True Crime Book Brings Closure to a Victim's Family in a 27-Year-Old Murder Case

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Lakemoor, Illinois is located in McHenry County, about 45 miles northwest of Chicago. It was incorporated in 1952, and for nearly 30 years there were no murders in the small community. But that changed dramatically in 1981 with a double homicide. For nearly three decades the killings remained unsolved. But thanks to information contained in a new book, the police are now taking another look at the murders. The son of one of the victims hopes the newly disclosed information will lead to the official closure of the case, and bring peace of mind to him and his family.

I couldn't believe it when I got that call from a friend of my father's telling me about the book

For 27 years Paul Scharff had lived with not knowing the identity of the person who murdered his father in a Lakemoor, Illinois tavern on June 2, 1981. Now he believes he has the answer to that question thanks to the true crime book CULLOTTA -- The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness ( The book is the biography of Frank Cullotta, a former associate of the Chicago Outfit and a decades-long criminal. Cullotta changed sides in 1982 and became a government witness. In 2006 he penned his biography, which was released in July 2007. Revelations in that book have breathed new life into the investigation that Paul hopes will bring the case to closure.

"I couldn't believe it when I got that call from a friend of my father's telling me about the book," an ecstatic Paul Scharff said. "After all these years, to find what I believe to be a description of my father's murder in a book, and the alleged killer named, is absolutely incredible. The police are reviewing the new information and I'm hoping for good things ahead. My heartfelt thanks go out to Frank Cullotta for writing this book. Without his efforts I may have spent the rest of my life never knowing what really happened in my father's bar that night."

For Paul, the nightmare began with the discovery of two bodies in the living room of an apartment at the rear of the P.M. Pub, located at 238 West Rand Road. The victims were the tavern's owner, 37-year-old Ronald Scharff, and barmaid Patricia Freeman, who had worked her first shift at the bar the previous evening.

Shortly after the killings, Ron Scharff's friend Jim Hager provided McHenry County Sheriff's investigators with the names of two potential suspects. But no charges were filed and the investigations remained open and unsolved.

However, the following year, events occurred in Las Vegas that would potentially break the cases open 26 years later. In May 1982, Sin City mob kingpin Tony Spilotro's childhood friend and lieutenant flipped and became a government witness. Frank Cullotta--who had been running Spilotro's street crimes rackets prior to defecting--was required to tell all he knew about his associates as part of his deal with the government. One of the stories he alleged to FBI investigators at the time--and repeated in his book--was that one of his associates had admitted to him that he'd killed two people in a McHenry County tavern in June 1981. According to Cullotta and retired FBI agent Dennis Arnoldy, McHenry County authorities were notified and interviewed Cullotta at the federal lockup in San Diego.

In spite of this information, there is nothing on record to indicate that Cullotta's allegations were pursued. As far as is known, the alleged killer was never questioned about the murders and the cases remained unsolved.

And then this past summer Paul Scharff received a phone call from Jim Hager. He was told that Holly Hager--Jim's daughter and Paul's one-time babysitter--had read a true crime book and found a segment that she believed described Ron Scharff's murder. Although the names of the victims and the specific location of the crimes weren't included, she felt everything else matched. Jim agreed and reached out to Paul.

The book Holly read was Cullotta's biography. After talking with Jim Hager and reading the book himself, Paul is convinced that Cullotta was in fact talking about the murders of his father and Pat Freeman. After all these years he is sure that he now knows the identity of the man who pulled the trigger and the reason behind the killings. That acceptance has brought him a certain amount of personal closure.

Paul's desire now is that the renewed police investigation will result in the alleged killer being officially named as his father's murderer. In an effort to focus more attention on the case, Paul has created a page on Facebook called McHenry County 1981 (, where he is posting background information, newspaper articles and photos.

For additional information or interview requests for Paul Scharff or Frank Cullotta, please contact Dennis Griffin by phone at 702 454-8217, or via e-mail.


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Dennis Griffin

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