Three weeks ago, Ruth Rodriguez and her father trekked deep into the Black Partridge Woods in the southwest suburbs on a pilgrimage 36 years in the making.
In a clearing amid some scraggly trees, they hammered a small, white cross into the earth.
It was an ending of a sort for Rodriguez, who earlier this year learned that the wooded spot was the final resting place of her only sibling, Edward Beaudion, who vanished without a trace from the Northwest Side in 1978.
“I don’t have words to even describe it,” said Rodriguez, 62, talking publicly for the first time Wednesday about the case. “It’s happiness and sadness together.”
Rodriguez and her father, Louis Beaudion, appeared with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart in Maywood, to announce that the bones first found in 2008 — by a family strolling through the woods — had recently been identified as Edward Beaudion’s.
But Wednesday’s event might have been something more. The man that the sheriff’s office — and Rodriguez — suspect of killing the 22-year-old Beaudion died last May of natural causes, as investigators were building their case.
“I’ll never get any answer for that and neither will my dad,” Rodriguez said. “But at least putting the cross out there, we have somewhere where we can go and pray and connect with my brother.”
In the summer of 1978, Edward Beaudion was 22, just about to graduate from Loyola University and thrilled to soon begin his job teaching elementary students at St. Andrew School in Lakeview. It wasn’t just a job — Beaudion genuinely liked kids. In college, he’d once dressed up as Dracula and, with his buddies, spread some ghoulish cheer at a local orphanage, his sister said.
On July 23, 1978, Beaudion was returning to his parents’ Northwest Side home after attending a wedding with a friend. He dropped off the friend and was never seen again. In Missouri three weeks later, police found a man named Jerry Jackson driving Beaudion’s car. Jackson allegedly confessed that he’d met Beaudion, argued with him and killed him — although the exact circumstances of the encounter remain a mystery. Jackson confessed to dumping Beaudion’s body in an abandoned area near Interstate 55. Investigators scoured the area, but didn’t find a body.
Jackson was charged only with stealing Beaudion’s car. He got four years in prison, sheriff’s officials said.
On Wednesday, Dart couldn’t say why Beaudion wasn’t charged with murder, but he suspects it’s because prosecutors had no body.
“Could it have been charged? Maybe,” Dart said. “I hate to second guess people 35 years later, but there is a lot of evidence there.”
The Cook County state’s attorney’s office didn’t return a call Wednesday seeking comment about the Jackson case.
In 2008, a family living near Black Partridge Woods came across a skeleton dressed in what appeared to be ‘70s clothing.
The bones went to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office. The death was ruled “undetermined,” but no bone samples were ever sent for DNA testing to see if they could be identified — as they should have been, Dart said.
“This is something that took place under the previous administration and the previous medical examiner,” said Frank Shuftan, a spokesman for the office. “Since 2012, [Cook County Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Cina] has made it a priority to try to get some of these cases resolved through the DNA technology.”
In 2011, Rodriguez saw Dart announcing that he had reopened the John Wayne Gacy serial killer case. Rodriguez said she was all but certain her brother wasn’t his victim, but she wanted to be sure — after all, Gacy targeted people of about her brother’s age.
Rodriguez and her father submitted DNA samples. Finally, in October of last year, samples of the 2008 remains were submitted for DNA testing. And then on Feb. 26 of this year, a laboratory in Texas notified sheriff’s police of the identify of the Black Partridge Woods bones.
On Wednesday, Louis Beaudion, now 86, clutched a faded and framed photograph of his son. He let his daughter do the talking.
Rodriguez talked about the sweetness of her brother, who, when he was a boy, shared bunk beds with her.
She talked about lingering sadness.
“My mom went to her grave in 2001 not knowing where my brother was, and she always felt — and I did too — that maybe one day he would come home, but not this way,” Rodriguez said.