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Murder victim’s grandma:  ‘They tell us to be patient’

William 'Billy' P. Curl 34 DeKalb is charged with murder sexual assault arsdeath 18-year-old Antinette 'Toni' Keller Plainfield.  |

William "Billy" P. Curl, 34, of DeKalb, is charged with murder, sexual assault and arson in the death of 18-year-old Antinette "Toni" Keller of Plainfield. | Submitted by DeKalb Police Department

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Updated: September 25, 2012 10:47AM

The simple request from murder victim Toni Keller’s grandmother did not hide the heartbreak.

“We the family would like you to put every court date in the paper,” Joan Knable wrote in a letter to the editor. “The next court date at Sycamore Court House is August 29, 2012.”

Knable is referring to the case against 35-year-old William Curl, who is accused of sexually assaulting and murdering Knable’s 18-year-old granddaughter on Oct. 14, 2010, while the Neuqua Valley grad was a freshman at Northern Illinois University. Curl is accused of killing Toni Keller in what police described as a “crime of opportunity,” then attempting to hide his crime by burning her remains.

When I talked to Knable, she told me she wrote this letter as a gentle reminder: While life went on for the rest of us once we got past the shock of this brutal murder, for those who loved Toni, it came to a screeching halt.

Knable and her family were left to deal not only with the black void of their loss but also the frustrations of dealing with a judicial system that seems to move along at such a snail’s pace.

“They tell us to be patient,” says Knable. “But it is hard. Toni’s father (Roger) just gets so frustrated.”

Those same feelings are expressed by so many survivors. Trial dates are set, only to have the judges grant motions for continuance after continuance. In this case, the trial was to have started in June, but Curl’s public defender asked for more time to have psychiatric evaluations completed on the accused killer. As of now, the new trial date is Dec. 3, more than two years after the murder.

It’s the way the system is set up. But insuring a fair and speedy trial for the accused does not always seem so fair and speedy to those looking for justice and some semblance of closure. You don’t have to look any further than Will County for evidence of this molasses-like pace, where former Oswegoan Christopher Vaughn just now is standing trial five years after being arrested in the murders of his wife and three young children.

One case I remember being particularly hard on the family was the trial of Larry Galloway, who was finally found guilty of strangling Cheryl Lynn Hall 31 years after the Aurora woman’s murder — four years after he was finally arrested when DNA evidence connected him to the long-ago crime.

Knable had a close relationship with her only granddaughter. Toni and her family lived in Naperville until her senior year of high school, when they moved to Plainfield. She wanted to graduate with friends, which meant she spent a lot of time, even overnighters, at Grandma’s house.

“She was my pride and joy,” said 72-year-old Knable, who liked to make annual visits to the Asian festival in Chicago with Toni. Their last time together was also spent downtown. Just prior to Toni heading off to college that fall of 2010, the pair went to the Art Institute of Chicago, where her granddaughter “used her brand new camera to take all kinds of wonderful pictures.”

Six weeks later, that camera, now smashed, was found in the fire that also contained her granddaughter’s charred remains.

None of us can ever pretend to know the nightmare some of these families must endure. But Joan Knable is trying awfully hard to focus on the beauty of her granddaughter’s life. Toni, she says, had such a passion for sunflowers. That’s why the DeKalb Elks Lodge is installing a bench in the shape of this flower in her memory. (Contributions can be made by calling 815-756-6912; or sending checks to the Elks Lodge at 209 S. Annie Glidden Road in DeKalb.)

“She loved sunflowers and the color yellow,” says her grandmother.

It’s these little memories that make Knable smile. She’s also looking forward to an upcoming trip to San Francisco to visit Toni’s big brother RJ. “It’s a long way to go,” says Knable of the trek. But this time spent with her only remaining grandchild will be a pleasant distraction from next Wednesday’s date at the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore, and the murder trial that still seems so far away.

“It’s hard,” she says. “But somehow we just keep going.”

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