Former firefighter still collects pension despite murder - FOX 32 News Chicago

EXCLUSIVE: Convicted killer still collects over $55K a year in pension behind bars

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Eugene Ornstead is a killer. In 1994, the veteran Chicago fire department lieutenant beat his second wife to death in their northwest side home. Then, stuffed her body in the trunk of his car and drove to Racine County, Wisconsin, where he told police they had been kidnapped.

The story quickly fell apart and Ornstead was convicted of first degree murder.

Now, 76 years old, Ornstead lives behind bars in a medium security prison in Redgranite, Wisconsin, and won't be eligible for parole until he turns 100.

But despite his brutal crime, every month Ornstead gets a check from the Chicago firefighter's pension fund for $4,645 dollars. That's more than $55,000 a year and more than $840,000 in pension money since he committed the murder.

Pension expert Bill Zettler says it may be outrageous, but under Illinois law it's perfectly legal. Public pensions must still be paid to criminals, unless the crime was committed as part of the pensioner's job. Yet social security disappears behind prison walls.

"I would characterize it as immoral," Zettler says. "Why should the taxpayers be paying a pension to somebody who's in prison for life?" Social security, if you're in prison you don't get it. You can start it again if you're out. Why can't the public pensions be just like our pensions?"

In a statement, Firemen's Annuity and Benefit Fund President Ken Kaczmarz says "nobody feels good about giving a pension to a convicted felon, but we have to follow the (state) statutes like everyone else."

Documents obtained by FOX 32 show Ornstead applied for his firefighter's pension just days after committing the murder. In a handwritten letter from behind bars, Ornstead resigned from active duty and put in for his pension, reminding the fire department he's still owed his furlough and mileage checks.

Amazingly, documents show Ornstead actually sweetened his pension by committing the murder. Because he has no wife who could survive him, Ornstead gets more money every month as a "sole survivor."

But if Ornstead is sitting in prison, who's getting all that money?

Kristyn McClearn is Eugene Ornstead's daughter from his first marriage. She's also a Chicago police officer making $78,000 a year.

Shortly after murdering his wife, Ornstead gave his daughter power of attorney over his financial affairs, and she's been cashing his pension checks for the past 19 years.

McClearn told FOX 32 News she spends some of the money on herself with her dad's permission.

"A lot of people will be angry but if you read the statute it's fine. Correct? That's what the pension board told you, correct? In my opinion? What he did, he's serving time for it," McClearn says. "Is it right that he gets his pension? Yes, he deserves his pension. What he did has nothing to do with his being a fireman and he deserves his pension."

Richard Trevino's mother Kathleen was Ornstead's second wife. She was just 40 when he killed her.

Trevino says Ornstead was facing a mountain of debt and had taken out multiple life insurance policies on his wife. Years ago, Trevino and his sister considered suing Ornstead for his pension, but were told it's legally protected.

"For someone else, from what I understand, to be collecting that money and using it to live a better life than most people do, that's just wrong," Trevino says. "And it came at the expense of my mother's life. In a way the passing of my mother was like a lottery ticket to some people."

Amazingly, documents we obtained show Ornstead actually sweetened his pension by committing the murder. Because he has no wife who could survive him, Ornstead gets more money every month as a "sole survivor" than he would if he were still married.

We tried to talk to Ornstead directly, but the Wisconsin Department of Corrections refused our request, saying it would have no positive impact" on the public

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