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Police: Indiana Man’s 2005 Death Wasn’t Homicide, After All

By Sarah Reese, The Times

In anticipation of a possible break in the case, she had searched arrest records going back a month to check if a possible suspect had been arrested.

She hugged her 22-year-old grandson, who was just 7 years old when his father died, and said, “It would be so good if we walked in there, and they told us this case is finally solved.”

Instead, the news she and her family received left them reeling.

Officials told the family they were changing their ruling on Larry Neizgoda’s death July 2, 2005, from homicide to “undetermined.”

Neizgoda, 27, died from smoke inhalation in a blaze investigators no longer think was arson, but instead suspect was “likely accidental.” Neizgoda’s body was found after the fire destroyed his house in the 8100 block of Wicker Park Drive.

Cindy Neizgoda and her daughter Tiffany Neizgoda said they were outraged.


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Investigators never should have ruled Larry Neizgoda’s death a homicide 15 years ago if they weren’t certain at the time, they said.

“Not one of them could even apologize for what they did to us,” Cindy Neizgoda said. “Now, after 15 years, you want to roll this over and call it a wash? It’s not that easy. Every day, I get up, I think of my son. He’s the last thing I think about at night.”

For 15 years, the family has been consumed by their quest for justice.

“We never healed, because we were out there searching for the killer,” Tiffany Neizgoda said. “It was tortuous. My mom shut down. There was no more family functions, like there used to be. I feel like my family died the day my brother did.”


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Life didn’t go on as usual, she said. She didn’t have a bonfire for 10 years, and she couldn’t go to parades because the sirens reminded her of the day she had to tell her parents her brother was dead.

“Anything they say to me isn’t going to make it better. Nothing’s going to bring him back,” she said. “I want the whole world to know. … Losing a family member is hard enough, but when you’re told your family member was killed and there’s no one accountable, it ruins you and everyone around you.”

Police: Our line remains open

Highland police said they worked for years to generate leads and follow up on tips.


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“Numerous leads and theories were investigated when they were received from family and friends, none of which provided any evidence to substantiate a classification of homicide,” police said in a statement.

Detective Lee Natelborg submitted the case in February to the Cold Case Foundation, a group that includes active and retired law enforcement officers, fire investigators, legal experts, death investigators, forensic experts, stress management experts and victim advocate experts.

Natelborg learned of the foundation from a television show, and Cindy Neizgoda consented to the group’s review of the case, Cmdr. John Banasiak said.

“This is a tragic situation. You can’t bring that person back, no matter what,” Banasiak said. “They’re at a loss. I totally understand that.”


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The foundation conducted an unbiased review and issued an opinion that Larry Neizgoda’s manner of death should be classified as undetermined, police said.

“Over the last 15 years, many things have changed in fire investigations to include equipment, analysis and theories,” police said, adding Larry Neizgoda was a smoker.

The Indiana state fire marshal’s office and Lake County coroner’s office subsequently reviewed the case and came to the same conclusion, police said. The family’s insurance carrier classified the case as undetermined.

Lake County Coroner Merrilee Frey said her office changed the manner of death because of further work by the Police Department and fire marshal.

“Initially, the police felt that it was a homicide,” she said. “The police and fire marshal no longer support that it was a homicide. The police investigated further.”

The Highland Police and Fire departments reviewed the findings of the other agencies and agreed the manner of death should be undetermined, police said.

If any new evidence becomes available, police will investigate, he said.

“If they want to call us and sit down, Lee Natelborg will always sit down with them. And they know that,” Banasiak said.

Family no closer to closure

Tiffany Neizgoda said she wanted police to publicly explain, because the family raised reward money and told the community Larry Neizgoda had been killed.

“How do I stand up in front of everybody and go, ‘We were wrong. It’s OK. It was an accident’?” Tiffany Neizgoda said.

The family said Larry Neizgoda was an “old soul,” a great father and someone who always looked out for others.

“From the time he was little, he was very quiet,” Cindy Neizgoda said. “You’d have to coax him into playing with other kids.”

He never forgot his mother’s birthday, he insisted on mowing her lawn and shoveling snow, and he urged her not to spend too much money on him at Christmastime, she said.

Tiffany Neizgoda said her brother was her best friend. He was determined to give his son and daughter a good life.

Family members had suspicions before investigators called them in for a meeting 15 years ago to inform them Larry Neizgoda’s manner of death was being changed from pending to homicide, Tiffany Neizgoda said.

“We felt wholeheartedly that they were right, and this was a homicide and my brother was taken from me and taken from his children way too soon because of somebody’s actions,” she said.

In their recent meeting, police said the case was ruled an arson and homicide because of information provided by the family, she said.

“I found that to be absurd,” she said. “You take the public’s theories and accusations and you make a ruling on that? That’s not fair.”

At one point, police interrogated Tiffany Neizgoda and her ex-husband on the theory that they wanted her brother dead because of a shared inheritance, she said.

“I would never hurt my brother,” she said. “It was hurtful.”

Family members said the change in case status brings them no closer to closure.

“This isn’t going to give me closure, unless you wake me up and tell me it was all a bad dream, and he’s standing in front of me,” Cindy Neizgoda said.

Despite the Cold Case Foundation’s findings, family members continue to think the circumstances surrounding Larry Neizgoda’s death don’t add up. They don’t believe the fire was started by a cigarette or candle.

“I’m just not going to give up on that kid,” Cindy Neizgoda said. “As a mother, I already feel like I didn’t do my job, because I wasn’t there to protect him.”


Source: The Times


The post Police: Indiana Man’s 2005 Death Wasn’t Homicide, After All appeared first on The Village Reporter.

Source: The Village Reporter

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