WOODSTOCK – Undersheriff Gene Lowery said he started suspecting Gary Gauger of murdering his parents long before police said he confessed to the crime in April 1993.
Lowery said Gauger’s claim that he could beat a polygraph examination, partly because he thought he could control his blood pressure through meditation, really caught Lowery’s attention as officers prepared for the examination about eight hours into a police interview.
Lowery also thought it was “very strange” when Gauger spoke Spanish, as if perhaps he didn’t understand English, when officers read him his Miranda warnings earlier the day the murders were discovered.
“I don’t know if he was a suspect [at that point,]” Lowery testified Tuesday. “I definitely had questions on my mind.”
Lowery, who was a McHenry County Sheriff’s detective in 1993, and retired Det. Chris Pandre recounted their participation Tuesday in the marathon interview that police said led to Gauger confessing to the double homicide. Their testimony was part of a civil trial in which Gauger, 57, is trying to prove the two detectives, plus retired Det. Beverly Hendle, conspired to maliciously prosecute him for the crimes.
Gauger is seeking millions of dollars in damages from the sheriff’s office for the 3½ years he spent in prison and for post traumatic stress disorder. He was sentenced to die by lethal injection after a McHenry County jury convicted him of the murders in 1993. Ultimately that conviction was overturned, former Gov. George Ryan pardoned him, and two motorcycle gang members were convicted of the murders as part of a federal racketeering case.
Gauger has maintained that the alleged confession was a hypothetical account he created to help jog his memory if he had blacked out the crime. Gauger said he later repeated that hypothetical account when Pandre interrupted him about 10 hours into the interview and yelled at him to tell how he murdered Maury and Ruth Gauger.
But on Tuesday, Pandre denied getting out of his chair or yelling at Gauger. Rather, Pandre said he told Gauger to “just tell us the truth” and said the police weren’t there to judge him.
Both Pandre and Lowery testified that Gauger told them April 8, 1993, was a blur as he began his “confession.”
The two said Gauger described coming up behind his mother in a trailer full of rugs that the family sold near the farmhouse where the three lived. They said Gauger described slitting her throat, but when Lowery asked, Gauger said he didn’t remember locking the trailer door or doing anything with the blankets in the trailer.
Then, the officers said, Gauger described slitting his father’s throat in a parts room of his father’s nearby motorcycle shop. Pandre said Gauger also commented that there should be blood on his hands although he cleaned them two or three times with solvent.
Earlier at the crime scene, Gauger had given police permission to break the padlock on the trailer’s door, and police found his mother’s body inside covered with blankets or rugs.
After Gauger’s conviction, the lead prosecutor sent then-Sheriff George Hendle a letter complimenting the three detectives’ work.
Prosecutor Phil Prossnitz, now a lawyer in private practice, said he had asked the detectives to memorize their reports so they wouldn’t have to refer to them frequently while testifying. Prossnitz said several jurors commented favorably on the detectives’ credibility after the trial was over.
After the trial, Gauger’s twin sister, Ginger Blossom, urged him to write letters seeking legal help and worried that he would give up after he seemed desperate and catatonic during their phone calls.
Blossom stood by her brother throughout the trial, sentencing and the legal ordeals afterward. But on Tuesday, she said he is no longer the gregarious man she remembers tapping out Bob Dylan songs on a piano in the farm’s greenhouse.
“I got Gary back physically, but it’s not the whole Gary,” Blossom testified. “There’s a big part of him that’s gone. We can’t turn back the clock.”