Just a Random Female

Robbin Brandley’s confessed killer sits on death row. So why don’t her parents consider the case closed?

Some five months earlier, on Nov. 14, 1996, Fryer had arrested Urdiales outside a crack house on Becker Street in Hammond. Urdiales had been sitting in his silver-and-white Toyota pickup with a prostitute. While Fryer talked to the prostitute, his partner, Edwin Ortiz, was questioning Urdiales when he noticed a .38 caliber handgun sticking out from under his seat. They also found a gym bag in the spotless bed of the truck containing a few rolls of duct tape. Urdiales said he used the gun for his security work, but the cops arrested him for carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. They confiscated the gun, and Urdiales spent the night in jail.

At the American Inn, Urdiales was standing in the parking lot, seething. "That bitch took one of my checks," he told Fryer, who then questioned Kelly separately. She told him that Urdiales, a regular client, would routinely drive her to nearby Wolf Lake and pay her $40 to have sex with him. But that was always during the day, and tonight, she'd refused to go with him because it was dark. Not only that, but she also knew a couple of prostitutes who'd been murdered at Wolf Lake late at night.

"This guy is kind of kinky," Kelly told Fryer. "He wants to take me in the back of his pickup truck and go up by Wolf Lake, duct tape me, and fuck me in the ass."

Jack and Genelle Reilley hold a portrait of their daughter, murder victim Robbin Brandley. Photo by John GIlhooley.
Jack and Genelle Reilley hold a portrait of their daughter, murder victim Robbin Brandley. Photo by John GIlhooley.

Fryer made no arrests that night, but he typed up a report on Kelly's statement, making sure to note Urdiales' previous firearm arrest—knowing full well that it would be forwarded to other local police departments. He figured a couple of Chicago homicide detectives might be interested in what Kelly had to say.

*     *     *

One of those detectives, Don McGrath, still works nights for Chicago's Area Two Homicide Unit, which covers the southeast portion of the city. He's been with the force 31 years; so far this year, his unit has handled 135 murder investigations. But he still remembers well the night in April 1997 when he read Fryer's report because it seemed to have everything to do with three bodies that had been found in the previous year, two in Wolf Lake and one in the Vermilion River 100 miles away near Pontiac, Illinois.

Although it was out of his jurisdiction, McGrath was familiar with the Vermilion case. On the evening of July 13, 1996, three young fishermen spotted a body floating in a remote area of the river near a footbridge. It was a nude woman who had been shot above her left eye and stabbed seven times in the chest. She had bruises all over, three broken teeth, duct-tape residue on her mouth and ankles, and strangulation marks on her neck. She also had a small, homemade tattoo on her ankle with the initials "C.C." Police later identified her as 21-year-old Cassandra Corum, a prostitute from Hammond.

As McGrath saw it, Corum's murder seemed awfully similar to the murders his unit had been investigating at Wolf Lake, a recreational park bordered on the southeast side of Chicago by a chemical plant. The first body had been discovered on April 14, 1996, when a man was driving along the shore, looking for rocks to use as decoration in his garden. From his car, he spotted what looked like a mannequin floating in the water 20 feet from shore.

Police determined the victim was Laura Uylaki, a 25-year-old Hammond prostitute, who had been stabbed 25 times and shot three times in the head. She had been raped anally, and her body was covered in bruises.

A few months later, on Aug. 2, a Chicago city employee was coming home after an early-morning fishing trip with his son, when he spotted what he thought was a mannequin floating in the water. It turned out to be Lynn Huber, a 22-year-old homeless prostitute from Chicago who had been stabbed repeatedly in the chest, back and neck, and then finished off with close-range gunshots to the face and head. The bullets matched those which had been retrieved from the bodies of Corum and Uylaki.

When he read Fryer's report about Urdiales, McGrath immediately called the Hammond police and learned that the handgun that had been confiscated from Urdiales was scheduled to be destroyed in the next few weeks. "I asked would it be okay to pick up the gun and examine it," he recalls. "We brought it to the crime lab, and it took them about a week to analyze it. They said we had the murder weapon."

*     *     *

On April 22, 1997, McGrath and his partner Raymond Krakausky drove to the house on the south side of Chicago where Urdiales lived with his parents. They sat in their car from early that afternoon until 9 a.m. the following day, when Urdiales walked out the front door dressed in a security-guard uniform. "We snagged him in the alley and told him we wanted to talk to him about the handgun charge," McGrath says. "He said that the matter had already been adjudicated, but he agreed to come with us to the station. He was unremarkable. There was nothing about him that stood out, that would make you look twice, just an average-looking Joe."

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