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Friends recall murder victim

Knowing how she was with strangers, Lynn Weis' friends can imagine how she chatted it up with the hitch-hiker now charged with her murder. "She would be, 'Oh, this is where I live, da da-da da-da ...,' and just carrying on a very nice conversatio...

Knowing how she was with strangers, Lynn Weis' friends can imagine how she chatted it up with the hitch-hiker now charged with her murder.

"She would be, 'Oh, this is where I live, da da-da da-da ...,' and just carrying on a very nice conversation, just to make this other person feel comfortable," said Karla Peter, who graduated with Weis in 1989 from Valley City (N.D.) High School.

Prosecutors said Vivian Mitchell, a 38-year-old drifter, used that type of small talk March 16 to find her way back to Weis' apartment in West Dundee, Ill.

Upon returning later that night, Mitchell stabbed Weis 90 times, stole a credit card and set fire to the converted farmhouse, Kane County Assistant State's Attorney Robert Berlin said.

After eluding police for two days, Mitchell was found in Weis' car 40 miles away in Joliet, Ill. Credit records show she charged between $200 and $300 on Weis' card, most of it on fast food restaurants and toiletries from a Walgreen drug store, Berlin said.


Mitchell confessed to killing Weis, Berlin said, and was charged with 21 felonies, including seven counts of murder.

Mitchell pleaded innocent to the charges May 15. Prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty if she is convicted at trial, which isn't expected to begin for at least a year.

Meanwhile, back in North Dakota, Weis' family and friends remember the loved one they lost.

"She was a very good daughter -- very considerate to her parents," said Frank Weis, Lynn's father.

Friends called her a bubbly woman who loved to socialize.

"She was the life of our group," said Jennifer Bellmore, one of eight close high school friends who stayed in touch after graduation.

In a way, Weis kept the former classmates close, Peter said. Lynn's trips home to see her parents were occasions for the group to celebrate.

"We'd all start calling (each other), 'Lynn's home! Let's go to Pizza Corner,' " Peter said.


Weis last visited Valley City about a month before she was killed. Her murder was the first since the early 1980s in West Dundee, a town of about 5,500, 40 miles northwest of Chicago.

If convicted of the crime and the death penalty served, Mitchell would become Kane County's sixth capital punishment case, Berlin said.

For religious reasons, Frank Weis said he does not want his daughter's killer put to death. He and his wife, DonnaMae, have been helping Illinois prosecutors, but they try not to get too close to details of the case.

"We're healing, I guess," Frank said.

After graduating from the University of Massachusetts and working as a nanny in Boston, Weis started working for Sears in Pennsylvania, Bellmore said.

About three years ago, the Sears job took her to the Chicago area where Weiss began working as an associate buyer of women's dresses at company headquarters.

"She liked the big city," Bellmore said.

The 32-year-old Weis was a goal-setter who knew what she wanted in life. She often pressed her friends to share their aspirations, too, Peter said.


A couple years ago, Weis bought a Saturn car with her savings and a carefully planned payment schedule. Her next big goal was to move to Minneapolis or Sioux Falls, S.D., to be closer to home. She was saving to buy a house before she died, Peter said.

"Her goals were more defined than anything that I ever had," Peter said. "She just always knew what she wanted and went after it."

Though single-minded when it came to her goals, Weis spent much of her time and energy on others. She volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, building homes for the poor. On nights out with friends in Chicago, Weis would draw lonely strangers into her group, co-workers said.

"She could visit with anyone, anywhere, anyplace," Peter said. "She just had that kind of a personality."

Which is why Weis' friends weren't all that shocked to hear how she apparently gave Mitchell a ride without knowing her. The shock comes from what followed.

"She was helping somebody out and then that happened," Bellmore said. "It's devastating."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Forster at (701) 241-5538

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