Catherine O’Connor, a west suburban mom, went on a vacation with her husband and never came home.
Her family says that Catherine and John Trage were having marital problems at the time but that their relationship seemed to be getting better.
Now four years after that trip, her family is asking to reopen the investigation into her death and have decided to speak out for the first time.
In February 2008, John Trage surprised his wife with a trip to Mexico. Catherine’s brother, David O’Connor said that his sister, “told us he wanted to take her on a second honeymoon. That he wanted to try and fix their marriage.”
Their four children, 9- to 19-years-old, stayed home in River Forest with Catherine’s parents. The family said John Trage came back early and alone, telling them Catherine had died in Mexico.
"The hardest part of that day, seeing my mom and dad over there. When I got there knowing how much pain, they were in," O’Connor said.
Catherine’s family was stunned. How could a woman with no history of health problems, who worked out and ate well, die at the age of 44 years?
"My brother asked if she suffered. He didn’t answer. Was she in pain? He didn’t answer. He just said, she died peacefully in bed,” O’Connor said.
The family said Trage later told them that Catherine actually drowned in their hotel bathtub but didn’t want the children to think their mother had suffered.
According to FBI hotel records, security heard Trage screaming from the room and then found him in tears, kneeling by Catherine’s side "performing CPR" and "screaming for a doctor."
"He woke up at 4:30 in the morning and found her underneath the water in the bathtub," O’Connor said. The family also said that the Mexican autopsy report raised more questions because there was no formal determination of her death.
The report states, "cardio respiratory arrest" which means her heart stopped beating. O’Connor said, "we begged him not to cremate the body."
He asked Trage for a second autopsy when Catherine’s body arrived back in Chicago.
"Against our wishes, he had her body cremated," O’Connor said.
Trage said it was Catherine’s wish to be cremated. Looking for answers, the O’Connor family reached out to Robert Jambois, a former Wisconsin District Attorney.
“I think it’s very suspicious,” Jambois said.
He agreed to review the case pro bono. He poured through FBI reports, death scene photos, and interviews with the Mexican police.
"There’s no way we can rule out a homicide," Jambois said.
Jambois said the FBI investigation, which did not name Trage as a suspect, indicates that Trage was under extreme financial pressure. The family business, Trage Bros., shut down the next year and the family said Trage had insurance on Catherine’s life.
O’Connor said John Trage was the beneficiary. The O’Connor family has persisted in questioning John Trage on what happened that last night.
The insinuations apparently infuriated Trage, who Catherine’s brother said left a voicemail in August 2010.
"One it will happen. We are going to see each other and I'm going to beat your [expletive] ass," said Trage. Trage has moved out of state with his children and declined NBC Chicago's request for an interview.
Trage sent a letter in April 2010 expressing his sadness.
He went on to say, "Not even the FBI investigation revealed any indication of foul-play or questionable circumstances surrounding her death.”
The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s offices never filed any charges and never called John Trage a suspect. The O’Connor family refuses to give up.
"If you add up all the things that have happened… he’s got to be the unluckiest guy that ever walked the face of the earth,” O’Connor said.
The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment. Catherine’s family said that they are not letting go and are still seeking answers to her death.
They are planning a March 3 charity fundraiser, with all proceeds going to benefit the literacy program at Miscericordia.
FBI CASE FILES:
Included below are .pdf files to more than 150 pages worth of documents the FBI turned over to NBC Chicago for this story.