Viewpoint: Questions remain in Jo Daviess death

Don Curley of Galena would like some answers, but they aren’t forthcoming. On March 1, 1996, his son, Dan Curley, 37, was found dead outside his home on North High Street in Galena.

Police and the coroner were called to Curley’s home about 3:30 p.m. on a blustery March afternoon. Curley’s body was lying face down on a sidewalk near the side entrance of his home.

His arms were bent under his body and there were abrasions on his elbows. There were minor wounds on the back of his head. A backpack was seen on the concrete near a storage shed. A bottle was by the bag, and Curley’s keys were found on the ground. Near the rear of the house, several feet from the body, Curley’s eyeglasses were found.

Police reported a metal shovel or spade was on the ground near the body. A snow shovel and a broom were located between the house and the storage shed on the ground. A leather jacket Curley was said to be wearing was discovered on the ground outside a fence that marked off Curley’s side yard.

Inside, the house had been ransacked. Some telephone records and other documents were missing.

An investigator from the Illinois State Police reported the plastic snow shovel had some marks on it. He also noted a large planter urn was overturned on the walk near the house. This urn later was found to weigh about 120 pounds.

The technician said some shrubbery bordering the picket fence and the sidewalk bore fresh damage. A small twig from these shrubs was found embedded in the back of Curley’s head during the autopsy. There also was a footprint in the mud between the fence and the storage shed.

The rear door of the house was partly open and appeared to have been kicked. There were smears of what looked like blood on the door and on siding near the door. A few drops of blood-like substance were found on the sidewalk. And a pair of leather gloves lay on the front step of the house.

What appeared to be bloodstains were found on a living room chair, on the wall inside the back porch, on some curtains on the side door of the house and a small stain on the rear of the left shoulder of a white T-shirt draped over a chair on the back porch.

Several fingerprints were lifted at the scene, primarily from the side door and door frame. One of these prints was made by Dan Curley; the second of two prints on the door did not match any of Curley’s fingerprints.

The coroner’s inquest heard testimony concerning what Curley was wearing on the night he died—blue jeans, a white T-shirt, and boots. It was stated that the shirt had pictures of tortilla chips on it.

Dan Curley’s sister, however, disputed that contention. She and her husband had given Dan a ride home from East Dubuque on the night before he died. “He was not wearing that shirt when we saw him,” she said. “He had a white shirt on with a little emblem right up here—black and white. And I know they say that that’s what they found him in. But don’t you think I remember what my brother wore when I saw him last?”

There are several other, more important questions surrounding this death.

Richard Pratt, chief of police in Galena at that time, told the coroner’s jury that the forensic pathologist, Dr. L.W. Blum, “indicated in his report there was no evidence of any kind of blunt trauma or anything like that.”

Yet, the autopsy report clearly stated in the summary: “multiple, blunt trauma.” Either there was or there wasn’t. Winnebago County Coroner Sue Fiduccia, who has read a transcript of the autopsy, said Chief Pratt never should have made such a statement. “You can’t always tell blunt trauma at the scene, but you certainly can at inquest,” she said.

Police believe Curley, who was heavily intoxicated at the time, came out of his house for some reason, dropped his keys and could not get back in. They theorize he kicked at the door, fell and because of the alcohol, thrashed around on the ground trying to get up.

Photos taken at the death scene show Curley’s clothing neatly tucked in and nearly spotless, as if it had just come from the laundry. Question: how is that possible if he rolled around on the ground trying to regain his feet? Chief Pratt, in fact, said to the jury: “If you look at the pictures that you have there, you will see that the clothing actually is very neat. There is one little blood mark on the T-shirt. It’s on the front, as I recall.”

The police report mentioned a T-shirt found in the house. It had a stain, possibly blood, on the left rear shoulder. Chief Pratt told the coroner’s jury: “I’ll show you pictures of him as he was found. You can see the T-shirt is tucked in. There is nothing on the back of the T-shirt that would indicate any kind of blood or anything like that.”

Question: Did Dan Curley change clothes before he went outside?

Another question is why was his jacket outside the fence if he had been wearing it? Why was it later missing from the police evidence locker?

The first officer to respond to Curley’s home on March 1 reported he saw a man he recognized, standing by the door. Was that man ever questioned as to what he was doing there and how long he had been there? We do not know.

Based on the autopsy findings and testimony at the inquest, Curley’s death was declared accidental. The cause: hypothermia due to exposure, complicated by acute alcoholism.

That very well may be the fact, but the questions cited, and several others, deserve answers. Don Curley deserves answers as to how his son, Dan, died exactly.

The new state’s attorney in Jo Daviess County, Terry Kurt, said he was going to reopen the case and try to answer some of these troubling questions. He has not responded to Don Curley’s queries. Neither has he returned phone calls from TRRT.

There is a long list of suspicious deaths in Jo Daviess County in the past two or three years. That seems more than a little odd for a chiefly rural county. Mr. Kurt has his work cut out for him. Let’s hope he gets busy doing it.

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