NIU student’s 1970 murder still unsolved

By Angie Leventis Lourgos

Doreen Vogt was watching the evening news when tragic scenes from Northern Illinois University filled her with a pain she’s spent the last four decades trying to forget.

It was happening again.

A student didn’t come home. Friends were forming search parties. A mom and dad back in the suburbs wondered if they’d ever hold their daughter again.

Vogt is one of the few who understand the sorrow of the family of NIU freshman Antinette “Toni” Keller, presumed slain last month near campus.

The same thing happened to Vogt’s sister 40 years ago, nearly to the day, in an eerily similar case that spurred panic on campus.

NIU senior Donna Doll was last seen leaving her job at the school library on Oct. 2, 1970. The 21-year-old never returned to her rooming house on Lincoln Highway.

Her friends searched for her. Her parents and siblings in Brookfield seemed suspended in fear. After nine days her body was found in a cornfield a little more than a mile west of campus.

“It’s hard to see it all over again,” said Vogt, who was 25 at the time. “You don’t want to go back.”

Some resolution might be coming in the Keller case. William Curl, 34, of DeKalb is charged with her death, though human remains found in the park were too badly burned to be positively identified.

But the Doll murder remains a mystery, surviving in two binders and a box full of documents at the DeKalb County sheriff’s office. State pathologists determined Doll was suffocated, perhaps with a pillow or plastic bag. Authorities had a prime suspect, but too little evidence.

“We keep it open with the hopes that somewhere along the line, something will materialize that will make a difference,” said DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott.

Donna Chiarelott remembers pulling up to the NIU library in her 1959 black Ford Galaxy and waiting about 20 minutes for Doll, her friend and maid of honor, who was supposed to meet her after work.

Doll never showed, but Chiarelott wasn’t concerned. Before everybody carried cell phones, she said, plans sometimes changed without notice.

But she grew frightened upon learning Doll hadn’t returned home that night. Left behind was all of her prescription allergy medication, the cure for her otherwise constant runny nose and weepy eyes.

“She wouldn’t leave without that stuff,” said Chiarelott, 61, now of Rossford, Ohio. “I mean, voluntarily.”

Then Doll didn’t show up for work or her younger sister Becky’s 10th birthday celebration in Brookfield. Vogt remembers her family was almost emotionless, paralyzed in fear.

Doll, an NIU honors student, was studying Russian and hoped to become a teacher.

The sandy-haired, blue-eyed woman had an innocent and open look, with a trusting personality to match, Chiarelott said.

She’ll still occasionally pass a stranger on the street who resembles Doll and wonder what her friend would have become had she survived.

Would she still speak beautifully in Russian? Would she be a teacher, inspiring her students?

Sheriff Scott was just a rookie when he was called to protect the crime-scene perimeter near Nielson Road and Lincoln Highway on Oct. 11, 1970, the night Doll’s body was found among the rows of corn.

But the discovery seemed to incite more questions, many of them still unanswered.

Pathologists reported finding “mystery substances” in Doll’s partly decomposed body that weren’t explained or identified. Dennis Leifheit, then a sergeant with the DeKalb Police Department, said that no fibers were found in her lungs or airways, as would be usual in a suffocation. Authorities at the time said Doll had eaten an inordinate amount of potatoes five or six pounds before her death.

And her killer remained free, compounding the hurt of those who loved her.

“There was no closure,” said Doll’s younger sister, Becky Nemchock, 50, of Elmhurst.

Last month, Scott was back at that same intersection, this time searching for another NIU student; a tipster reported seeing a woman there who might be Keller, who had disappeared Oct. 14.

“It was pretty ironic that 40 years later, the same month, we’re looking for someone missing,” he said.

The tip turned out to be wrong. The burned remains and Keller’s belongings were later found at Prairie Park, just south of the campus.

Yet questions linger in the Keller case as well. Though authorities have filed charges, they have not revealed how they believe she was killed, or how a body could have been burned in a public park without notice.

Vogt said she feels pain for Keller’s family, but hopes they at least get the closure her family never experienced through a conviction.

“It’s horrible to have anyone feel what we felt,” she said.

Anyone with information on the Doll homicide should contact the DeKalb County sheriff’s office at 815-895-2155