Five years after a suburban Chicago doctor was found dead in a burned-out building at his hunting getaway ranch east of Dallas, the Texas-sized mystery of how Dr. George Chronis died has taken a new twist.
Changing their minds about how the Palos Park obstetrician and gynecologist died, authorities now say it was no accident and that he was strangled.
Chronis — whose body was found May 14, 2018, outside his fire-ravaged bunkhouse in rural Rains County, Texas — died of “asphyxiation at the hands of another under suspicious circumstances,” according to the new ruling by R. Jenkins Franklin, the county’s justice of the peace.
Franklin changed the death certificate Thursday, amending the original cause-of-death finding by another justice of the peace that Chronis died accidentally.
The turnabout was the result of a new autopsy in Illinois last year that his widow Connie Chronis authorized. That second autopsy, performed Sept. 13, 2022, by Dr. Amanda Youmans at the coroner’s office in Peoria, concluded that Chronis’ death was a homicide.
What killed Chronis has been a subject of dispute for years. In 2020, Dr. Brian Peterson, who was the chief medical examiner for Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, examined the original Texas autopsy report and postmortem photos of Chronis at the request of a Chicago lawyer who was a family friend of Chronis and found that the death was a homicide — and that the doctor was strangled before the fire.
But Peterson’s findings weren’t legally binding.
The original Texas autopsy ruled the 57-year-old doctor’s death was an accident and the manner of death was “undetermined.”
But that didn’t make sense, according to Peterson. He cited a ligature mark on Chronis’ neck and said that indicated it was a homicide — not suicide, not an accident.
“Now that the appropriate conclusion has been reached, I hope that his family can achieve closure and find justice,” Peterson said Friday.
Chronis’s 79-acre ranch was in Rains County, population 15,000, about 60 miles northeast of Dallas.
He’d flown to Texas that week to do something he loved doing: to stalk wild boars on his tree-lined property.
But when he got there, he texted his wife, “Notice something?” And he sent her a photo of the kitchen bunkhouse showing a kitchen table and chairs that weren’t theirs.
That made her think someone must have been staying there without permission.
Sheriff’s officials told the Chicago Sun-Times the following year that, despite the findings of the Texas autopsy, they considered his death suspicious and were continuing to investigate. They said they’d interviewed several people who’d spoken with Chronis before his body was found.
The Chronis family set up a hotline for tips and put up a $75,000 reward to find out how he died, putting the offer on a billboard.
At the time, a Rains County sheriff’s sergeant told the Sun-Times the Texas Rangers, the state’s top investigative agency, wouldn’t join the case because the death hadn’t been ruled a homicide.
On Friday, Franklin said, “This case is being actively investigated.” And he said the Rangers are now involved.
Franklin said Rains County typically has one murder a year or two, yet many people were in the dark about Chronis’ death until the Sun-Times reported on it in 2019.
“I’m not saying it was swept up under the rug, but nobody knew about it,” he said.
The Rangers, along with sheriff’s officials and the Chronis family, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.
No one has ever been arrested in connection with Chronis’ death.
In early 2020, Rains County Sheriff David Traylor narrowly won reelection over Franklin, the current justice of the peace.
While campaigning that year, Franklin questioned the competence of the sheriff’s investigation of Chronis’ death. Citing the Sun-Times’ reporting, Franklin said in a Facebook post then: “It wasn’t until a media outlet published a story about this case that the citizens of Rains County were made aware of it. This is police incompetence and dereliction of duty.
“Yes, they have been working on the case, but still months will go by with nothing being done on it,” he said in the post. “I’m simply seeking justice for a family and a county that deserve long overdue answers and closure.”
In March 2020, Franklin was appointed justice of the peace in Rains County. Traylor retired last September, and Michael Hopkins is now sheriff.