The HBO series “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” shines a light on the infamous Golden State Killer who terrorized California in the 1970s and 1980s and Michelle McNamara’s hunt for the identity of the serial killer in her book of the same name. The docu-series also explores another, separate, case, which was the pivotal moment McNamara was plunged into the world of true crime and cold case investigations: the murder of Kathleen Lombardo.
McNamara was 14 years old when Lombardo was sexually assaulted and murdered just a few blocks away. On her True Crime Diary website, McNamara wrote that she knew 24-year-old Lombardo from church, but the two weren’t close due to the age gap. In August 1984, Lombardo was jogging in Oak Park, west of Chicago. When she was just over a block away from her house, she was pulled into an alleyway, sexually assaulted and killed.
Where is the case today? Has it been solved?
Lombardo Was Killed While Jogging on August 1, 1984, & Her Murder Remains Unsolved Today
On the evening of August 1, 1984, Lombardo went for a jog near her apartment in Oak Park. She was dragged into an alley, raped, stabbed and her throat was cut. McNamara wrote that she visited the crime scene a few days later and found pieces of a Walkman that might have belonged to Lombardo. She wrote that her passion for true crime started there:
I trace my obsession to the moment in the alley with the pieces of Walkman when I was 14. Kathy Lombardo was gone. She wasn’t coming back. But he, whomever he was, was still out there. The hollow gap of his identity was violently powerful to me.
There were a lot of theories about who killed Lombardo but her murder remains unsolved today. Ronald Surmin, who was one of the detectives on the scene in August 1984, said he received about 100 tips. According to the Chicago Tribune, witnesses said they saw a man following Lombardo before her death. The Tribune wrote that police reports described the suspect as “a 6-foot-tall Black man with short, curly hair, 25 to 30 years old, wearing a yellow tank top, dark shorts, knee-high socks and a blue bandana around his head.”
George Seibel, a former Chicago police homicide detective, told the outlet that he believed Lombardo’s killer was also responsible for the unsolved sexual assault and murder of 22-year-old Rita Hopkinson in 1978 at a CTA station. Around the same time period, there were a string of reported sexual assaults in the area, Seibel said. Christopher Lombardo, one of Kathleen’s four brothers, told the Tribune that he thinks the killer saw Lombardo from the platform of the Oak Park Green Line station.
Acting Oak Park police chief Joe Moran told the Tribune in an emailed statement: “While more than three decades may have passed since Ms. Kathleen Lombardo died at the hands of a yet unknown assailant, the Oak Park Police Department’s determination to find her killer has not (wavered).”
Her Family Hopes the HBO Series Will Shed Light on the Cold Case & Help Find Lombardo’s Killer
Christopher Lombardo described his sister as “a sweet person, quiet, a very good student, very honest. She was not someone who would ever lie or steal. She had a strong faith. She felt close to God.” Lombardo was into ballet and tap when she was younger, played the piano and was an honors student in high school. She worked at a bookstore, then as a sales clerk in the fabric department of Marshall Field’s Loop store. Lombardo also briefly studied at Quincy University in western Illinois.
When HBO began filming “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” producers went to Oak Park to dig into Lombardo’s cold case, since McNamara herself had done some research into the unsolved murder before her death. Producers met with Lombardo’s brother Christopher in 2018 and together they filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get the police records of the investigation, Chicago Tribune reported.
The request was denied on the grounds that the “release of the requested records would interfere with the Department’s ability to collect evidence, investigate persons of interest and secure the cooperation of potential witnesses.” According to the response, the Illinois State Police crime lab received “several items for DNA analysis from the Department” in October 2018 and they indicated the FBI may be assisting.
The HBO production team also spoke to Oak Park residents who had seen Lombardo jogging before her murder and also connected with other women who’d survived similar attacks in the area in that time period. However, the director of two episodes and one of the producers, Elizabeth Wolff, said: “We really tried to do as much research as we could to see if we could advance the case in any way, but without the cooperation of the Oak Park P.D., our hands were really tied.”
Lombardo’s family have said they hope that the HBO documentary will shed light on Kathleen’s unsolved murder. “Oak Park keeps saying there’s an ongoing investigation, but there’s not much going on with it,” Christopher Lombardo said. Another of Kathleen’s brothers, Dominic Lombardo, said he still holds out hope her murder will be solved one day: “There may not be an active investigation going on right now, but law-enforcement agencies NEVER completely close the door on cold cases like this one until it is solved.” He added:
I remain convinced that there is at least one someone, possibly more than one, still out there wrestling with his/her conscience – possibly living in fear. Pray that he/she may have the courage to do the right thing TODAY by picking up the phone and calling both the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (773-674-2700 or 312-603-1880) and the Oak Park Police Department (708-434-1636; that’s the anonymous tip line) and giving both agencies complete, truthful, up-to-the-minute information as to the name and current whereabouts of the perpetrator at this time.