Jeanette Sliwinski was a shy, withdrawn kind of kid who suffered from clinical depression. She didn’t connect with many children her age and consequently, she was a loner. At the beginning of her senior year in Niles West High School, Jeanette somehow came out of her shell. She gave herself a sexy make-over, bleaching her hair, wearing tight, animal-print clothes. Life was looking up for the pretty teenager. It wasn’t long before Jeanette fancied herself in a career as a successful international model. She became a local print model after graduation. Over the years her picture appeared in Chicago calendars and lingerie ads. With her modelling money she bought a Mustang convertible but this was hardly the dream job Jeanette envisioned. In early February 2002 Jeanette and her new boyfriend left the suburb of Morton Grove, Illinois and headed to California. She expected to wind up in Vogue, Cosmopolitan and other international publications.
Jeanette was indeed accepted by a modelling agency but this didn’t lead to the success story she’d imagined. Instead she became a trade show model, a rather humiliating form of modelling that didn’t pay well or lead to a career in fashion magazines, or on catwalks. After a short time Jeanette left California and returned home, defeated. She didn’t settle happily with her family. She was moody and agitated, often arguing with her parents. One unhappy afternoon, July 14, 2005, Jeanette became involved in a screaming match with her mother, a culmination of years of disappointment and unhappiness. Jeanette fled from the residence, hopped into her Mustang convertible and crossed the county line into Skokie, Illinois. Continuing to accelerate Jeanette veered onto Dempster Street. Seconds later a dreadful crash exploded in downtown Skokie. Jeanette had collided into a Honda sedan that was stopped at an intersection. Both cars were mangled and flipped upside down.
Jeanette dangled upside down inside her Mustang. Police found 35 year old musician John Glick, dead on the street after being ejected from the back seat. 39 year old Michael Dahlquist was dead in the driver seat. In the passenger seat, 29-year-old Doug Meis fought for his life. Jeanette was removed unharmed from the wreckage. She screamed, I just wanna die I just wanna die. you don’t understand! The EMT‘s wrote it off as delirious ramblings. Police wanted to interview Meis before he entered surgery but as he reached the hospital he died of multiple internal injuries. Investigators asked Jeanette whether she’d deliberately crashed into the Honda. She denied this but the following day the forensics team determined she’d driven in a beeline toward the car, accelerating as she reached the Honda. This was proof of a premeditated crime.
Twenty-nine hours after the crash Jeanette was charged with three counts of first degree murder. The prosecution cited the severity of the crash and used her own statements to police after the crash, insisting she intended to kill herself by driving into another vehicle. The defense claimed its client was not guilty by reason of insanity. Two weeks before the crash Jeanette had been admitted into a psychiatric hospital and was released after 24 hours. Psychiatrists were called to testify on her behalf. Jeanette’s mental illness was compelling evidence but Dr Sharon Coleman argued on the stand for the prosecution that Jeanette didn’t lack appreciation of the crime. The term Bipolar Disorder was tossed around. Presiding judge Garret E. Howard announced that Jeanette wasn’t guilty of murder; she was guilty of reckless homicide due to mental illness. She was sentenced to eight years in Dwight Correctional Centre.
With good behaviour, Jeanette, at 26, was released after serving less than three years. Two years after her release in 2010, Jeanette had her driver’s license reinstated. It never came out in trial precisely why Jeanette and her mother had argued on that fateful day. Three years after the crash her parents admitted they were not sure what happened on July 14. “We’re just taking it day by day,” says Ursula Sliwinski, Jeanette’s mother. “That is all we can do.” Jeanette has never released a statement. Neither have her three victims.