It was Palm Sunday in 1990, and Jeanne Bishop was in her church choir robe, listening to the music playing. The church was full, and everyone was singing. It was a “joyful procession.” The last thing she could have ever expected at that moment was to have the church secretary come up to her, put her hand on her arm and say, “You have a phone call.”
Her heart started to pound – she knew something was really wrong. Her father was the one calling, and he got right to the point: “Nancy and Richard have been killed… Someone killed them.” No words could describe Jeanne’s feeling at that moment, hearing that her sister and brother-in-law had just been killed. And Nancy was pregnant, too…
They were “this happy young couple with everything to live for, with no enemies, you know, with no reason that anyone in the world should want to take their lives,” Jeanne later recalled in a 48 Hours documentary called Road to Redemption. It was all so unexpected. The suburbs of Winnetka in Illinois was not a place where murders took place.
It’s where families are raised and movies like Home Alone are filmed. Why on earth would someone choose to take the lives of a young couple expecting their first child? It took 23 years to finally get the answer. And when Jeanne got that answer, she decided to forgive the unforgivable…
It’s been over 30 years since her sister Nancy and brother-in-law, Richard Langert, were murdered. Jeanne Bishop still lives in the wealthy suburb of Winnetka, where they grew up. It was a happy childhood, where they got to play in the streets and do all the things kids do in safe communities.
It’s why that phone call on that Palm Sunday back in 1990 was as disturbingly shocking as it was. The girls’ father, Lee, went to check on his pregnant daughter at their townhouse. He rang the doorbell but there was no answer. So, he let himself in, and noticed a light on in the basement…
Unfortunately Lee was the first to witness the scene. He stood at the top of the basement stairs and looked down. And there were 25-year-old Nancy and 30-year-old Richard, lying lifeless on the floor. There was his pregnant daughter – the one who made the family laugh, the gifted performer – gone forever.
Nancy’s aspirations were always rooted in family. “She wanted to be a wife and a mother. And have a home,” Joyce Bishop, her mother, said. “That was all she wanted. And she was on her way.” To call this story a tragedy would be an understatement. But every story has a beginning…
Nancy Bishop was in her early 20s when she met Richard Langert. Jeanne recalls it being a match made in heaven: “He was just this perfect match for Nancy… he was this tall, handsome jock.” She remembers Richard looking at Nancy, as if he was thinking, “Isn’t she the most wonderful thing?”
The man was legitimately a keeper. Jeanne also remembers looking out the window to see Richard mowing the lawn without anyone having asked him. The couple married in 1987, and soon started working for a growing coffee company together called Gloria Jean’s Coffee Bean Corp.
Richard was in production while Nancy worked in sales. In the early stages of their marriage, Nancy was constantly hoping that she would get pregnant. It took a few years, but her wish finally came true. She even said in the beginning of 1990, “this is gonna be our year.” And it was… in both the best and absolutely worst way.
After three years of marriage, they were expecting their first child and were also moving into their first house. Nancy was as happy as could be. Until their dream home was ready, Nancy and Richard were living temporarily in a townhouse owned by her parents, Lee and Joyce Bishop.
On April 7, a Saturday, the family got together at a restaurant in Chicago. They had lots to celebrate – Lee’s birthday and Nancy’s big news. Jeanne already had a baby gift ready for Nancy. “Oh, we were just the happiest family you could imagine.”
Jeanne still remembers the last words she said to her sister that night, and she knows exactly what she said because she never says them anymore. She hugged Nancy goodbye and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” But Jeanne doesn’t say those words anymore: “Because… you don’t know that they will be true.”
When Nancy and Richard returned home that night, they were met by an intruder. The intruder had ransacked Nancy’s purse and tore up the boxes the couple had already packed for their move, but nothing appeared to have been taken.
There was $500 Nancy cashed the previous day, which was strewn on the living room floor. It was clear to the police that this was not a burglary. The next day, the Langerts didn’t show up at church, nor did they answer their phone. At 4 p.m., Lee went to check on them.
That’s when he saw their bodies lying face-up in the basement. He saw that Richard had been handcuffed and shot in the back of the head. Nancy had shot wounds in her elbow, side and stomach. Using her finger, she tried to scribble a message in blood.
At first, people thought that the letters spelled “IRA,” but later the police concluded that the message was actually a heart next to the letter “U.” When Joyce got the news, everything in her stopped. “If you had sliced my wrist, I would not have bled,” she said. “I was frozen. I didn’t cry. I didn’t feel a thing.”
Nancy’s mother didn’t cry until the next day. Other than the family being in shock and mourning, the news of the double (actually triple) murder ripped through the quiet community like a ton of bricks. While everyone waited for answers, investigators were searching everywhere and asking everyone.
They followed leads and hunches that took them nowhere, hunting in vain for clues and signs. Was Richard being unfaithful? Did they have unpaid debts? Were they smuggling drugs from their coffee warehouse? Was Nancy involved in the IRA? The questions were endless, and the answers? There were none.
One theory was that the killings were committed by a crazed, vengeful client of Nancy’s father. Another (even more popular) theory was that the (IRA) were retaliating against Nancy’s sister, a lawyer who monitored human rights abuses in Ireland.
The idea was that the IRA was targeting Jeanne and killed Nancy by mistake. The family, however, found this preposterous. The FBI also claimed that a death threat had been made against Jeanne by the IRA months prior to the murders. Given the fact that she came back from a trip to Northern Ireland just three days before the murders, investigators were suspicious.
When detectives confronted Jeanne with this theory, she simply didn’t believe it. “I was so shocked at this theory,” she recalled. “The IRA doesn’t target Americans.” For a while, it seemed like the killer would never be found…
The fact that no money was stolen – that no message was left – made it seem, at least to Jeanne, that this crime was meant to be seen as an assassination, “an execution,” she said. She figured that the murders were methodically planned. The multi-town police task force, headed by Iaitis, was put into action.
“It was hard to understand,” Kalvaitis recalled. “As much as some things look professional, other things just look so amateur.” They were able to determine quite quickly how the intruder came and went undetected. In the backyard next to the point of entry, through the patio door, was a fence.
Once you’re over the fence, there’s a bike trail that goes pretty much all the way to Chicago. There were rumors that an outsider was bringing big city violence to Winnetka. But even if that were true, why Nancy and Richard?
Kalvaitis explained a major problem: without any suspect, everyone becomes a suspect. They had to question and do background checks on everybody, including the family. Everyone had to be ruled out.
In the aftermath of the murders, the family learned the details of what happened in Nancy and Richard’s last living moments from investigators. Richard died first, with a gunshot wound to the head, “execution style,” Jeanne explained. As for Nancy, two shots were in her torso. At some point, she dragged herself by her elbows to Richard’s body, which was already lifeless.
That’s when she wrote her final message, which was ultimately determined to be a heart and a “U,” symbolizing the words “Love you.” It’s not just heartbreaking to us. Take it from her mother. “Oh, it’s probably the most heartbreaking thing that you could ever imagine,” Joyce said.
“When I saw that heart there, mine broke.” When Detective Kalvaitis walked into their basement, he noticed the brutality of the slayings along with some strange clues. “There was blood everywhere, you could smell it,” he recalled. There were a set of handcuffs and by the back fence was a single glove.
All in all, there was “very, very, very little evidence to go on.” The family was asked if the couple had a double life or if someone wanted revenge on them, but they had nothing to offer. At the time, investigators found Jeanne to be uncooperative, and the media played in on it too.
News reports were stating that Winnetka Police indicated that Jeanne Bishop was not cooperating with authorities. The whole IRA theory and the connection to Nancy’s own sister never checked out. As the weeks went on, so did the feeling that this would never get solved.
For a while, they thought the killer effectively got away with it. But as we know, some cases take years – even decades – to solve. Meanwhile, Detective Kalvaitis was holding out for that one perfect lead to come in.
After six months of false leads, dead ends, and close to a million dollars spent on resources, the task force stopped looking. But then, one day, two teens walked into the Winnetka Police Department with a story that blew the case wide open again. And it was the last thing anyone could have expected.
The one place investigators overlooked in their search was the town of Winnetka itself and the community’s highly regarded New Trier Township High School. And if they inquired within, they might have heard that a 17-year-old senior by the name of David Biro, mockingly bragged to his classmates that he had shot the Langerts.
Biro was a lanky honor student, known for his sarcasm and dark sense of humor. The problem was that the students were used to hearing Biro’s frequent claims that he was a hitman, a drug dealer, a gang member – you name it.
It was essentially a twisted version of the boy who cried wolf. Nobody really took David Biro seriously. But there was one boy, Phu Hoang, who felt that there was more to the strange kid’s claims than mere imaginary bragging.
Hoang and his girlfriend, also both seniors, decided to tell the Winnetka police what Biro was saying at school. At the police station, Hoang simply said, “You know, I know who did the Winnetka murders… My friend, David Biro. He told me that he did it.” While Biro had bragged about the killings, he never mentioned anything about his motive.
Hoang then told them about how Biro had a gun in his room – he even showed it to Hoang. Officer McConnell, the one Hoang reported to, remembers why the kid came into the station at all: “He said he got afraid that he thought he was gonna kill again.”
Investigators were intrigued, since Biro was mentioning details of the murders that were never even released to the public. Hoang said, “You know, he got nervous after he was talking to them… and he popped off a round.” That’s when all the hairs on McConnell’s arm and neck stood on end.
These were things only investigators knew, like how they discovered a shot fired into the wall on the first floor above the baseboard. It was a detail that hadn’t been in the newspapers. It became clear right then and then that Biro was very likely the one who committed the murders.
In fact, this wasn’t the first time Biro was on the police’s radar. The teen had been admitted to Charter Barclay, a psychiatric hospital in Chicago, three years prior. Why did he get sent to the “loony bin?” Well, it was after he reportedly tried to poison his parents and siblings…
When Biro was 14, he put wood alcohol into his family’s milk. Within hours, his parents checked him into a juvenile psychiatric hospital, but he was only there for less than two months. His parents let him come home against doctors’ orders for continued treatment.
Biro managed to convince his mother and father to not let him go back. In fact, they didn’t even bother to do any follow-up psychiatric checks on him. A hospital assessment written after Biro’s release from the hospital was incriminating on its own…
“At the time of his leaving the hospital, we believed that he was dangerous to himself or to others.” His parents, however, didn’t agree. “I hold them partially responsible,” Jennifer Bishop, the third daughter, said. “They knew he was dangerous.”
The Biros let their son walk around unsupervised with a padlock on his bedroom door. Ever since that early admission to the hospital, Biro had been stopped by police for all kinds of minor infractions. Hearing Biro’s name come up in relation to the Langerts’ case was both surprising and unsurprising at the same time.
When the young informant told the police about Biro’s claims in the Langert killings, pieces started coming together. Biro had actually been spotted, in black clothing, near the murder scene on the night of. So, on October 5, 1990, the day after police learned of Biro’s bragging, the student was arrested and taken into custody for questioning as he was leaving his parents’ three-story home.
A search warrant was issued, and the police searched through his padlocked bedroom. They found a glass cutter, handcuffs and a .357 Magnum revolver under his bed – all stolen from the office of Biro’s previous lawyer.
The .357 Magnum was concluded to be the murder weapon, and the handcuffs were like those found on Richard. Moreover, he had a scrapbook of articles on the killings. Biro, however, denied it; he told the cops that he was only holding the gun for a friend. According to McConnell, the boy was very arrogant and smug.
Like other psychopaths, Biro was proud of all the speculation in the newspapers about “a professional hit.” He took pride in that, even though he “never admitted that he had been involved in it,” McConnell explained.
Biro was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and the intentional homicide of their unborn child. In addition, he was charged with burglary and home invasion. His plead? Not guilty. The people most surprised by the arrest of the neighborhood weirdo were the Bishops.
“I was absolutely shocked,” Jeanne recalled, “that a 16-year-old boy could have put a .357 Magnum revolver to the back of a grown man’s head and pulled the trigger.” What made matters even worse, and really brought it close to home, was that Biro was the son of a family friend.
“I know the Biros,” Joyce said. His father worked for Lee at one point. Every year, the Biros (the ones who were nearly poisoned) would send the Bishops a Christmas card with a picture of them. It was all way too bizarre, and the reason why the Bishops couldn’t believe their ears upon the news.
But as details started coming out, the family learned more about who this creepy kid on the Christmas cards had become. Jeanne learned of his history of violence – that he would fire out of his window with a BB gun at people passing by and that he had lit someone on fire.
Biro was heading down a path to becoming a sociopath, a true-crime writer named Gera-Lind Kolarik said of the case. One detail that screams pathology was Biro’s motive. A WBBM news report read: “Authorities now believe the Langerts were chosen as victims less because of who they were, than where they lived. The motive, they believe, an attempt to commit the perfect crime.”
In the fall of 1991, Biro’s trial began. The prosecutors used that “perfect crime” motive, and the truth is their case was strong; they had Biro’s “confession” to Hoang and the evidence found in his bedroom, including the murder weapon itself.
What took people by surprise is when Biro took the stand. By then, he was 18 years old and speaking out in public for the first time. The teen stuck to his original story – that he was just holding the gun for a friend who actually committed the murders.
But prosecutors and investigators outright dismissed the claim. Jeanne Bishop said she saw a “brash, cocky, young man who pretty much believed he was gonna outsmart all of us.” Neither Jeanne, nor the Bishops, nor the jury had any doubt that it was Biro who committed the murders.
After a two-week trial, it took the jury a few hours to reach a final decision: David Biro was guilty on all charges. He received two mandatory life sentences, without parole, and the judge gave him a discretionary life sentence for the murder of their unborn child.
The Bishops were hoping for a maximum sentence. Jeanne “exhaled in relief,” feeling her jaw unclench “for the first time since they were murdered.” She wanted him to “die on a cold prison floor” like her sister did. But as Biro went away, so did the answers the family never got in court.
The answers did eventually come; it just took 22 years and an incredible change of heart. There was only one person who could give the family the answers they needed to find closure, and that was the killer himself. But for those two long decades, Jeanne and her family had to play the darkest of guessing games.
Biro’s crimes and arrest bewildered the community, including the police, who wondered why a privileged child would do such a thing. From the drawings and writings found in his room, it was believed that Biro may have involved himself in destructive occult beliefs.
The Biros’ closest friends figured he might have been “pushed or dared” into committing the murders as a street-gang initiation. One of his classmates said Biro was driven “to test his limits,” while another student said, “If Biro did do it, it’s because he wanted to commit the perfect crime.”
Still, one of the biggest questions remained: Why the Langerts? Despite the fact that the teenager went with his mother to the Langerts’ funeral, police believed there was no evidence Biro even knew them before the night of the murders.
Ever since she can remember, Jeanne has never wanted to hate anyone. Both she and Jennifer changed their lives after their sister’s murder. They started working as advocates for gun control, and against the death penalty by telling Nancy and Richard’s story.
The remarkable thing is that both women have chosen to forgive Biro – even though he has yet to admit that he was the killer. “I’m sad for him,” Jennifer stated. “I’m sad for how cold and empty his life must have been, and I am not going to hate him.”
Jennifer actually reached out to Biro, inspired by what’s known as restorative justice – a movement that encourages reconciliation between an offender and his/her victims and their families. She wrote him a very short letter, asking him to send her a letter if he wanted to talk to her.
This was 13 years after the murders, and Biro didn’t exactly embrace Jennifer’s attempt to reach out to him. He told her: “I’m not gonna confess to this crime, but I’d love to be your pen pal… It would be fun.” Yes, those were his actual words.
Jennifer replied with another short letter: “You’re clearly not where you need to be. If you ever change your mind, you know where to find me.” Meanwhile, Jeanne went from being a corporate attorney to a public defender, largely because of the way the FBI treated her in the early stages of the case.
Believe it or not, Jeanne has vowed to never utter David Biro’s name. And she hasn’t – for over 20 years. She calls him “the killer,” “the intruder,” “the murderer” because what she “wanted was for Nancy and Richard’s name to live and for his to die.”
Everything changed when Jeanne met Marc Osler, a law professor who found himself on the opposite side of the juvenile justice issue. Osler has one mission, and that’s to seek reduced sentences and even clemency.
Up until that point, Jeanne had forgiven Biro, but now she felt a calling to do more. “It was really my Christian faith being challenged that caused me to see David as a person,” she said. She started to use his name; to pray for him. She had to do more than just forgive – she had to engage with him.
In 2012, Jeanne started writing her own letters to Nancy’s killer. She explained that she had been waiting for years to hear Biro apologize to her. So, she decided to go first, and she wrote to him: “I forgave you a long time ago. And if you want me to come see you, I will.”
A few weeks later, she received Biro’s reply. She froze and didn’t open it for two full days. She then passed it on to Osler, who opened it for her. The letter was 18 pages long, and “remarkable.” In it was the one piece of information Jeanne had been waiting more than two decades to hear.
“’I think the time has come for me to drop the charade and finally be honest. I am guilty of killing your sister, Nancy, and her husband, Richard. I also want to take this opportunity to express my deepest condolences and apologize to you,” the letter read.
Jeanne, understandably, started to weep. Biro also mentioned that he wanted to meet Jeanne, face to face. Five months later, she drove two hours to the Pontiac Correctional Center, and was shocked to see who the teenaged killer had become. He was no longer the lanky, 17-year-old. He was now a man in his 40s.
That turned out to be the first of many visits, and Jeanne ended up writing a book about those meetings, called Change of Heart. One of the first things Biro wanted to do was tell Jeanne what happened on the night of the murders.
And so, he told her that he went there with the intention to do a burglary – that he wanted to wait for the homeowners to arrive. He was planning to take their wallets and their car, and then when the Langerts came home, he saw them. “I knew I– I just– I had to finish it,” he confessed.
Does Biro deserve a second chance? Jeanne now believes he does, after years of wanting him to die in prison. As for Jennifer, she doesn’t necessarily agree. “It all boils down to one thing,” Jennifer began: “Are there some people for whom permanent separation from the rest of society is sadly necessary?”
For her, yes, Biro is that person. On November 5, 2015, nearly 24 years to the day from when Biro went to trial, Jennifer and her mother Joyce found themselves back at the same courthouse, for a possible sentence reduction. But unlike her daughter Jeanne, Joyce cannot forgive, because she cannot forget.
After all was said and done, the judge denied Biro’s petition for a new sentencing hearing due to the death of the unborn child. Biro remains in prison.