In the more than four years since her brother John Spira vanished, Stephanie McNeil's mounting frustration with the perceived lack of action by the DuPage County Sheriff's Department has prompted her to take matters into her own hands. Or at least try to.
Last year, McNeil enlisted the assistance of a former federal prosecutor who specializes in homicide cases with missing victims, only to have the DuPage County police refuse to let him in on the case.
Now the DuPage County Sheriff's Department has rejected McNeil's formal request to see what its detectives have been up to since the St. Charles man disappeared in February 2007.
McNeil asked DuPage County Sheriff John Zaruba for the investigative files relating to her brother's disappearance and to the fire that consumed his West Chicago cable construction company office less than seven months later.
Richard Czupowski, the freedom of information officer for the DuPage County Sheriff's Department, denied the request.
"At this point, the records you reference continue to be part of an ongoing investigative file and, as such, are exempt from disclosure under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act," Czupowski said in a letter sent to McNeil's Phoenix home.
"It's just more of the same," said an exasperated McNeil. "I don't know how they can call it an open investigation, except they can."
Spira was 45 when he disappeared. He was last seen at the office of his cable construction company, where he left his parked car.
At the time of his disappearance, Spira, an accomplished blues musician who went by the stage name "Chicago Johnny," was in the midst of a tumultuous divorce, McNeil said. He and his wife, Suzanne Spira, were living in the same home throughout their divorce proceedings and the domestic arrangement was hellish, McNeil said.
Suzanne Spira, who has since moved to Orchard Park, NY, has denied that her relationship with Spira was acrimonious.
McNeil said she cannot remember the last time anyone from the DuPage County police spoke with her about her brother's case but believes it has been a "couple of years."
"I don't know who the current detective is," she said. "I don't know who's working on the case, if anybody."
Dawn Domrose, the spokeswoman for the DuPage County Sheriff's Department, said the investigator heading up the Spira case would provide an update as to its status. Three days later, the unidentified investigator has yet to provide any information. Not that it apparently would have mattered.
"It's still ongoing," Czupowski said. "Even if you did talk to him he probably can't tell you where it's at."
The state police were also briefly involved in the Spira case after skeletal remains found on the banks of the DuPage River near Shorewood in May 2009 were first thought to be from the body of missing Bolingbrook mom Stacy Peterson. The state police are handling the ongoing Peterson case.
When it was established that the remains were those of a man, and tattered clothing and other clues at the scene led police to believe it may be Spira, the state police started focusing on the missing St. Charles man as a possible match to the bones.
But in the end the remains belonged to neither Peterson nor Spira, but to Scott Dudko, a Woodridge man last seen alive in December 2008.
McNeil said she has been at odds with investigators from the DuPage County Sheriff's Department over their refusal to consider her brother's case a homicide. She also took offense when they suggested her brother may have dropped out of circulation of his own accord.
"No way did he go missing on his own," she said. "It's outside the realm of possibility."
In her letter to the sheriff's department, McNeil wrote, "Anyone involved in this investigation knows he was murdered, yet this case continues to be called a 'missing persons' case... "
Despite the sheriff's department refusing her request, McNeil said she is not done trying to get the investigative reports on her brother's case.
"I'm going to appeal the denial," she said.