Weather Updates

Accused cop found dead in jail cell — suicide suspected

Updated: December 7, 2012 6:27AM

A former Willow Springs cop accused by the feds last month of plotting to torture and kill a businessman as part of a grisly extortion plot died at McHenry County Jail in a suspected suicide.

Gary Engel, 61, was found hanged in his cell by a bedsheet Monday morning, McHenry County Deputy Coroner Robert Locke said.

His death comes less than two weeks after he was arrested alongside co-defendant Steven Mandell, a former Chicago cop, in a high profile case. Federal prosecutors allege the pair were posing as cops and were just moments away from kidnapping a man they planned to take to a custom-built killing chamber when they were nabbed by FBI agents.

Engel — who had previously been convicted but later cleared, of a similar plot in Missouri in the 1980s — was due to be arraigned in federal court in Chicago on the extortion charges Tuesday. He was being held alone in a cell he did not share with any other prisoners and his death is being treated as a suspected suicide, pending toxicological studies, Locke said.

According to a federal complaint which included conversations secretly-recorded by a cooperating witness, Engel planned to use a phony arrest warrant to kidnap a victim he and Mandell nicknamed “Soupie Sales.”

The victim would have been taken to a place they called “Club Med” — an office they’d prepared with a giant sink to drain his blood before they chopped him up on a reinforced man-sized counter with saws and a butcher’s knife.

Before killing him, they intended to force the victim to give them cash and transfer millions of dollars worth of real estate into their control, it’s alleged. Engel would have played the role of torturer, according to the complaint.

“My guy knows what he’s doing, he knows how to waterboard, do interrogation, psy-ops,” Mandell allegedly said of Engel, according to the complaint. Engel allegedly was taped saying he wanted the victim’s dead body to “bleed out ... you want to let him drain.”

Engel was sentenced to 90 years in prison in 1991 for his alleged role alongside Mandell in the 1984 kidnapping and extortion of a Kansas City nightclub owner. After Mandell — himself sentenced to death in a separate murder case — was cleared and released, Engel used the same argument that evidence had been improperly withheld at his trial to secure his own release in 2010.

He had a number of arrests for impersonating a police officer following his time in the 1970s as a Willow Springs cop, court records state.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.