Northern Illinois University Homicide No Walk in the Park

The case of a missing young, Naperville, Illinois woman illustrates that predators continue to view college campuses akin to shooting fish in a barrel.  

Antinette “Toni” Keller, an 18-year-old freshmen at Northern Illinois University, was last observed just before noon as she left her dormitory, Neptune Hall, on October 14, 2010. Keller told acquaintances she was going for a walk in Prairie Park, a 150 acre DeKalb municipal park, located just south of campus.

To their credit, local authorities made use of a plethora of resources.   A methodical grid search of the large park was conducted with cadaver dogs and by assets from the air.  Late last week, searchers found human remains inside a wooded area.  DeKalb’s Police Chief Bill Feithen didn’t waste any time calling in the heavy hitters—the Major Case Squad, a task force that includes DeKalb police, Northern Illinois police detectives, as well as investigators from DeKalb County and the Illinois State Police.

While Feithen classified the discovery of human remains as a “death investigation,” requesting the services of the Major Case Squad clearly points to a homicide.  

At a late night October 23 press conference, police disclosed they had discovered items belonging to Toni Keller inside Prairie Park.  The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the property belonging to Keller was located just south of Illinois State Highway 38 (also known as Lincoln Highway) near a line of railroad tracks.  While the remains have yet to be officially identified, investigators clearly believe the body is that of Toni Keller. 

The Keller case is eerily reminiscent to another ongoing investigation that occurred nearly 850 miles and five states to the east—the murder of 20 year-old Morgan Harrington.   Coincidently, Harrington disappeared on October 17, 2009, almost a year-to-the-day that Keller went missing.  She was last observed thumbing for a ride on the Copeley Road Bridge that hovers above a set of railroad tracks on the University of Virginia campus.  Harrington’s body, however, was found on a farm several miles from campus, suggesting that she was transported in a vehicle.  In July, the Virginia State Police released information indicating that DNA linked Harrington’s killer to a 2005 Virginia sexual assault.  A composite sketch of the suspect in the 2005 rape depicts an African-American male with a round face and beard.

The Harrington and Keller homicides are, of course, likely unrelated, but the similarities illustrate that predators see college campus as a hunting ground for naïve or inebriated women who, for whatever reasons, walk or stagger alone.  It is the isolation of the victims that creates the opportunity for these killers to fulfill their demented sexual fantasies of power and control. 

Reading between the lines, authorities in DeKalb are keeping the details of the Keller crime scene close to the vest.  Only a week old, the victim’s remains will probably provide investigators with the physical evidence needed to forensically identify the perpetrator.  Crimes of opportunity typically involve disorganized slayings; whereby, the suspect’s actions are poorly planned. 


Two weeks ago, Augusta County, Virginia prosecutors dismissed a homicide case against Ralph Leon Jackson, a 57-year-old mechanic and the alleged perpetrator in the slaying of Timothy P. Davis on the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

But a lack of evidence is not the reason for the state case being dropped.

Instead, federal authorities have decided to prosecute Jackson in the April double shooting.   Authorities from the Augusta County DA’s office readily admit that the reason for the federal prosecution is that Jackson would likely face a tougher sentence.  Because Davis was shot but likely died due to a fall off a bluff, under Virginia law, Jackson would likely be ineligible for a capital murder sentence.  However, since the Blue Ridge Parkway is U.S. property, federal guidelines may call for a death sentence.

Is it possible that prosecutors believe that Jackson may be involved in other Virginia slayings and are simply upping the ante in an effort to get him to cooperate for sentencing considerations?



 Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of Predators on the Parkway: a Former Homicide Detective Explores the Colonial Parkway Murders and The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI,2010

4 Responses

  1. AnnoyedAtNIU

    Let’s set something straight here.

    You watch too much Law & Order, Criminal Minds, and other crime shows. There is absolutely no reason for you to be trying to link Toni’s case to the Harrington case. Trying to make a serial killer out of two cases from five states apart is ridiculous. It’s also going to cause unnecessary panic for those of us unfortunate enough to stumble across your blog. There is much more reliable information out there on news sites and all over At the very least you should update your information to be accurate. Kthnksbbye

    October 25, 2010 at 8:13 am

  2. Steve Spingola

    No disrespect intended, but did you bother to read the article? I specifically said there is, OF COURSE, very little reason to believe the Harrington and Keller cases are linked. The point of the article is to illustrate that predators target college campuses because victims tend to be young, walk alone and/or are sometimes under the influence of alcohol. As for watching those shows you mentioned, I do not have time to watch much television; however, I do have training in criminal investigative analysis (profiling for those in Rio Linda).

    October 25, 2010 at 10:13 am

  3. Dear Annoyedatniu
    Unlike Steve, always the gentelman, I think you have just made a complete fool of yourself. Talk about jumping to conclusions! Believe me, I have worked alongside Steve on many homicide investigations, and I can tell you that he could write the scripts for those ridiculous cop shows if he cared to.
    Maybe you should read an article twice before you stick your foot in your mouth and make erroneous comments.

    October 25, 2010 at 4:31 pm

  4. Tara

    Toni’s death is out of the norm for the NIU campus. I think your writings go right to the point. Women need to know their surroundings better. They shouldn’t walk alone even if it is light outside. There is a person out here that did something terrible and this person could do it again.

    October 25, 2010 at 10:00 pm

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