Exactly 44 years after two teenage girls were found murdered in a Morton Grove forest reserve – a crime that shocked and horrified the northwest suburbs – the case remains unsolved and the family of one of the victims says police have not done enough to bring the killer to justice. justice.
Niles West High School seniors Susie Ovington and Avon Bender, both 17, were headed to a shopping center on the afternoon of September 5, 1979, when they disappeared. Hours later, a search party found their bodies in the nearby Cook County Forest Preserve. Both girls were shot multiple times.
As their families grieved, they waited and waited to learn who might have committed such a horrific crime. Years passed – and the answers never came.
Susie’s siblings, Judy Sanfilippo and Dick Ovington, said they remember that day like it was yesterday — and their little sister’s death changed their family forever.
“She was probably the most wonderful, happiest kid you could ever want to hang out with,” Sanfilippo said. “She will always be 17 years old. She will never, ever be older than that. And we still miss him. Still.”
“Someone like that taken from you the way she was taken from us — it rips a part out of you,” Ovington added.
Sanfilippo said the Morton Grove Police Department’s response frustrated her family from the start. That frustration only grew over time and as the case passed through generations of investigators.
“When you talk to the police, they say, ‘We’ll keep in touch.’ We’ll keep you updated. And they don’t,” she said.
“It got to the point where they were just talking in circles,” Ovington said. “It’s like everyone’s reading the same script. You get the same answers. And they leave. And so it has been for 44 years.”
“We just started to realize that they weren’t doing anything,” he continued. “We’re being told the same old story.”
Morton Grove police declined NBC 5’s request for an interview, but Commander Dennis Johnson said by phone that he understands the family’s frustration.
Police said in a statement that the case was reviewed by forensics specialists in the early 2000s, then again with the Cook County District Attorney’s Cold Case Unit in 2005.
That statement said police had been “actively working” on the case since 2020. Johnson said that’s when investigators started anew with reinterviews and DNA analysis. But he couldn’t talk about what happened in all those years between them.
“Why is it taking so long?” asked Ovington. “I mean you have evidence, you have DNA, you have people you’ve talked to all these years. Why is it taking so long?’
Earlier this year, a high school friend of the girls filed a public records request with Morton Grove police seeking to find out just that. That request was denied in May, as police said releasing any reports would be “detrimental” to the active, now decade-old investigation. Investigators wrote in the denial letter that they had an additional 62 interviews they planned to complete “in the near future.”
“Now all of a sudden what, they’re telling us they have 60 more people to interview and this is 44 years later? And you have more people to interview?” asked Sanfilippo.
Cook County Crimestoppers is now offering a $10,000 reward — paid by an anonymous high school classmate of Susie and Avon — for information leading to an arrest. Morton Grove police said they need the public’s help to solve the case.
“We really encourage anyone who can remember anything or has any information — even if they don’t think it’s important — I’d rather just call and give us that information,” Johnson said. “You never know. It only takes one person, one little thing, to push a cold case, or any case, over the finish line.”
Sanfilippo and Ovington said they hope this renewed push will finally bring them justice — even if it will never bring back the baby sister they love so much.
“There will never be closure. I don’t believe in the word closure,” Sanfilippo said. “But it’s stirring again. And we’re more than ready to mix it up. Because now we’re angry. Now we are angry.
“You walk through the house, you see her picture and boom — you start thinking about when she was around and it was without her for 44 years, this is what could have been, what should have been,” Ovington said. “Even if it ends, it never will.”
Anyone with information on the case can call (847) 663-3815 to speak directly with a detective or submit an anonymous tip via the tip line at (847) 663-3828. Tips can also be shared via email at ti[email protected] or [email protected].