December 18, 2008
BY CAROL MARIN AND DON MOSELEY
More than 27 years after a mob-related double murder in McHenry County, a little bit of digging by a 42-year old former baby-sitter has led authorities to reopen what was a very cold case.
The information supplied by Holly Hager, who is now a mural painter, has led McHenry County sheriff's detectives to take a fresh look at the long-unsolved killings.
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Thanks to a little bit of digging by a former babysitter, Holly Hager, authorities have reopened what was a cold double-murder case in McHenry County.
'Lurch' a ruthless man who lived to kill: Cullotta
The 1981 murders of 37-year old Ron Scharff and 30-year-old Patricia Freemen were the first on record in the then-tiny town of Lakemoor.
"I know who did it," Hager, who used to baby-sit Scharff's young sons, said in an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times and NBC5.
The killer, she says, was Larry Neumann, a feared enforcer for the Chicago Outfit. The motive: revenge.
"I just thought my baby-sitter is one hell of a Nancy Drew," Paul Scharff said on learning about Hager's digging. "My father was killed on June 2, 1981. I would like [an] explanation of why this couldn't have happened 25 years ago."
In 1981, Ron Scharff was the owner of the PM Pub, named for his sons Paul and Michael. Freeman was a divorced mother of two and a school bus driver who was on her first night of work at the bar to earn extra money. Both died from gunshot wounds.
On a car trip to Arkansas this summer, Hager said she and her father, Jim, began talking about the killing of Ron Scharff, his best friend. Holly Hager said that's when she first heard the name Larry Neumann.
Back home in McHenry County, she went searching for Neumann's name on the Internet. "His name came up on a serial-killer site, and I thought that's weird," she said. "I was like, oh, my gosh, he's from McHenry."
The next discovery sealed things for Hager. It was the 2007 autobiography of Frank Cullotta, a mob burglar and hit man-turned-federal witness, in which he recounted how Neumann killed two people in 1981 at a McHenry County bar.
"I called my dad and said, 'Dad, I know who murdered Ron,' " Hager said.
Born on the West Side of Chicago, Frank Cullotta became one of the mob's best burglars. After doing time with Neumann in prison, they both landed in Las Vegas working for Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, who watched over the Chicago Outfit's interests there. In 1982, Cullotta entered the witness-protection program and began telling the mob's secrets -- including the one about the McHenry County murders. Cullotta said that in the summer of 1981, he witnessed Neumann take a long-distance call from his ex-wife, back in McHenry County.
Last month, from an undisclosed location, Cullotta recounted for the Sun-Times and NBC5 what Neumann told him: "He said this guy that owns this pub threw my ex-wife out of there. He grabbed her by the throat and removed her from the place."
Neumann, he said, felt disrespected and wanted revenge. Cullotta said he tried to talk Neumann out of returning to Illinois. "I believed, in my heart, after talking to him, he was not going to go back there to kill this guy. I was wrong."
Upon returning to Las Vegas, Cullotta said Neumann told him, "I went in there to talk to the guy. . . . He says I got mad. I pulled the gun out. I shot the guy in the head. He said the girl looked at me. I immediately turn to her, shot her in the head. He said the guy gurgled, I shot him in the head again, he says, then I shot the girl, again."
Died in 2007
Cullotta said he told McHenry County authorities in 1982 what happened, but "it was like they didn't want to hear what I was saying."
Cullotta wasn't the only one to tell McHenry County authorities about Larry Neumann. Jim Hager said he told sheriff's investigators about the incident at the bar involving Scharff and Neumann's ex-wife and that Neumann should be considered a suspect.
"Only thing I seen was arguing," said Jim Hager, claiming Scharff never touched her. "Ron told her, 'Get the hell out, and don't come back.' "
As her father did 27 years ago, Holly Hager took the information to the McHenry County sheriff's office, which reopened the case.
Gene Lowery, the current undersheriff in McHenry County, said that for the most part, no one from the original investigation remains with the sheriff's department. But he acknowledged more should have been done decades ago.
"There was an inadequate response from our office," Lowery said. "We can't make things better. But we can try to make it right. . . . I want to make sure the survivors know we are in their corner."
Neumann died in January 2007 at the age of 79. He had been in prison since 1983 for the murder of a jeweler. He was convicted, in part, on the testimony of Frank Cullotta.
Lowery said the sheriff's office is working with the FBI and other agencies on the case, and "there is a fairly high probability of closing the case . . . with an arrest."
With Neumann dead, it's unclear who is left to arrest, and authorities did not elaborate.
For Paul Scharff, his focus is on Neumann.
"My hope is to get Larry Neumann named as the murderer of my father and Patricia Freeman," said Paul Scharff. "And then I would like an explanation of why this couldn't have happened 25 years ago."
"To me, there is no question," said the baby-sitter turned snoop. "Whether McHenry County closes the case or not doesn't matter. It's closed, in my mind; I know who did it."
Don Moseley is an NBC5 producer.