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Callahan ignored bombshell witness
Former Illinois State Police detective Michale Callahan was celebrated by the national and local news media covering the Paris murders as a crusading whistleblower. Like many narratives in the case, that was a fairy tale.
Evidence of this resides in Callahan’s own December 2008 deposition in federal court. He admits that he and an FBI agent way back in January 2001 interviewed a news reporter who said she had knowledge that the mystery witness we wrote about here, here, here, here and here had an explosive story to tell. That witness, a single mother, had personal knowledge that Herb Whitlock and his friend Ovid Chambers were at the Rhoads murder scene and that Chambers asked her to provide a phony alibi for that evening. When the mystery witness finally was talked to by law enforcement officials five years later she said Whitlock and Chambers showed up at her door minutes after the 1986 murders — Whitlock covered in blood and Chambers carrying a bloody knife. Her deposition in December 2008 forms the basis of our reporting on her account.
It was a huge possible lead but according to his deposition Callahan never followed up on it and never passed the information along to other law enforcement officials on a case that was being hotly discussed within the State Police and other enforcement agencies. This lead was given to Callahan only eight months after he was told to give his assessment of the case, seven months after he wrote a memo saying Whitlock should still be considered a suspect and before any of the three CBS 48 Hours segments aired essentially saying Randy Steidl and Whitlock were wrongfully imprisoned.
At first, when asked under oath in December 2008 about the lead, Callahan claims he doesn’t remember the meeting. Then he was shown his notes and slowly begins to recall the meeting. He admits his notes contain the wrong first name of the news reporter.
We don’t know exactly what the news reporter told the FBI agent and Callahan in January 2001 because we are relying on Callahan’s sketchy notes and the FBI agent’s formal report, which is sealed by the federal court. But we can infer the contents by the questions asked of Callahan by an attorney who did have access to the FBI report.
Q. No, my point is, would you agree that if true, this information is extremely important information related to the Rhoads homicide?
CALLAHAN. Well, it would be information to yes, to go out, if we were conducting an active investigation, we probably would want to talk to (Mystery Witness), and I would have wanted to talk to (name withheld), a lot of people, if I would have been allowed to investigate the case.
Q. Would you agree that it not only inculpates both Randy and Herbie in the Rhoads homicide, but it also now provides information that would inculpate Ovid Chambers, a person who is walking the streets.
CALLAHAN. Yes, (news reporter-name withheld) does, yes.
Q. Did you do anything at all with this information you learned about Whitlock seeking an alibi?
CALLAHAN. No. I told you I was not allowed to investigate the Rhoads case. So no.
Q. And beyond investigation, did you provide this, were you providing any information to (investigator) Bill Clutter?
CALLAHAN. No, I didn’t provide this information to Bill Clutter, no.
Q. You were aware that there were, at some point there was a subsequent proceeding, a criminal proceeding going on in regard to Herbert Whitlock’s post-conviction petition, correct?
CALLAHAN. Are you talking about 2005?
Q. Right. Did you speak to his counsel or the prosecutors in relation to that post-conviction petition?
CALLAHAN. About this?
Q. No, just in general.
Q. During any of your conversations did you ever relate the information you learned from (news reporter-name withheld) about Ovid Chambers and possibly Whitlock looking for an alibi from (Mystery Witness)?
CALLAHAN. No, I didn’t.
Q. Do you know if anyone attempted to interview (Mystery Witness) back in 2001 when this information first came to light?
Q. If you had been allowed to investigate would you agree that would be someone that you definitely would want to talk to?
CALLAHAN. It would be a lead, yes.
Callahan was embroiled in an internal ISP dispute over who should re-investigate the Rhoads’ case and under what parameters. He claims he was not allowed to formally investigate the case. However, that does not explain why he didn’t pass along this lead to his superiors. The only explanation that makes sense is that Callahan was locked into other theories and didn’t want to abandon them with information that conflicted with it.
Instead of the actions of an unbiased, professional detective, Callahan showed back in early 2001 he had an agenda.