Lois “Evelyn” Wright was born September, 11 1947 in Cape Girardeau, Missouri to Arthur and Doris Baker Jenkins. She moved to Rockford, Illinois and lived there for the rest of her life. After graduating from Hononegah Community High School in Rockton, Illinois she attended and obtained her associates from Rock Valley College in Rockford. In 1964 she married Daniel Wright and together they had four daughters. They both had a mutual love of animals and wildlife. She was personally interested in ceramics and loved to shop. She spent seven years working at Rockford Products Company before taking a position at Estwing Manufacturing Company where she worked as a tool and die maker. She spent the last eighteen months of her life working there. It paid quite a bit more with better benefits. Even though she secured a better paying job, she had spent the last six years working Friday and Saturday nights at the Colonial Inn Best Western at 4850 E. State St. in Rockford.
By 1988 the Wrights had fallen on hard times and by now had three grandchildren in their home. Daniel had struggled maintaining employment and they only had one car. The City of Rockford had especially suffered economically with the rapid decline of American manufacturing through the seventies and eighties. The days where a man could support a family straight out of high school were long over. While Daniel later described his wife as a “workaholic”, his sister Gwendolyn Wallin offered her own point-of-view on her sister-in-law, “she wanted to make sure her kids had everything they needed.”
Colonial Inn Best Western in Rockford, Illinois taken from a postcard from the 60s
Built as a high end motor lodge in the industrial and commercial zone of Rockford, the Colonial Inn was a custom designed colonial brick motel that included columns in both the Portes-cochère and a wing that housed presidential suites, distinguishing characteristics that stands out to this very day. Located at 4850 E. State St. in Rockford, it is situated less than two-miles from I-90 and sits directly on the Business Route 20 interchange that is a limited access freeway bypass of US Route 20, I-39/I-90 and US Route 51. The Colonial Inn was able to maintain the standards required for membership in the Best Western co-op for quite sometime after the Rockford area and motel itself began to decline. After a landmark case decided in the North Dakota Supreme Court in 1985 that eventually forced Best Western to operate as a franchiser, The Colonial Inn owners decided to cut ties with the Best Western franchise just a couple years after Evelyn’s murder. It would change owners over the years and now operates as a Travelodge and is quite rundown.
Evelyn was working the overnight shift from Saturday December 17th to Sunday the 18th 1988. She was scheduled to get off at her usual time at 8 a.m. She called her husband Daniel at 6 a.m. every morning she worked to make sure he was awake and to let him know if she was to be off at her usual time. This particular morning, Daniel didn’t hear from her and while he wasn’t immediately concerned, he still felt it was irregular. He waited until quarter-after six, but there was no answer. He decided to wait a few more minutes and called back again. This time she answered and “Lois stated she had gotten busy”, Daniel later recalled, “she told me to be there at 8 o’clock”.
It was the last time he spoke to his wife.
Shortly after the 7:20 a.m. sunrise that cold December morning, a guest walked into front office of the Colonial Inn to check out. At first glance, he didn’t see anyone behind the desk so he went outside, glanced around and then came back in. Moments later another guest arrived to check out and approached the desk. Evelyn was discovered lying face down and unconscious on a small carpeted area. When the call came into emergency services at 07:30 a.m., it was reported that the “female desk clerk looks to have had a heart attack and was unconscious”. Nothing was initially reported to be out of the ordinary.
EMS services arrived at 07:40 a.m. and went in to immediately render aid. EMTs immediately realized that the unconscious female wasn’t having a heart attack or even in cardiac arrest. She was quite cold to the touch and showed no signs of life. Just as they were to attempt Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation efforts, they discovered that she suffered a gunshot wound to the right side of her chest. They knew the best they could do for the victim at this point was to preserve the crime scene.
Daniel Wright pulled into the Colonial Inn at 8 a.m. sharp to pick up his wife. An ambulance was right at the front entrance and a couple squad cars were already at the scene. Something was wrong, but it didn’t appear to be an emergency. Normally when it’s an emergency, people are standing around while police and EMTs are running around. Instead, the EMTs sat in the ambulance and the officers were standing by the door.
Wright recalled in The Rockford Register Star the following morning, “I’m nosey, curious. They weren’t going to let me in until I said I came to pick up my wife. Normally, I see her at the desk looking out the front door. But I didn’t see her and had a funny feeling. When they told me a woman had been shot, I asked if she had red hair? When they said yes, I knew right then it was her.”
Lois “Evelyn” Wright was pronounced dead at the scene by Winnebago County Coroner Dr, P. John Seward at 9 a.m. Detective Sgt. Dominic Iasparro was assigned as lead detective and at first glance, it appeared to be a robbery gone wrong. Robberies weren’t uncommon in the area, but shooting a hotel clerk on a Sunday morning on the main business strip of Rockford was. There were no immediate signs of struggle according to Rockford Police Department. The police would release little details regarding the crime scene and the following week they would reach out via Crime Stoppers offering a $1,000 reward and stated that a grey/silver pickup truck was of interest.
Evelyn was shot with .44 magnum and it would later be determined that she was shot from the right side with the bullet exiting her chest. Cash was missing from the front desk drawer that appeared to by pried open. Police would later reveal that a white American Bank cash bag with a “substantial sum of cash” had been taken from the crime scene.
The official amount has not been disclosed.
Eleven days later this “robbery gone wrong” was going to be turned upside down.