Cops: Man kills parents, nephew in apparent murder-suicide

Smoke pours from the roof of a house in Oak Lawn, where four people were found dead in an apparent murder-suicide on Wednesday.
CBS Chicago

OAK LAWN, Ill. - Firefighters and police responding to a blaze at a suburban Chicago house on Wednesday saw a man shoot himself in an apparent murder-suicide that left four people, including a 5-year-old boy, dead, authorities said.

CBS Chicago reports that the boy, identified by police as Matthew Meier, was found in the rubble of the fire Wednesday afternoon. The bodies of the suspect, 36-year-old John Conta Jr., and his parents, John Sr. and Janice, were also recovered, officials said. Matthew was the suspect's nephew.

Oak Lawn Police Chief of Detectives Michael Kaufmann said that early on Wednesday, Conta stole a shotgun from a locker where his father kept hunting weapons and proceeded to systematically shoot and kill his parents and his nephew.

"The 5-year-old was staying overnight, as the grandparents adored him," said Kaufmann. "It was his birthday the night before this happened."

The fire started around 5 a.m., in the one-and-a-half-story home in Oak Lawn, according to authorities, who said the house was nearly fully engulfed in flames when fire crews arrived.

"We encountered a vehicle in the garage and noises coming from the vehicle," said Oak Lawn Police Chief Michael Murray. "At that time we approached the vehicle and opened the door, and observed an adult male in the driver's seat take his own life with a shotgun."

Kaufmann said that Conta had no history of mental illness, and police do not currently have a motive for the murders.

According to CBS Chicago, relatives told police that the suspect's personality changed after he spent a year in Russia working as a potato farmer.

"That may have been a contributing factor, but there's nothing to lead us to believe something happened... that would have set him off to do a rampage like this," Kaufmann said. "It's possible we may never know."

Firefighters were hampered in battling the blaze because of frozen hydrants. The fire was put out after about four hours.

Officials have yet to say what sparked the fire. The South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force is investigating the deaths and fire.