News - Joliet and Will County

Former Joliet reporter offers new information in 65-year-old Molly Zelko mystery

Sunday was the anniversary of the Sept. 25, 1957 disappearance of Zelko

Former Herald-News reporter Lonny Cain has offered new reasons for tearing up a section of Stryker Avenue in search of the bones of Molly Zelko.

Zelko was a crusading reporter on corruption and organized crime in Joliet for a newspaper named The Spectator. Her disappearance 65 years ago remains a mystery.

Cain, also retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa, on Saturday revealed what he said are three witnesses who provided him and the late John Whiteside with information credible enough to look for Zelko’s remains in the street outside a house at 103 Stryker Ave.

The witnesses, all dead and who apparently never spoke to police about what they claim to have seen, include a psychic and her daughter, who lived in the Stryker Avenue house, and a construction worker on the sanitary sewer project where Zelko’s body allegedly was dumped.

“I have a lot of new information that has never been in print,” Cain on Saturday told an audience of about 200 people in the auditorium of the Joliet Area Historical Museum. “I think it’s time that the Joliet public knows what I know and decide whether it matters.”

Sunday is the anniversary of Zelko’s disappearance on Sept. 25, 1957.

Cain said he presented the information he provided Saturday to the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office last year. That led to a radar scan with police present of the area on Stryker Avenue where Zelko’s remains are suspected of being located. The scan showed nothing, but Cain said the only way to find out is through digging up the street.

“The question that is hanging is why aren’t we digging up Stryker Avenue? Or should we?” Cain asked, getting a positive response from the audience at the museum.

Cain and Whiteside in September 1978, teamed up on a series of Herald-News articles delving into the Zelko mystery. The series included an interview with an unnamed witness who claimed to have seen Zelko’s body dumped into a construction ditch on Stryker Avenue.

An old newspaper photo of Herald-News reporter John Whiteside. Writing stories and columns for the paper for 34 years, Whiteside frequently preferred to work at Joliet restaurants.

That witness, Cain said, was Jeannine Pace, a psychic also featured in the series who claimed to sense the presence of Zelko’s body on Stryker Avenue.

Cain acknowledged the use of a psychic in the series may have dampened any interest police may have had in pursuing the Stryker Avenue angle. But he and Whiteside independently located psychic, Cain said. And he learned independently that she lived on Stryker Avenue at the time of Zelko’s disappearance, when looking through an old city directory to learn who lived on the street at the time.

“We had one witness, and, I’ll be honest, part of us thought she was a crazy witness,” Cain said. Now, he said, “I believe she has a great deal of credibility.”

Pace told Cain and Whiteside that she was so afraid of what could happen to her and her family that she would not talk about it to anyone including police. But she did consent to be hypnotized twice and repeated her story to the late Dr. George Honiotes while under hypnosis with the two reports present, Cain said.

She also may have said something to a man who in the early 2000s wrote to Whiteside, saying he was a construction worker on the sewer project on Stryker Avenue in 1957.

The man named Gino Ullian, said commented on a section of the sewer ditch left unfilled before crews quit work on Sept. 25, 1957. The ditch was filled the next morning, he told Whiteside.

Cain said that in 2018 he decided to interview Pace’s children because he is working on a book on Zelko’s disappearance. At that time, Pace’s daughter, Bonnie Hutch, told him that she also saw what her mother saw in 1957. Hutch would have been 7 at the time.

His next step, Cain said, is to try to convince the city of Joliet that the cause that there should be a dig on Stryker Avenue in search of Zelko’s remains.

The museum audience included James Zelko, a nephew of Molly’s who was 11 at the time of her disappearance. Zelko also is the former executive director of the Will County Health Department and former president of the Will County Board of Health.

“I told my family that if we have more than 11 people here I’d be thrilled,” Zelko told the audience. “I’m overwhelmed by the attendance.”

The museum in recent years developed a podcast on the Molly Zelko mystery, hoping to develop interest in her story among a younger audience.

“We want this solved,” museum Executive Director Greg Peerbolte said at the Saturday event. “It needs to be solved.”

“There’s a lot of people here,” Cain said at the start of his presentation. “That shows the Molly story is still alive and well.”