Six Years Later, Families Seek Closure In B-N Deaths
Life was hard for Haileigh Eichhorn in the month before she died.
The 26-year-old Bloomington woman was caught stealing soap, lip balm, and mascara from a Kroger. A week later police found her huffing compressed air in a Walmart bathroom. Nine days later, police stopped her after someone spotted her huffing outside a funeral home.
Eichhorn told police she was homeless, had no money, and that her life sucked.
“She was going through a bad time in her life,” said her mother, Penni Eichhorn.
Haileigh was last seen alive Sunday, April 28, 2013. Nine days later, her body was found by a farmer in rural Stanford, about 15 miles west of Bloomington. Authorities said she was assaulted.
Her killer has never been found. It’s one of very few unsolved homicides in recent history in Bloomington-Normal.
“It’s horrible. Every day I cry. Every day I miss her so much. And it’s just like everybody’s forgotten about her,” Penni told WGLT.
Authorities have released few details about Eichhorn’s death in the past six years. McLean County Coroner Kathy Yoder and Bloomington Police declined to even say how she died. Penni says she was told her daughter was raped and strangled.
Penni wants to know who killed her and why. She also wants to know if it was connected to the death of Sebert Crose, 35, of Normal, whose body was found in Evergreen Lake on the same day in 2013 that Eichhorn went missing. Penni said her daughter’s friends told her the two knew each other. Eichhorn’s family told WGLT that Eichhorn and Crose knew each other as well.
Authorities downplayed any likelihood of a connection between the two.
“Without diving into any details, if that were something credible, our detectives would look into it obviously,” said BPD spokesperson John Fermon. “If it’s something people are talking about—that there’s a connection—you can bet our detectives would look into that.”
Eichhorn and Crose both struggled with drug abuse.
Eichhorn grew up in Atlanta, Ill., and attended Olympia schools. She started doing ecstasy at age 13 and eventually got into meth, Penni said. She was unemployed when she died, with no money.
"There's got to be somebody that knows something, but they just aren't talking."
But there was light too. She liked girly things like makeup, Penni said, and she loved her yorkie, Lily.
“We were pretty close, even though she was going through all that stuff,” Penni said.
When she went missing, Penni knew something was wrong.
“I really had a bad feeling because she never didn’t talk to me. She wouldn’t ignore my calls,” she said.
On May 7, 2013, authorities knocked on Penni’s door while she slept.
“They came in and told me they thought they’d found her. And when I told them about a tattoo she had, they were sure they found her,” Penni said.
Penni said she hasn’t heard much from Bloomington Police in the last four years about her daughter’s case. Last year on the fifth anniversary, BPD asked the public to share any leads, tips, or information they might have, specifically about the days and hours leading up to Eichhorn’s death.
“It’s still an active investigation,” said Fermon, the BPD spokesperson. “If anybody has information, we’ll definitely follow up on it. So it’s not something we’re just putting aside. If we get any new information, any at all, it’ll still be investigated.”
Even if it’s something small, Fermon wants people to call BPD.
“You may not think that’s anything. But that may help bring closure to the family,” he said.
‘Getting His Life Together’
If Eichhorn’s life was fraying in the days before she died, Sebert “Junior” Crose’s family says he was trying to get back on track.
He was a professional painter and had started his own business, SC Painting, and bought his own truck. The father of four loved cookouts, the outdoors and fishing—and the Green Bay Packers.
But he struggled with drugs and alcohol. Five months before he died, he was charged with felony drug possession after Normal Police allegedly found a baggie of cocaine with him during a traffic stop.
“People labeled him as a drug user,” said Ashley Doage of Normal, his niece. “He had his ups and downs with drugs, but he wasn’t a complete user like that. He was getting his life together.”
“And then everything just went downhill,” Doage said, “and he went missing.”
Crose was last seen Monday, April 15, 2013. That afternoon and evening, he bought beer twice from a Normal grocery store. He deposited a $1,125 work check and withdrew over $160 in cash from an ATM. Around 10:30 p.m. he was spotted on security cameras at a Bloomington convenience store at Locust and Clinton streets. A police report says he bought cigarettes and a “crack pipe.”
“It was difficult to see from the video footage whether a passenger was in (Crose’s) truck or not,” a Normal Police detective wrote in a report. “Sebert does not appear to be in distress inside the store.”
He was reported missing four days later. His niece Ashley, sister Diane Schultz of Bloomington, and other family and friends drove all over central Illinois looking for signs of him.
“I always thought somehow, some shape or form, that I’d be able to talk to him again,” Schultz said.
Then on April 28 – or 13 days after he went missing – a fisherman discovered Crose’s body submerged in Evergreen Lake in Hudson, at the Comlara Park west boat launch. But after several searches, dive teams couldn’t find his truck in the lake.
Then-Coroner Beth Kimmerling determined that he accidentally drowned. Her pathologist’s autopsy found no other signs of trauma. Crose had cocaine in his system and a blood-alcohol level of 0.106, and his liver showed evidence of chronic excess alcohol ingestion, his autopsy report said.
On May 5 – a week after his body was found – the Hudson Fire Department found the truck in the lake, also near the west boat launch. Both doors were closed, unlocked, and the windows were rolled up. The gear selector was left in reverse. The theory was that Crose and his truck somehow went into the lake, he tried to swim back to shore and didn’t make it, and the truck’s doors closed as it drifted away.
Crose’s death certificate says he died from “drowning in a submerged vehicle.” His sister, Diane Schultz, signed off on that decision in 2013.
Today, she and niece Ashley Doage don’t believe it. They suspect foul play.
“Nobody will ever convince me that he passed because he intentionally did drugs or he drove himself into that lake,” Schultz told WGLT. “I still have no closure. Because I know my brother. My brother did not go to that lake to kill himself.”
The McLean County sheriff’s department and Normal Police explored several leads suggesting foul play before Crose’s death was determined to be an accident, according to police reports obtained by WGLT. NPD investigated the missing person’s case; the sheriff joined when the body was found.
One of Crose’s family members showed a detective an email that was forwarded to her, alleging Crose was killed by a distraught husband after being caught with the man’s wife in Minier, police reports show. But that email also said Crose’s body was dumped in a creek near El Paso and his truck was dismantled at a chop shop; in reality, both were found in the lake.
Police also searched the Normal home where Crose and his former fiancé lived, reports show. They noted several parts of the house had been recently repainted – one way to cover up blood spatter. But an evidence technician checked for biological evidence of blood and didn’t find anything. Police also got the fiancé’s permission to search two computers from the home.
“There was a lot of investigative staff time spent on looking into things that ended up being non-factual,” added Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner.
Ultimately, authorities say the evidence pointed toward an accident.
“It can be hard for a family to accept a death and the circumstances surrounding a death,” said McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage, who was elected in 2014.
Schultz and Doage say they don’t understand why Crose’s death certificate says “drowning in a submerged vehicle” if he wasn’t actually found in the vehicle. They also claim Crose’s father, who died in 2015, told them Haileigh Eichhorn had visited the family’s home with Crose at least once.
“We didn’t look into any such connection. We had no reason to,” Sandage said.
Doage said she thinks police didn’t investigate Crose’s case fully because of her uncle’s criminal record and history of substance abuse.
“Here in McLean County, that’s how it is. If you have a record of drug use, or this is what you got in trouble for … when that happens, they’ll make you as a statistic, and that’s not right,” Doage said.
Crose’s case is considered closed. Eichhorn’s is still very much open.
“I just want people to know she’s missed every single day,” Penni Eichhorn said. “And every single day I think about her, and so does her brother. I just want something done so I can get some kind of closure. There’s got to be somebody that knows something, but they just aren’t talking.”
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