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Man charged in 1972 murder found dead in suburban Chicago jail cell

Suspect in Naperville teen's 1972 murder found dead
Suspect in Naperville teen's 1972 murder found dead 02:18

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Barry Lee Whelpley died this weekend behind bars – while awaiting trial for the murder of a Naperville teenager more than 50 years ago.

Now, the family of Julie Ann Hanson will never learn if a jury of his peers would have found Whelpley guilty of her murder.

Two and a half years after his arrest, a trial date still has not been set. A series of setbacks and legal hurdles for prosecutors helped the case drag on – and now, it is a trial that will never happen.

Four days after the Fourth of July in 1972, the 15-year-old Hanson borrowed her brother's bike from their home on Wehrli Drive – never to return.

Her body was found later the same day in what was then a cornfield near 87th Street and Modaff Road in Naperville. Alongside her body was the bicycle, which she had been riding to her brother's baseball game. Police said she had been stabbed 36 times and sexually assaulted.

For almost 50 years, the case sat cold – while small amounts of evidence, degraded and contaminated, just sat.

That changed in 2021, when Naperville police detectives mentioned the case to forensics experts at a police convention in Las Vegas. With the help of new technology, they found a hit.

DNA from clothing found on the scene was a crucial piece of evidence that last summer took police to the home of Whelpley, a Minnesota welder.

"This was the last resort," said DNA expert Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick of Identifinders International. "They tried it and it worked."

It led detectives to the suburban Minneapolis home of retired welder, and Naperville transplant, Barry Lee Whelpley. But something happened when Naperville police came to his home to question him.

"They had a body camera on during their interview with him in the house – it took place about seven or eight hours," said Whelpley's attorney, Terry Ekl, said in 2022. "But then when his wife got there, two of the detectives took the body cameras off, put them on a table - which permitted them to record a private conversation between the defendant and his wife."

That violated the Illinois Eavesdropping Statute, and a judge bounced the body camera footage - a back-and-forth that delayed the trial so long, the defendeat died before it could happen. 

Whelpley was found dead in his Will County jail cell Friday morning. He died before a jury could decide what role, if any, he had in the death of Julie Hanson back in the summer of '72.

Julie would be 67 years old today.

Julie Ann Hanson Naperville Police  

Sources said late Sunday that Whelpley died of a heart attack behind bars.

Much of this case was kept out of public view and off public record after attorneys for both sides got the judge to agree to keep documents sealed.

We hope those now get unsealed, so we can learn what authorities would have presented had Whelpley survived.

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