Updated July 24, 4:15 p.m.
At 7 a.m. on June 14, 2010, Steven Kellmann called his father, James, in Arizona. Audibly upset and crying, Steven apologized for the trouble he had caused in the past and then dropped a bomb.
“I killed someone, and I’m going to jail for life,” Steven reportedly told his father.
Kellmann wasn’t alone that morning. With him was his girlfriend, Bonnie Shelesny. The two were on the run after killing retired school teacher Marilyn Fay, 65, who lived in a modest two-story home in the 3300 block of Arthur Avenue in Brookfield.
On July 20 at Maybrook courthouse, Kellmann, 32, and Shelesny, 25, both pleaded guilty to stabbing and suffocating Fay. In accordance with the terms of a plea deal agreed to by prosecutors and the defendants’ lawyers last month, Judge Noreen Love sentenced each of them to 35 years in state prison, without the possibility of parole.
Prior to the sentencing, Kellmann publicly apologized to Fay’s family, including her daughter and her sister, who were seated together in the courtroom, surrounded by a dozen former friends and co-workers. He also apologized to his mother, who sat alone in the front row of the gallery, at times shaking her head as if in disbelief.
Shelesny offered no public apology.
“There is nothing you can do when a life is lost,” said Love, who said she took into account Kellmann’s and Shelesny’s personal troubles, which contributed to their actions in 2010. “Nothing can justify it. It doesn’t excuse what you did, but it helps us understand.
“This was a woman who was warm-hearted, kind and gave to society. Her life was robbed of her.”
Kellmann’s apology didn’t move Fay’s sister, Linda Kolacki.
“They’re monsters,” Kolacki said. “I’m not a forgiving person. Unfortunately, they took away the death penalty.”
But both she and Fay’s daughter, Jennifer Piekut, agreed with the terms of the plea deal, saying they didn’t want to suffer through a trial that would have graphically recounted Marilyn Fay’s death.
“Actually, I’m pleased with how it went,” Piekut said. “They asked me how many years I would find acceptable, and I had to make considerations for friends and family who would have had to suffer through a trial.”
“There was too much detail as it was, today,” Kolacki said.
Kellmann’s father, James, remembers the day he received the call from Steven. It was early, 5 a.m., when his phone rang.
“I was shocked when I got that call,” James Kellmann said. “I normally don’t answer the phone that early. When he told me what happened, he wondered if he should wait or turn himself in. I told him to turn himself in.”
A couple of hours later, after collecting his thoughts, James Kellmann phoned Brookfield police.
“I wasn’t sure what he was going to do,” James Kellmann said.
It was the last time he talked to his son.
“I’m not sure how I feel,” he said. “I’m ambivalent. You hear on the news that someone was convicted of murder and got 35 years. Now it’s my son. I don’t want to see him go to jail for the rest of his life.”
Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Paul Joyce recounted the events following Kellmann’s call to his father on June 14, 2010.
After Steven called his father, James Kellmann called Brookfield police, who went to Fay’s home at 3:15 p.m. Police got a set of spare keys from a neighbor who had seen Fay the night before, and they went inside to find Fay in her bed. She had been stabbed four times. The pillow used to suffocate Fay still covered her face.
Police found Fay’s Jeep Cherokee parked on a residential street on Chicago’s Southwest Side and learned Kellmann and Shelesny had checked into a nearby motel. Police arrested the two outside the motel room and searched their room, where they found Fay’s cellphone, credit card and other ID. Police also reported finding bloody clothing and 40 bags of heroin.
Kellmann was charged soon after his arrest, but Shelesny was set free pending further investigation.
“I lived in fear until they re-arrested her,” said Kolacki.
Police arrested Shelesny on Dec. 1, 2010 outside her place of employment in Palatine. In August of 2010, according to Joyce, Shelesny confessed to an acquaintance that she had killed someone after breaking into a house in order to steal items to sell.
Police stated after Shelesny’s arrest that she and Kellmann were motivated to find money to feed their drug habits. When he was arrested, Kellmann was feeding a 1 gram-per-day heroin habit, said his attorney, Public Defender Mark Teague.
Shelesny’s attorney, Colleen Koch, stated that Shelesny had a serious drug problem since she was 13 years old and had checked herself into treatment centers on a number of occasions to seek help.
Kellmann was introduced to drugs at the age of 14 by a friend of his mother’s, said his attorney, and had suffered through a difficult childhood.
Teague said Kellmann was estranged from his father, whom he hadn’t seen since 2001. In addition, Kellmann had a strained relationship with his stepfather and his mother. And between the ages of 10 and 14, Kellmann had been molested by a family member and a neighborhood boy, said Teague.
Kellmann attempted suicide many times, according to Teague, including trying to overdose on heroin and intentionally crashing his car. He bounced around between a half-dozen different jobs, mainly as a construction laborer, between 1995 and 2010.
He also spent time in prison between 2006 and 2008 after being convicted separately of armed robbery, driving under the influence and theft.
After retiring from her job as a Chicago Public Schools teacher, Fay worked part time at the Brookfield Public Library as a reference librarian. It was there that she befriended Kellmann, who would sometimes stay at her home when he had no place to go and did odd jobs for her around the house.
When Kellmann was picked up by Chicago police and sent to jail for driving on a suspended license in May of 2010, Fay posted his bail.
Less than a month later, he and Shelesny killed her.