An Illinois man has been charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of Northern Illinois University freshman Antinette "Toni" Keller, police said Friday night.
DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen said at a news conference that 34-year-old William Curl of DeKalb has also been charged with criminal sexual assault and arson. Feithen said Curl did not know Keller, and it appeared to have been a crime of opportunity.
Curl, who was arrested by U.S. Marshals at a motel in Covington, La., has been extradited to Illinois and is being held at the DeKalb County Jail on $5 million bond. He was scheduled for an initial hearing Saturday morning at the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore.
Keller, of Plainfield, was last seen about noon Oct. 14 when friends said the art student was headed to a nearby park and nature preserve. Two days later, burned remains were found in the park, and a week later, forensic experts confirmed the remains were human.
Police in DeKalb, a city 65 miles west of Chicago where the 25,000-student campus is located, still haven't positively identified remains found in a park near the school as belonging to Keller, though they reclassified her case as a homicide investigation.
Keller's parents have little doubt they belong to their 18-year-old daughter, said the missing girl's cousin, Mary Tarling.
"There doesn't seem to be an alternative explanation," she said.
Among the indications the remains are Keller's is that her camera and sketch pad were found nearby, Tarling said, citing what police have told the family.
A talented watercolor painter and nature lover, Keller may have headed to the wooded park just south of the campus to take pictures or sketch drawings for an art project, Tarling said.
"She painted flowers and landscapes," Tarling said. "She loves camping and rock climbing."
Feithen said Curl was known to be among the people who frequented the 150-acre park and had been questioned, along with others, early in the investigation.
The chief said Curl became the prime suspect when he failed to show up for further questioning early this week. Feithen said a check of Curl's credit cards and cell phone records indicated that he had crossed the border into Mexico, and then proceeded through Texas to Louisiana.
After Keller's disappearance, security was increased at NIU's campus, and the school is making security escorts available 24 hours a day. NIU spokesman Brad Hoey said Friday that demand for late-night ride service has soared 30 percent since police revealed the discovery of the remains.
Information from: The Daily Chronicle, http://www.daily-chronicle.com