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Area 5 Homicide, Part I: 'I think we have a fresh one, guys' 

Forensic investigators take fingerprints homicide victim July 2009. | John J. Kim ~ Sun-Times

Forensic investigators take the fingerprints of a homicide victim in July 2009. | John J. Kim ~ Sun-Times

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Updated: April 19, 2011 5:15AM

Originally published December 28, 2010

“I think we have a fresh one, guys.”

Sgt. Sam Cirone had barely spoken the words, and he was out the door of Area 5 Homicide at Grand and Central.

Detectives Tony Noradin and Don Falk were right behind. They grabbed their bulletproof vests off brass hooks on a wall and headed to their unmarked cruiser.

Noradin was tapping the steering wheel when the first details crackled over the police radio:

The victim: Loreto Miguel . . . Shot in the head at 22:07 hours — 10:07 p.m. . . . Happened at 2936 W. Palmer on the Northwest Side . . . Transported to Norwegian American Hospital . . . Pronounced dead there at 22:27 hours.

Noradin hit the gas.

“Told you it was gonna be tonight,” he said to Falk as the blue flashing lights on their Ford Crown Vic lit up the balmy summer night of July 15, 2009.

Windows down, the A.C. off, tie flapping in the wind, Noradin steered to the address where a crime scene — and another of the mysteries that fill their working lives — awaited.

Each of the detectives was clad in crisp button-down shirt and tie. Each had two pens clipped to a shirt pocket. And there was a handgun and silver star on their belts. It all screamed: homicide detective. On the street, everyone knows that look. When the detectives ride into a crime-ridden neighborhood, shouts of “yo, homicide!” greet them.

Their attire is a sign of respect for the grieving families — and also of their status as members of the most elite of the Chicago Police Department’s detective ranks.

Partners since 2007, Noradin and Falk together have investigated more than 30 murders. They’ve solved about half. It’s not enough for them, or their victims’ families. But it’s good: Last year, fewer than a third of the city’s 461 murders were closed.

For four months, a Chicago Sun-Times reporter and photographer shadowed the partners and got a glimpse of what they’re up against in a city where nobody sees anything and the murder rate, though declining over the past decade, still outpaces New York and Los Angeles.

‘Two eyeballs’

Sgt. Cirone beat his detectives to the murder scene — a sidewalk on Palmer Street east of Humboldt Boulevard near Logan Square. A church, St. Sylvester’s, stood across the street, and Palmer Square, a leafy park, was just to the west.

From their apartment windows, neighbors gawked.

Waist-high yellow police tape kept the curious away.

A smaller triangle of red tape stretched from a wrought-iron fence to a Toyota Corolla and back, encircling a pool of blood on the sidewalk where Loreto Miguel’s head rested on the pavement until the ambulance whisked him away.

The red tape told even the beat cops: Stay out. To keep any evidence from getting trampled, only the forensic investigators and homicide detectives could step inside here.

Cirone walked up to Noradin and Falk and head-nodded to the back seats of two squad cars.

“You have two ‘eyeballs,’ ” Cirone said. “They look like yuppies, legit.”

Noradin approached one of the cars and Falk the other. The witnesses were shaken. One was crying. But both talked. They’d heard shots. One saw the killer pull the trigger but didn’t know him, had never seen him before.

Noradin and Falk stepped away to talk with another detective who tallied up what they had so far:

Loreto Miguel, a known gang member, was coming back to his neighborhood from the lakefront. He and another known gang member walked north on Humboldt Boulevard, past the church, and crossed Palmer Street. A dark-skinned man on a bicycle shouted something at Loreto, then fired a single shot into the back of his skull from just a few feet away. Loreto, a cell phone in his hand, crumpled onto the sidewalk, his blood and his life quickly ebbing.

Noradin nodded at the dry recital of the facts. He jotted notes on one of the “general progress report” forms he carries around in a blue-vinyl folder emblazoned with the star of the Chicago Police Department logo.

A patrol officer said there were two surveillance cameras in the area. Noradin and Falk, as the lead detectives on the case, would check later with the building owners to see if the cameras had captured the killing.

Other detectives joined them to fan out and ask neighbors if they’d seen or heard anything. Nobody had.

The forensic investigators — just like the ones you see on TV — snapped photos to capture the scene.

As soon as they shot their last picture, somebody radioed the fire department for a “wash down” of the blood.

One of the witnesses turned to Noradin and asked, quietly, “Could someone make sure I get home safely?”

“Of course,” the detective said, and he escorted the witness through the police tape.

Falk, always upbeat, offered his take of things so far: “We’re ahead of the game. Usually at this point, we’re trying to get someone to say anything. Most people don’t stick around. We already have two good witnesses.”

‘At home . . . I’m Sherlock Holmes’

When it comes to remembering faces, Noradin is better than his partner. Falk is better at names.

When they’re heading to a crime scene, Falk scans for cars before they go through the red lights. When he says “clear,” Noradin goes.

Noradin is better with a computer than a lot of the detectives. When a less-experienced detective wants to know how to search for a suspect’s prior addresses, Noradin is the go-to guy.

Falk is the joker. Like a lot of cops, he makes cracks at crime scenes to ease the tension. One time, the partners got a call: body parts in an alley. Inside a garbage can, they found a heart, lungs, stomach and intestines. It stank like five-day-old fish. Neighbors who came over to check it out got sick. Some of the detectives there smoked cigars to try to mask the stench. It turned out to be from an animal.

“If it’s a deer, we should call it ‘Jane Doe,’ ” Falk joked.

Noradin, 48, is a tournament-level bowler who once rolled a perfect game — 300. He worked at a car dealer before joining the department at the ripe old age of 31. “I brought some maturity to the job,” he said.

Falk, 42, joined the department soon after college. He’s married, with four young kids — and likes telling Noradin about the hobby he shares with them: raising geckos. When his kids act up, he employs his interrogation skills on them, putting them in separate rooms and interviewing them until he gets the truth.

“At home,” Falk said, “they think I’m Sherlock Holmes.”

Noradin and Falk are both alums of city high schools — Taft and Lane Tech — and Falk went on to graduate from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a degree in criminal justice.

But they got their real schooling working as street cops on the West Side. Noradin was a patrolman in the Austin District and Falk in the Grand-Central District. They learned the language of the gang-bangers they’d lock up:

A “lick” — a robbery.

“Get little” — walk away.

“Go-fasts” — the blue lights on a squad car.

And “blew his noodles back” — shot in the head.

These days, they spend a lot of time on the street but also a lot of time back at Area 5 Homicide. In the office, they spend hours on reports — and fixing each other’s writing.

“This says, ‘The gun was in his hand,’ ” Noradin told his partner one day. “Which one? Do we know?” And later: “This sentence is a little choppy.”

“We’re careful,” Falk said. “People say we write pretty good reports.”

As homicide detectives, the partners have become accustomed to dealing with death. But even as patrol officers, they’d haul dead bodies to the morgue.

“It sounds cold-hearted,” said Falk, “but death is just part of the job — like driving a car.”

These same detectives also will say “God bless you” when someone sneezes and hold doors for people who come in to the police station. And they’ll leave their squad car gassed-up and clean for the next detectives — unlike the car that was left for them with a half-smoked cigar in the ashtray on the day Loreto Miguel was killed.

Victim No. 42

The partners finished up at the scene just after midnight. Then, it was time to go to the hospital to identify their victim.

“I’m running out of gas,” said Noradin, who’d gotten only a few hours of sleep because he’d had to be in court early that morning.

While other detectives interviewed Loreto’s friends back at Area 5 Homicide, Noradin and Falk crowded into a stuffy room in Norwegian American Hospital on North Francisco with the two forensic investigators on the case.

Loreto’s body, covered in white, blood-specked sheets, lay on a wheeled, stainless-steel bed.

Noradin snapped on a pair of latex gloves.

He started his inspection at Loreto’s feet, and worked his way up to his head.

He lifted the sheet to expose an “Orchestra Albany” gang tattoo on Loreto’s left ankle. “Crazy Life” was tattooed on his right ankle.

Noradin held up Loreto’s limp left arm, which was tattooed with “Sacramento.” “Lyndale” was inked on his right arm.

Sacramento and Lyndale — an intersection two blocks from where he was killed in the Palmer Square neighborhood. “Their turf,” said Noradin.

Loreto’s face remained covered as the forensics guys took his hands into theirs to fingerprint him. Then, they took wipes to his hands to clean away the black ink.

Noradin walked to the other side of the bed and uncovered the 5-foot-2 teenager’s baby face. He gently took Loreto’s head into his hands and tilted it to examine the entry wound — a gory hole at the back of his head, behind the right ear.

Blood was still leaking from a hole in his left eyebrow where the skin had been ripped outward by the bullet.

“Looks like he was shot in the back of the head,” Noradin said. “Exited above his eye.”

The forensic guys photographed Loreto’s head and his tattoos. Then, they lifted Loreto into a black body bag. Noradin zipped it up.

Falk itemized the clothes that Loreto wore on the last day of his life: Ecko Unlimited blue jeans; white T-shirt; red-black-and-gray Nikes.

The detectives stepped out and closed the door. Noradin waved over a nurse.

“Could you have him cleaned up a little bit before the family views the body?” he asked.

Minutes later, Loreto’s relatives got there. Outside the room where his body lay, they hugged each other and wailed in grief.

In the next room over, a woman had just given birth. Her newborn cried.

The detectives left.

“I need some fresh air,” Noradin said, leaving other detectives to talk with the family.

He and Falk stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee at 2:30 a.m. and headed back to Area 5 Homicide. Back at the office, Falk ripped off his tie as soon as they walked in; Noradin, as usual, kept his on. They worked until 8 a.m. typing their initial reports.

After they left for home, a sergeant went up to the erasable-marker board on the wall behind Noradin’s desk that listed every murder on the Northwest Side so far in 2009. He added Loreto’s name to the list.

He was victim No. 42.

Next to the number, the sergeant printed Loreto’s name in red, all in capital letters.

Red: unsolved.

Soon, Loreto’s parents would show up at the station to demand: Why didn’t the police have their son’s killer yet?

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