Man charged in cold case murder of Niles woman dies while awaiting trial

Richard J. Sisto, 72, was charged in October in the 1992 slaying of Helen K. Cardwell.

SHARE Man charged in cold case murder of Niles woman dies while awaiting trial
Niles police on Wednesday discussed some of the details that led to an arrest warrant earlier this month in 1992 strangulation of Helen K. Cardwell in Niles.

Richard J. Sisto was charged in October in the 1992 strangulation of Helen K. Cardwell. Sisto died Jan. 26 while awaiting trial.

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A man charged last year in the decades-old murder of a Niles woman has died while awaiting trial, the Cook County sheriff’s office said Friday.

Richard J. Sisto, who had been held in the Cook County Jail since Nov. 24, died Wednesday, the sheriff’s office said. A cause of death had not been officially released Friday afternoon.

“Richard Sisto, 73, was pronounced dead at Stroger Hospital on January 26. The cause of death is pending results of an autopsy,” a sheriff’s office statement read. “He was originally booked into custody on November 24 and spent the majority of his time in custody at Stroger Hospital receiving treatment.”

The sheriff’s office declined to discuss the specific reason for Sisto’s hospital stay.

Richard Sisto

Richard Sisto

Cook County Sheriff’s Department

Cook County prosecutors last year charged Sisto, 72, with the murder of Helen K. Cardwell, who was found strangled in her room at the Leaning Tower YMCA in Niles on Nov. 8, 1992. A trial date had not been set in the case, a spokeswoman for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office said Friday.

At the time of her death, Cardwell, 35, had recently moved to the Chicago area from New Jersey and was due to start work at Lutheran General Hospital. She was found in her room by her sister and a brother-in-law, who had come for a weekly visit, police said.

Detectives worked the case until 1993, but the case went cold due to a “lack of investigative leads,” police said.

Niles police reopened the case in late 2020, submitting “numerous pieces of evidence” to the Northeastern Illinois Regional Crime Laboratory in Vernon Hills. The DNA from some of the samples matched Sisto’s DNA, police said.

Sisto had been living and working in the Niles area at the time of Cardwell’s slaying, police have said. He was on parole for a 1977 aggravated rape conviction out of Dallas, Texas, police said.

But police initially had no luck finding Sisto after the DNA match in late 2020.

Then in August of last year, a police database search revealed that Sisto was in jail in Texas on a 2006 parole violation warrant, police said.

Niles detectives traveled to Texas, where they interviewed Sisto and took a DNA sample, police said. Sisto was later brought back to Illinois to face the charges.

Cardwell’s sister, Noca Ervin, stood with Niles police and spoke briefly when the charges were announced.

“I’m so grateful that they decided to reopen this case, and I just appreciate everyone’s efforts in solving her murder,” Ervin said at the time.

Niles police could not be reached for comment Friday.

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