By John Whiteside
Herald News – June 22, 2003
Paul Ciolino has spent the last eight years attempting to untangle the “pink teeth” murder case. And he thinks he has done it.
That is if the eyewitness he found is telling the truth and the court believes him.
Ciolino, 47, is a Chicago private detective who said he has helped to clear nine innocent men, five of them on death row, in recent years. He often works closely with the Northwestern University journalism department’s Innocence Project.
And he was in the Will County Courthouse last week with Michael van der Veen, a Philadelphia lawyer, in their attempts to clear Leamon Jordan.
Jordan has been in prison since 1982, when he was convicted in the murder of Kathleen Jennings, a 17-year-old Oak Lawn girl. Her skull was found in a Homer Township dog house in the winter of 1980. The case became known as the “pink teeth” murder because the color of the teeth determined that she had been strangled.
Ciolino said the only thing Jordan is guilty of is being stupid and trying to hustle cops. Jordan was trying to collect a reward when he got caught up in the case, he said.
“Jordan was a thief and troublemaker, but not a killer,” the private eye said. “He never has been violent.”
Ciolino and van der Veen have hundreds of hours involved in sorting through the old case. They’ve filled several file cabinets with paperwork, interviews and reports. Both men are working free.
In early May, Ciolino located an eyewitness who claims to have been present the night when Jennings was murdered. This witness, Ricky Mikrut, who is in prison, has named two others as the killers and said Jordan wasn’t even present.
“Mikrut wants nothing and is willing to take a polygraph test,” Ciolino said. “He didn’t know Jordan was still in prison until he ran into him there.”
Ciolino believes this eyewitness is solid.
As for the two alleged killers, one is living in Indiana under an assumed name, and the other is on the lam running from other arrest warrants, Ciolino said.
Legal papers requesting a post-conviction hearing for a new trial for Jordan were filed with Circuit Judge Gerald Kinney by van der Veen. Arguments for the hearing have been scheduled for Aug. 12.
Ciolino, who has 22 years of experience as an investigator, said the truth is elusive in this case. But the old police reports are full of holes, he said.
“If the judge allows us a hearing and a new trial, Jordan is out of there,” he said.
Jordan’s mother, Thelma, and his four brothers and sisters were in court with the attorney and private detective. They all believe that Leamon Jordan is innocent.
Ciolino said he first got involved because Thelma Jordan requested his help. He grew up in the same neighborhood as Jordan.
I asked Ciolino what his gut tells him about the future of his efforts.
“I don’t think the state will ever admit they made a mistake here,” he replied, adding that Jordan, if cleared, could file for civil damages and probably collect a lot of money.
Ciolino said that he’s a mercenary, that he likes money.
“But I’m doing this case free because I believe in it,” he said. “I believe that he is innocent.”
I wished him luck because I’ve known this case from the very beginning. I was there with county police as they searched for the rest of Jennings’ body after her skull was found. It was extremely cold that day as we searched the nearby fields.
Then a decade after Jordan was convicted, he wrote me a series of letters, which led to phone calls. I spent several hours interviewing him in the Dixon Correctional Center and wrote a lengthy eight-part series about the case. But Jordan played with the truth when we talked.
I’ve always felt in my gut that Jordan was innocent. That he was a street hustler who became a good patsy. But it was Jordan’s mouth that created much of his problem.
As this case meandered through the legal system, Jordan has told many untruths. Now those lies are all tangled up with the facts, and it will be difficult to sort out the truth, even with this eyewitness.
Perhaps Ciolino and van der Veen can do it. That would be justice, I suppose.