Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Trophy Wife and the Tennis Pro

A Break in the Case

Ken Kaenel
Ken Kaenel

In 1985, ATF agents were investigating a suspected illegal gunrunner named Ken Kaenel. A small-time hood with a felony conviction on his record, Kaenel was trying to sell undercover ATF agents illegal guns and a stolen car. The agents were certainly interested in the guns, but not so much in the car. Stolen cars were outside of the agents' normal jurisdiction, but they had a buddy in the Illinois State Police who worked stolen cars, Trooper Dave Hamm.

During one of the undercover meetings, Kaenel bragged to two ATF agents that while he'd been firing a fully-automatic MAC-10 in his basement, the gun had become a "runaway," meaning even when Kaenel released the trigger the gun wouldn't stop firing.

"He lost control of a MAC-10, and it rose up on him and put a few slugs up in the ceiling," ATF Special Agent Jim Delorto said.

British MAC-10
British MAC-10

When Trooper Dave Hamm heard the recorded conversation with Kaenel, he remembered something about an unsolved Chicagoland murder that involved a MAC-10.

"It was an unusual gun," Hamm says. "You don't see too many of those out there."

Hamm also found out that Ken Kaenel lived with John Korabik, still a suspect in the Hartmann murder.

At the conclusion of the undercover operation, Agent Jim Delorto and Trooper Dave Hamm arrested Kaenel. On the drive to jail, Kaenel offered to rat on everyone he knew. He said he could get the lawmen stolen guns and hot cars if they would help get him out of his current criminal charges.

Hamm looked at Kaenel. "Kenny, that's not exactly what I had in mind."

"What do you want," Kaenel said.

"Tell me how Werner Hartmann died."

The small-time hood's mouth fell open. "How'd you put me with that?"

Kaenel's question answered Hamm's suspicions.

The ATF agents and the state trooper got a search warrant for the house Kaenel shared with John Korabik. In the basement ceiling they found .45-caliber slugs that matched the gun used to kill Werner Hartman nearly four years earlier.

Kaenel initially agreed to cooperate. He wore a wire and met with Debra at her new house, but the investigators sensed a double-cross and parked closer to Debra's house than Kaenel expected. Through a window, they saw Kaenel gesturing to Debra that he was wearing a wire and signaling for her not to say anything incriminating.

When pressed, Kaenel refused to wear a wire and meet with Korabik.

The new lead appeared to be just another dead end, but Delorto and Hamm weren't willing to give up.

"Once you get your juices flowing toward successfully solving a murder case, you want to stay with it," Hamm says. "It turned out to be our job to finish it up, and that's what we did."

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