Piano Man Killer Wanted Hit Man: Prosecutors

Trial to begin for man accused of killing his wife and her mother

The traveling piano man tried to recruit a hit man at his anger-management class, prosecutors say.

When that fell through, they allege, Steven L. Zirko carried out the savage murders himself.

A jury in Skokie is expected to begin hearing evidence Monday in one of the stranger Cook County murder cases in recent memory. Zirko -- a former cruise line pianist -- is accused in the Dec. 2004 murders of his 38-year-old ex-girlfriend and her mother in Glenview. Attorneys finished picking a jury Thursday.

After 4 1/2 years in Cook County Jail awaiting trail, Zirko -- who plays the piano during chapel services -- is eager to have his day in court, said Zirko's lead attorney, Barry A. Spector.

"There is no direct evidence connecting him to the murders, and we're anxious to finally have a jury hear all the evidence," Spector said.

Cook County prosecutors, who are seeking the death penalty, say the evidence points to Zirko.

Mary Lacey, Zirko's ex-girlfriend, and her 60-year-old mother, Margaret Ballog, were found slain in Lacey's home. Lacey was shot twice and stabbed more than 40 times, while Ballog was shot several times, officials say.

Prosecutors say Zirko and Lacey shared a long, troubled relationship, and he was furious because she wouldn't let him see their two young sons.

In the weeks before the killings, Zirko allegedly offered a man at his anger-management class $50,000 to "exterminate my wife," prosecutors say. Zirko also allegedly asked his chiropractor to find a hit man, prosecutors say.

Prosecutors say gunpowder residue and cell phone calls made minutes before the killings help tie Zirko to the slayings.

Security is being beefed up for the trial because the extended families of the victims and the defendant are expected to attend, said Steve Patterson, a spokesman for the Cook County sheriff's office.

"We are expecting several dozen spectators just for this trial, which is outside the norm for the Skokie courthouse," Patterson said.

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