Was Police Captain Michael O’Mara murdered with his own gun or did he commit suicide?

Captain Michael O’Mara

Body was slumped over a rock


Autopsy report

To those who knew him best, Captain Michael O’Mara was the straightest of straight arrows.  He was a devoted husband, a loving father, and the only officer in the Cook County Sheriff’s Police trained at the FBI Academy.  In the 1960s, O’Mara became famous for leading raids on the Illinois Mafia.

By 1988, Michael had been moved to a desk job in the records department and was getting ready for a quiet retirement.  It should have been the gentle twilight of a brilliant career, but it never happened.

On May 30th, 1988, a patrolman pulled into the private service area at the Cook County Courthouse to gas up his car.  An unmarked police car was parked at the pump, with the gas nozzle in the tank.  There was no officer in sight.

One bullet was discharged

As the patrolman’s flashlight searched the lawn around the service area, he caught a glimpse of a gruesome scene.  Michael O’Mara’s body was slumped over a rock in the middle of the lawn.  He had been shot once through the forehead.  His wallet and his briefcase had not been touched. There was no sign of a robbery.

James Houlihan, a Sergeant for the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Department, was one of the first officers to arrive on the scene:

“You approach a death scene as… possibly a homicide initially… There was a gun to the right side of the… body near the right hand.  And there was a very visible gunshot wound to the forehead.  There was a flashlight found next to a rock that… we can identify as… his flashlight.  The gun is his gun.  And there was one… bullet that was discharged from that cylinder of that weapon… The victim’s pockets were intact.  His money was intact.  His car was intact.  If you were going to weight this, there would be more… weight towards a suicide or an accident than there would be towards… a murder.”

Two weeks after Michael O’Mara died, the Coroner determined his death was a suicide. Michael’s friends and family felt there had been a rush to judgment.  Despite the coroner’s ruling, they were convinced that Michael had been murdered.

The last person known to see Michael alive was his wife Barbara:

“Right before he left, he said he was gonna stop on the way back to get yogurt and he asked everybody what… flavor they wanted.  And of course the day before payday and he didn’t have any money in his wallet, so he asked me for some money to go.  Why would… he take my last couple of dollars to get the yogurt if he was planning on not coming back.  It doesn’t make any sense.”

Barbara hired Dr. Vincent DiMaio to review the coroner’s findings and the events leading up to Michael’s death:

“In this case, you can take any isolated fact and say it can be consistent with suicide.  The problem… is the whole scenario when you look at that, it’s not that of a suicide.  There was no financial problems, no personal problems,  no fatal disease.  That does not completely rule out suicide, but it kind of makes the conclusion that a death is suicide a little more difficult.”

Based on his investigation, Dr. DiMaio believes that Michael was murdered:

The evidence at the scene suggests that Mr. O’Mara began to fill the tank of his car when he saw or heard something in field.  He then took the gun from his briefcase and went to investigate.  When he got into the field, he met somebody or a number of people and he was shot.”

William Burke was the Chief of the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Department:

“When our investigators went to the scene and they looked in the field, it didn’t appear that there was any… evidence of a struggle.”

If Michael O’Mara was murdered, what was the motive?  Could it have been a long lost enemy from the past?  The police still stay Michael’s death was a suicide and consider the case closed.

But Dr. DiMaio points to one additional fact that he believes rules out suicide:

“When people shoot themselves, they tend to put the gun firmly against the head at the time of discharge.  In this case the muzzle of the weapon was between two and four inches away from the skin and you could see that by the powder tattooing on the skin around the entrance wound.”

According to Chief William Burke, Michael knew what he was doing when he pulled the trigger:

“He may have chosen to have it not be a contact wound because… he taught homicide investigation. I mean he… taught courses and he taught about suicides.  So he knows if he wanted to make it look like something other than it was, he may have deliberately done that.”

What happened to Captain Michael O’Mara on the night of May 30th, 1988?  Is it possible he chose to end his own life?  Or is his killer still at large?  His friends and family believe the answer is obvious.  Michael O’Mara was not a man to commit suicide.

Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season seven with Robert Stack and in season two with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.