Suspect's mom, wife, son slain Woman had filed abuse charges against husband, then dropped them
By Rick Jervis and Patrick Rucker, Tribune staff reporters. Tribune staff reporters Jo Napolitano and Bonnie Miller Rubin contributed to this report Published December 1, 2004
The mother of an 11-month-old boy, Vinese Bell-Kracht was trying to piece her life together after a rocky two-year marriage. Last month her estranged husband, Martin Kracht, was charged with beating her, and the court ordered him to stay away from his wife and child.
But Bell-Kracht, torn between the pain of a troubled marriage and the challenges of caring for an infant son by herself, decided she had to have her husband's help. She asked that the charges be dropped, and on Nov. 8, they were, along with the court order of protection, prosecutors said.
About Monday, Harvey police found the bodies of Bell-Kracht, 21; her son, Emery; and Barbara Baker-Kracht, 52, Martin Kracht's mother, in Baker-Kracht's Harvey home.
Kracht, 24, was arrested Tuesday morning in the garage of another relative's home in Harvey. He remained in police custody Tuesday night pending charges, police said.
Bell-Kracht's slaying ended what officials say was an abusive relationship that left a trail of court documents and police reports. For family members who had tried to steer her clear of the violence, it opened another painful chapter even as police and prosecutors pondered whether to charge Kracht.
"We're just numb," said Bell-Kracht's brother Shaun Winston, 24, standing outside his family's RichtonPark home as family and friends filed in.
"That was my baby," Winston said, describing his sister as "the closest sibling I had."
Harvey police officials were tight-lipped about the details of the slayings, which occurred in the 15100 block of Marshfield Avenue. They could not confirm how the victims died or whether a weapon had been found.
At a news conference outside the brick bungalow where the slayings occurred, Cmdr. Merritt Gentry told reporters that he did not expect charges to be filed Tuesday by the Cook County state's attorney's office. Autopsies were scheduled for Wednesday.
"It's going to be a while," Gentry said. "We don't foresee any charges at this time, or any time soon, because there is a great deal of investigative work still to be done."
Family members described a relationship that was happy at first but quickly deteriorated.
Winston said he introduced the two. He knew Kracht when both were students at ThorntonTownshipHigh School in Harvey and ran into him again, in the summer of 2002, at the University of Illinois' Chicago campus, where Winston was studying journalism. Kracht appeared sullen and depressed, Winston said.
"He said he wanted to get his life together," Winston said. "I told him to come hang with me. I regret ever doing that."
A devout Jehovah's Witness, Winston took Kracht to the movies, brought him to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's WitnessesChurch in Chicago and introduced him to his sister.
Bell-Kracht, the middle of six siblings, was quiet and shy but loved dancing and showing off in front of her family, Winston said. She became drawn to Winston's new friend. They hit it off and were married four months later, in January 2003, he said. Kracht moved into the family's home on Capri Lane in RichtonPark that summer.
But trouble soon started.
On Oct. 6, 2003, RichtonPark police responded to a domestic-disturbance call at the home.
"They had gotten into a verbal argument, and she called police," said Richton Park Police Chief Leonard Czaplewski. "She did not want to press charges."
After that incident, the family expelled Kracht from the home, and he lived with friends and family members in Harvey while keeping in touch with Bell-Kracht, Winston said.
A year later, on Oct. 17, court records show, police responded to 2353 W. 57th St. in Markham and arrested Kracht on charges that he, "struck [his wife] about the torso with closed fists and threw her down to the ground."
Kracht was arrested that afternoon and charged with misdemeanor domestic battery.
At a hearing the next day, he was released on his own recognizance, but was ordered not to harass, abuse or stalk Bell-Kracht. He also was ordered to stay away from the Capri Lane home and the Charter One Bank in Homewood, where Bell-Kracht had been working as a teller since July. Visits with Emery were to be arranged through his mother, court documents show.
Bell-Kracht dropped the charges at the first court hearing on Nov. 8. She did so, Winston said, because she needed Kracht's help in caring for Emery and it was too difficult with the court's protective order.
"We listen very closely to our victims, and we take very seriously what their wishes are," said Tom Stanton, a spokesman for the state's attorney's office. "In this instance she did not wish to continue with the charges."
But in the interest of protecting the victim, even if she asks for the charges to be dropped, the state's attorney's office generally will not comply at the bail hearing, according to Dan Tsatoros, a former assistant state's attorney who is the court advocate coordinator and civil attorney for the South Suburban Family Shelter.
To protect the victim, the court will have jurisdiction over the person accused of abuse, who, at a bail hearing, is ordered not to have contact with the victim for 72 hours, and sometimes longer. After that period, even if the victim decides to drop the charges, the state can, without her cooperation, pursue a "victimless prosecution," Tsatoros said.
"But if the state cannot meet its burden of proof without the testimony of the victim, then the prosecutors' hands may be tied and are forced to dismiss the charges," he said. Such changes of heart occur about 75 percent of the time, he said.
Winston said his younger sister was on her way to getting back on her feet and trying to rid herself of her past with Kracht. On Saturday, she had moved into her own apartment in Steger, where she planned to raise Emery, and was saving to file for divorce, he said.
Last Wednesday, Winston said, he pulled Kracht aside after services at Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's WitnessesChurch and gave a stern, quiet warning: "Do not put your hands on my sister again."
"He was so bothered by what was going on in his life, he didn't even seem to listen," Winston said.
Kracht showed up at the church on Sunday to pick up Emery, Winston said. Bell-Kracht was scheduled to pick up the child from Kracht's mother's house Monday.