Ismael Serna was stabbed to death in his apartment as he was getting ready to head to work at a Lincolnwood bakery
For more than two decades, a north suburban cold case has frustrated the family and friends of a man who they say was killed in the prime of his life.
Ismael Serna often filled his day with two activities, work and baseball, but on a winter morning in 1991, as he was getting ready to head to work as a baker at New York Bagel and Bialy in Lincolnwood, someone took him by surprise and attacked him with a knife.
"They way they killed him, it seemed like somebody was really angry with him," recalled his brother Rigo Serna, his eyes filling with tears as he remembered seeing the mutilated body.
A close friend and co-worker of Serna's, a woman who NBC Chicago will identify only as Laurie, expressed dismay that her friend's killer still hasn't been found after 20 years.
"I made a promise the day he died I was going to find out who killed him and have some justice for him because he couldn't protect himself," she said.
To fulfill that promise, she's learned Spanish and made several trips to Serna's grave in Mexico, only to return with questions still unanswered.
"Sometimes I say maybe just leave it in God's hands... God will punish the people that did this, but I still think that maybe the police have a possibility of doing something about it.
Shortly after the Feb. 26, 1991 homicide, police said they had a witness who reported hearing an argument and screams for help. A resident in the apartment complex helped create a composite sketch of someone seen running from the scene. But none of it panned out.
Those involved with the case say they hope more sophisticated DNA testing will provide new, solid leads. And they hope that witnesses who may have been afraid to come forward back in 1991 will do so now.
Serna's family said they're prepared to pay a substantial reward for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information is asked to call the Cook County Cold Case Unit at 708-865-4549. Online tips can be provided at CookCountySheriff.org.