CHICAGO - The "Smiley Face Killer" theory has taken a stunning turn as a retired cop revealed new evidence that has caused one local agency to re-open a case.
The same detective warns there's an active, dangerous group of killers still in Chicago.
“I would like Brian to know that if you're out there, you can come home,” said Stephany Welzien, during a 2000 press conference.
It was a case that stunned family, friends, and investigators.
21-year-old Brian Welzien, an NIU junior from Elgin, vanished without a trace on Jan. 1, 2000. 77 days later, his mother's worst fears were realized.
“The day he was found was really hard,” said Stephany.
Gary Detective William Fazekas was there the day Brian’s body was found on a beach.
“We had some troubling questions,” said Detective Fazekas. “If this is supposed to be a drowning, why is there no water in the lungs?”
Despite those questions, Detective Fazekas says the case has remained cold for nearly two decades. However, a phone call from a retired police detective out of New York would change all that.
“He said, ‘hey, we're coming up here to take a look at this, do you mind?’ Absolutely not,” said Detective Fazekas.
Kevin Gannon is a retired veteran of the NYPD homicide squad. He's combed through hundreds of cases like Brian’s, and has developed what's now known as ‘The Smiley Face Killer Theory’.
“We started finding not just a pattern of individuals, but the fact that there were smiley faces at those locations along with graffiti,” said Gannon.
Gannon says all the cases start out in a similar fashion.
“The young men had been drinking, they've gone out missing, and they wind up in bodies of water,” said Gannon.
He also says the narrative of a ‘drunk young man’ makes it easy for detectives to assume there was no foul play.
“I definitely think this theory is true because of the clues,” said Stephany.
Brian's mom points to several clues in her son's case. For starters, Brian's blood alcohol level was .084, which is just over the legal limit.
“There’s just no way that amount of alcohol caused what happened to him,” said Frank Paul Paloucek, UIC Professor and Clinical Toxicologist.
Paloucek says the narrative that Brian drunkenly wandered from the Gold Coast across Lake Shore Drive and into Lake Michigan, simply doesn't make sense.
He says what's more likely is that Brian was slipped a date-rape drug called GHB. That’s something his body was never tested for.
“Foul play is in play,” said Paloucek. “I think it absolutely is in play. It just doesn't fit to me. The alcohol level and the description of his behavior do not fit.”
Next, take the coroner's report, which shows the manner of death as "undetermined."
And looking closer, just "slight to moderate" decomposition, with the body "well preserved", lungs "well aerated", with minimal amounts of sand. Even after a so-called 77 days in the water.
“That looked more as if he had been driven to that location, and dragged down to the beach, and placed into the water,” said Gannon.
Gannon says Brian’s case was just one of the first. Over time, at least one dozen other so-called drownings in and around Chicago, could be linked.
“I miss somebody saying, ‘hi mom.’ I miss his hugs. I just miss all of him,” said Stephany.
The goal now is to get medical examiners across the country to change these cases to homicides, instead of accidental drownings, so the investigations can continue.
“We know that they're drugging them in bars, we know that they're abducting them and holding them for periods of time, before they murder them and then place the bodies in water to make it appear to be an accident,” said Gannon. “We have the graffiti out there in Chicago, that proves our group is there. We've seen it, we know it's there, we know they're active. We have pictures of this group, we know who they are. It will eventually come out to the public light.”
Law enforcement tells FOX 32 they’re not revealing all the evidence they have to the public so they don’t compromise the investigation
“It’s justice delayed, not justice denied,” said Stephany. “It won't be denied.”