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Catching an alleged teen killer: How police say they caught double-homicide suspect in one day

Catching an alleged teen killer: How police say they caught double-homicide suspect in one day

It began with a Saturday morning meeting with a confidential informant and ended with the discovery of two missing teenagers' remains in a burned-out car and murder charges against a 17-year-old Valparaiso boy, police said.

In the end, a sweeping investigation by multiple Region police departments led to an arrest in a high-profile homicide of teens who had been reported missing last week, according to authorities.

It all happened in one day.

"I want to commend the work of our Criminal Investigations Division, the crime scene investigators, the prosecutor's office, the coroner’s office and the additional agencies that assisted, for working throughout the weekend and for working together cohesively, in obtaining statements, locating and processing evidence, locating the suspect and successfully apprehending him," said Porter County Sheriff Dave Reynolds, whose department led the investigation.

Porter County police said they were notified at 8 a.m. Saturday by Cedar Lake police that an unidentified person had stopped by the department the day before claiming Connor Kerner had killed Thomas Grill Jr., 18, of Cedar Lake, and Molley Lanham, 19, of St. John.

The pair had not been seen since Feb. 25 and were reported missing the following day by St. John and Cedar Lake police.

Within 15 minutes of the report from Cedar Lake, the Porter County Sheriff's Department contacted the father of the confidential informant, who arrived with his child at the Sheriff's Department at 9:20 a.m. Saturday, according to charging information.

The informant claimed to have been with Kerner at Kerner's house from 7 to 10:30 p.m. Feb. 25 while Kerner's mother was out of town, police said. Kerner reportedly told the informant he carried out the killings earlier in the day, and the informant thought he was joking until noticing a missing persons report later that night.

"C.I. advised that he/she texted Kerner a picture of the missing person's report, and he (Kerner) replied, 'Jesus,'" police said.

Porter County police located Kerner Saturday and took him into custody without incident with the help of the Portage and Valparaiso officers who make up the Porter County Multi-Enforcement Group.

"Kerner refused to answer questions," police said.

Police have said the informant told them Kerner placed the teens' bodies in a Honda Civic that had been driven by one of the victims. Kerner then set the car ablaze in a Porter Township field, according to the informant's account.

After receiving that information, police said they located the vehicle and bodies, police said. A search warrant was secured as part of the investigation.

DNA evidence was obtained and sent to a lab for processing, and the Porter County coroner's office planned a forensic autopsy with medical records to confirm the identities of the bodies, county police said.

The Grill and Lanham families were contacted Saturday about the findings and evidence of the slayings, police said.

By 3:30 p.m., investigators had secured and executed search warrants for Kerner's home in Center Township, police said. A warrant also was used to search the Boone Township home of Kerner's grandparents, where police believe the slayings occurred.

"Investigators recovered what they believed to be substantial evidence during the execution of these search warrants," police said.

Kerner's initial hearing on the murder charges was Monday, and preliminary pleas of not guilty were entered on his behalf.

"I want to send my sincere condolences to Thomas Grill and Molley Lanham’s families on the tragedy they are now facing with the heinous death of their children," Reynolds said.

The investigation continued Tuesday.

Recent arrests booked into Porter County Jail


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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.

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