Case of the Month: Deborah Lynn Rosencrans

From the Chicago Tribune

Deborah Lynn Rosencrans, Chicago Tribune

Case of the Month: Deborah Lynn Rosencrans (March 9, 1961 – September 18, 1977).

Deborah was both attracted and terrified of the city and longed for a quiet place filled with nice people. The city of Chicago was exciting but it also got on her nerves to the point of hospitalization.

To help ease her daughter’s pain, her mom decided to move back to Orlando, FL, where they lived before the divorce. Her mom would go ahead with her new husband and Deborah would follow a little later. In the meantime, she was allowed to stay with friends. And before she would leave Chicago for Florida, Deborah would attend her closest friend’s wedding.

After the divorce, Deborah’s family fell apart. To make up for that loss her mom worked hard so she could afford the best for her daughter. But every new toy came with a high price tag. Her mother worked several jobs for nearly 13 hours each day. The luxury for the daughter meant that she hardly saw her mother.

Deborah filled that loneliness with pets and strays. Her inner restlessness resulted in a police record for running away from home, strong-arm robbery, burglary, and disorderly conduct. Somehow, she didn’t go to school but stayed home watching TV and listening to music. She dreamt of becoming an actress or a veterinarian. How it is possible that she did not attend school while her friends were, I do not understand. If a friend’s minor daughter would temporarily stay under my roof, she’d go to school. No discussion.

The friends Deborah was staying with until she would join her mother and stepfather were not worried when Deborah didn’t come home. It had happened before. Deborah was found in Shiller Park Woods in the morning of Sept 6, 1977, by a hitchhiker who heard moaning coming from the underbrush. He found a teen wrapped in bloodstained blankets that were tied together with rope. He flagged a passing car and the authorities were notified. The teen turned out to be Deborah but it wasn’t an easy identification.

Deborah had been beaten so badly that she was unrecognizable. When she passed away on Sept 18, 1977, she was a Jane Doe. The authorities reached out to the public and everyone who was missing a daughter came forward to see if she was theirs. On October 3, 1977, Deborah was positively identified by her friends and later by her maternal grandmother. Deborah’s mother, who was on her honeymoon, returned to learn that her daughter had been butchered to death.

Police interviewed friends, canvassed the area, but could not find a suspect. They had no leads. The hitchhiker who found Deborah, Jerry Then, failed fourteen lie detector tests. Whether this had any legal consequences such as an official arrest, is unclear. I have not been able to find anything related to a Jerry Then and a Cook County Grand Jury. If you have any information or links to newspaper articles, please let me know. The other option for the police seemed to be the new boyfriend who Deborah had mentioned to her friends but all that they knew was that his name was Michael or Mike.

Chicago Tribune, Oct 7, 1977The only mention of a suspect comes from an article in the Chicago Tribune from Oct 7, 1977. It describes that a former mental health patient with a criminal history was now on the police radar. The authorities refused to identify him but apparently his medical records were turned over to the Cook County Grand Jury. I do not know how but the paper states that Deborah knew this man.

Police were also trying to find the driver of a blue Oldsmobile. Witnesses told police that Deborah was pulled into such a car. Aside from this, I have not been able to find anything else online except for repeated content.

Nobody is certain whether Deborah was murdered by one single person or by several. If all her injuries were centered on her face then it is logical to conclude that it was a very personal crime hence someone Deborah most likely knew. However, I have not been able to find a summary of her wounds including their locations, whether she had also been stabbed or, otherwise hurt.

If the rope and the blanket are still properly preserved then they must be examined with the M-Vac System for touch DNA. When you tie a know and pull it tight with your hands you leave biological materials on that piece of rope. Let’s hope that 2016 is the year in which we find some answers in this tragic case.

R.I.P Deborah Lynn Rosencrans.


In the series “Case of the Month” I highlight old cold cases. These posts are not an in-depth analysis and of course, sometimes more information can be found online and in newspaper archives. The goal of these posts is to get the cases back in the spotlights, to get people talking again, and if anything to make sure that we do not forget the victims. Just because their cases are cold does not mean that we can forget about them.

If you have any thoughts about this case then I encourage you to post them on your own social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, etc. Every time that we mention Deborah’s name online we enhance her digital footprint.

We must make sure that Deborah retains a web presence if we ever wish to find answers in her case. You can help by linking to or sharing this post.

Thank you for remembering Deborah Lynn Rosencrans with us.



Chicago Now


Chicago Tribune from Oct 9, 1977 main story

Chicago Tribune from Oct 7, 1977 on suspect