Today the Burbank Beat revisits the homicide of Burbank resident Donna Meier which occurred in 1987. This crime was featured on the A&E network series Cold Case files. Below you will find a summary of the crime, a transcript of the Cold Case Files episode, a copy of the Burbank police report detailing the interrogation of her husband (obtained from the Cold Case Files website), and a link to a 2003 Chicago Tribune article describing exactly how detectives finally cracked the case in 2003.
Summary of the Murder
Burbank detectives believe they know who murdered Donna Meier in her home in the summer of 1987; her husband John Meier.
Police were summoned to the Meier residence at 5617 W 84th Place, shortly after noon on July 10, 1987. When Burbank police officers arrived they found a gruesome crime scene in the bathroom of the Meier’s home. Donna's lifeless body lay in the bathtub brutally beaten, stabbed, and strangled.
Donna’s husband John told police that as he left for work early that morning around 4:45 a.m., he kissed his sleeping wife goodbye and she groggily mumbled a goodbye back. In a statement to police, Meier stated that when he returned home about 12:15 p.m. he heard the shower running. When he entered the bathroom he found his wife’s body in the bathtub. Panicked, John ran to a neighbor’s home and had them call the Burbank P.D.
Police swiftly located a bedroom window screen that had been cut near the lock and where an intruder could have entered. John Meier told detectives that cash and jewelry were missing from the residence. Was this a case of a burglary gone bad? Illinois Police investigators didn’t think so. During the early stages of the investigation, seasoned detectives sensed the scene within the house had been staged. They quickly narrowed their focus to the husband, John, the last person to have seen Donna alive.
A few weeks later John Meier met with detectives at the Burbank Police Station (which at the time was located at 7730 S LeClaire, now the Stickney Senior Center) for questioning. There were several inconsistencies in his story. John described his marriage as good and told police that things were going along great, but friends and relatives told a very different story. Meier stated that he had never touched the damaged window screen yet police had lifted a fingerprint belonging to John off that screen. Meier also had a hard time explaining a fingerprint that belonged to him on an injury to Donna’s neck. When detectives presented him with evidence from the Cook County Medical Examiner that indicated Donna had been murdered before 4:00 a.m., Meier could not explain the inconsistency with his previous statement that his wife had been alive when he left for work at 4:45 a.m.
John Meier began to wilt under the intense heat of police questioning. The official police report stated:
“Meier was asked if he killed Donna during an argument. Meier again looked down towards the floor, thought for awhile, began to cry and said he would tell us how it happened if he could see his son first.”
Arrangements were made for Meier’s son to be brought to the police station. Meier visited his son for about 15 minutes but when he returned he did not make good on his promise to tell police what happened that night. When questioning resumed Meier stated “F*** you bastards, my son gave me the strength to get through this” and shortly thereafter requested a lawyer. Detectives had no choice but to terminate the interview. The investigation ground to a halt. Burbank police just did not have enough evidence to charge Meier with the crime.
But when police dug further into Meier’s background, they found his name had been connected with a cold case murder in nearby Hickory Hills, five years earlier. John and Donna Meier had been friends with a woman named Sue Schaaf who had been raped and stabbed to death in her home in December 1982. Meier denied any involvement in Schaaf’s murder as well as his wife’s but detectives disliked the coincidence and could not ignore the similarities of the homicides.
In 1988 detectives submitted Meier’s and another man’s DNA to be compared to semen samples that had been taken from the victim. Once again the investigation was stymied when DNA results failed to produce a match. Again the case went cold.
Years passed but the Hickory Hills detective assigned to the Schaaf case couldn’t get Meier out of his mind. Knowing that DNA testing methodology had vastly improved since 1988, the time of the original test, detectives resubmitted the samples in 2003 for additional analysis. When police received the results, this time they had a match - John Meier.
Police essentially closed the Sue Schaaf case with the positive result obtained from the DNA test linking Meier to the crime, but an arrest was not made. John Meier had died three years earlier in 2000 of natural causes. Donna Meier’s case has never been solved although police still consider her husband John as the prime suspect.
A&E’s Cold Case Files
The murders of Sue Schaaf and Donna Meier were featured on the A&E network series Cold Case Files with Bill Kurtis. The episode entitled “Mistaken for a Killer/A Woman Scorned” was released on July 25, 2004 during the third season of the series. Unfortunately an internet link to a video of this episode could not be located.
Transcript of Cold Case Files "Mistaken for a Killer"
Download the transcript here:
Burbank Police Report
Download the police report here:
Cops close the case on '82 murder - Chicago Tribune, November 25, 2003
The Burbank Police Department posted this status update on their Facebook page this morning:
Two businesses along 87th street were broken into last night and one was an attempt. The offender(s) used a rock to break the front glass to gain entry. No entry was gained at A and J Wholesale (5724 W 87th St) but the offender(s) were able to enter M and M EL Grande Burrito (5730 W 87th St) and Citgo Gas Station (5860 W. 87th St). The Citgo Gas station has been vacant for some time and nothing major was stolen from M and M Burrito. Evidence was recovered at the scenes linking them together. If anyone saw anything suspicious inn that area between midnight and 3 AM please contact the Burbank Police Detective Division.
If you are interested in sharing a tip with the Burbank Police Department's Detective Division, call 708-924-7300. Any information you provide will be kept confidential.
This is a link to a page on the Burbank Police Department website where 3 police camera videos are posted. They are old (date stamped 2009) and show criminal activity in progress; vandalism, suspect with a loaded handgun, and criminal trespass to a vehicle. The Beat wishes the B.P.D. would share more of these types of videos. The public could be an important resource in identifying these individuals and added notoriety of these cameras could act as a deterrent.