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Money possible motive in strangling of wife, mother-in-law: Dart

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Updated: October 26, 2013 6:23AM



A graying Robert Danno, 50, dressed in an oversized blue T-shirt, stood motionless Tuesday morning in a Bridgeview courtroom as Judge Kerry Kennedy announced there would be no bail in the strangulation deaths of his wife and mother-in-law. At his side, Jose Fernando Martinez-Hernandez, 24, his alleged accomplice, broke down upon hearing the Spanish interpreter’s words.

They are charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Danno’s wife, Mary Ann Urban-Danno, 51, an unemployed nurse, and her mother, Theresa Urban, 79, who suffered from dementia.

Both women were strangled and stuffed into the back of Urban-Danno’s PT Cruiser, whichc was driven to Cap Sauer’s Holdings Nature Preserve in Palos Township and set on fire Saturday night.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart money was a possible motive in the case.

Theresa Urban owned two properties in Lake Geneva and had more than $500,000 in her bank accounts, Dart said. Investigators said it appeared that Urban-Danno was planning to divorce her husband of 11 years after the relationship had soured in recent years.

After Tuesday’s court hearing, Cook County Sheriff’s Detective Eric Burnson said both men had expressed remorse during their videotaped confessions.

Danno told officials the couple had argued frequently — and because they did not get along, Burnson said, Danno, an unemployed warehouse worker, had been living in the basement of the home in the 5600 block of South Neenah in Chicago. Danno had befriended Martinez-Hernandez and allowed him to live in the basement as well, Burnson said. Urban-Danno and her mother lived upstairs.

On Saturday morning, Burnson said, Urban-Danno came downstairs, an argument ensued and Danno knocked her to the ground. Martinez-Hernandez helped restrain the woman while Danno strangled her, Burnson said.

“Robert Danno then went upstairs and strangled Theresa, the mother-in-law. Then the two guys drove around for a while, came back and at nightfall, loaded up both bodies into the back of her vehicle and drove it to the Cook County forest preserves,” Burnson said.

Urban-Danno’s body was put in a big, black garbage can and her body was placed in the back of her PT Cruiser, Dart told reporters. Danno and Martinez-Hernandez then allegedly covered the mother-in-law’s body with a blanket and also put it in the car, the sheriff said.

Danno then drove the car out to the forest preserve, and Martinez-Hernandez followed in Danno’s car, Dart said.

At the Palos Township forest preserve, Danno poured gasoline inside the car and on the bodies, authorities said.

The car was still on fire when investigators arrived at the forest preserve late Saturday night — and the vehicle’s license plate immediately offered a clue to the car’s owner. That led authorities to the suspects.

When officers arrived at the Cape Cod-style home, Danno initially said he didn’t know what happened to his wife and mother-in-law, but he later confessed, as did Martinez-Hernandez, authorities said. Danno had burn marks on his arms when he was arrested at his home, Dart said.

It wasn’t clear how long the alleged plan had been in place.

No one was at the Danno house on Tuesday morning, but a city notice left on the door stated that two dogs and a cat had been removed from the house.

Jennifer Tapia, a neighor, said she often heard the Dannos arguing. Still, she described Mary Ann Urban-Danno as a friendly person “who would do anything to strike up a conversation with you.”

Neighbor Teresa Tapling said she attended church at St. Daniel the Prophet with Urban-Danno and saw her at the church’s carnival and soup nights. A secretary confirmed that Urban-Danno was a parishioner since 2006.

Tapling said Urban-Danno always bought Girl Scout cookies from the neighborhood children and once bought an angel for her daughter’s First Communion.

“We can’t believe something like this went on,” Tapling said. “She’s no nice, why would he do that to her? If he was mad at her, settle it otherwise.”

Urban-Danno was a graduate of Lane Tech High School in Chicago.

Dr. George Pappas, a family practitioner in St. Charles, said he went to Lane Tech High School and later Loyola University in Chicago with Urban-Danno.

He said she was an excellent student who was always focused on her studies.

“She was very personable and very memorable as far as her personality and silly quirks and sense of humor,” Pappas said. “She was the type of person that once you met her, you’d think of her and remember her for the rest of your life.”

Contributing: Casey Toner



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