Metro-East News

3/4/2005: ‘Several’ interviewed in slayings: Sweep includes St. Louis teen, gay nightclub scene

Editor’s note: This story originally ran in the Belleville News-Democrat on March 4, 2005

Police say they are scrutinizing the gay nightclub scene as part of their search for the killer of a west Belleville hair stylist and antique dealer and two of his customers.

Police Chief Terry Delaney said police interviewed several people Thursday about the killings of Michael J. Cooney, 62, and sisters Dorothy E. Bone, 82, and Doris J. Fischer, 79, who were slain Wednesday in Cooney’s hair salon.

Delaney said investigators do not believe robbery was the motive for the killings because nothing was missing from Cooney’s home at 7813 W. Main St., which also housed his hair salon and antique business.

Delaney said police in St. Louis and the metro-east have interviewed several “people of interest” in St. Louis neighborhoods where Cooney was known to frequent. But he said no one has been arrested, and police are not ready to seek charges against anyone.

“Most of our leads are taking us across the river to St. Louis,” Delaney said, “but that is mostly due to his personal life because he had several friends and acquaintances there.”

Cooney is believed to have spent time at gay clubs in St. Louis and East St. Louis, police said.

“I’m not clear on a motive yet, and I’m not going to theorize that this is the motive,” Delaney said during a news conference when asked about the possibility that Cooney was killed by a jilted lover. “But it’s something that we are certainly considering.”

Police also questioned a 16-year-old boy who lived in a north St. Louis neighborhood where Cooney’s stolen Nissan Pathfinder was found Thursday morning.

Other people interviewed included young men who helped Cooney set up estate sales and move furniture, police said.

On Thursday, Belleville Police walked through the house with one of Cooney’s business associates who was familiar with the antiques Cooney kept there. The man, who was not identified, told police he didn’t think anything from the $500,000 inventory of antique furniture, jewelry and artwork was missing.

Police said they found Cooney’s wallet and credit cards underneath his body, further discounting the theory of robbery, even though there was no money in it.

Friends who knew Cooney said he often carried a large wad of cash folded in half. But they said he typically kept it in his shirt pocket, not in his wallet. He usually paid cash for the antiques he bought, they said.

Police wouldn’t speculate whether the killer emptied Cooney’s pockets, but there was no money in any of them. That wasn’t necessarily a red flag, according to the chief, because Cooney was at home and may not have felt the need to have any cash on him while he was styling hair.

Delaney said the people police interviewed gave voluntary DNA samples. He said forensics experts would determine how to use the samples or whether they could help locate the killer or killers.

“I don’t like to theorize and I won’t theorize,” Delaney said when asked whether he thought one person was responsible for all three slayings. “But there could have been more than one.”

Police said they did not find a blood trail leading from the house. Delaney would not give specifics about evidence recovered in the house or the stolen SUV, but he said the murder weapon was believed to be a butcher knife.

Cooney’s sport utility vehicle was found Thursday morning on a dead-end street north of Delmar Boulevard and east of Skinker Boulevard in North St. Louis. It had a dented hood and front fender and its driver’s side headlight was knocked out of place.

Delaney said police believe the damage happened after the vehicle was stolen, although they don’t know when or how it was wrecked.

Officers from Belleville, St. Louis and the Illinois State Police searched the neighborhood around the vehicle. They took several small bags of evidence from an apartment building at 934 Maple Place, and they collected more evidence on a path that ran to the south of the street.

James Lee, who lives in the building, said he told his wife to call police when he recognized the vehicle from TV news reports as he left for work at 7 a.m. Thursday.

“It makes you think to know that person was right up under you here in the neighborhood,” Lee said. “It makes you think.”

Lee said he had never seen the car before Thursday and that it wasn’t there when he came home from work at 4 p.m. Wednesday. He said he also didn’t think it was there when he looked out the window at 10 p.m. before he went to bed.

Police used crime scene tape to cordon off the vehicle while they dusted it for fingerprints. There were three or four clean squares on the rear driver’s side door where tape was used to lift prints highlighted by the black dust.

All of the victims were stabbed more than once, according to autopsies performed Thursday at Kenneth Hall Regional Hospital in East St. Louis.

“I would say he (Cooney) was probably the worst,” said Bob Shay, chief deputy coroner for the St. Clair County coroner’s office. “I would speculate that he was the first to be killed.”

Police said they believe the killer was after Cooney, and that the two elderly sisters were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Bone and Fischer were members of prominent Belleville families. They had gone to Cooney for years to have their hair done, family members said.

“The past 24 hours have been a tough 24 hours for the city of Belleville,” Mayor Mark Eckert said. “Their families have been so involved in our community in so many ways that it really grabs your heart.”

The mayor said city leaders are discussing the possibility of creating a reward fund.