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Sunday, June 17, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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FBI's mistake let serial killer stay free

Chicago Tribune

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CHICAGO - The Chicago FBI acknowledges a lapse in failing to alert Illinois officials that its investigators found a knife in the home of a suspected serial killer - notification that could have sent him back to prison before he allegedly murdered four more women.

Paul Runge, 31, a truck driver and former shoe salesman, was charged Thursday with killing six women and a child. His last four victims, police said, were slain in Chicago in early 1997, more than one year after his home was searched.

When the knife was found on March 8, 1996, the FBI and two local law-enforcement agencies involved didn't think to use it to invoke a violation of Runge's parole for a 1987 rape, said Ross Rice, an FBI spokesman in Chicago.

Instead, investigators were solely focused on finding evidence they hoped would link Runge to the 1995 murder of Stacey Frobel and the disappearances that same year of two sisters who were refugees from Bosnia, Rice said.

Only in May 1997, when authorities were desperate to lock up Runge because they suspected - but could not prove - that he was a killer, did they hit on the tactic of Runge's parole violation for possession of the weapon, Rice said.

Illinois officials jailed Runge the next month. When his sentence expired in 1999, authorities went to court in 1999 to keep him in prison under the Sexually Violent Persons Act. Psychologists testified he was a "sexual sadist" and said he had no remorse for the kidnapping, repeated rape and torture of a 14-year-old girl.

He was still being held when police said DNA evidence linked him to two murders and Runge then allegedly confessed to the other slayings.

Authorities believe Runge is responsible for at least one other murder, law-enforcement sources said Friday. He allegedly confessed to also killing a prostitute and chopping up her body, scattering the remains, which have not been found, the sources said.

Police have charged him with three murders in which the victims were dismembered. Two of those bodies have not been found and a dog found the legs of a third.

Authorities also said Runge nearly escaped last year after he and two other inmates being driven to a Cook County court hearing overpowered a corrections officer during a stop. They were captured by local police who witnessed the incident, officials said.

The knife that eventually sent Runge back to prison was among more than 200 items seized from the home Runge shared with his wife and father, according to court records. FBI agents also found a book about a serial killer who dismembered women, a guide to police radio traffic, a crossbow and a stun gun, records show.

"We never felt that any of these items, including the knife, in and of itself, would be a parole offense, nor were we looking to violate his parole," Rice said. "We were looking for evidence linking him to the disappearances and or linking him to the murder of Frobel."

When the FBI finally notified state officials about the knife, Runge had only about three weeks left on his parole, which was part of what motivated the effort to lock him up, Rice said.

What is clear from once-sealed court records obtained Friday is that the FBI's efforts to link Runge to the 1995 Frobel killing and the disappearance of the two Bosnian women was intense in 1995 and early 1996.

Runge's wife, Charlene, was also considered a suspect in the disappearances of Frobel and the Bosnian sisters, an FBI agent said in an affidavit to obtain a search warrant.

Two law-enforcement sources said Friday that Charlene Runge has been assisting in the investigation of her husband. That cooperation began after Paul Runge was back in custody in June 1997, but long before DNA evidence linked him to two Chicago murders late last year, a source said.

On Thursday, Runge was charged with the murders of the Bosnians - Dzeneta Pasanbegovic, 22, and her sister, Amela, 20.

The 1996 affidavit revealed FBI agents had studied bite marks on Frobel's dismembered leg, followed Runge and his wife, traced calls from pay phones the couple used, tapped their phones and sifted through their garbage for months looking for evidence.

Investigators said Runge became a suspect in the murder of Frobel a few days after a German shepherd brought home a severed leg it found in a field near the Wisconsin border on Jan. 16, 1995. Five days later, the dog brought home another leg.

Tests concluded they were Frobel's, who was a friend of Charlene Runge's. She had been missing since Jan. 4 and was last seen at the Runge house.

The Pasanbegovic sisters were last seen on July 11, 1995.

Runge became a suspect in that case after the FBI discovered Runge and his wife had allegedly offered the women housecleaning jobs through a mutual acquaintance, records show.

The day the sisters disappeared, "I believe that [they] left in the company of Charlene Runge, to go to her residence for the purported purpose of taking a job cleaning houses," an FBI agent said in the affidavit. Other evidence also linked the Runges to the sisters, according to the FBI.

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