Bad News Out Of Chicago

Date Published 11.21.07
Family Annihilation; Serial Killer on the Loose?

Kaushik Patel, 34, was having marital problems. On Friday night police were called to the Glendale Heights, Illinois home Patel shares with his wife, Nisha, and their two young sons. But Nisha didn’t want to press charges and the matter was dropped. From the outside the first-time domestic dispute hardly appeared to be a worrisome, escalating situation. But apparently inside Patel’s head desperation was building.

On Sunday, with Nisha out of the house, Patel led his two sons --- Vishv, 7, and Om, 4 --- into the upstairs bathroom. New toy cars, bought that day, were spread around the room, perhaps as a lure. Patel herded his sons into the shower stall, doused them with gasoline, and lit them on fire.

Vishv and Om Patel are now fighting for their lives at Loyola University Medical Center, outside Chicago. Kaushik Patel is also being treated for burn injuries at Loyola. It’s unclear whether his injuries are the result of a suicide attempt, or blowback when he tried to kill his sons.

The story is horrible; it’s also oddly familiar. I recalled a similar story and was surprised to see how many details matched. Last August Nimisha Tiwari, who, like Kaushik Patel, was a relatively recent immigrant from India, killed herself and her two young children by setting their bedroom ablaze. She was also having marital difficulties. Toys she had bought that day for her children were found scattered about the room. This occurred in Naperville, about sixteen miles from the Patel’s home in Glendale Heights.

Nimisha Tiwari

Suicide by fire is rare in the United States, but according to one study it’s the third most common method in India, especially among girls. Messages left on online forums by members of the Indian community in Chicago mention that family annihilation by fire is not unheard of in India. Several posters mentioned what a tight-knit group the Indian community is in Chicago and its suburbs.

Did Kaushik Patel know Nimisha Tiwari? At the very least he likely heard about what she did to herself and her family. It remains to be seen whether or not her violent act was a terrible influence on him.

It’s an uncomfortable truth that some crime stories, mostly ones involving young white women, get all the attention, while others languish in the back pages with few details. But the disparity has never been starker than these last few weeks in Chicago. The saga of Drew Peterson, a former police sergeant in suburban Chicago, and his missing young wife, Stacy, has been front-page news for several weeks. Drew Peterson has been on the Today show, and the story has been the focus of Nancy Grace’s criminal justice show on CNN for the past several nights. It’s also the cover of this week’s People.

Meanwhile, on the Southside, a mostly African American neighborhood, a story with frightening possibilities is unfolding with little coverage. On Monday night, near the south end of Washington Park, the body of a 21-year-old woman was found strangled to death and set on fire inside a dumpster. The victim, Theresa Bunn, was eight months pregnant.

Less than twenty-four hours later, a second woman was found strangled to death and set on fire inside a dumpster. The second victim’s body was found at the north end of Washington Park, less than two miles from Bunn’s.

Stacy Peterson’s emails are debated and scrutinized; even her prom date has granted interviews. Meanwhile, police haven’t been able to identify the second victim in the dumpster yet.

While police aren’t saying “serial killer,” residents of the Southside are. The location, timing and circumstances of the vicious murders suggest the same killer or killers. Theresa Bunn was apparently developmentally challenged, and the fact that the second victim’s identity is still unknown could mean that she, too, was a particularly vulnerable target, perhaps a prostitute or homeless.

Unfair media coverage is often just unfair; in this case it might actually be dangerous. Drew Peterson, frozen in front of a hundred cameras on his lawn, receives all the attention, but he isn't going anywhere. He doesn't pose a real threat. The same can't be said for the Southside killer, unknown and under the radar, who may be emboldened by the silence about his crimes to keep killing women and discarding them like garbage.

The Feed

RT @emilynussbaum: The artful @hodgman's straightforward case for Hillary:
@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.