TERROR TOWN, USA

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During the early morning hours of July 17, 1983, fatigue became a factor for the young couple from central Illinois who spent their day under the hot sun at Marriott’s Great America amusement park north of Chicago. On their drive home, the tired teenagers pulled to the shoulder of Interstate 55 to get a restful sleep.

As the teens slept inside their car under the moon and the stars, a dangerous force of evil lurked in the shadows, parking directly behind them. 

The summer of 1983 was like no other for Joliet, Ill., a hard-working, rough-and-tough blue-collar industrial city an hour’s drive southwest of Chicago. This was one of the hottest summers on record for Joliet, and an elusive serial-killing madman kept piling up the body count as he showed no signs of being caught. 

One overnight killing spree claimed five victims, including members of the Will County Sheriff’s Office. The following month brought more bloodshed: a quadruple murder inside a small Joliet shop best known for its pottery classes.

The plague of senseless violence sparked the controversial New York City-based Guardian Angels to mobilize foot patrols in Joliet, generating more unwanted news media attention for the community. Even the National Enquirer produced its own sensational piece, labeling Joliet “Terror Town, U.S.A.”

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Residents shuddered with horror. Determined detectives worked in overdrive, trying to find an overlooked clue or two. Finally, when an arrest seemed to come out of nowhere, area citizens breathed a sigh of relief.

Authorities linked the so-called stone cold killing machine to a chilling count of 14 homicides, plus three women who miraculously survived their agonizing encounters. 

But with multiple murder trials on the horizon, it remained anyone’s guess whether Milton Johnson, whose family nicknamed him “Big’un,” short for “Big One,” was guilty of mass murder and if so, would he die by means of lethal injection at the Illinois Department of Corrections? 

MARRIOTT
Author John Ferak

About The Author:

A native of Joliet, Illinois, John Ferak returned to his roots in 2017 to become the editor/reporter for the Joliet Patch. He previously spent five years with the Wisconsin Investigative Team for USA TODAY and nine years in Nebraska at the Omaha World-Herald newspaper. He is an authority on wrongful arrest and conviction cases. His 2016 book for WildBlue Press, FAILURE OF JUSTICE, chronicled the nation’s largest wrongful conviction case. His first book, BLOODY LIES told the story about a CSI director who went to prison for planting blood in high-profile Nebraska murder cases. In 2018, Ferak published WRECKING CREW: Demolishing The Case Against Steven Avery. The book chronicled the post-conviction strategy of Kathleen Zellner, the high-profile, high-octane lawyer, to free Avery, in the case that captured world-wide acclaim through the Netflix docu-series, Making A Murderer. This marks Ferak’s first true-crime book chronicling cold-blooded murder in his hometown.

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