men. Schoolgirls. What other vulnerable demographic was open to him? How about the elderly?

You'll recall that the girl was hit on April 26. The very next day, April 27, a 74-year-old woman named Everleana Brame was found bludgeoned to death in her Southside Chicago home. Brame suffered blunt force trauma to the head. She lived 7.58 miles from where the girl was hit with the hammer. As you can see, it's a pretty straight shot between the two locations.

Attacking inside the home would be a departure in M.O. for the hammer man, but a logical one. He'd botched the attack on the schoolgirl. Brame's house offered privacy, and wouldn't have been difficult to enter. She was known as the big-hearted den mother in the neighborhood; her house was open to everyone. Besides, he may have already escalated to home invasion some weeks before.

Rewind to early April. April 3, and the 7600 block of South Clyde - just five blocks from Everleana Brame's home. That's where 59-year-old Annie Mae Davis lived. Like Brame, she was single, lived alone, and was known as a connecting force in the neighborhood. Like Brame, Davis was found inside her home with blunt force trauma to the head.

Annie Mae Davis lived just five blocks from Everleana Brame

Unlike D'Agostino and the 14-year-old girl these victims were so similar in background and geography that a public statement about a possible connection seemed guaranteed. It came on April 29, when reporter Annie Sweeney wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times:

Now Chicago Police are investigating whether the slayings of the women, both found in the past three weeks beaten to death inside their homes, could be connected.

But the Southside bludgeoning murders quickly vanished from the radar. The D'Agostino homicide and the hammer attack on the 14-year-old girl were rarely, if ever, mentioned.

Meanwhile, was the man with the hammer slowly moving south?

Hammond, Indiana, just across the Illinois border. May 24, 2006. One of Dorothy Szany's granddaughters saw smoke coming from Szany's house and called police. Police found Szany's wheelchair-bound 91-year-old husband, Joseph, disoriented in the living room. Joseph suffers from Alzheimer's and couldn't explain much to police. Dinner was burning on the stove. In the backyard, police found 85-year-old Dorothy Szany. It looked to police like she was confronted in the home and tried to make an escape out the back door. But someone was determined, and got to her first. Szany died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head.

Dorothy Szany crime scene

Yet another person bludgeoned to death without an obvious motive. The third elderly woman to be attacked and killed in exactly the same way in the space of two months. The parallels seem obvious. But only scant mention was made about a possible connection. Steve Zabroski of the Northwest Indiana Times reported that police were looking into whether the slayings were connected. Since then, nothing.

The attack and murders share many traits - blunt force trauma to the head; the element of surprise; no forced entry; nothing stolen; no sexual assault. They all occurred either just outside Chicago or within city limits, a neat arc inching progressively south, forming a backward "F."

Map of attacks in chronological order, starting with Peter D'Agostino, June 22, 2005, and ending with Dorothy Szany, May 24, 2006

What's most frightening about the attacks are their lack of available meaning. You can't blame gang violence, or sexual deviancy. You can't conveniently predict who will be next, or when. The man with the hammer is likely experiencing a crushing but incoherent rage that moves him forward. He doesn't know what makes him tick, only that he does tick - with the seething need to strike down innocent people in his path.

If you know anything about these cases, please call either the Chicago police at 312-747-7581, the Oak Park Police at 708-358-5403, or the Hammond, Indiana police at 219-852-2906.

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RT @emilynussbaum: The artful @hodgman's straightforward case for Hillary: https://t.co/ijA8xHJ8Tm
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Know what he does believe in? PAC $. Took 10K from HRC pac 2006. That means he's in her pocket.#BSLogic
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Good one. Unfortunately Bernie on record as not believing in charity.
@johnlevenstein Thanks for asking, btw. That's the kind of elevated discourse missing lately. A lot of mud slinging. #I'mNotAboveItEither
@johnlevenstein Can't convey it all thru Twitter but yes, she has flaws. Too poll-driven, burned needed bridges, trouble owning mistakes.