A Son’s Pursuit Of Justice

A memoir by Paul Scharff as told to Keith Bettinger

I have sat for hours fiddling with words. It is just a book review screams part of my brain. Book reviews are a walk in the park, read the book and write 500 words, you are done! It is true, most times you read, you write, and you move on. Murder In McHenry however is not most times. In a small way the book involves some good friends and even me! It is a book that seeks justice for events that happened more than 30 years ago.

The thumbnail sketch, bar owner Ronald Scharff  and his bartender Patricia Freeman are brutally, gang style, executed in the morning hours, probably between 3:00 and 4:AM. While Chicago in the early 80s was hardly the safest place on the planet, McHenry county was just a sleepy place. The Front Page news would be about the new pot hole on main street.

A double homicide? Well it was out of the question.

Paul Scharff was just 11 years old when his father was killed. His life was changed. For many years he wondered who did it? It was not an obsession, more like a dull headache that will not cease.

In 2009 Paul started to reach out for help. He got lots of lip service from the press, but no one was picking up the ball and running with it. My very good friend Denny ‘All Things Mob’ Griffin had just published the biography of mobster Frank Cullotta.  Denny called me and related a very strange story. In the book Frank makes reference to an event involving one of his ‘foot soldiers’. An enterprising reader knowledgeable about the double homicide had realized that Frank Cullotta had just solved the case that law enforcement had failed to do.

And so began the strange odyssey that Paul chronicles in Murder In McHenry. With Denny gathering information from his Mob connections, Paul working the press but largely being ignored, and me making myself a royal pain in the ass for the McHenry County police, the old Scharff-Freeman file was retrieved from its dark dusty corner and reopened.

Paul Scharff and writer Keith Bettinger have written a compelling book. It is a cliche to say that I could not put it down, but the truth is, my copy arrived yesterday afternoon and I finished reading it at 1:30 this morning! Yes, for sure I have an interest in the case. And yes, possibly I do know a fair amount about the case, but I still learned much from the book. However , the reader does not need to know about the case to enjoy the book. Paul explains the entire story (as us Brits would say) Soup to Nuts!

I have great respect for Paul Scharff, neither he nor his family are seeking revenge, they merely want justice and some closure to this unfortunate tragedy. For reasons outside of the scope of this article, I am not sure that Paul has found closure. Many questions remain unanswered. He is however a tenacious man and continues his quest with gusto.

Simon Barrett

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