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Dead or Alive?

Michael Jansson had seen his share of trouble, but nothing that prepared his family and friends for his sudden disappearance from a north-side nightclub. In the swirl of dead-end leads and conflicting stories, only one thing is clear--he's gone.

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There are several theories about what happened to Michael Jansson outside Biology Bar in the early hours of Friday, March 9. No one--not his parents, his friends, the bouncers at the club, or the police--can agree on any of them. This much can be said with certainty: that night Jansson, a skinny 21-year-old from Lincolnwood, went to a party at the nightclub hosted by Phunky Pharaohs, promoters of club events attended mostly by young South Asians.

Biology Bar sits two blocks south of North Avenue on Fremont Street, facing a large parking lot on the dark edge of a cluster of nightclubs that includes Circus, Crobar, and Crazy Horse Too. Jansson went there with his oldest friend, Joe Chollampel, Chollampel's cousin Fari Padavil, and Chollampel's girlfriend, Magaly Lind; they drove together in Lind's car, arriving there shortly after midnight. But he wasn't with them a couple of hours later when he got into an argument and got thrown out of the bar. Sometime after that, while his three companions were inside dancing the night away, he disappeared, as did Lind's car. Also Jansson was the last person seen with Chollampel's cell phone but no one admits to having heard from him since.

Joe Chollampel and Jansson had been friends since kindergarten. They both still lived with their mothers, two blocks from each other in a tidy neighborhood near Lincoln and Devon. Padavil, a 23-year-old medical technician, came here three years ago from Washington, D.C., and moved in with Chollampel.

Chollampel, who's studying computer science at Oakton Community College, didn't tell his mother he was hanging out with his old friend that night because she didn't approve of the friendship. Jansson didn't have a job or go to school, and for many months he'd rarely ventured from his house except to baby-sit his nephew up the street. He spent much of his time watching sports and gambling on the games through offshore betting services.

One reason for Jansson's hermitlike existence might have been a conviction on a drug possession charge two years earlier. It should have been a relatively minor blemish on his record, but he'd repeatedly violated the terms of his sentence--by avoiding his probation officer for months at a time, failing drug tests, and missing court dates. A warrant was put out for his arrest last June, and in early January he was picked up by the Chicago police. His lawyer told him that if he didn't straighten out soon he could face serious jail time.

The police think that given Jansson's history, he might have just taken off. But his friends and family say it's not likely he'd steal a car and vanish without explanation, extra clothes, or money. After his arrest in January, they say, he'd started to turn his life around--entering a drug rehab program, passing his most recent drug test, and applying for work at a Pizza Hut. And they say he'd been talking about making a bigger change when he finally put the case behind him--maybe moving to Las Vegas to start a new life.

Late on the night of March 8, Z'shan Mirza, a friend of the promoters and an amateur videographer, recorded the party at Biology Bar. On his tape young men and women grind under flashing lights, their glow sticks swirling in the dark. Mirza's camera freezes dancers busting moves or multiplies them into a fly's-eye view of a thousand images. A night-vision accessory on the camera periodically renders everyone visible, their bodies and clothing glowing a ghoulish grayish green.

Almost everyone captured on the tape is dancing, except for the bouncers, who can occasionally be spotted prowling through the crowd. Michael Jansson isn't dancing either. He, Chollampel, Padavil, and Lind first appear near the end of the tape; the time stamped on it is 1:15 AM. Lind dances alone, a cushion of space around her. For a brief moment Jansson appears to her right, sitting on a chair, staring in the direction of the camera, gnawing on a straw. He looks relaxed, perhaps bored. Padavil appears briefly and dances with Lind. Some 20 minutes later Lind appears again, swinging a pair of glow sticks in front of a half dozen entranced spectators. Jansson enters the foreground, still chewing on his straw, a drink in his hand. He sits and stares at Lind. The camera follows his gaze, zooming in on Lind's hips, barely covered by her tiny skirt. The time is 1:39 AM. Shortly after that, Mirza turned off his camera and left the club.

At some point--Chollampel at first remembers it as 1:30, later as 2:15--Jansson said he wanted to make a call. He borrowed the keys to Lind's car--a maroon 1992 Buick LeSabre parked around the corner on Blackhawk--and retrieved Chollampel's cell phone.

None of Jansson's friends saw what started the argument he got into, but Padavil witnessed the denouement: "He came up to me and said he was coming out of the bathroom or something and some guy bumped into him, looked at him wrong or something. They had their words and stuff, so he came and got me. 'Show me the dude. Maybe I know him. I can squash it, you know what I mean? Peace it out?' When we come up to the dude, next thing you know, Mike's just talking hard to the guy. They're talking hard to each other. Bouncers get in the middle of it. Bouncers grab both parties, and they escort the other guy out. Indian kid. Skinny kid. He was with other people. I think they were leaving already--they had their jackets. I'd say four or five. They kicked them out. They kicked Mike out."

Miles Roberts was working as a bouncer that night. "Before it even escalated I just stepped in," he says. "I explained to them we wasn't havin' it. This young man [Jansson], I could tell he was drinking and everything, so I asked him to come on out. Just walk it off. He sits out here with us for a while. Everything was cool. We talked. I explained to him that our club policy is once you get into it and everything you have to leave the premises. He kept thanking me for not allowing him to fight, because he had stated that he had just got out of jail and everything. He didn't want to be in jail anymore."

Padavil says that when Jansson got kicked out he still had Chollampel's cell phone and the keys to Lind's car. He says Jansson handed him the keys, which he gave to Chollampel. Chollampel says he then went outside to check on Jansson. "When I walked out there, the only people who were out there were Mike and Miles," he says. "I said, 'Where did those guys go?' Miles and Mike said they got into their car and left. They took off. So I was looking up and down the road. Nobody was around. Mike played it off. He's like, 'I don't care. I just wanted to get that one guy. That skinny Indian kid.' He was slightly pissed, but he was praising the bouncer. He was like, 'Yeah, he helped me out. He stopped the fight.' I'm like, 'All right, well, the party's almost over.' It's like 2:30 in the morning. 'Here's the keys to the car. Just pull up, wait out front. We'll be out soon.'" Chollampel says he returned to check on Jansson one or perhaps two more times.

The club closed at 3:45 that morning, according to Roberts. Padavil says the last time he saw Jansson was 20 to 30 minutes before the party was over, at approximately 3:15. "I went out there, and he was standing in front of the club," he says. "We was chitchatting for a minute. I remember a police car down the street, down where we had parked our car. So the bouncer was like, 'All right you guys, don't stand in front of the club. Why don't you guys just take a walk?' We started walking down the street, and Mike's talking. He's still hyper and shit. I'm like, 'Calm down. Cops over there. You don't want to get pressed by the cops right now.' We walk down the street, and that's when I noticed our car wasn't there. I thought our car got towed. I was like, 'What happened to the car?' He's like, 'Oh, I moved it up front.' We just walked to the end of the block, turned around, came back. And then I'm like, 'All right, I'm gonna go back in the club. I'll be back out in like ten minutes.' He was like, 'Hurry up, hurry up. Don't take that long.'" Padavil says it was another 20 to 30 minutes before they left.

"To be honest with you, his friends?" says Roberts. "I wouldn't call those guys true friends. Because while he was out here, they did not come out here to check on him. I had to ask, 'Come out here and check on your man,' and they only came out here one time. One time--and there's only one guy that came to check on him. It had to be between 1:45, two o'clock. And I went in to go get them. I remember the area they were sitting in because they had a young lady with them that was dancing."

Roberts says he never told anyone to take a walk, but he did flag down a squad car because the Indian guy and his friends kept cruising past the club entrance, giving Jansson the stinkeye. "It was like a four-door Infiniti, but I don't know which model it was," he says. "I know it was either pearl or white, and I know they drove past the club a couple of times. That's why I informed the police officer that drives past. I told them the situation. I told them this guy was sitting outside trying to gather his thoughts, and if he could just check on that car that keeps driving past because they were trying to antagonize him. I know the police went in the direction that they went. Now whether they went to go say something to them, or if they pulled them over, I don't know."

Padavil says he doesn't believe the guys who'd harassed Jansson kept hanging around. "Mike would have mentioned that," he says. "He'd have been like, 'Aw, those dudes are still here.'"

Roberts goes on with his story. "He was very, very thankful that he didn't get into a fight, because he didn't want to get back into any more trouble. Shook my hand. Just kept doing it. I was like, 'OK, I'm not gonna let nobody fight with you. Don't worry about it.' He seemed to be a really good guy and everything." The Infiniti never returned, says Roberts, and after about 45 minutes, around 2:30 AM, Jansson abruptly got into Lind's car, which was parked in front of the club, and left. "He drove off going northbound, and I didn't pay attention to see whether he had turned right going towards the lakefront or left going back to the expressway."

"We came out after the club was finished, and he wasn't there," says Chollampel. "He wouldn't just leave us there--that's totally unusual. He wouldn't just ditch us."

"At that point," says Padavil, "we thought he got pissed off and left."

"We thought that the police maybe told him to leave," says Lind.

"Right when we came out of the club and realized he wasn't there I started to call him," says Chollampel, who was sure Jansson still had his cell phone. "I called at least three, four--four or five times," using a friend's cell phone. He didn't answer, and eventually it sank in that they were stranded. "Luckily, we knew the people that were throwing the party," says Chollampel. "We went with them to get breakfast, and one of my friends came back to our neighborhood. One of the first things we did was roll by Mike's house. We were looking for [Lind's] car. We stopped by his mom's house. Nobody answered the door. So then we went to his sister's house. She opened the door, and we said, 'Do you know where Mike is?' She said, 'I thought he was with you.' We told her what happened, and I guess at that time we didn't really think much of it--like he just didn't get home yet. But my girlfriend's house keys were with the keys for her car. After we dropped Fari off at the house, me and my girlfriend went back out to Biology Bar. We drove my van up and down all the streets, maybe like a four-, five-block radius. And nothing. I saw a cop, so I waved him down. I said, 'My friend is missing. He had my girlfriend's car. Have you seen anything? Have there been any incidents?' The police officer said, 'No. This whole area's been quiet all night.' Then he pointed out the police station a couple blocks away. I went through all the accident reports that day. I told them the license-plate number and the make and model of the car. Nothing was reported. So we ended up just going to our friend's house early that morning, because [Lind] didn't have keys."

Around 8:30 Chollampel called his cell phone again. This time someone answered, but it wasn't Jansson. "It's this guy," he says. "Actually, I called him twice. The first time he kind of just hung up on me. The second time I'm like, 'Who is this? Why do you have my phone?' He said, 'We can make a deal if you want your phone back. You gotta give me a reward.' I'm like, 'That's fine. We can do that.' At that time I asked him, 'There's something a little more important. The person who had my phone is missing. Do you know where you got the phone?' He's like, 'I don't know. It fell out of somebody's pocket by Biology Bar.' I didn't tell him Biology Bar. I said, 'Look, can you describe the guy? What kind of person dropped the phone? It's kind of important, 'cause the guy is missing right now.' Then he said, 'Look, you want your phone or not?' He basically just brushed it off. He's like, 'Well, I gotta go to court right now. Gimme a call back in two hours.' I called him at 10:30, and he didn't pick up. After that he stopped picking up the phone.

"See, that morning my mom and Fari were trying to get ahold of me. I was just trying to straighten everything out." Chollampel called home and told Padavil about the phone. Neither of them told Chollampel's mother the phone was missing or that they'd been with Jansson the night before.

Padavil says he too called the cell phone, and around 1:30 that afternoon a man he says sounded African-American called him back. "I guess he looked at the phone. He asked me if I was 'Double D'"--Chollampel's nickname, which he'd programmed into the phone. "I was just gonna act like I was him. I was like, 'Yeah, I want my phone. I'll meet you.' He was like, 'Meet me on Madison and Kostner. I'll be outside.' I remember he said something like, 'Don't be shady about it. Don't bring no cops and stuff.' I was like, 'Yeah, all right.' He was like, 'Do I get a reward?' Like yeah, 'I'ma give you $50.' He's like, 'All right.' I'm, 'All right, cool. I'ma call you back in about a hour to find out where exactly to meet you at. Pick up the phone.'"

Padavil says he had no intention of meeting anyone anywhere, much less in K-Town, the west-side neighborhood where the caller said he regularly hung out. Padavil had to be at work at 2 PM, and since Chollampel was supposed to give him a ride, he would explain the situation and let his cousin take it from there.

But Chollampel never showed up. He says he and Lind had tracked down her landlord and got into her apartment, where he'd fallen asleep. He never recovered the phone, but a few weeks later he got the bill for the calls placed that morning. Before the phone was disconnected the stranger from K-Town had racked up almost 45 minutes' worth of calls to ten different numbers. The bill shows that a one-minute call was placed to the cell phone from Lind's number at 1:52 PM, just 24 minutes after Padavil's conversation with the guy who had it.

"Obviously that's my call from Magaly's house,' says Chollampel, "but I didn't talk to him at that time."

"Man, you were supposed to take me to work," says Padavil.

"I don't know," Chollampel replies. "Maybe I just woke up just to call him or something."

That afternoon, Chollampel says, his mother called the phone twice and was alarmed to hear a stranger instead of her son. She assumed the phone had been stolen and immediately had the service terminated. Just before it was cut off, the person with the phone placed two more calls, one at 3:16 PM and another at 3:17--both to the number of Ahmed Ali, one of the party's organizers and the person who'd driven Chollampel home that morning.

Ali says he can't understand why the phone bill shows that he got two calls, since he was the one who called the cell number trying to find out if Chollampel had found Jansson and the car. "I don't remember in detail," Ali says. "I guess I called him first, and the phone died or something--or my number came up on the caller ID, or was in there before. He basically thought I was Double D, and I was asking him if he was Mike, because he was the one with the phone. I don't recall what we talked about. He's like, 'I have to wait to get the phone,' and he said something like, 'Somebody dropped it,' or something like that." Ali says the caller told him the battery was about to die, and then the connection broke.

The silver New Yorker Michael Jansson drove is still parked in the driveway of the house in Lincolnwood where he lived most of his life. His mother, Lynda Jansson, says no one lives in the house now because it's being remodeled. She and Dean Jansson are divorced, but the family remains close. Michael's sister, Melissa Jansson, lives a few doors up the street, and Lynda's father lives two blocks away. Lynda was then living at her father's, and according to her, Michael had been staying alternately at his sister's and grandfather's houses. When Michael disappeared his grandfather was in Las Vegas, where he lives part of the year. The family hoped Michael would show up there.

"We had so many things to take care of, and he was all part of this," says Dean Jansson. "That's what makes me feel like, 'Why would he do this at this time?' We were gonna look into some different living quarters. He was looking for work and school or something. He was starting to make all these plans. Maybe he sat down and thought about it and said, 'I can't handle any of this.' We gotta look at all sides. It's not in his character or personality, but this was kind of to a point where he had to go ahead and focus on what he was gonna do."

One of the things Michael Jansson liked to do was gamble. And he loved Las Vegas. He and his grandfather had been there together, most recently for his 21st birthday, and Dean says it was one of the places the family was thinking of moving to. "Mike was good at sports," he says. "He could go into sportsbook or he could go for training. They got a two-year course out there at the university for management for the casino. If you get your two-year certificate and training and so many hours in--and you know a few people--you can be a manager."

Chollampel says that Mike was a skilled and frequently lucky gambler. "There's this Jamaican offshore betting," he says. "It's legit. You gotta send a hundred dollars Western Union, and you can start betting on basketball games, baseball games, hockey. This guy was a maniac. He bet on everything. He'll take $300--he'll parlay like three, four games. And that'll be $4,000. He'll take that, and he don't stop--$18,000 he cashed out once. He got a $9,000 check, and we went to the currency exchange right down the block, and that lady gave him 90 $100 bills. He started going to the track every day. He would blow so much money. All his money went back to gambling, because his family got him whatever he wanted--all his other expenses were taken care of. He stayed home and watched sports all day. So he knew every team, every person."

Jansson's family says he left home late on the night of March 8 with spur-of-the-moment plans and no extra money or clothing. "He came to kiss us good-bye," says Lynda. "It was 12 midnight. He changed his shoes to dress shoes. He had black pants on. We just bought him at Eddie Bauer a real nice sweater. And of course he had his jewelry on. He had a link bracelet, he had the matching chain, and then he had a rope chain. On the rope chain he had an Italian horn that my father gave him for his 21st birthday. And he had two rings on. He had a gold coin ring. On the other hand he had a black onyx ring.

"We didn't know that he was going to the Biology Bar, otherwise we would have really demanded him to leave his jewelry home. As a matter of fact, we were a little confused, because that night I remember him asking me directions how to get to the Empress Casino in Hammond, Indiana. I told him. But apparently when he left he went round to his sister's house, [and] he didn't mention that he was going there."

Dean, who was at Melissa's house when his son left, says, "He was a little disorientated at this time too. He had just no direction of any sort. He started to get on-line with something, and then he would start to drift off again. But then for a long period of time he wouldn't leave the house. This evening I kind of talked to him a little bit--I was the last one to talk to him before he left. He didn't really want to go to begin with. He got himself dressed up a little bit. I told him, 'Maybe you should dress down a little bit. I don't know where you're going.' He didn't even know. I said, 'You sure you want to go out tonight?' He says, 'Yeah, I'd like to get out of the house a little bit.' I said, 'I can't blame you for that.'"

"Then the next thing that we know," says Lynda, "at five o'clock in the morning Joey's banging on the door. 'Where's Michael at?'"

The Janssons didn't worry at first. "We're the type of family that thinks there's always a first time for everything," says Lynda. "Why jump to conclusions right away? Maybe he had a bit too much to drink, or maybe he spent the night somewhere else. He's 21. I went to work that day, and then Melissa said, 'Mike's not home yet.' I said, 'OK, let's get ahold of Joey.'"

Chollampel told the Janssons about his cell phone that afternoon. "That was five o'clock," says Lynda. "I said, 'Let's call up the phone. Let's meet with him.' They said, 'Well, my mom shut off the phone.' I said, 'Why would she do something like that for? Turn it on again. I'll pay for it.' He couldn't do that. He said, 'What's the use of turning it on? It's out of batteries anyway.'"

Meanwhile, Magaly Lind was getting impatient about her car. "Joe kept calling Mike's mom's house, asking, 'Have you heard anything?" she says. "I was telling him, 'I'm really pissed off. I'm gonna press charges.' She was telling him, 'Please tell her not to.' I don't even know that guy. That's Joe's friend. That's not my friend. He came to my house like twice. We were waiting 'cause Joe kept on telling me, 'He might call. He might call. You don't know. Let's wait and see.' Nothing. I didn't hear anything. So I was like, 'I'm just gonna call the cops.' He said, 'No, just wait. Why you wanna get him locked up?' I'm like, 'He stole my car.' So I called the cops."

"We told her to do that," says Lynda Jansson. And her daughter says, "We figured, maybe if they find the car they find him."

That night Lynda, Dean, and Melissa, toting Melissa's three-year-old son, Brian, drove to Biology Bar. They explained the situation to the doorman, who summoned a bouncer from inside the club. That bouncer, who introduced himself as Lamont, told a story that differed from Chollampel's. Melissa asked him if he'd thrown a tall white boy out the previous night. "He said, 'Yes, I did. He left. He drove off. He got in a confrontation with some guys. He was parked across the street in the parking lot, and the other guys were parked on the street. The other guys got into their car and drove off, and then Michael was going to leave. His friends came out. Then he had a jacket inside or something. Went back inside to get his jacket, came out, and then they all went across the street, got into the car, and drove off.' I said, 'OK, Lamont, my brother's friends came to my house at five in the morning, and they did not drive off with him. Are you positive?' He says, 'Yes.' Well, what the hell is really going on now?"

Lamont Ross was then head of security at Biology Bar. He insists he didn't tell the family that Jansson left with his friends. "I told them they should talk to Miles," he says, then adds that he thought he saw Jansson's friends walk into the parking lot while Jansson stayed behind, hanging around the door. Lamont says nothing else unusual happened that night.

"We went back to talk to Joe," says Lynda, "and he said, 'I think some of us should sit down with this bouncer.'"

A year and half ago another 21-year-old from the suburbs disappeared downtown in the middle of the night, and it seemed like the whole city beat the bushes for him. After a night spent drinking in Lincoln Park bars, Brian Welzien, a student at Northern Illinois University, was last seen in the early hours of New Year's Day in front of his Gold Coast hotel. It was a mystery how such a nice young man could vanish without a trace, and within a short time rewards were offered, flyers were posted, and psychics weighed in. When his body washed ashore in Gary, Indiana, a few months later--police ruled his death an accidental drowning--the Tribune covered his funeral on the front page.

No one seems to be looking for Michael Jansson now except his family, but then his record isn't as squeaky clean as Welzien's. His drug case started in early 1999, when he was arrested on his own block by the Lincolnwood police for possession of less than 30 grams of cocaine. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years' probation, which included random drug testing and 30 hours of community service. Court records show that he violated his probation several times--he tested positive for marijuana, he didn't complete his community service, and he failed to report to his probation officer, once for almost ten months. On two occasions he didn't show up for court dates, and arrest warrants were issued. Early in his probation he was arrested for shoplifting in Wisconsin. A few months later he was arrested for possession of marijuana, though he was found not guilty.

A couple months after that his sometime girlfriend, Christine Wlodarczyk, had him arrested for battery. "Everyone always thought that Mike and me would get married," says Wlodarczyk, who'd lived across the street from Jansson since she was in fourth grade. But she admits that their relationship was stormy. "We'd been through so many fights. I had called the cops on him and everything, but I decided to drop the charges. I mean it's just so stupid. We've been friends for such a long time. It was over something that was just so dumb."

She explains that his problems with the law had strained their relationship. "He had been through so much with the courts," she says. "Because we live in Lincolnwood, once they stop you for something they're on you like all the time. They'd pull him over for anything. We got pulled over all the time. Searched every day. That's why I couldn't stand hanging around with him anymore. I'm like, 'This is your lifestyle, not mine.' I can't make myself change to be with somebody. I'm not gonna do that. That's why we didn't talk for almost three years."

Lynda Jansson points out that despite having a police record, her son had never stolen a car before, and he was finally starting to clean up his act. So she can't understand why the police aren't looking for him. "It's a mother's worst nightmare," she says. "You see it in the shows constantly. I feel sorry for the mother, but never thought that it could happen to me. And that's probably the wrong thing to think, because maybe I'm being punished for it."

The Janssons had waited until Saturday night to call the police station in the 18th District--where Biology Bar is located--about filing a missing-person report. "We thought, 'Well, we'll give him another day,'" says Dean. "We thought that you had to wait 24 hours anyway before the police can do anything."

An officer told them to go to the 19th District station at Belmont and Western. Lynda says, "They said, 'If you come down here, we send it to 19th District anyway, because that's where the detectives are for missing adults. You'd be better off going down there right away and filing a police report.' So we went down to the 19th District. They're going back and forth, back and forth. We said, 'We live in Lincolnwood, but he was missing in Chicago.' They said, 'Well, let's see what happens.' They called all over the place upstairs, and they come down again and they say, 'We're sorry. We can't handle that. You have to go to the Lincolnwood police department.'

"The next day we went to Lincolnwood, because it was late already and we had the baby with us--because we were doing this all together. I go, 'My son is missing from the Biology Bar in Chicago.' He says, 'What do you mean, they sent you here?' And then the guy was real nice to me. He said, 'If they give you a hard time, tell them that you want to see the superior officer over there. Because what can we do? We have to stay in Lincolnwood. They have to go and look for him in Chicago.' So I said, 'Let's go back to the 18th District.'"

Frustrated, they drove over to the 18th District station at 113 W. Chicago. "We had no one at home," says Melissa. "My brother is my main baby-sitter, and my mom and my dad. Since my brother is not here and my mom and dad are with me, we had to drag Brian with. If my brother did this every three weeks--or had ever done this before--it would have been different. But he has never not come home and not called. Never.

"Now it's like 1:30 in the morning. I got very hotheaded. At first the lady was kind of snooty--'I don't understand why they sent you here.' I said to her, 'I don't drag my three-year-old son out at one o'clock in the morning to fill out a missing-person report for my brother if I don't think he's missing. If you don't fill out the report I'm not leaving here till you do.' She was like, 'We thought it was probably just a love triangle because of the girl's car.' He doesn't know the girl."

The family finally filed the report, and an officer told them to expect a call from a detective. But two days passed and they heard nothing, so on Tuesday Lynda called the 19th District, where the Area Three youth division is headquartered, and spoke with Detective John DeBartolo. "I was trying to talk to him, and I just couldn't because I was still real emotional," she says. "So I handed the phone to my daughter. DeBartolo asked if he's been in trouble, and she told him, yeah, and he's on probation, and he took the drug test, and he was clear.

"Then I took the phone, because I was normal again, and I said to him, 'What do you think? Do you think you'll be able to do something?' He was real nice to me. He said, 'Yeah, don't worry about it. We'll find him.'"

The next day, says Lynda, "Somebody called up and asked, 'Is Michael Jansson there?' I said, 'No. Do you know he's missing?' I explained to him what happened. He said, 'Well, he's in a lot of trouble.' I said, 'What did he do? Did he kill somebody?' The guy said no. 'Oh my God, he robbed somebody.' The guy said no. I said, 'What did he do that was so terrible?' He said, 'I can't tell you.' I said, 'Did you find him?' He said, 'I can't tell you.' The caller identified himself as Detective Paulnitsky of the Chicago Police Department and asked for the name of the investigator handling the missing-person case. He said to me, 'I will get ahold of him and I'll tell him the situation, and if he wants to tell you he will.'"

The following day Lynda called DeBartolo, who apparently had talked to Roland Paulnitsky, the detective who was handling Lind's car-theft report. She says DeBartolo accused her of lying about her son's criminal record. "I heard my daughter tell him. We're not stupid. They're the police--they're gonna look it up anyway. He didn't write down our conversation that we had, otherwise he would have known it. I started explaining to him, 'I don't want you to think that we lied to you. All kids aren't perfect. There's always some kid that does stupid things, but I know he didn't steal a car. He didn't kill anybody. He didn't rob anybody. So what's so terrible? We told you the rest of it, so how were we lying?' I said, 'I'm sorry that you got the wrong impression.' And he said, 'OK, fine, good-bye.'"

Detective John DeBartolo is the only Chicago police officer assigned to investigate cases of missing adults full-time, getting about 100 cases a month. He had several colorful cameos in the news coverage about Brian Welzien's disappearance and later was the subject of a cover story in the Tribune Magazine. In early April he saw Jansson's case as pretty simple. "This kid here was in a bar, got into a fight, got thrown out of the bar," he said. "His friend's girlfriend gave him the keys to the car and said get in the car, wait for us, and we'll be right out. They came out, and he was gone with the car. And he hasn't been seen since. She filed the car stolen. Now he's out there. He's got the car now. The mother's claiming that he was carjacked, he's dead. I mean, they're claiming a lot of things, but they have nothing--absolutely nothing--to substantiate. He's got prior arrests for drugs, possession. He's well-known with the Lincolnwood Police Department."

The same day Lynda Jansson talked to DeBartolo, March 15, the family placed a classified ad in the Sun-Times that listed Michael's name, age, height, weight, and eye color. It gave the address of Biology Bar, and the year, color, and license-plate number of Lind's LeSabre. It also listed a cell-phone number that anyone with information could call at any time. In the photo above the terse, grim text his face almost looks gaunt, his eyes haunted, though the color snapshot the image was cropped from shows him sitting contentedly on a sofa holding his nephew in his lap.

That night, a Thursday, the Janssons planned to go to Biology Bar with Padavil and Chollampel to talk to the bouncer they still knew only as Lamont. But they couldn't reach the cousins. Chollampel says he was partying at Circus that night, but he visited Biology Bar by himself. "They did talk to the wrong person, that's for sure," he says. He talked to Miles Roberts. "I told him that guy Mike is still missing, and he seemed surprised. He remembers him driving off by himself. Then I asked him at least two or three times, 'Are you sure there was nobody else in the car?' He was positive."

The Janssons also visited the club that night on their own. "I was gonna ask for Lamont, but Miles was standing outside," says Melissa. "He's like, 'You're here about the boy that's missing. His friends just showed up before you did.' Miles said to me, 'I was the one that kicked him out.' He said he didn't know why Lamont said that he did." Roberts then told them his version of the story.

A few days later Lynda's cell phone rang. She says, "A woman called and said, 'I saw your son at the forest preserve. Altgeld Gardens housing project. There's a forest preserve not far from that. I just wanted to let you know that he's not alive.' I said, 'OK, fine, thank you.' I hung up and I called the detective up right away. He goes, 'Well, did the girl leave a name or a number?' I said, 'No, she didn't.' He said, 'How come she didn't call the police?' I said, 'I don't know. She called me.'"

More calls came, at all hours. A woman reported that she saw a guy who looked just like Michael hanging around a gas station at Roosevelt and Canal. On Easter Sunday someone said she spotted him under the bridge at Foster and Pulaski. The owner of a diner at Chicago and Damen thought he might have served breakfast specials to a couple of boys, one of whom he was certain was Michael.

Another day a caller claiming to be the owner of Biology Bar invited Lynda to come down to the club immediately because all the bouncers were present and available for questioning. When the family arrived, the bouncers were there, but the club's manager, puzzled by the family's story, contacted the owner, who said he hadn't called.

A few calls seemed to bolster the theory that Jansson had been carjacked or abducted. A man called to say he'd been smoking a cigarette outside the club and saw two white men push him into a car. One woman who said she made a habit of writing down license-plate numbers of reckless drivers reported seeing the missing LeSabre in K-Town. "She said she remembered a maroon Buick driving around in the Madison-Cicero area, and she's almost positive it's that license-plate number because she memorizes the license plates and writes them down," says Melissa. "She's almost positive that that's the car. She didn't think nothing of it at the moment, but happened to look in the Sun-Times and saw the description of the license plate and my brother. She said, 'I hate to say it to you, but it was three African-American boys in the car and your brother was not in the car. But I'm going to clip out the picture, and I'm going to keep it with me.' I said, 'If you do happen to see it again, please call.' Well, she called again two days later. She said, 'I did see it again. I'm positive. I had the clipping. And it is the car, but again there were three African-Americans.'"

"She told me that she was gonna try to see where they lived and maybe get some information," says Lynda, who also talked to the woman. "I said, 'That would be really great if you can do that. We're willing to give you a reward for it.' She said, 'No, no, that's OK. Don't worry about that.' I said, 'Please try to do that and call us back again.' She never called back." Lynda says the caller ID on her phone was useless because all but one of the callers blocked their numbers. "They wouldn't give any names," she says. "That's what made it suspicious. If they're telling the truth there's nothing for them to hide."

Melissa adds, "We try not to push people to give us their names or numbers in case they're fearful or something."

"They went and put this thing in the newspaper with their phone number," says Detective DeBartolo, "and they're getting every crank caller in the city. That's what it is."

Better potential leads became available in late March when Chollampel received his phone bill. Chollampel and Padavil went over the bill with the Janssons, marking off the calls they'd made and the ones they got from the anonymous K-Town guy. Curiously, they never mentioned that they recognized Ahmed Ali's number, and for many weeks the Janssons believed it belonged to another stranger.

The bill also listed numbers the guy had called, but Lynda says DeBartolo wasn't interested in pursuing those leads. "He said, 'Yeah, what do you want me to do? What can I do with the phone numbers?' I said, 'Can't you go to the houses and kind of find out?' He said, 'No. What are they gonna tell me? Who am I looking for?' He got me all confused. After that I decided it was no use. He got nasty to me. He said, 'Listen, lady, we know your son is missing, but he's a criminal.'"

"They've never provided me with anything like that," said DeBartolo in mid-April. "This is some kind of a thing where I don't know what they're hiding or what's going on, but this is a case that's gonna be closed out." Shortly after that he did close the case, putting Michael Jansson in the category of "voluntary absence." Detective Paulnitsky said because Jansson had been handed the keys to Lind's car, her vehicle-theft report had always been a missing-person case. Asked what would happen next, he said, "If they closed their case out, then I have no reason to look for him any further." Lind's license-plate and vehicle-identification numbers are listed in a national database, but no one is actively looking for her car.

Using the phone company's reverse directory, the Jansson family cased a few of the addresses that corresponded to the numbers on Chollampel's phone bill, but they didn't knock on any doors. "We're so scared," said Dean in April. "We don't want to expose what might be our only real ace in the hole. Those numbers might be the most important thing that we're holding on to right now. We don't want to trigger something. I was hoping that [DeBartolo] would step up a little bit, thinking that there's something more to it than that he's out joyriding. But then again I didn't want to cause any waves." The Janssons did turn the phone bill over to a friend they won't identify who works for a private detective.

Chollampel told them that the first call made on the phone after Jansson had it was to Dipak Patel, a friend of Chollampel's whose number was programmed into the phone's auto-dial function. Asked about the call, Patel couldn't recall what he was doing that night, but he said he never met Jansson and never spoke to him on the phone. The bill says the call lasted over a minute and occurred at 2:21 AM. Chollampel says Jansson was still inside the club then, though Miles Roberts and Fari Padavil believe he'd already been thrown out. But then everyone was having a hard time remembering precisely when things had happened--it had been over a month, and they hadn't been watching the clock anyway.

It's not clear where Jansson was when the second call was placed at 2:46 AM to a number in LaGrange; it lasted two minutes. Everyone agrees that he was outside when the same number was dialed again at 3:05 AM, and a three-minute connection was logged. The number was called a third time for one minute at 12:27 PM the next day--after seven other numbers had been called and hours after Chollampel said he first spoke with the man from K-Town; calls to the number now trigger a recording that states, "The PrimeCo customer you have called is not available. Please try your call again later."

Most of the people that received calls on March 9 said they didn't remember a call and they didn't know any of the people involved. Windy Ross, who lives on West 14th Street, received a two-minute call from Chollampel's phone at 4:54 AM. Ross said she gets lots of phone calls and didn't remember that one. At 5:49 AM a 22-minute call was placed to a number in Saint Paul, Minnesota, that belongs to Geraldine Ross, who is Windy's mother. She didn't remember the call either.

But Windy Ross did say that the Lamont Ross who works at Biology Bar is her cousin. Asked about the phone, Lamont at first said he didn't find one that night, then said he might have. "There's a lot of cell phones found in the club," he said. "If I did I put it in the office, that's for sure." What about the calls to his relatives? "I might have had it," he said. "I might have called checking to see if it works." But he couldn't say who would have been talking to his aunt for 22 minutes. He said his nephew Mario also works at the club, though he didn't think he was working there in March.

Mario Ross said he was working at Biology Bar that night, though he said he never had the phone. Yet a one-minute call was placed to his fiancee at 5:32 AM. He seemed astonished to hear that someone had called his grandmother for 22 minutes, then mentioned that his cousin Donell was also working at the club that night.

Donell Ross is Windy Ross's son and court records list his address as his mother's. The manager at Biology Bar says it's possible that Donell worked at the club but he's not sure because turnover among the security personnel is high. Donell, who did not respond to requests for an interview, was arrested for heroin possession on May 8; he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months. His mother says he told her he never had the phone.

By the time the Janssons learned Lamont Ross's last name and made the connection to the other Rosses, DeBartolo had closed the case. They didn't bother to call him.

Dean Jansson says he felt sure early this spring that Michael was starting to turn his life around, but he now realizes he didn't really understand what was going on. "He was scared to go out," he says. "We were trying to help him. He really didn't have anything bad pending on him, but he was scared that if he didn't do the right thing then he was gonna be in trouble. We couldn't push him. He's 21. Kinda hid certain things too. See, I don't live at home, so I didn't know. I thought he was doing fine. I thought if he stayed in the house and didn't get in trouble and he didn't do anything, there wasn't gonna be a problem. I almost really didn't know he had to report in. I thought he was reporting in, to be honest with you, 'cause it seemed like everything was all right."

Dean says that when his son was picked up on the warrant in early January he'd been stopped for a traffic violation, then told he could go. "He jumped in his car," he says. "Boom on the loudspeaker--'Don't move. Stay right where you're at.' They had brought him up on the computer--it took a few minutes for the warrant to come through." He was then taken to the district station, where he was charged with assaulting a police officer. "He said he didn't assault anybody--he said he was assaulted," says Dean. "Some guy came and said something, and he didn't understand him--he sort of mumbled. So he asked him what he said. The guy said, 'What are you, smart?' He said, 'No, I didn't understand you. What did you just say?' And the guy took him and shoved him, and he went flying." The charges must have been dropped or never filed because no case is pending, but that night he was taken to the lockup at 26th and California on the warrant.

Martin Biebel is the attorney who's been handling Jansson's drug possession case since July 1999. On January 24 Jansson's case was continued until February 2. That day, says Biebel, he gave Jansson a dressing-down. "The mom said to me, 'Mr. Biebel, you're the only person he listens to. He won't listen to me.' He came to court, and he was high. I went off on him. I told him, 'You're going to jail, and if you continue to go in this direction you're gonna be spending a good portion of your adult life in jail--because once you go to jail, they're gonna teach you how to be a real criminal.' I really got in his face. I said, 'Worse yet, I'm the guy that's supposed to help you, and you're lying to me.'"

In February the case was continued again, until March 1, seven days before Jansson disappeared. "Apparently I hit a nerve," says Biebel. "He straightened up. He checked into a dry-out program. The next time court was up I hardly even recognized him, because he put on about 15 or 20 pounds. He said, 'I quit drinking. I quit getting high. I never felt better in my life. I'm gonna go into Haymarket.' The courts are always receptive to that, because if you have a violation based upon substance abuse or alcohol abuse or whatever and you go in there like, 'La, la, la, go fuck yourself,' well, they're gonna bang you--you're gonna get time. But if I can say, 'Judge, you know he went into [a program], realized that he really needed more, took it upon himself to go in,' they'll say, 'Well, he did 28 days in a program. Rather see you in a program than see you in jail.' I'm not certain about this, but they probably would have terminated his probation unsatisfactorily and probably just cut him loose. Or they would have extended the probation and made him do periodic drops [urine tests] to make sure that he was good." But Jansson's case was again continued, by a new judge, Marcia Orr, until April 20.

By then Biebel had heard a rumor from another client who knew Jansson that the night he'd disappeared "he was fucking around with some gangbangers in the place--they snatched him and trunked him. I told Judge Orr that in my opinion--I didn't have all the facts at the time--I think this kid may have been murdered." On April 20 the judge continued the case until October.

Biebel still thinks his client is probably dead, though he's not sure how it would have happened. "It doesn't make sense to me, in my experience over the years, that this kid would take off. He would have taken off a lot earlier before that. He didn't have a pot to piss in. He wasn't selling dope--which I'm certain of--so it wasn't like he had a pocket full of cash. He was just finally for once in his life putting himself in a position to actually become employed."

Christine Wlodarczyk can't understand why he would take off either. "He would have called somebody," she says. "He's not that kind of person to just disappear and not let anybody know where he is. Plus he had court, and he's finally getting his life together. He wouldn't have messed it up like that."

She says their relationship had been thawing when Jansson disappeared--they'd been seeing each other secretly. They'd planned to go to the Empress Casino that night, but they had an argument and Jansson decided to go to Biology Bar instead. Chollampel says that Jansson had been trying to call Wlodarczyk when he borrowed the cell phone, though she says she never talked to him and no calls to her number are listed on the bill.

Wlodarczyk says she made a call to Chollampel's phone the next day after hearing that Jansson was missing and a stranger was answering. "I said, 'Are you there with any little white guy?' He said, 'No, I'm here on the west side.' 'Where did you find the phone?' He said, 'Some guy had given it to me who had went to the club.'" She says she spoke to the man for about five minutes, and then he hung up on her. However, there's no record of any call from her number on Chollampel's bill.

Two months after Jansson's disappearance, Wlodarczyk told his family that her front license plate had been stolen a day or two before he vanished--though she later said it was a week before. "She said, 'I'm very concerned. I feel so sad. I thought he was gonna turn up and he hasn't, and I feel terrible,'" says Dean. "She said, 'I don't know if this will be of any importance. My rear plate is still there, but my front plate was removed. Somebody took my front plate and threw the license-plate holder on the grass.'"

The Janssons weren't buying the implication that Michael stole the plate. "I'll tell you the truth," says Lynda. "Michael wouldn't be that smart. Believe me, he's my son. He's plenty smart with other things, but with that kind of stuff? First of all to steal a car, to take her plates off, and put it on [Lind's] car? There's no time."

According to Jesse Wlodarczyk, Christine's father, her Cougar had been in an accident and was undrivable. It had been parked in the driveway, its nose just a foot or two from the garage door, for almost a year. Jesse remembers noticing a black license-plate holder on the lawn right around the time that Jansson disappeared, though he can't remember whether it was just before or just after. He assumed one of his daughter's friends was tinkering with the car and left the holder on the lawn. When Jesse later noticed that the plate was gone he told his daughter, who said she would notify the police. The Lincolnwood police say they have no record of such a report, so if Jansson had taken the plate and put it on the LeSabre, no one would have known to look for it.

In the middle of May, Jesse Wlodarczyk was looking at the license-plate holder, which he'd tossed under an evergreen next to the garage, and noticed that it read "Park Avenue...Ultra...LeSabre."

By then his daughter had backed away from any implication that Jansson had taken the plate. "My friend, he had gotten a car--a LeSabre, a red LeSabre," she said. "I think he took the plate off my car because he couldn't afford a license plate. He wanted to drive it right away." She offered the friend's number, but the woman who answered the phone said the man didn't live there anymore and she didn't know how to reach him.

Three months after Michael Jansson disappeared, the Janssons have hit a dead end on every lead they've had. The friend who works for a private detective has given them no new information about the cell-phone calls, and they're now willing to at least consider that the phone might have been lost inside the club and might have had nothing to do with Michael's disappearance.

All along Chollampel had been promising to bring them a copy of Z'shan Mirza's video of the party, but they didn't get it until mid-May, and then the tape had been edited. Ahmed Ali says the shots of Lind were taken out, and he adds that most of the footage was irrelevant anyway. The Janssons insisted that they wanted to watch the entire tape, and a week later they got the unedited version. Then they had trouble reaching Padavil and setting a date to watch it with him--they thought he might be able to identify some of the guys who'd been arguing with Michael. When they finally did sit down to watch it, Padavil didn't see any of the guys on the tape.

Lynda has contacted a famous psychic, but was told that the woman no longer searches for missing persons, only dead ones. She talked to the producers of daytime talk shows such as Montel and Maury, but they weren't interested. She also contacted the Nation's Missing Children Organization and Center for Missing Adults, a nonprofit group that posts photographs of missing persons on its Web site. But the organization accepts only cases that are being investigated by a law enforcement agency, so she was turned down.

Some of Michael Jansson's friends now seem ready to put the whole thing behind them. Lynda says that for a while Chollampel and Padavil often stopped by to ask about Michael and offer help, but now they rarely come. She also says that Wlodarczyk has almost never come by. "The bad part about it is that we live right down the street," she says. "I guess out of sight, out of mind."

As it happens, Wlodarczyk has a new boyfriend. "I'm not gonna wait forever," she says. "I'm 20--I'm not getting any younger." Lind too has moved on. She broke up with Chollampel, and she says someone--she won't say who--bought her a new car.

Soon it'll be hard for anyone to stop by. Lynda's father announced that he was moving to Las Vegas permanently, and his daughter helped him sell his house; the closing is in November, and she isn't sure where she'll stay after that, though her father wants her to move to Las Vegas. "We are all trying to relocate somewhere or another," says Dean, adding that Michael's things have been packed. "If he's back, he's got everything. If he's not back, he never shows up, his stuff is gonna be all handled. So the thing is, we don't have the luxury to leave everything sitting. Lynda will stay in Chicago, because she's got more contacts and friends. I don't know where I'm gonna go. If he's not around at all, then we really are going to do something completely different. Maybe we're all gonna disappear."

Lynda says that people are telling her to give up hope. She says that when she was Melissa's age she lost her 22-year-old brother Michael. She named her son after him, and now that he's almost the same age as her brother he's gone too. "Everybody says I shouldn't think about it," she says. "That it's too long now and it just doesn't look good. It looks like we just have to say that he's dead now and that's it. That's what everybody is saying, but I'm still fighting it. Because I don't want to go that route, because it's happening to me all over again except that now I'm like my mother."

She says she tries to look at things from all sides and tries to be thankful for the help her son's friends have given her family. Dean is less forgiving. He's bitter that Michael's friends didn't stick with him at the club. "If it was my friend and I grew up with him and he was taken out, I would have left," he says. "That's the way I was brought up. We used to leave with our friends. We never left anybody behind. We always covered for one another." And his voice quivers when he talks about the inconsistencies in the accounts given by the bouncers, Chollampel, and Padavil. "I don't like the way the whole story is going," he says. "They never could agree. I think there was something else that went on and it backfired. I've got a feeling that we're gonna keep digging and we're gonna get a can of worms--where it takes my son and it takes everybody down at the same time. I got a feeling there's gonna be something bad behind this."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Nathan Mandell.

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