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15 years later, Lane Bryant murders remain unsolved; 'I'm still at that why?'

The Lane Bryant massacre 15 years later: two former employees remember
The Lane Bryant massacre 15 years later: two former employees remember 05:16

TINLEY PARK, Ill. (CBS) -- It is one of the most infamous cold cases ever in the Chicago area – 15 years ago Thursday, five women were shot and killed during a robbery inside a Lane Bryant store in southwest suburban Tinley Park.

The gunman has never been caught.

On Saturday, Feb. 2, 2008, just before 11 a.m., the gunman entered the Lane Bryant store at 7264 W. 191st St. near Harlem Avenue, in the Brookside Marketplace Shopping Center

The gunman announced a robbery. He took the store manager, an employee, and four customers to the back, and shot them all.

Store manager Rhoda McFarland, 42, of Joliet; Connie Woolfolk, 37, of Flossmoor; Sarah Szafranski, 22, of Oak Forest; Carrie Hudek Chiuso, 33, of Frankfort; and Jennifer Bishop, 34, of South Bend, Indiana, were all killed. A sixth woman was also shot and wounded.

Lane Bryant Murder Victims

For the first time Thursday night, we heard from two women who worked at the store. They told CBS 2's Jim Williams how they happened to stay out of harm's way that cold February morning.

It was a hair appointment and a medical emergency that kept first cousins Laura and Laurie away from the Tinley Park Lane Bryant store – where they both worked part time.

"I called the store on Friday and said I wouldn't be able to come in Saturday," Laurie said.

Laurie – who asked that we not use her last name - was unable to work her shift that Saturday because her 13-year-old son had surgery, and then had a temperature of 106.

Laurie needed to be with her son in the hospital. It was there that she first reports on television.

"I see on the TV, 'Lane Bryant killing.' And I'm like: 'Lane Bryant? I work there,' and I'm telling the nurses, 'Oh my God, I work at Lane Bryant!" she said. "I'm still not seeing Tinley."

Cell service inside the hospital was spotty, but then a flurry of voice messages came in.

"I hear, 'Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!' and I'm listening to voicemails," Laurie said, "and people are crying on my phone saying: 'Answer your phone! Answer your phone! I hope you're not at work today!'"

Laura had told her cousin Laurie she couldn't pick up her because she had a hair appointment. At the salon, Laura too was on receiving end of frantic phone calls.

"People just started calling and calling and like – 'Where are you? Are you at work?'" Laura said.

Their friends were beyond horrified.

"Oh my God, I was just talking to a girlfriend today who was just saying, 'I just remember the day, calling and begging you to answer your phone," said Laurie.

Soon, the cousins learned who had been in the store - the five women who were shot to death and one that was wounded. Laura and Laurie have fond memories of manager McFarland.

"Probably One of the most caring, giving, selfless manager I've ever worked," Laurie said.

"Sweetheart," added Laura.

"Once they said who was in the store, all I could do is break down and cry - because I couldn't believe it," Laura continued.

While police said the gunman had announced a robbery, Laura said little cash was kept in the store.

"We knew our customers. Our customers didn't use cash a lot. Our customers used credit cards, wrote a check," Laura said. "Two registers in the store — $200 in each register. That's it."

On a 911 call made from inside the store you can hear the murderer's muffled voice, and so too the faint voice of Rhoda McFarland.

"When I heard that 911 call and heard her voice," Laurie said as she began to cry.


Laurie and Laura have fond memories of working at Lane Bryant. Laurie's mother also had worked there. A family, they called it.

"Lane Bryant was for full-figured women, and so making us feel good about ourselves was one of the joys of working there - and I loved it," Laurie said.

Fifteen years later, that Lane Bryant store is gone - and the case is still cold.

"I'm still at that 'why.' Why? Why did these women have to die? What was it that you were looking for to take five women's lives? Why?" Laura said. "That's where I'm at, the why?" 

The Tinley Park Police Department has said they're still committed to finding the shooter.

Five years ago, Michigan State Police helped create a 3D version of the original sketch of the suspected gunman, which was compiled from eyewitness accounts. Authorities used facial identification technology to make the original sketches of the suspect more lifelike.

A 3-D enhanced sketch of the suspect in the murders of five women at the Lane Bryant store in Tinley Park in 2008. (Credit: Tinley Park Police)

identification technology to make the original sketches of the suspect more lifelike.

"It's being worked on, on somebody's desk — that there's somebody that's still caring about the five lives that were taken senselessly," said Laura. "So if they're saying they're still working on the case today, 15 years later, I'm grateful. Justice should be served for those five families that lost somebody on a cold Saturday morning."

Laurie still looks back on the fact that she missed work that day because of an alarming medical episode from her son – and thus, her life was spared.

"I thank God for it," Laurie said.

Last year, two new detectives took over the case, and the village said police have funding to keep investigating.

There is a $100,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

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