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Michael Lelko (left) admitted he buried his mother and sister in the backyard. He said brother John Lelko did not assist him. (Photos by Steve Metsch)

Michael Lelko (left) admitted he buried his mother and sister in the backyard. He said brother John Lelko did not assist him. (Photos by Steve Metsch)

Lyons police investigate backyard burials

By Steve Metsch

Excavation was set to begin Saturday morning in the backyard of a house in the 3900 block of Center Avenue in Lyons, searching for two bodies reportedly buried there, Police Chief Thomas Herion said Friday.

Lyons police and the West Suburban Major Crimes Task Force are investigating. Police said the case began when they conducted a well-being check on the home because the Lyons Water Department showed no water had been used at the home in more than a year.

No criminal charges have yet been filed against the residents – Michael Lelko, 45, and brother John Lelko, 41 – who have apparently been living in squalor for years.

Michael Lelko told Herion he buried the bodies of his mother, Jean Lelko, and sister Jennifer Lelko in the backyard.

“You don’t expect (in) an interview, ‘Yeah, I buried my mother and sister it the backyard.’ It doesn’t happen every day,” Herion said.

Michael Lelko, Herion said, “was very detailed about how he packaged the bodies and where he put the bodies.”

The brothers – still dressed in the bright blue shirt and pants they were issued at MacNeal Hospital when police took them there for evaluation on Thursday night – talked with reporters Friday outside a local pizzeria.

Police had put them up at a motel on Harlem Avenue and they were upset over televised reports Thursday night.

Michael Lelko said he feared telling the police that his mother, Jean, had died in December 2015, and his sister, Jennifer, had died in November 2019.

Michael said John did not assist with the burials.

Michael said Jennifer had pushed Jean down a flight of stairs in early 2015 and his mother suffered a head wound that may have contributed to her death.

“I took my mother’s body and my sister’s body and gave them the best proper burial I could in our backyard,” Michael said. “You only get so deep because of the bedrock.”

The house, with overgrown landscaping and a seldom-used white convertible in the driveway, is at 3950 Center, just south of Ogden Avenue.

While no charges are filed because “right now we don’t have a crime,” Herion said in a news conference Friday that charges are possible.

Herion said it was a felony to conceal a death, and a Class 3 felony if a death is determined be a homicide. Police are treating these as homicides pending investigation, he said.

Cook County has no death records for the women, Herion said.

Herion said he “never saw such conditions” as he encountered inside the house Thursday.

“It was deplorable,” he said, noting that bottles filled with urine were strewn around the house.

Police wore hazmat suits when they entered, and found John Lelko “sleeping in a situation no one should sleep in,” Herion said.

Herion said Michael Lelko told him he was financially unable to afford a proper burial, which is why he decided to bury them in the yard. The brothers said they are unemployed.

“We have to call it a crime scene by statements we currently have,” Herion added.

“There were calls to the police by the mother up to a month before she passed,” Herion added. No calls were about violence in the home, he said.

A woman who has lived next door for two years said she avoids the brothers “because they are weird.”

Asked how someone could bury bodies in the backyard with houses nearby, she said, “it’s very dark back there at night.”

Martha Aranda, who’s lived across the street for a year, said Thursday was the first time she saw John Lelko.

When it’s raining, Michael wears a plastic garbage bag as a poncho. “He walks everywhere even though they have a car in the driveway,” she said.

“(Michael) is not friendly at all but he doesn’t bother you, either, so we let him be,” she said.

“One neighbor told me there were hot-tempered, but I never witnessed anything like that. (Michael’s) appearance was disheveled, homeless, dirty, dingy,” Aranda said.

The house will eventually be emptied, Herion said, with all items checked as possible evidence of foul play. Police are treating the case as two homicides right now, he said.

“At this point in time, there could be written notes, who knows what?” Herion said.

Down the block, resident William Kellmann, 49, said, “people’s heads tick in different ways.” He recalled seeing the brothers walking around Lyons but noticed “nothing out of the ordinary.”

Kellmann did recall running into the brothers at a pawn shop in North Riverside about a year ago.

“They had some jewelry that was Mom and Dad’s,” Kellmann said. “From what they were saying to the lady behind the counter made me think the parents had passed on and this is family heirloom stuff.”

James Lelko, the father of the brothers, was divorced from Jean. James was not living in the house when he died in 2017, Michael said.

1 Comment

  1. Mike on August 31, 2021 at 11:06 pm

    I hope this story doesn’t fall off the news channels – thank you for reporting on it. Hopefully we’ll get to hear or read the interviews that the brothers gave.



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