South Bend, IN – April 8, 2012 – It’s been just over ten years since the execution style murder of 43-year-old Gary McCracken, but the family is still searching for answers, not to only who did it, but why. Speculation is that he was set up or that the vehicle he was attempting to repossess was involved in drug trafficking.
The memory of Gary McCracken lives though he was found dead in a South Bend alley with a bullet in his head.
No killer. No clues. No closure in sight for a fractured family that remains emotionally scalded.
“Every year is kinda hard,” Alwine says of the passing of the most recent anniversary of her brother’s unsolved murder, “because you just kind of relive that day.”
March 19, 2002.
Police believed the car McCracken was trying to repossess had been used in a drug trafficking ring … a likely possibility, says Affordable Auto Rental manager Karen Hailey, who worked with McCracken.
“Unfortunately, that happens a lot in this business,” Hailey says.
McCracken, who worked repo jobs with a partner — a man he knew from his day job at Stripco Inc. — this time went alone.
“The huge question was, why was he there?” Alwine asks. “He was very safety conscious.”
Hailey says the answer may have had something to do with McCracken putting his dog down in recent weeks.
“He wasn’t thinking right,” Hailey reasons.
Deanna McCracken recalls her fears even though her husband carried two guns.
“I told him, ‘That gun you carry is not a magnet to another bullet.’
“He told me he was going to quit repo-ing April 1, but that he had a few bad ones left to get.”
Alwine has carried doubts that her brother was there to repo a car since the first detective on the case voiced his suspicions 10 years ago.
Attempts to contact former South Bend Detective John Ciesolka, now a police officer in Dallas, were unsuccessful.
“I think he was set up,” Alwine says, recalling the detective uncovering a series of cell phone calls McCracken fielded before he went to the fatal spot.
“I think he was lured there,” Alwine says.
Whoever McCracken encountered didn’t rob him.
The killer forced McCracken to his knees.
Then a bullet was fired into McCracken’s head.
“It was an execution,” said private investigator Brett Coppens, who briefly delved into the matter before the family decided not to retain his services.
Alwine says detectives described her brother’s murder in the same terms.
“We don’t buy it that one person was there,” she says. “This was too well done to just be anybody that (McCracken) happened to cross. This was planned. Whoever did this knew what they were doing.”
A resident who lived nearby discovered McCracken’s body.
Police found McCracken’s car still running. His wallet and briefcase were still sitting on the front seat.
Both guns McCracken carried were also found.
“One said he had his hand on his second gun, and one person said it was in his pocket with his hand in the pocket on the gun,” Alwine says. “But somebody else said he had pulled his first gun, then they found the second gun, and another person said the gun had been fired.”
Hailey recalls investigators saying one gun was found on the ground by his side “like he dropped it.”
Deanna McCracken tried calling her husband’s beeper at 4:30 a.m. He never returned the call.
Police woke her up when they knocked on her door.
“I knew he was dead because he never came home,” she says. “They told me he was shot and that he didn’t survive.”
South Bend’s Special Crimes Unit jumped on the case right away.
And there was a phone tip almost immediately.
A woman called police to say her boyfriend asked to stay with her because they had killed a man and police were everywhere, Alwine says.
“That was the only tip we got,” Alwine says.
Police wasted little time homing in on a suspect.
“They said I was a suspect,” Deanna McCracken says, tears filling her voice.
“Why would I take my children’s father away from them?”
Three days later, the McCracken case was pushed to the side when a man named William Lockey walked into Bertrand Products and gunned down four people and wounded two more.
“And the detective told us they had to go and investigate that now,” Alwine recalls. “We couldn’t believe it. I mean, you can only investigate one murder at a time?”
The Bertrand murders were solved the same day. Police chased Lockey into Niles, where he killed himself with a single blast inside his van.
“When they already had the murderer, that was a done deal,” Deanna McCracken says. “Those people have closure.”
The McCracken family was left with an open wound that continues to bleed.
Bob McCracken declined to speak of his brother’s murder. “It’s still too tough for me to talk about,” he says.
“The police will not tell us anything,” says Alwine, who last spoke to a cold case investigator six months ago. “They just keep saying they can’t tell us anything because it’s a murder investigation.”
In a statement, St. Joseph County Prosecutor Michael Dvorak cited a chronological order of the investigation.
“The death of Mr. McCracken occurred in 2002 and was investigated by the Special Crimes Unit, but was not solved,” Dvorak stated.
The case was turned over to county Metro Homicide’s Cold Case Unit in 2003. “A report was provided to the McCracken family detailing the status of the investigation in 2005,” Dvorak said.
“As recently as April of 2011” a cold case investigator “reinterviewed witnesses associated with the case and then met with the McCracken family to provide an update,” Dvorak noted. “No new evidence has been received.”
“The police haven’t talked to me since 2003,” Deanna McCracken says. “Nobody has contacted me. Nobody.”
Alwine says the family first dealt with their grief by going to church. “We are a Christian family,” she says, “rooted in faith.”
But when “it just became too emotional to sit in the front of the church and look out at all the people who had been so loving and supporting to us,” Alwine says her family pursued professional help.
The counselor they chose agreed to group-counsel them as a family, but the recommendation for treatment did little to ease their pain.
“That one kept telling us we should go on a cruise,” Alwine recalls, “as if by sailing away we could leave the pain behind.”
Alwine decided to enlist her own counselor, a therapist she admits “helped me tremendously,” although her grief remains a constant battle.
“I find it’s hard to be around crowds of people,” Alwine says. “I just feel like I have a big sign on me that says, ‘hurting.’ ”
Bob McCracken also sought counseling.
Nancy Lou and Wendell McCracken shouldered the grief over the loss of their son on their own.
“My parents both developed mental and emotional problems that, being their age, they weren’t able to recover from,” Alwine says.
Meanwhile, a family rift between Gary McCracken’s siblings and his
wife surfaced shortly after he was murdered.
Although neither Alwine nor Deanna McCracken would discuss the circumstances, both said the crack in the family has grown deeper over the years.
“My children did not only lose their father, but they lost their grandparents, too,” Deanna McCracken says.
As for her husband’s killer, Deanna McCracken maintains, “This is God’s job to take care of whoever murdered Gary … it’s my job to do what I have to do with my children.
“You live by the gun, you die by the gun,” she adds. “Whoever did this most likely is dead themselves.”
Even if the killer is never found, Alwine still seeks answers — for her family’s sake.
“We were a close family,” she says. “It had a piece of your life ripped away just like that.
“I would give everything I have for five minutes with Gary to ask some of those questions.”
This crime is still unsolved.
If you have leads, please contact Crime stoppers.
Original story by Jeff Harrell
The South Bend Tribune