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Mary Kate Chamizo (née: Sunderlin) was a woman who was murdered in 1999 and found in Illinois. She was identified in 2006. Her case was reopened after the men convicted of her murder were exonerated.

Background

Mary Kate married Gonzalo Chamizo weeks before her death. She had potentially fallen victim to an unnamed duo who committed fraud against disabled and elderly individuals. It is theorized they may have "sold" the victim and provided transportation, as Mary Kate rarely traveled far.

Before she was identified and remained a missing person, Gonzalo confessed to her murder in 2002, claiming he buried her behind their residence. As he had a long history with mental illness, the police were skeptical if he was telling the truth. A search was conducted at the home, but no remains were found.

Case

Chamizo disappeared on September 4, 1999, and was found on December 9 of the same year. She had suffered extensive blunt trauma and appeared to have been tortured over a period of time. Evidence of healed and recent wounds were observed. The body showed signs of malnutrition as well. She was not facially recognizable when discovered.

Her cause of death was ruled to have occurred after she was struck in the head, possibly with a "square bottle." The postmortem interval was initially estimated to have occurred 12 hours before. After reexamination, the date of death was revised to days prior to her discovery. It is believed more than one person was involved in her murder.

Chamizo was identified in early 2006 via dental records. Racine County investigators had previously contacted the Lake County Sheriff, informing them of similarities between Chamizo's case and that of then-unidentified Peggy Johnson. The potential match between Chamizo and the Lake County victim was suggested by the same investigator. A woman was arrested in connection to Johnson's murder in 2019 but has not been named a suspect in Chamizo's death.

Convictions

In January 2000, a man told an undercover officer that he witnessed the victim's murder in a hotel room. The man he named, Jeremy Strong, later confessed, stating he invited the transient woman into his room and killed her with a bottle of tequila after she stole food and looked through his belongings without permission.

Strong was convicted of Chamizo's murder in October 2000, despite the fact she remained unidentified. Two other men, including the one who initially spoke of the crime, were convicted for "concealing a homicide." All three had recanted prior, claiming their confessions were coerced.

Strong and his alleged accomplices were released in April 2015 after new information showed that Mary Kate died earlier than previously believed, which was inconsistent with their whereabouts. The case was reopened but remains unsolved.

Gallery

Sources

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