Union Grove

A time to heal

Zachary Zdroik, 34, listens to a question about his mother, Juanita (pictured on the screen) from a reporter during a Feb. 21 news conference at the Racine County Sheriff’s Substation in Yorkville. Juanita was murdered in 2000 and her killer was finally convicted last week. (Photo by Jason Arndt)

Family finds closure with cold-case homicide conviction

By Jason Arndt

Staff Writer

Zachary Zdroik was only a youngster when he found out his mother, Juanita, was murdered and left on the side of a Village of Raymond road 21 years ago.

Zdroik, now 34, admits he didn’t talk about his mother’s homicide initially because of the trauma it caused him and his two sisters.

“I got called out of class at school and once I got into the principal’s office, my dad was there crying and I knew right away,” Zdroik said in a Feb. 21 news conference at the Racine County Sheriff’s Patrol Station in Yorkville. “When my dad told me, I just broke down, for weeks, I couldn’t talk about it.”

Racine County Sheriff’s deputies discovered Juanita Zdroik, then 39, dead with a gunshot wound to the head in the 6600 block of Highway K on Feb. 7, 2000.

Miguel Cruz

But last Friday in a Racine County courtroom, Zachary and his sisters finally found closure, when jury convicted suspect Miguel A. Cruz of first-degree intentional homicide of Juanita Zdroik.

Cruz, originally of Florida, faces sentencing on April 22 before Racine County Circuit Court Judge Mark F. Nielsen.

Zachary Zdroik said he and his sisters Veronica, 41 and Victoria, 24 immediately broke down in tears upon hearing the verdict.

“I wanted to break down because my whole life was leading to this, my sisters, too,” he said. “We’ve been waiting forever.”

Zdroik struggled to come up with words to further explain reaction towards the conviction especially since he and his sisters waited more than two decades for closure.

“To be honest, it is very surreal right now and to kind of put it into words, if you would have known who my mom was, you would understand,” he said.

Zachary described his mother as a loving and caring person who had an uncanny ability to help adults with disabilities, enjoyed takeout, and simply inspired him and his sisters to become better people.

“My mom was the kind of woman who just cared about everyone, wanted to give to everything to everyone and that never left me,” Zdroik said.


Case goes cold

Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling told reporters Friday he was the first law enforcement official who arrived to the murder scene in Raymond.

“Personally, I have been impacted by this homicide, in part, as I was the first deputy sheriff at the scene,” he said in a previous statement. “I will never forget, 21 years ago, that early and cold February morning call where I found a beautiful young woman brutally murdered on the side of a road.”

Schmaling, however, needed to wait until 2017 to find the people responsible for killing Juanita Zdroik.

An investigator in 2010, according to Schmaling, learned of a link between the Zdroik homicide and a drug-related double homicide that happened on the same day in Milwaukee from a witness.

The witness, who was about 16 years old when the killings happened, told authorities in 2010 Zdroik’s homicide stemmed from an incident in Milwaukee.

In Milwaukee, Juanita Zdroik encountered Cruz, Elias A. Burgos, and Jose Sanchez while the three were engaged in a drug transaction.

After the transaction, Juanita drove the witness and the three men into an alley, where Juanita saw Sanchez open fire at two other men and kill them.

Cruz and Burgos then set Juanita’s car on fire and offered to take her to Chicago and give her money and a new vehicle.

Instead, Cruz shot her and they left her body alongside Highway K shortly after exiting I-94.

      To read the complete story, see this week’s editions of the Westine Report, Waterford Post and Burlington Standard Press.

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