‘Motive’ podcast figure killed girlfriend in apparent murder-suicide, Chicago police say

In what became a viral cellphone video, Earl Casteel was seen shot in the legs by Thaddeus ‘T.J.’ Jimenez in a bizarre case recounted in the 2019 Sun-Times/WBEZ podcast.

SHARE ‘Motive’ podcast figure killed girlfriend in apparent murder-suicide, Chicago police say
Earl Casteel (standing) was seen in the viral cellphone video from which this image is taken being shot in both legs in 2015 in Irving Park by Thaddeus “T.J.” Jimenez (seated in the car).

Earl Casteel (standing) was seen in the viral cellphone video from which this image is taken being shot in both legs in 2015 in Irving Park by Thaddeus “T.J.” Jimenez (seated in the car).

U.S. District Court trial evidence

From the Sun-Times and WBEZ, "Motive" examines the life and trials of Thaddeus “T.J.” Jimenez.

A Chicago man whose 2015 shooting was featured in the Chicago Sun-Times/WBEZ Chicago podcast “Motive” killed his girlfriend and himself at a home on the Northwest Side earlier this month, authorities say.

Earl Casteel, 39, was found dead at 1:22 a.m. June 11 on a porch in the 4900 block of West Wrightwood Avenue in Belmont Cragin of a gunshot wound to the chest, police said.

Cecilia Bonilla, his 41-year-old girlfriend and the mother of his children, who was shot in the chest and arms, died at a hospital on June 20.

Brendan Deenihan, the Chicago Police Department’s chief of detectives, said the deaths appear to be a murder-suicide based on interviews and other evidence, though investigators are awaiting the results of forensic tests, and the Cook County medical examiner’s office hasn’t ruled yet on Casteel’s death.

The police said they found one of the couple’s sons walking about two blocks away after the shootings. He isn’t believed to have anything to do with the murder-suicide, officials say.

Earl Casteel

Earl Casteel

Chicago police arrest photo

Casteel’s children were removed from his home last year by state child welfare investigators, who determined that Casteel and other adults were putting the children at risk of abuse and neglect, officials say.

At the time of his death, Casteel was free on bail while awaiting trial on a 2020 charge of being a felon in possession of a gun and also was awaiting trial in a separate 2020 domestic battery case.

In 2015, Casteel was shot in the legs by Thaddeus “T.J.” Jimenez, the Chicago gang leader at the center of the 2019 “Motive” podcast, who was driving a convertible Mercedes while a fellow gang member in the car recorded the attack on his cellphone.

The video of the shooting, which went viral, was evidence in the trial that sent Jimenez to federal prison for more than nine years for illegal gun possession. Jimenez is still awaiting trial in Cook County on state charges in Casteel’s shooting.

Thaddeus “T.J.” Jimenez celebrates his freedom in 2009 after winning release for a killing he said he didn’t commit.

Thaddeus “T.J.” Jimenez celebrates his freedom in 2009 after winning release for a killing he said he didn’t commit.

Rich Hein / Sun-Times file

In 2019, “Motive” examined the life of Jimenez, who was charged with murder at 13 and released from prison in 2009 after witnesses recanted. Jimenez won $25 million from the city of Chicago in a wrongful-conviction lawsuit, then squandered most of the money he got on his gang, the Simon City Royals, authorities say.

Casteel sued Jimenez over the shooting and in 2016 won a $6 million judgment that Casteel’s lawyer Kevin O’Brien says he still hopes to collect as he tries to seize a west suburban home belonging to the mother of Jimenez’s children.

Casteel’s death won’t end the lawsuit, according to O’Brien, who said Casteel’s kids are now the beneficiaries.

“We’re not going to give up the litigation until it’s proven there’s no money there,” he said.

In a 2018 interview for “Motive,” Casteel described getting shot by Jimenez:

“And the first thing he said is, ‘You tell me why should I blast you?’ And he pulled a gun out and pointed at me. So I told him, I said, ‘You know, I got, I don’t have a problem with you. You know, what’s your problem? You know, what’s going on exactly?’ Then, he tells me I got to shut up.

“And then he fired a shot, and the first one hit in my leg, it hit me in my left leg. So I knew I was hit. I didn’t know my leg was broken. And, as he drove off, he fired another shot, and it hit me my right leg.”

Three years after the shooting, Casteel said, “I still have pain — like there’s only a certain amount of time that I can stand up without it start throbbing and aching, and then I have to sit down. It’s bad.”


Listen to “Motive” wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Spotify and Stitcher.

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