Holly Staker murder: New lead gives Waukegan police hope in solving cold case

It’s been 30 years since the brutal murder of an 11-year-old babysitter made headlines out of Waukegan.

In a FOX 32 Special Report, we take another look at the unsolved case of Holly Staker.

"It’s the case that for a good reason, community members are never going to let die," said Waukegan Police Chief Keith Zupec.

Zupec is the newly appointed police chief for Waukegan. Before that, he was supervising the investigation into Staker's death as the deputy chief assigned to the case.

"We receive calls or we receive letters from people. That’s not uncommon for us, several times a year that we receive some tip in this case," Zupec said.

Even though this case from the early 1990s is still unsolved, it’s not completely cold either. There is still a flicker of hope.

"It’s not as simple of a lead as ‘hey, this is who did it,’" Zupec said. "It’s a little more complicated lead that we are working … but a very strong viable lead."


On the evening of August 17, 1992, Staker was babysitting two younger children in the 400 block of Hickory Street when the suspect entered the apartment. She was raped and stabbed to death.

Since then, Lake County prosecutors have charged one man — three times — in this case.

Each time, the appellate court overturned Juan Rivera’s conviction. He received a $20 million settlement for his wrongful conviction — the largest ever in U.S. history.

The case took a surprising turn in 2014 when investigators found DNA in a 2000 North Chicago murder case matched the DNA evidence in the Staker case.

Whose DNA is it? Police still don’t know.

"What DNA does is it helps you prove a case a little better," said Sgt. Richard Schak.

Schak is a retired Chicago police detective. He spent over 25 years working homicide cases and now teaches criminal justice at a Chicago area college.

When it comes to solving a cold case, he says you need more than just DNA.

"You need three things. You need eyewitness testimony. You need physical evidence and of course you probably need a confession," Schak said. "But the idea is if you have a combination of all three of those, especially the first two, then a confession might come easier."

He also says the current investigators have their work cut out for them on the Staker case.

"What I see in a case that’s been prosecuted multiple times, it’s extremely difficult to solve because that becomes part of the evidence in the current case," Schak said. "’Isn’t it true someone was arrested for this? Isn’t it true that someone was prosecuted?’ … and so on. Which can put doubt in the minds of the jurors."

Meanwhile, those investigators are still chasing down all the tips that continue to come in to the Waukegan Police Department decades later on this case.

As for that strong lead Chief Zupec mentioned, Waukegan police hope it will finally be the break they've been waiting for.

"I mean, that’s our hope. That’s our wish," Zupec said. "But we’ll see where it takes us."

"We’re going to do everything we can. Just because this case is 30 years old does not mean that it's not a case we intend to resolve," Zupec added.

FOX 32 Chicago reached out to the Staker family several times about the 30-year anniversary, but did not hear back.

One person close to the investigation who did not want to talk on camera told FOX 32: "Everything that has needed to be said, has been said."

If you have any information on this case, you can call either the Waukegan Police Department or Lake County Crime Stoppers.