Editor’s note: This story originally ran in the Belleville News-Democrat on Oct. 9, 2005
Belleville’s murder rate exploded this year as a result of crimes of passion, which may include the unsolved triple murder of a hairdresser and his two elderly customers.
Michael J. Cooney’s home salon on March 2 was the scene of an enraged overkill — violence that police said a simple robbery motive fails to explain. But was it a case of domestic violence?
“Certainly that’s possible with Cooney’s private life,” said Belleville Police Chief Terry Delaney. “That was really ugly — especially Cooney. He couldn’t get away. He was essentially crippled with his club feet. And those women were 79 and 82 years old. How much could they even resist?”
Cooney was homosexual, and police were following leads that took them to the gay clubs in St. Louis. Delaney said the biggest obstacle in the investigation was venue --- the leads kept taking them to St. Louis where they had to rely on help from that city’s overwhelmed homicide detectives.
Delaney said three investigators are still working on the stabbing deaths of Cooney and his two customers, sisters Dorothy E. Bone, 82, and Doris J. Fischer, 79. He said the Fischer family calls almost daily, and he saw them Wednesday night at the candlelight vigil for domestic violence victims, where he first learned three adults and a baby were killed, allegedly by a jealous ex-boyfriend.
The quadruple homicide was solved quickly after the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis was called in to help investigate. The squad was not activated on the salon murders.
“If the Cooney murders happened again today, I would definitely activate the Major Case Squad,” Delaney said.
He said the squad has become very professional and modern. Part of the reason he activated it for the quadruple killing was that his officers are still actively working the salon murders.
Even though he’d do it differently now, Delaney said he had the kind of manpower on the Cooney case that the squad would have offered. He had about 18 investigators volunteer to work on the stabbings and five state police crime scene technicians. Three technicians worked the four shotgun murders.
Delaney still maintains Samuel L. Johnson is the salon killer. He no longer maintains Johnson acted alone.
“I’m totally confident we have the right person,” Delaney said. “I’ve worked hundreds of homicides, and this guy jumped out early.”
Johnson, 39, of St. Louis, denies any role in the killings and has said Delaney’s persecution of him is stopping police from finding the real killer.
Johnson was convicted Sept. 7 of breaking into Cooney’s house in 2003. On the same day St. Clair County State’s Attorney Robert Haida said he was not charging Johnson with the murders.
Haida said a bloody fingerprint and DNA found in the salon point to someone besides Johnson, and the case will remain open until the evidence can be explained.
Delaney said Johnson’s imprisonment on the burglary gives investigators time to develop the case, re-examine everything and keep pushing on the crime lab work. He said the reward of more than $20,000 may still pry loose information.
He would love to solve the case by the time he retires. Granite City Police Chief Dave Ruebhausen starts in Belleville on Nov. 7 as second in command, but Delaney expects a quick transition.
“I expect to be home by Christmas,” Delaney said. “I’ll continue to stay in touch, even without the authority. There are a lot of loose ends on this.”
Delaney said Haida wants the bloody fingerprint and DNA explained. Delaney also said his group of witnesses has credibility problems.
“It would be nice if we had the testimony of priests and nuns, but that’s not the caliber of people Johnson socialized with,” Delaney said.
He said he has statements and people willing to testify in the salon stabbings that he believes can convict Johnson.
“If I were on a jury I’d convict him,” Delaney said. “But then I’m a little biased.”
Contact Assistant City Editor Brad Weisenstein at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 239-2451.Caption: Keywords: Legacy Data2015