In the crazy world of life, you can be a good person but that doesn’t mean you’re invulnerable to the evil that lurks around the corner. Sometimes, the relationships you have, whether with friends or a significant other, can be toxic. Their bad habits can seep into your life and before you know it you’re inadvertently mixed up in unsavory things that you never even fathomed was possible. For Lacey Gaines, she understood what virulent she was involved with and was seeking help, but the assistance didn’t arrive soon enough.
Lacey Gaines was a 20-year-old mother of one living in Justice, Illinois. Most of her life was spent in Crete, Illinois — a small village in the south suburbs of Chicago known for its downtown views and Dixie Highway. For three years, she attended high school at Illinois Trinity Lutheran Day before transferring to Grant Park High during her senior year. People who knew her best described her as loyal and intelligent. She could speak fluent Spanish and always had an eagerness to expand her knowledge.
Things took an unexpected turn when at 16-years-old, she met Daniel Rogelio Sanchez, who was in his twenties. They began dating, much to the disapproval of friends and family, and Lacey soon became pregnant. The relationship wasn’t that great, as Daniel would try to be possessive and control her — often becoming jealous of other male friends she would speak to at school. Not letting the circumstances dampen her future, she began inserting her independence by tackling two restaurant jobs at “Vic’s on Main” in Crete and “Maxwell’s in Beecher, Illinois, that overlapped one another between 2005-2008 in order to provide for the upcoming baby.
The entire 2008 year was emotional but eventful for Lacey, however. Despite the hardships of relocating to a new school and becoming pregnant, she graduated with ease and gave birth to a baby boy, Conor Alvardo. After graduation, Lacey’s parents, Jeffrey and Gilda Gaines, purchased a home in a safe community for her. While living there with Daniel, she was supporting the family by taking up a full-time position as a waitress at Kingsberry Waffle House in Flossmoor.
Lacey’s relationship with Daniel quickly began to deteriorating exponentially. He became very physically and mentally abusive, and co-workers noticed she would arrive to work with bruises all over her arms. After seeking guidance out of fear for her safety, and confining to her aunt, Cherry Simpson, Lacey terminated the relationship, though the troubles wouldn’t end there.
After the break-up, a custody battle ensued, which only made things more stressful for Lacey. Nonetheless, she tried to remain positive and took steps to improve her future. She eventually moved out of the home her family purchased and took up residence at Sunset Lake Apartments to start anew. Her parents weren’t fond of this decision because the area was riddled with crime and drugs, but she assured them everything would be okay.
While adjusting to her new living arrangments, she met Juan Valadez, whom her friends and family approved of. The two began living together, yet Daniel’s anger and jealousy seemed uncontrollable once he was aware of her lifestyle. Not wanting to let go of the past relationship, he continually began stalking her and would send harassment and death threats. His ever-increasing anger resulted in Lacey fearing for the safety of her and her son, and she sought more immediate help and options by contacting a social worker, but this didn’t little to prevent Daniel’s undaunting rage.
Everything changed six days after Lacey’s 20th birthday. On the bitterly cold evening of Monday, December 7, 2009, Lacey had a doctor’s appointment at 3:00 p.m. but had a peculiar feeling of foreboding. Thinking it would be less stressful and safer in general, she asked her grandmother if she could babysit Conor for a few hours, and she happily accepted the offer.
A few hours later at 7:10 p.m. Lacey’s new boyfriend, Juan Valadez, arrived home accompanied by a female friend of the couple. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but as soon as the two walked inside the apartment they discovered a ghastly scene. Lacey was found lifeless, with blood all over the floor.
Juan immediately dialed 911, but he couldn’t speak English, so his female friend had to assist in the frantic conversation. The police, medical dispatcher, and ambulance soon arrived at the crime scene and Lacey was rushed to the Advocate Christ Memorial Hospital in Oak Lawn, where she was pronounced dead on arrival.
An autopsy was soon performed and it was determined that Lacey had been strangled with an electrical cord, but a knife wound that caused a 4-inch gash on the left side of her neck was what ultimately killed her. According to the medical examiner, the murderer is right-handed and approximately the same height as Lacey. Moreover, it was also concluded that there were no signs of sexual assault or defensive wounds, which provided intriguing evidence for law enforcement.
Back at the apartment building, the police sealed off the area to conduct an examination of the crime scene. Their investigation showed that there were no signs of forced entry and no property had been stolen, leading law enforcement to believe Lacey knew her killer personally. While scouring the rooms for evidence, they managed to retrieve several important items, including a kitchen knife with a 10-inch blade that was later confirmed to be the murder weapon.
Though the police considered Lacey’s case to be an isolated incident, residents were distraught and rumors began circulating. Compelling information started coming in from those in the building claiming several maintenance men working in the complex were known to be pedophilic and Peeping Tom’s. With the latest tragedy, those rumors blossomed into fear, and families were afraid to let their children roam outside and people began walking together in groups for safety precaution. The police did what they could to assure the residents that they had no reason to fear a mad killer was on the loose, but that did little to stop the worrying.
With the belief that Lacey’s murder was personal, Police Chief Robert Gedville and over 30 detectives from the Southwest Major Crimes Task began probing her history. They rounded up friends, family, and prior boyfriends to piece together information that may lead to a potential suspect. That’s when more pertinent information came to light regarding Lacey’s ex-boyfriend, Daniel. He was considered the prime suspect in the case, yet after hours of interviews and interrogations, he was ruled out as a suspect.
Nearly one year later, hardly any new pivotal information was trickling in despite the detectives working tirelessly. Lacey’s case soon turned relatively cold. Potential suspects were unearthed, including some of the rumored maintenance men from her apartment complex, but they and all people from her past that might have had some form of motivation to commit such an audacious crime were ruled out.
About two weeks before the first anniversary of Lacey’s tragic murder, friends and family held a candlelight vigil on Saturday, December 4, 2010, where the passed out flyers and brochures to keep her unsolved case in the spotlight. Despite the blistering cold weather, many people showed up to pay their respects and show support, and Lacey’s brother closed off the evening by gathering everyone together and saying a prayer.
It has now been nearly ten years and as of 2018, the case remains unsolved with no progress being made aside from Lacey’s case being uploaded to the Unsolved Mysteries website on July 21, 2014. Tips and leads have run dry, and family members feel as if law enforcement has completely disregarded her case. Nevertheless, Lacey’s family still strives for justice and continues to make sure she’s not forgotten in the eyes of Justice, Illinois. They believe as long as they continue to keep her case burning bright amongst the public they have the optimism to see this case resolved. They haven’t given up hope despite all the difficulties the years have been since the unjust murder, but just as Lacey is so often described, they remain loyal to see through the darkness to the very end.
Side note: This particular case doesn’t have much information surrounding it, yet I felt it deserved coverage nonetheless. To be honest, it was much more difficult to write about than any long-form articles I’ve done in the past, primarily because of the lack of information. I’m sure there is more information that isn’t detailed online, and I’d be very interested to learn what kind of DNA evidence — if any — law enforcement has. However, covering more under-the-radar and obscure cases is something I want to continue doing more often, because they deserve limelight as well, and the more people know about a case, the more it could ramp up with potential new evidence. The more eyes and ears, the better.