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Investigators relive Hansen murder case for 'Forensic Files'

 
Corina Curry
updated: 1/5/2008 4:03 AM

Loves Park police found the body of MaryAnn Clibbery in a back hallway of the Al Zullo Remodeling Specialists store on the morning of Dec. 22, 2004. The 69-year-old co-owner of the store had been beaten to death.


A day later, police found a plastic garbage bag atop the frozen waters of the Rock River off the Roscoe Road bridge near the village. In it were several blood-covered items including a sweater, gloves, a hammer and Clibbery's purse. Hours later, they arrested George Hansen, Clibbery's 64-year-old business partner of five years.


On Friday, the makers of "Forensic Files," a nationally televised fact-based crime series, arrived in Rockford to begin work on an episode called "Frozen Assets," the story of Clibbery's murder and the investigation that led police to Hansen and a jury to convict.


Weaving together interviews from police investigators, forensic scientists, prosecutors, friends and family, producers will create a half-hour show about the case, highlighting the use of forensic science techniques such as fingerprint, blood spatter and DNA analysis that further pointed the finger of blame at Hansen, who denied killing Clibbery.


It will be the third Rock River Valley case to be featured on the popular series, which airs on truTV, formerly known as Court TV, local Comcast channel 55.


The first case featured in 2006 was the shooting death of Rockford Police Detective Kevin Rice. The second in 2007 was the beating death of Barbara "Lorrie" Purcell.


"What usually attracts us to cases is good, old-fashioned detective work combined with incredible forensics work," said Kelly Ann Martin, supervising producer for Medstar Television, the producers of Forensic Files. "We go anywhere there's an intriguing case, from Tyler, Texas, to Tanzania, London to Bakersfield, Calif."


Martin said cooperation from local police, prosecutors and scientists is helpful, as well.


"Cooperation is always key," she said. "There are very, very talented investigators and scientists in your community. A lot of people focus on the negativity of when cases aren't solved in a community. We give a forum to people who are working cases, working behind the scenes, and give them the pat on the back and the notoriety they deserve."


The shows on Rice and Purcell are shown regularly as repeats. The episode on Clibbery is expected to first air in August.


Hansen, now 66, is serving a 60-year prison sentence in Pontiac Correctional Center. Martin said he was contacted for the show, but she wouldn't say whether he agreed to an interview.


This will be the second time Winnebago County Deputy State's Attorney Margie O'Connor will be featured on "Forensic Files." She also was interviewed for a segment on the Purcell story.


O'Connor believes the show's spotlight gives credit to local police agencies and the state crime lab scientists who examine evidence, come to conclusions and testify about their findings in court.


"I felt very strongly that the Loves Park Police Department did such an awesome job on this case," O'Connor said. "And MaryAnn had such a strong positive impact on the community. If anything positive can come out of this, I think she would want it to be something that shows something positive in the community."


While this latest episode will spotlight the Loves Park Police Department, previous shows focused on the work of the Rockford Police Department and Winnebago County Sheriff's Department.


"We have a lot of talent in our area in dedication to crime-solving through the use of forensic evidence," O'Connor said. "The fact that they come back here really speaks to our top-notch investigators and forensic scientists in this area."


The MaryAnn Clibbery murder was one of the biggest cases handled by the Loves Park Police Department.


Loves Park, a city of some 20,000 people, had murders before, said Sgt. Dave Jacobson. But never had a murder case involved business partners.


He will be interviewed for the show Tuesday along with the department's crime scene investigator and blood spatter analyst Howard J. Dean.


"Shows like this can show the public that this kind of thing can happen, even right here in a city like ours," Jacobson said. "It certainly brought an awareness to us as police officers. It was the most intriguing murder case we ever worked."


Jacobson said much of the intrigue came from the history of Hansen and Clibbery's relationship, how they came to own the business together and how they got along.

Friends and co-workers said Clibbery and Hansen had a love-hate relationship. She managed the business's finances. Hansen handled sales. Both had worked for the home and business remodeling business for decades -- she since 1959, he since the 1960s.


Before his death in 2000, owner Anthony "Al" Zullo gave the business to Clibbery and Hansen as a reward for their loyalty to him and the shop.


But in the year before her death, Clibbery thought Hansen was stealing money from the business, friends said. She also thought he was trying to poison her.


"This woman did fear for her welfare," Jacobson said. "Unfortunately, she did not act in time. She had intentions of blowing the whistle on him, and, of course, he was well aware of it."


Dean said his testimony on blood spatter at the crime scene shows the viciousness of the attack on Clibbery. Traces of blood were found up to 15 feet away.


"The impact was very severe," Dean said. "She was hit at least twice while standing and at least three more times about 15 minutes later. You can tell that from how the blood dried."


The sweater also turned out to be a key piece of evidence, Jacobsen said.


"It was actually Al Zullo's sweater that Al Zullo kept at the store," Jacobson said. "George was the only person who would wear that sweater. He would put it on and brag about how much it means to him because it was Mr. Zullo's. Everyone knew he was the one who wore it."


Staff writer Corina Curry can be reached at 815-987-1395 or ccurry@rrstar.com.

What's next

The documentary television series "Forensic Files" will feature the murder investigation into the beating death of Loves Park businesswoman MaryAnn Clibbery, the co-owner of Al Zullo Remodeling Specialists who was killed days before Christmas 2004. Clibbery's business partner, George Hansen, was convicted the next year.


Forensic science played a big part in the investigation. The episode, "Frozen Assets," is scheduled to air in August.

'Files' analyzed death of Rockford detective

"Forensic Files" first came to the Rockford area in spring 2006 to film an episode on the shooting death of Rockford police Detective Kevin Rice. Rice, 38, was shot to death in the early morning hours of Aug. 3, 2001, on his way back to his sister's Hoban Avenue house. Rice and his family were staying there while he completed the finishing touches on a new home that he was building with the help of friends. Rice had stepped out in the middle of the night to check on carpeting that was being installed. On his way back to his sister's, Rice drove past two men trying to break into a car. He put his car in reverse and confronted the men. One of the men pulled out a gun and shot Rice several times, killing him.


The next day, police arrested then-19-year-old William "Tankey" Buck on first-degree murder charges. Buck took his case to trial and was found guilty in March 2003. Buck is serving a 60-year prison sentence.


Key pieces of evidence in the trial were a blue-hooded sweat shirt, an asthma inhaler and a set of keys that police discovered discarded in a path from Hoban Avenue to Auburn Manor Apartments. The inhaler, which had a batch identification number on it, was prescribed to Buck. The keys were to the apartment where Buck was staying. Fibers from Buck's clothing matched fibers from the sweat shirt, and Buck's DNA was found on the sweatshirt's tag.


The episode is called "Key Evidence" and first aired in fall 2006.

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