As Jeanie Kustok was leaving Central School the afternoon of Sept. 28, 2010, then-Central School Principal Janice Limperis reminded her that they had not set up their annual birthday dinner yet. The two women shared a birthday in the same week in the fall and typically celebrated by going out to dinner together.
Kustok told Limperis that she would bring her calendar to school the next day and they would set a date.
That was the last time Limperis saw Kustok alive.
Early the next morning Jeanie Kustok was shot to death and last week a Cook County jury needed less than two hours to find her husband of 34 years, Allan Kustok, guilty of first-degree murder. He faces up to life in prison; sentencing is set for April 17.
For Limperis, who attended four days of the 12-day trial, and other colleagues, the trial was the closing chapter of a long nightmare that began Sept. 29, 2010, when they learned that Jeanie Kustok, who taught gifted students at Central and Hollywood schools, had been killed.
“I would say for the school community and myself that we were certainly hoping that justice would be done,” Limperis said. “There wasn’t a-one of us who thought that it was even remotely possible that Jeanie could have ever thought to take her own life. She loved life too much.”
Defense lawyers for Allen Kustok suggested that Jeanie Kustok either had accidently shot herself or had committed suicide.
The trial featured testimony from two Central School teachers who stated Jeanie Kustok had once mentioned that there was a gun in her house. It was not easy for Patty Dost or Erin Feldman to testify, Limperis said. They were Jeanie’s close friends.
“All they wanted to do was help Jeanie,” said Limperis, who attended the trial in part to show support for her former staff members. “They wanted to say or do anything [to make clear] that it was not possible for her to kill herself. I do not think they were happy to be called as witnesses for the defense.”
It was difficult for Limperis and other Central School staff members who attended the trial to sit through the sometimes gruesome testimony and see photographs of Kustok’s bloody bed, and worse.
“I think for myself and for all the other teachers and staff who attended, we were overwhelmed how powerful it was and how emotions and feelings about Jeanie and what happened just came roaring back,” Limperis said. “It was very hard to relive it and much more emotional than any of us thought.”
The loss of Kustok created a void for the teachers and staff who knew and loved her.
“For the staff this has been a road to go,” said Limperis. “This has been very hard for them, both at Hollywood and at Central.”
Limperis said that she and some teachers had noticed that Kustok had lost a lot of weight, maybe as much as 25 pounds, over the summer of 2010.
“We worried that she might have been ill,” Limperis said. “She looked so different and didn’t need to look different. She said that, ‘Al and I are working out like fiends; we put in new exercise equipment in the basement, and we’re just working out every night.’
“In retrospect now there are so many things that we’ve all gone back and played over in our heads and wondered. Was there something we didn’t pick up on, was there something we interpreted the wrong way and could have done differently?”
Limperis and others who knew and worked with Jeanie Kustok are left with warm memories of her.
“She was a great teacher,” Limperis said. “I think we forget to talk about that. She worked with the gifted students and she was gifted herself.
Jeanie’s penchant for looking after others made it impossible for those who knew her to believe she could have taken her own life.
“[She was] just always thinking of other people. I think that’s what was so hard for us to wrap our heads around the thought that anyone could say she might have taken her own life,” Limperis said. “It was simply impossible.”