Tonight's episode of 'People Magazine Investigates' looks at the killings that shocked a legal community

By Jeff Truesdell
December 16, 2019 03:01 PM

Judge Joan Lefkow knew that if she rang her lawyer husband on the phone and he didn’t pick up, he’d call back within minutes. He always did.

By 2005, the Chicago couple had been married for 30 years. Joan and Michael Lefkow had met in the mid-’60s at Wheaton College in Illinois, where Joan was an undergraduate and Michael, then a Northwestern University law student, was doing research.

Michael went on to become an attorney who dedicated his practice to the concerns of minorities and the disadvantaged; Joan rose through the judicial ranks to be named a U.S. district court judge.

On Feb. 28, 2005, Joan’s 89-year-old widowed mother, Donna, was living with the couple in their home where Michael, on crutches, was recovering from surgery after rupturing his Achilles tendon playing tennis. Donna used a walker.

But their physical infirmities didn’t explain the terrible scene that Joan encountered in the basement when, after the end of a courthouse workday, she drove home after failing to reach Michael.

“She had tried calling her husband two or three times, both on his cell and on the house phone, and didn’t get an answer, and she says that was very unusual,” says retired Chicago Police Superintendent Philip Cline in Monday night’s episode of People Magazine Investigates. An exclusive clip from the show is above.

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Entering the home, Joan called out the names of her husband and mother, who was missing from her usual reading nook. No one answered. Concerned, she headed downstairs, where Michael maintained his home office.

There she discovered the bodies of both — each shot point-blank in the head.

Police who responded found nothing inside the residence to suggest a planned or interrupted burglary. No drawers appeared thrown open, no jewelry or cash taken. But there was other evidence to guide the investigation, including two .22-caliber shell casings, a soda can, a footprint, a fingerprint and a bloodied mop.

As the legal community that embraced the couple reacted with shock and alarm, investigators quickly tried to discern if there was anyone who might want either of them killed. They also began a deep dive into the long list of those whose legal cases intersected with Joan’s and Michael’s, and faced the possibility that Joan herself may have been a target.

A third person would die violently before they had their answers.

People Magazine Investigates airs Monday at 10 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery.