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3 bodies, few answers and a web of deception

Teresa Jarding’s uninvited guests began showing up at her house in the quiet, rural town of Fowler, Indiana, 100 miles south of Chicago, just before the annual fall harvest festival.

They had questions: What had happened to her boyfriend, Milan Lekich? What had become of her mother, Nena Metoyer? Jarding, an often chatty woman who liked to brag about her secret work for the FBI and owning a Gold Coast condo, had little to say.

She retreated to her house and refused to come out again. Then, in a dimly lit room — a handgun within reach — the middle-aged woman sat in her recliner and poisoned herself.

The entrance to the Fowler, Indiana, home of Teresa Jarding. | Alex Wroblewski/Sun-Times

Almost two months later, investigators say it’s likely Jarding killed her boyfriend before cutting up his body and hiding it in a garage behind the home they shared in the Southeast Side community of Hegewisch. Then, investigators say, after Jarding moved to Fowler last year, she killed her mother — who had come to Indiana from her home in Florida to help her daughter deal with kidney disease.

If investigators have a motive for the murders, they aren’t saying publicly. The killings have left two communities more accustomed to the occasional bar fight than a murder mystery both appalled and fascinated by the woman at the center of it all. For those permitted a peek, Teresa Jarding offered details of a life of intrigue and glamour. Together, court documents from Jarding’s recent divorce and a separate lawsuit reveal a woman intensely interested in having and hiding money. Mostly, police now suspect, much of what Jarding told others was lies — ironic for a woman who frequently warned her first-born child: If you want to stay out of trouble, always tell the truth.

***

Dave Mendez stared at the photograph — a snap of Jarding days before she died — and kept repeating: “That’s not Teresa!”

Mendez, who married Jarding in 1983 and hadn’t spoken to her in a decade, remembered the girl from an old snapshot: long, dark tresses and a sweet, slightly melancholy smile. He saw nothing of his “sweetie” in the weary-looking, frowning face in the newer photograph. Those who’ve seen Jarding in recent years insist it’s her.

Mendez and his parents, who live in Arlington Heights, have good memories of Jarding, who grew up on the Northwest Side, with a Ukrainian mother and an Italian father.

“We’re totally shocked to hear this,” Rosemary Engel, Jarding’s former mother-in-law, said in an interview earlier this month. “We don’t recognize what’s been said, and what we read.”

Mendez said he met Jarding at Ella Flagg Young Elementary. They dated there and later again when she attended Prosser High School.

She got pregnant. They married. Jarding’s father didn’t take to Mendez. He stayed away from the wedding at St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox, a small brick church on the Northwest Side. The couple’s son, David, was born in 1983, shortly after the nuptials.

David Mendez, right, and his bride, Teresa. | Sun-Times Media

Mendez, still bitter, blames Jarding’s father’s “prejudice” for the split that came two years later.

One thing troubled Engel about Jarding.

“I used to send David (savings) bonds, and I never heard one way or another if he ever received them,” Engel said.

Mendez last spoke to his ex-wife more than 10 years ago, when he was “stranded” in Waukegan.

“I asked her if she could send me $100, and she sent me $300,” Mendez said.

***

David Jarding’s childhood memories are of a loving mother with religious convictions.

Jarding, 31, remembers Sundays at church, religious symbols hanging from his mother’s neck, and one bit of advice.

“ ‘The easiest way to remember, is not to lie,’ ” Jarding recalls his mother telling him. “That’s my main reason why I don’t lie.”

He has little recollection of his biological father. Teresa Jarding’s second husband, a Cook County corrections officer she married in 1987, raised him in a white clapboard house in Berwyn. The couple had a daughter.

David Jarding said his mother and stepfather were always there if he needed them.

“I kind of put my parents — my mom and stepdad — on a pedestal,” he said.

Somewhere along the way, something changed. At first, it seemed like the natural drift of a grown son finding his way in the world. But in the last 10 years, visits between the two dwindled to a handful each year. His mother had become “aloof,” he said. At the time, he didn’t know why. But now, in light of all that’s happened, he said he thinks he knows.

“She sheltered me from any wrong that she could have possibly done,” Jarding explained.

The divorce, for example, took him by surprise.

***

On Christmas Eve 2012, after 26 years of marriage, Teresa Jarding moved out of the Berwyn home for good. Teresa Jarding’s ex-husband did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. But among the details in the 2013 divorce file, is this:

When Jarding left her second husband, she told him she was checking into a mental institution. It was a lie, he insisted in the documents. She’d entered into a phony marriage with someone else. And, after sifting through years of bank documents, Jarding’s estranged husband discovered his wife had been secretly taking money from their joint account — $100,000 or more, he said in divorce court testimony.

Teresa didn’t appear in court to defend herself.

In the end, Cook County Judge Renee G. Goldfarb held nothing back in describing Teresa Jarding’s behavior: “Without cause or provocation by the husband, the wife has been guilty of extreme and repeated mental cruelty toward the husband.”

In 2013, Teresa Jarding’s father checked into a physical rehabilitation facility on the Northwest Side. It later sued them both.

Lawyers for Fairmont Care Centre Inc. said that facility was out $56,319 after Jarding used her father’s income “for her own benefit.” The suit is ongoing.

***

Milan Lekich was a beefy guy, with an open face and a broad smile that said, “Pull up a chair. Let me buy you a beer.”

The middle-aged electrician hopped on his Harley-Davidson in summertime, joining thousands at the annual Sturgis, South Dakota, biker rally. He liked to fish and never felt more at home than in the house he owned on South Avenue M in Hegewisch.

“That house, he told me, he was going to die in,” said Deborah Kudla, who dated Lekich from the mid-1990s to about 2007.

The peculiar woman who came into his life in 2009 seemed, to some, his polar opposite. She was tiny, extremely concerned about her appearance and, if you asked too many questions, she’d change the subject.

Michael Crachy, one of Lekich’s best buddies, first met Terry Jarding in about 2010. For a month, Crachy and his wife, Amy, went bowling weekly with Lekich and his girlfriend. Jarding told the Crachys that she was a downtown psychologist who met Lekich while he was doing electrical work at the hospital where she practiced. Amy Crachy’s ears perked up. She said she’d studied psychology in college. Jarding fidgeted.

“She’d ask Milan if he wanted a beer and go sit on his lap,” Michael Crachy recalled.

Jarding’s work history isn’t clear, but her son told the Sun-Times he believes she at one time did secretarial work for a carpenters union. In the 2013 divorce papers, her estranged husband said she was self-employed with a company listing a website, “healthparty.com,” where she earned $100,000 annually.

In spring 2011, Jarding and Lekich were telling friends they’d married in Las Vegas. They showed off rings. They were living together in Lekich’s house.

Neighbors and friends in Hegewisch remembered something else about Jarding — she was often changing her appearance, including wearing a set of blindingly white teeth veneers.

“It looked like a mouthpiece that was painted with white-out,” said Lekich’s next-door neighbor, Jamie Hyzy

Sometimes, Hyzy and Jarding would chat and have a cigarette on one or the other’s porch.

Jarding explained how she’d met Lekich, how she’d owned a condo on the Gold Coast. Then she told Hyzy a secret: She worked for the FBI.

“She said she would profile serial killers,” Hyzy recalled. “She said [the FBI] would bring her the paperwork to her home. … She said if we saw any unmarked cars, ‘don’t be alarmed.’ ”

Then things got stranger.

In March 2012, Jarding, then 47, announced she was pregnant. She showed Lekich’s friends ultrasound images of the baby. But the pregnancy ended in an early miscarriage, recalled Lekich’s buddy, Ed Prskalo. Jarding soon got pregnant again — with twins, Prskalo said.

Something didn’t seem right to Prskalo. Jarding didn’t look pregnant. Prskalo tried to talk to his buddy about it.

Lekich offered only this: “I’ve got a lot of stuff going on.”

In spring 2013, Jarding showed up with a black eye and told Hyzy that Lekich had hit her after a night of hard drinking.

“A whole half of her face was black and blue — her eye, her cheek, all of it,” Hyzy said.

Jarding told Hyzy she thought Lekich was going to kill her.

On one visit to the Lekich house in April 2013, Jarding confided to Mary Prskalo, Ed Prskalo’s wife, that she’d had enough of Lekich’s drinking. She said that if he didn’t quit, she had cop friends who could help her.

“I was literally shaking, putting my keys in the ignition,” Prskalo said. “I was telling Ed, ‘No good can come of this. Stay away from there.’ ”

And yet, by summer 2013, Jarding told her next-door-neighbor she’d given birth to the twins. One was stillborn. The other “sickly,” Hyzy said.

“I never heard a cry, and the windows were open,” she said.

The Sun-Times could find no record of a child born to Jarding in Cook County. David Jarding had no knowledge of an infant sibling, and Lekich’s relatives declined repeated requests for interviews.

About the time Jarding announced the birth of twins, Ed Prskalo was having trouble reaching his buddy. So he stopped by his house. Jarding answered the door.

“Where’s Milan?” he asked.

He’s not home, she said. Text him, she suggested.

“ ‘I can’t really talk,’ ” Prskalo recalled Jarding saying. “ ‘My mom is in the back bedroom lying down with the baby.’ ” Prskalo neither heard nor saw the baby.

Prskalo sent texts. His friend never replied.

In the months that followed, other friends called or knocked on Lekich’s door. Not home right now. Busy at work, Jarding said. Not feeling well. He’s in Florida, deep-sea fishing, grieving the loss of his stillborn baby.

***

A welcome sign and a cluster of grain silos greet visitors heading into the farming town of Fowler, population 2,296.

“I just came from unlocking a car,” said Fowler Police Chief Dennis Rice, recently explaining a typical day in a department with four full-time employees.

People are friendly here. So when Teresa Jarding purchased a white clapboard home with blue-gray trim in October 2013, Tish Ringle brought over a plate of chocolate chip cookies.

The Fowler, Indiana, home of Teresa Jarding, where she apparently committed suicide after allegedly killing her mother and her boyfriend. | Alex Wroblewski/Sun-Times

“She just said, ‘thank you,’ ” recalled Ringle, who has lived in the same house for 50 years. “I told her to give me a call some time and we’d do lunch.”

Jarding never did. She moved to Fowler because it was affordable — she paid $60,000 for her house, records show — and for the quiet, her son has said. Although police say she had a boyfriend in nearby Lafayette, Jarding apparently didn’t move to Indiana for the company. She rarely spoke to anyone on her street.

She aroused no suspicion in Fowler. She was reclusive, but that’s not a crime.

She had kidney failure. And her mother came from Florida to help her, David Jarding said.

In mid-September of this year, David Jarding heard from his mother for the last time, in a text that read: “I’m sorry for everything that I’ve done.”

Sorry about the divorce and “how things got left,” he inferred.

But David Jarding declined to speak about what unfolded that month at his mother’s home in Fowler.

On Sept. 20, the visitors began to arrive. Some of Lekich’s family members came. They confronted Jarding outside her home. Jarding went back into the house without answering.

Fowler police arrived. Jarding would not come to the door. On Sept. 24, some of Jarding’s family showed up. Again, silence from inside.

When they finally managed to get into Jarding’s house later that day, investigators found Jarding sitting on a grubby recliner, mumbling gibberish. An ashtray crammed with cigarette butts sat on a side table along with a bottle of pills. A loaded handgun lay on an armrest, police say.

Jarding died at an Indiana hospital the next day of what authorities would later call an “acute mixed-drug toxicity.”

The bodies began showing up Oct. 5. Some Lekich family members forced their way into his garage in Hegewisch that day. Chicago Police then found what appeared to be human remains inside a duffel bag. The remains were later identified as Lekich’s.

Chicago police questioned two people who’d been staying in the Lekich house, but they were not charged. Six days later, Metoyer’s remains were found on the Fowler property. She, like Lekich, had been shot in the head.

Investigators in Indiana are awaiting a batch of test results, including those that might show if the bullet recovered from Metoyer’s body matches the handgun found on Jarding’s armrest.

Investigators in Chicago and Fowler say it appears Jarding had no help. Chief Rice says his department has spoken to Jarding’s Lafayette boyfriend, who was as shocked by the killings as anyone.

Dennis Rice, police chief of Fowler, Indiana, at police headquarters. | Alex Wroblewski/Sun-Times

“The relationship ended suddenly just before all of this happened,” Rice said.

There’s much, Rice concedes, that he doesn’t know after trying to sort through the tangle of lies Jarding told. An FBI spokeswoman in Chicago said there’s no record of Jarding ever having worked for them.

As for Lekich’s loved ones, they say now is not the time to talk publicly. But their grief is updated almost daily on a Facebook page that began as a “missing person” bulletin and now is titled, “Seeking Justice.”

One message reads, in part, “From the first day we met TeresaJ to the last day, we couldn’t ever fathom what we would discover. The complete story has yet to be told. Milan unraveled much; we will unravel the rest. … Our love for our brother and the justice he deserves has no end.”