Lacey Gaines had not always made the best decisions as a teenager. She had been through a series of rocky relationships, one of which resulted in pregnancy. As she turned 20-years-old on December 1, 2009, however, she appeared to be getting her life in order. She had moved into an apartment, had a steady job, and was dating a man who treated her well.
Lacey was growing up and her twenties promised to be better than her often troubled teenage years. If she had only been able to live them.
On December 7, 2009, six days after turning 20-years-old, Lacey’s boyfriend, Juan Valasquez, encountered a horrific scene as he entered their apartment in Justice, Illinois, 20 miles southwest of Chicago. Juan found his girlfriend’s blood-soaked body lying on the floor. Lacey had been repeatedly stabbed and strangled to death. A 4-inch gash crossed her throat and an electrical cord was wrapped around her neck.
Over a decade after Lacey Gaines’s brutal murder, there is still no justice in Justice.
Lacey had recently graduated from high school and was working full time as a waitress. She had a 23-month-old son, Conor, with her former boyfriend, Daniel Sanchez. Lacey’s parents, Jeff and Gilda, were babysitting Conor at the time of Lacey’s murder.
After a stormy three years, Lacey ended the relationship with Daniel. In addition to being verbally abusive, he is believed to have physically abused her, as co-workers said Lacey often came to work with bruises on her.
After Lacey moved into an apartment with her new boyfriend, Juan Valadez, Daniel is alleged to have harassed her and possibly even sent her death threats.
At approximately 7:00 p.m. on the evening of December 7, 2009, Juan and a friend found Lacey murdered in their apartment.
An autopsy determined that Lacey been strangled with an electrical cord, and ultimately killed by the 4-inch gash on the left side of her throat. A kitchen knife with a 10-inch blade found in the apartment was confirmed to be the murder weapon.
Lacey had not been sexually assaulted and she showed no defensive wounds, meaning her killer had likely taken her by surprise, quickly overpowered her, and rendered her unconscious.
Lacey lived in a crime-infested neighborhood in which drug-dealing was rampant, and several maintenance workers at her apartment complex had been caught peeping into women’s bedrooms. Police, however, do not believe her murder was drug-related and have cleared all of the maintenance men of involvement in the crime.
A robbery was ruled out as a motive as nothing was missing from the apartment.
Because there was no sign of forced entry into the apartment, investigators are certain Lacey was killed by someone she knew and felt comfortable letting into her home.
Daniel Sanchez was initially the prime suspect in the murder of his former girlfriend. After hours of interviews, however, police are confident he did not commit the murder.
Juan Valadez and all of Lacey’s family members were also cleared of any involvement.
Lacey Gaines was murdered ten years ago today, on December 7, 2009. She was stabbed to death between 3:30 and 7:00 p.m. by a person who was probably right-handed.
Police say a person Lacey knew is a suspect in her murder, but the District Attorney says there is not enough evidence to prosecute. Despite Daniel Sanchez is an obvious suspect, police say he did not murder Lacey.
If you have any information on the murder of Lacey Gaines, please contact the Justice, Illinois, Police Department at 708-458-2192 or the Cook County Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-535-7867. Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the identification of her killer.
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• America’s Most Wanted
• Chicago Tribune
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Ian Granstra is a writer and a native Iowan now living in Arkansas.Growing up, he enjoyed watching real-life crime shows and further researching the stories featured. He wrote about many of them on his personal Facebook page, and several people suggested he should start a group featuring his writings. Ian founded the Facebook group “Murders, Missing People and More Mysteries” in August of 2018 he writes about many cold cases. The group also features many current criminal cases in the news. When Ian isn’t writing, he enjoys exercising, traveling and collecting sports cards. He’s also a big animal lover (his Facebook nickname is “beagle lover.”)
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