‘There is no justice now’
By Janelle Walker For Sun-Times Media December 13, 2013 10:54AM
Matthew L. Stoecklein | Elgin Police photo
Updated: January 16, 2014 6:42AM
ELGIN — Lonna Zwerenz is angry that the man accused of killing her grandfather took the easy way out.
“How does somebody kill himself when they’re supposed to be protected from doing so? I am devastated. There is no justice now. He took the easy way out and I am really angry,” she said Friday from her Elgin home.
Matthew Stoecklein, 55, was found hanged to death in his Cook County Jail cell Thursday afternoon. He had been charged with murder for the Nov. 21 strangulation death of John Poyer, 88, of Elgin. Stoecklein was arrested Nov. 27 in the parking lot of the apartment building where both he and the victim lived, and he had been in the Cook County Jail since Thanksgiving.
According to police, Stoecklein forced his way into the elderly man’s apartment and strangled him for $300.
Poyer was a World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient. He had four children, 10 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
The family was told of Stoecklein’s death Thursday, Lonna said. They knew something was wrong when they heard a voicemail from the assistant state’s attorney they had been working with.
“I had a gut feeling” that the message was going to tell them Stoecklein was dead, said Lexie Zwerenz, 16, Poyer’s great-granddaughter.
Poyer’s family had been told Stoecklein was put on suicide watch after he had made a previous attempt in the jail, Lonna said. He had been moved back to the general population the day of the suicide.
“In the three weeks of being sober in there … the remorse took effect and he couldn’t deal with it,” Lonna added.
Now, she said, the family has to figure out how to grieve not only the loss of their grandfather, but the loss of justice.
Family to family
Their family isn’t the only one affected by the death, Lexie added. She had made contact with Stoecklein’s adult children on Facebook, and the two families have shared messages and phone calls.
Lexie was the person who had to break the news of Stoecklein’s suicide to his family, she said. “We met them at the first court date and they are nice people,” Lexie said. Their father hadn’t been involved with them for many years, she added.
“They didn’t know about his life, really.”
“It has gone from them saying ‘We are so sorry’ to us … to me saying to them, ‘I am so sorry, tell me what I can do’,” she said. “I didn’t have resentment to them. Our family is going through a loss as much as they are.”
She said she made the decision to reach out to Stoecklein’s family not to be mean or say hurtful things, but to heal. “Just to tell them that I get it, I guess,” Lexie said.
There is some relief in that the family — some of whom are in Elgin and others spread around the country — won’t have to go through the court proceedings and a trial, Lonna said.
And while the family may not have gotten the justice they wanted, “it is closure,” she said. “Now I can start healing,” from the loss of her great-grandfather, Lexie added.
She had started the process already by writing a letter to Stoecklein. “Monster or not, I can’t bring myself to hate you,” she wrote in that letter. “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
Stoecklein was pronounced dead at the jail at 1:55 p.m. Thursday, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.
He was found dead in what appeared to be a suicide by hanging, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office said.
At about 8 p.m. on Nov. 21, Stoecklein allegedly knocked on Poyer’s apartment door, and was let in once he identified himself, according to Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Jason Coelho.
Sometime after Stoecklein entered, Poyer was heard screaming before Stoecklein strangled him and stole $300 from the apartment, Coelho said.
An acquaintance of Stoecklein approached police and said he would wear a “wire” to speak with Stoecklein about Poyer’s death. On tape, Stoecklein told the acquaintance he had strangled Poyer for 10 minutes before he died — an effort that left him very tired, prosecutors said.
Stoecklein, who has a previous felony drug conviction, lived in a second-floor apartment in the same building as Poyer in the 500 block of Hiawatha Drive, authorities said.
Poyer was found dead in his home at about 6:15 p.m. the following day by family members who hadn’t heard from him in several days and went to check on him, police said.
An autopsy on Stoecklein was scheduled for later Friday.