By David Jackson and Gary Marx, Chicago Tribune –
CHICAGO — Chicago murder suspect Giovanni Spiller’s 16 years on the run came to an abrupt end last week as he eased his car into the driveway of his suburban Southern California home.
An FBI agent was waiting to arrest the 65-year-old fugitive, wanted in a 1996 shooting death outside a pool hall on Chicago’s North Side.
A person who knew of Spiller’s whereabouts in Hemet, Calif., but was unaware of the seriousness of his alleged crime, contacted Chicago police and the FBI after reading a story about Spiller’s case that was part of the Tribune’s “Fugitives from Justice” series.
After he fled Chicago, Spiller had been traced to Memphis, and then the Philippines, as he used a string of aliases to conceal his location. He had dyed his hair, obtained identification stating he was “Johnny Harrington,” avoided family gatherings and rarely answered the telephone.
But Spiller also left clues to his whereabouts, the Tribune found.
In Hemet, Spiller was living at a house he co-owned, and his wife moved there from Chicago about five years ago, according to a law enforcement source. The Spillers used that address and a Hemet bank account when paying property taxes on the Chicago house they continued to own, records show.
Spiller’s wife died in late January, according to the Riverside County coroner, but the most recent check was mailed two weeks ago.
When the FBI agent approached Spiller at 5 p.m. Feb. 21, Spiller initially claimed he was Harrington — an identity he had obtained from an incarcerated criminal, according to a law enforcement source. But Spiller’s scars and tattoos gave him away, and fingerprints taken at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside matched those from 1996, when he was first booked on Chicago murder charges, the source said.
The two sons and former wife of Roberto “Bobby” Castillo, who was shot to death in 1996, said they were shocked to learn of Spiller’s capture and hopeful that they might get closure after many years and judicial misfires.
Castillo’s son Roberto “Alan” Castillo watched as Spiller surrendered to Chicago detectives but then fled after posting a low bond. Three years later, Spiller was found in the Philippines, but an extradition effort stalled in that country, records and interviews show.
“For the past 16 years I have been hoping and praying and wondering if this guy would ever pay for the crime. We’re finally going to see justice as long as someone doesn’t drop the ball again,” Castillo said.
“As far as I know, after the killing he just went free and went gallivanting wherever he wanted to go. I’ll be relieved if he really is caught and is in jail right now,” said Castillo’s former wife, Irene.
In addition to his low bond and an apparent lack of cooperation by the Philippines government, spotty law enforcement oversight allowed the manhunt to drift for years.
Six feet tall and muscular in his prime, Spiller told Chicago friends he was the child of an African-American U.S. serviceman and a Filipino woman. People called him “Popoy.”
He and Castillo were longtime friends. Both grew up on tough streets in different communities in the Philippines.
In Chicago, the two worked only sporadically — Castillo managed an apartment building; Spiller drove delivery trucks. Both were regulars at Marie’s Golden Cue, a pool hall, where they and about two dozen Filipino-American friends bet on games of pool, cards and mah-jongg.
Late in 1996, Spiller and Castillo got into a fight and Castillo, who worked out daily, lifting weights and running, beat Spiller severely, according to Castillo’s sons and a friend. Castillo told his family that he was expecting retribution.
On a cold, wet evening the day after Thanksgiving in 1996, Castillo was walking toward the pool hall when he was shot several times with a 45-caliber pistol.
The gunman sprinted away, but at least one person on the bloodstained streets outside the pool hall identified Spiller as the shooter, according to Tribune interviews.
At Spiller’s house, Chicago police detectives found and pamphlets on how to switch identities and change one’s appearance.
Two hours after Spiller was arrested at the house on Feb. 21, he was booked into the county jail and is being held without bond.
Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, said prosecutors on Monday signed and forwarded to California paperwork seeking Spiller’s return to Chicago. “The extradition is very much in the process of taking place,” Daly said.
At a hearing Wednesday afternoon before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Michele Levine, Spiller agreed to be extradited to Illinois, and he waived the right that required the state of Illinois to seek a governor’s warrant, according to Supervising Deputy Public Defender Eric Keen, who represented Spiller at the hearing.
Spiller’s next court hearing is set for March 7.