By Bob Uphues
The search for missing Brookfield resident Erica Thompson entered its third month last week, with about a dozen people, including the woman's relatives and representatives from an organization called Cook County Crime Stoppers, distributing fliers asking for help in and around Eight Corners, the last place she was seen on Sept. 25.
In addition to passing out leaflets with pictures of Thompson and her dark purple Nissan Juke, which also has been missing since Sept. 25, Cook County Crime Stoppers is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for any information leading to a resolution of the case. The number to call is 800-535-STOP.
Brookfield police have been encouraging anyone with information to call an anonymous tip line at 708-244-4862 or email tips to the West Suburban Major Case Assistance Team, firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Every little bit helps keep attention on our missing person," said Brookfield Police Chief Edward Petrak regarding Cook County Crime Stoppers' interest in the case. "It helps keep the case on people's minds."
In early November, Thompson's face and the number of the police tip line started being shown along expressways throughout the Chicago area on billboards owned by Clear Channel Outdoor, after a former Brookfield resident who works for the company learned of the search for the 53-year-old woman, who at the time of her disappearance lived by herself.
In the more than two months since Thompson disappeared, police have reported few new developments about their investigation publicly.
"We're still really in the dark, and it's relentless every day," said Dana Kujawski, Thompson's sister who along with Thompson's son, Michael Russo, were at Eight Corners distributing fliers on Nov. 30.
"I feel at this point, we have to find her one way or another," Kujawski said. "It's like a nightmare."
Petrak said the case continues to be actively investigated on a daily basis by the Brookfield Police Department's detective division, with assistance from a pair of regional police task forces, including the west suburban Major Case Assistance Team (MCAT).
"The investigation has been continuous since the day she went missing," said Petrak.
The chief also revealed some new information about the investigation in a phone interview on Dec. 2. According to Petrak, the FBI has helped Brookfield police search cellphone data, including that of Thompson's phone, whose whereabouts police were able to track during the early morning hours of Sept. 26, the morning after she was last seen.
Cellular data revealed that the phone traveled from Brookfield to other neighboring suburbs, including Countryside, Hodgkins, McCook, Forest View, Summit and Bridgeview.
As a result of that information, for two days in November, Brookfield police enlisted the help of a nonprofit organization and searched waterways that cut through those areas, including the CalSag Channel, using a sonar-equipped boat to try to locate vehicles that might have matched Thompson's.
Petrak said the search ended up locating more than a dozen vehicles, including one whose dimensions were similar to Thompson's Nissan Juke. However, after sending a diver down to inspect the vehicle further, it turned out to not be a match.
In the meantime, police continue to examine video evidence for any glimpses of Thompson's vehicle and hope someone might call in with a key piece of information.
"We hope one of these things [the billboards, reward and news reports] leads to the tip that brings Erica home," Petrak said.