GILL, GILBERT: 'Days Inn murders' remain unsolved

Investigation stalls in 1989 case of hotel clerks slain on same night, 52 miles apart
2009-11-30T00:05:00Z GILL, GILBERT: 'Days Inn murders' remain unsolvedBy Susan Erler - susan.erler@nwi.com, (219) 933-4183 nwitimes.com
November 30, 2009 12:05 am  • 

Working at separate roadside motels in 1989, Mary Margaret Gill and Jeanne Marie Gilbert were slain on the same cold March night.

Their unsolved murders still haunt family members and the investigators who say they logged countless hours and amassed reams of paperwork trying to find the killer.

The circumstances of their deaths forever linked the two women as victims in the so-called Days Inn murders.

Gill, 24, and a resident of an unincorporated area near Merrillville, was night auditor at the Days Inn at U.S. 30 and Interstate 65.

Just after 2:30 a.m. on March 3, Gill was robbed of $179 and then taken to an unoccupied area on the motel's second floor where she was shot twice in the head.

About four hours later and 52 miles south on I-65, Gilbert, 34, of Rensselaer, was on duty at another Days Inn, this one near Remington.

The divorced mother of two was robbed of $247 and was found dead at daybreak of multiple gunshot wounds, lying alongside a rural road not far from the motel.

Both women were sexually assaulted, and ballistic tests revealed the same gun was used in both murders.

A joint investigation by the Merrillville Police Department, the Jasper County Sheriff's Department and the Indiana State Police turned up potential suspects. But more than 20 years later, the killer or killers remain at large.

"It was one of the most difficult cases I've worked," said Dan Demmon, now retired from the Merrillville Police Department, where he served as chief of police and as the lead detective in the Days Inn case.

"I spent many hours on it and would love to see it solved," Demmon said.

Merrillville police still consider it an open case, Chief Joseph Petruch said earlier this month.

DNA testing, then a fairly new tool to crime solving, was employed to help track suspects, but it more than once proved futile for investigators.

By mid-1991, authorities believed they'd narrowed the hunt for the murder suspect to a Michigan man. The man, whose identity has never been revealed, was identified in a police lineup by a witness, whose identity also remains shrouded in secrecy.

Hopes were crushed in early 1992 when DNA samples from the Michigan suspect failed to match bodily fluids and tissue samples found at the crime scenes.

Later that year, a second suspect was ruled out by DNA test results.

Earlier, investigators had to rule out a connection between a series of murders committed across the Southwest in July 1989 when it was learned the suspect in those slayings had been in jail on the day Gill and Gilbert were killed.

For the Jasper County Sheriff's Department, every year brings at least one phone call about the murders of the two women, Sheriff Orville Perry said.

"It's the only major crime we ever had that hasn't been resolved," Perry said.

"We have a full briefcase that we kept all of the casework in. It is something we think about regularly, and hopefully, with some luck, it will be solved someday," Perry said.

"In this business we don't like to count on luck, but it sometimes comes forward to help us, and we're hoping for a break," Perry said.

Failure to find the women's killer or killers gnaws at Andrew Mitchell, Gilbert's father.

"I think about Jeanne every day," he said.

The pain grows sharper on Gilbert's Nov. 18 birthday, a date her family commemorates yearly by placing her photo and a birthday message in the Rensselaer hometown newspaper.

Retired since 1992 from his job as an official with Carpenters Union Local 1005 and the Northwest Indiana District Council, Mitchell has his own theory about who killed the women.

"I think it's somebody in the area, somebody that knew both the girls," Mitchell said.

That somebody is "probably sitting back now laughing that they got away with it," Mitchell said. "These are the things that run through my mind."

Gilbert's children, a daughter who was near high school graduation in March 1989 and a son then in middle school, are grown. Gilbert's daughter is an attorney and her son is an operating engineer, Gilbert's mother, Pat Mitchell, said.

The woman Mitchell described as 'bubbly and full of life," now has three grandchildren.

Andrew Mitchell said he waits to hear something, anything, from police officials looking into the murders.

"I'd be more than thankful if they were to solve it," Andrew Mitchell said.

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