Before the Gacy Murders and after the Speck Murders, the murders of Frank, Mary and Michael Columbo shocked the Chicago area. The Elk Grove Village, Il. police entered the family’s home on May 7, 1976 to find auto parts salesman Frank Columbo, his wife Mary, and their 13-year old son Michael brutally murdered.
Frank had been shot and his skull was crushed with a lamp. Mary had been shot and had her throat slit. Michael had almost a hundred stab wounds.
After ruling out robbery or a Mafia hit, the police arrested Patty Columbo, Frank and Mary’s 19 year old daughter and Michael’s sister. The cops arrested her lover, Frank DeLuca, a few months later.
She met Frank DeLuca, a married man with five kids, when she was in high school and he was in his late 30s. She soon began working at the cosmetics counter in the same Walgreens where he worked as a pharmacist. They carried on a seedy affair for a few years. (DeLuca was a swinger and even subscribed to a swinger’s lifestyle magazine.) At one point, Patty lived with the Delucas and had sex with him while his wife and kids were frolicking in the backyard.
She showed her classmates photos of her having sex with DeLuca’s dog. What the hell was the deal with girls and dogs in the ‘70s? Linda Lovelace did a “loop” (short film) with a dog, and half the sleazy paperbacks in the back section of downtown Chicago bookstores were about Nazi girls and German Shepards.
Patty had amassed a few non-sexual offenses as well. She racked up thousands of dollars in charges on stolen credit cards, and her father paid them off for her. Eventually, Frank Columbo paid for an apartment for Patty. When he found out DeLuca had moved in with her, he confronted the couple in a parking lot. Frank knocked out a few of DeLuca’s teeth with the butt end of a rifle.
Photo of Columbo home via Murderpedia.com
Shortly after this incident, Patty and DeLuca decided to off her family for her inheritance money. ( Her parents had written her out of their wills by this time, unbeknownst to Patty.) She hired some “hit men” at a bar, but they backed out of the deal, after they had sex with her and absconded with $2,000.
Patty and DeLuca snuck into the home and shot Frank and Mary. Patty stabbed her brother so many times with a scissors the first police on the scene thought he has the measles. Patty and DeLuca turned the thermostat to almost 100 degrees to make the bodies decompose faster.
The cops first entered the house to question Frank Columbo when they found his car in a bad neighborhood on the West Side. Patty and DeLuca had taken Frank’s car and deposited it in a bad neighborhood to make it look like a street gang had committed the crime.
The police were suspicious of Patty from the start, as she came to the police station with theories about who killed her family, instead of crying or asking questions about what happened. The cops sent a good-looking officer to the services to possibly ensnare the oversexed Patty and get the truth out of her. As expected, she flirted with the cop and feigned grief while throwing herself at the coffins.
A friend told police about the hit men Patty had contacted, and a few of DeLuca’s employees told investigators that they’d seen him burning bloody clothes the day after the murder. He threatened their families to keep them quiet.
Eight days after the murders, Patty was charged with three courts of first degree murder. (DeLuca wasn’t charged until a few months later.)
By the summer of 1977, they were convicted and sentenced to several life sentences. Patty and DeLuca went to separate prisons, and have had no contact since the trial.
DeLuca and Columbo weren’t finished with criminal activities even after going to jail.
DeLuca threatened to have certain witnesses killed by fellow prisoners while he was in jail awaiting trial. Columbo ran a prostitution ring in the Dwight Correctional Center in the ‘80s, and pimped out prisoners to guards. Since then, she’s been a model prisoner, and has earned a Bachelor’s degree.
Frank DeLuca – Photo via Daily Herald.com
DeLuca and Columbo are still incarcerated as of 2019.
When Murder in the Suburbs Was a New Thing
The Columbos lived in a middle-class bedroom community, and the neighbors weren’t forthcoming with any information about the family or the murders. Petty crime was unheard of in the ‘burbs in 1976, much less parricide. Maybe today, people are willing to go viral and bask in the infamy of a local crime, but back then, most people didn’t want anything to do with such heinous acts.
My girlfriends and I were a few years younger than Patty, and we lived in the same sort of Chicago-area bedroom community, with Old-World Italian, Irish, or Polish parents. Our neighborhoods were bereft of predatory married men. We played our Led Zeppelin albums too loud and smoked pot behind the bleachers, but that was the extent of our sleazy rebellion against Mom and Dad. I don’t think most of us lost our virginity until the summer after high school. Yep, we were raised Catholic and stuck to it, at least until we graduated.
The story of Patty Columbo may just as well have occurred in Beverly Hills or Timbuktu, not in a nearby cookie-cutter suburb. We all worked at stores or restaurants, and couldn’t believe someone who worked at a Walgreens (just like some of us did) could commit murder. It all seemed so unreal.
While the investigation and trial were covered extensively by local media, we weren’t very interested in the salacious details, and concentrated instead on our albums and teen magazines. You can’t find much about the killings online today, and the only documentary I could find was on an episode of Investigation Discovery’s Deadly Women. I found a few podcasts with mentions of the case, but they weren’t very in-depth.
Two books about the murders were published in the 1990s. (Both books are long out-of-print.)
Love’s Blood by Clark Howard (1994) traces the story from Patty’s point of view. She tells the author that she was allegedly abused by a friend of the family in his candy truck as a child. The well-written book draws you in from the first paragraph about the Columbos’ poodle guarding Mary Columbo’s body before the police uncover the murders. As the book progress, Clark interviews Columbo, and it becomes apparent that the author is somewhat infatuated with his subject.
Bonnie Remsberg’s Mom, Dad, Mike and Pattie (1992) has none of the sensationalism of Clark’s book. The book focuses more on the victims, the dynamics between family members during their lives, and the police investigation.
A few years after the Columbo murders, the police arrested John Gacy, with the excavation of his victims’ bodies covered on live TV. We couldn’t ignore the horror hidden away in the suburbs anymore, even if we changed the TV station. It was there, right in front of us, a precursor to 24/7 true crime on the internet and cable TV.
P.S. – A drawing of Columbo (and Marlene Olive, a teen murderer turned hooker from CA) was featured in this art exhibit.
More photos from the Columbo case are posted at DailyHerald.com