Murder of Nick Corwin

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Murder of Nick Corwin
Corwin, c. 1988
Nicholas Brent Corwin

April 9, 1980
DiedMay 20, 1988(1988-05-20) (aged 8)
Cause of deathGunshot wound
Burial placeMemorial Park Cemetery, Skokie, IL
42°03′31″N 87°44′43″W / 42.0587103°N 87.7451641°W / 42.0587103; -87.7451641
MonumentsPlaque at Nick Corwin Park
Parent(s)Linda and Joel Corwin

Nicholas Brent Corwin was an eight-year-old boy shot and killed by Laurie Dann, a mentally ill woman, in a Winnetka, Illinois, elementary school on May 20, 1988.

Dann also shot several other students, all of whom survived, then took a family hostage and set a fire in their house before committing suicide. Earlier that day, she had tried to poison several acquaintances and set fires in a school and a daycare.

People involved[edit]

Nicky Corwin remembered at March for Our Lives on 24 March 2018 in Washington, D.C.

Nick Corwin[edit]

Corwin was born on April 9, 1980, to Joel and Linda Corwin. In school, he was an athlete known for his sportsmanship and skill.[1]

Corwin is the namesake of a popular soccer field and playground in Winnetka.[2]

According to a report in People magazine, 1,500 people attended his funeral.[3]

Shortly after his death, playing on the meaning of his name (“giver of gifts”) his friends and schoolmates created a book, The Gifts that Nicholas Gave. He was remembered for his sportsmanship, kindness, and leadership.[4]

Classmates remembered Corwin for his exemplary play. One told a reporter that the other children would not be able to play fairly, because Nick was the one who knew all the rules.[3]

He is interred at Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie, Illinois.[5]

Following his death, Winnetka passed a handgun ban, which stood until D.C. vs Heller and subsequent NRA lawsuits.[6]

Laurie Dann née Wasserman[edit]

Early life[edit]

Wasserman was born October 18, 1957, in Chicago and grew up in Glencoe, a north suburb of Chicago. She was the daughter of Edith Joy, and her husband, Norman Wasserman, an accountant.[7][8][9]

Those who knew Wasserman described her as shy and withdrawn.[7][8] She graduated from New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, in 1975, and although she had poor grades in high school she was able to attend Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.[8] When her grades improved, she transferred to the University of Arizona with the goal of becoming a teacher. She began dating a pre-med student, and the relationship soon became serious, but she was becoming possessive and demanding.[8] In the summer of 1977, she attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, taking a course in home economics.[9]

In 1980, with the relationship failing, Wasserman moved back to her parents' home. She then transferred to Northwestern University to complete her degree, but she dropped out of all her classes and never graduated.[7][8]

Picture of Laurie Dann

Marriage and divorce[edit]

She met and married Russell Dann, an executive in an insurance broker firm in September 1982, but the marriage quickly soured as Russell's family noted signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder and strange behavior[7] including leaving trash around the house.[8] She saw a psychiatrist for a short period, who identified her childhood and upbringing as a cause of her problems.[8]

Laurie and Russell Dann separated in October 1985.[7] The divorce negotiations were acrimonious, with Laurie claiming that Russell was abusive. In the following months, the police were called to investigate various incidents, including several harassing phone calls made to Russell and his family.[8] In April 1986, Dann accused Russell of breaking into and vandalizing her parents' house, where she was then living. Shortly after, she purchased a Smith & Wesson Model 19 .357 Magnum, telling the salesman that she needed it for self-defense. The police were concerned about her gun ownership and unsuccessfully tried to persuade Dann and her family that she should give up the gun.[7]

In August 1986, she contacted her ex-boyfriend, who was by then a resident at a hospital, and claimed to have had his child. When he refused to believe her, Dann called the hospital where he worked and claimed he had raped her in the emergency room.[8][10]

In September 1986, Russell Dann reported he had been stabbed in his sleep with an icepick. He accused Laurie of the crime, although he had not actually seen his attacker. The police decided not to press charges against Laurie based on a medical report which suggested that the injury might have been self-inflicted, as well as Russell's abrasive attitude towards the police and his failed polygraph test.[7][8] Russell and his family continued to receive harassing hang-up phone calls, and Laurie was arrested for calls made to Russell's sister. The charges were dropped due to lack of evidence.[8]

Just before their divorce was finalized in April 1987, Laurie accused Russell of raping her. There were no physical signs supporting Laurie's claim, although she passed two polygraph tests.[8] In May 1987, Laurie accused Russell of placing an incendiary device in her home.[7] No charges were filed against Russell for either alleged event. Laurie's parents believed her claims and supported and defended her throughout. By this time, Laurie Dann was being treated by another psychiatrist for obsessive-compulsive disorder and a "chemical imbalance"; the psychiatrist told police that he did not think Laurie was suicidal or homicidal.[8]

Final year[edit]

Dann worked as a babysitter, and some employers were happy with the care she provided their children.[10] Others made complaints to the police about damage to their furniture and the theft of food and clothes. Despite the complaints, no charges were pressed. Dann's father did pay for damages in one case.[8]

In the summer of 1987, Dann sublet a university apartment in Evanston, Illinois. Once again, her strange behavior was noted, including riding up and down in elevators for hours, wearing rubber gloves to touch metal, and leaving meat to rot in sofa cushions. She took no classes at the university.

In the fall of 1987, Dann claimed she had received threatening letters from Russell and that he had sexually assaulted her in a parking lot, but the police did not believe her. A few weeks later, she purchased a .32-caliber Smith & Wesson Model 30-1 revolver.[7]

With her condition deteriorating, Dann and her family sought specialized help. In November 1987, she moved to Madison, Wisconsin, to live in a student residence while being observed by a psychiatrist who specialized in obsessive-compulsive disorder. She had already begun taking clomipramine, a drug for OCD, and her new psychiatrist increased the dosage, adding lithium carbonate to reduce her mood swings and initiating behavioral therapy to work on her phobias and ritualistic behaviors.[8] Despite the intervention, her strange behavior continued, including riding elevators for long periods, changing television channels repetitively, and an obsession with "good" and "bad" numbers. There were also concerns about whether she was bulimic.

Dann purchased a .22-caliber Beretta 21A Bobcat at the end of December 1987. In March 1988, she stopped attending her appointments with the psychiatrist and behavior therapist.[8] At about the same time, she began to make preparations for the attacks. She stole books from the library on poisons, and she diluted arsenic and other chemicals from a lab. She also shoplifted clothes and wigs to disguise herself and was arrested for theft on one occasion. Both her psychiatrist and her father tried to persuade her to enter the hospital as an inpatient, but she refused.[8]

Dann continued to make numerous hang-up phone calls to her former in-laws and babysitting clients. Eventually, the calls escalated to death threats. An ex-boyfriend and his wife also received dozens of threatening calls. In May 1988, a letter, later confirmed to have been sent by Laurie Dann, was sent to the hospital administration where her ex-boyfriend then worked, again accusing him of sexual assault. Since the phone calls were across state lines, the FBI became involved, and a federal indictment against Dann was prepared. However, the ex-boyfriend, fearful of publicity,[7] and concerned about Dann getting bail and then attempting to fulfill her threats against him, decided to wait until other charges were filed in Illinois.[8][10][11] In May 1988, a janitor found her lying in the fetal position inside a garbage bag in a trash room. This precipitated a search of her room and her departure back to Glencoe.[7][8][11]


During the days before May 20, 1988, Dann prepared rice cereal snacks and juice boxes poisoned with the diluted arsenic she had stolen in Madison. She mailed them to a former acquaintance, ex-babysitting clients, her psychiatrist, Russell Dann, and others. In the early morning of May 20, she personally delivered snacks and juice "samples" to acquaintances, and families for whom she had babysat, some of whom had not seen her for years.[7][8] Other snacks were delivered to Alpha Tau Omega, Psi Upsilon, and Kappa Sigma fraternity houses and Leverone Hall at Northwestern University in Evanston.[7][8] Notes were attached to some of the deliveries.[a][14][12] The drinks were often leaking and the squares unpleasant-tasting, so few were actually consumed. In addition, the arsenic was highly diluted so nobody became seriously ill.[7]

At about 9 am on the 20th, Dann arrived at the home of the Rushe family, former babysitting clients in Winnetka, Illinois, to pick up their two youngest children. The family had just told Dann they were moving away.[8] Instead of taking the children on the promised outing, she took them to Ravinia Elementary School in Highland Park, Illinois, where she erroneously believed that both of her former sister-in-law's two sons were enrolled (in fact, one of Dann's intended targets was not even a student at the school). She left the two children in the car while she entered the school and tried to detonate a fire bomb in one of the school's hallways. After Dann's departure, the small fire she set was subsequently discovered by students, and quickly extinguished by a teacher. She drove to a local daycare attended by her ex-sister-in-law's daughter and tried to enter the building with a plastic can of gasoline, but was stopped by staff.

Next Dann drove the children back to their home and offered them some arsenic-poisoned milk, but the boys spat it out because it tasted strange to them. Once at their home, she lured them downstairs and used gasoline to set fire to the house, trapping their mother and the two children in the basement, which they managed to escape from.[7][8][13] She drove three and a half blocks to the Hubbard Woods Elementary School with three handguns in her possession. She wandered into a second grade classroom for a short while, then left. Finding a boy in the corridor, Dann pushed him into the boys' washroom and shot him with a .22 semi-automatic Beretta pistol. Her Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolver jammed when she tried to fire it at two other boys, and she threw it into the trash along with its spare ammunition. The boys ran out of the washroom and raised the alarm.[7] Dann then reentered the second grade classroom where students were working in groups on a bicycle safety test. She ordered all the children into the corner of the room. The teacher refused and attempted to disarm Dann, managing to unload the Beretta in the struggle. Dann drew a .32 Smith & Wesson from the waistband of her shorts and aimed it at several groups of the students. She shot five children, killing eight year-old Nick Corwin and wounding two girls and two boys before fleeing in her car.[8]

Dann was prevented from leaving the area by car because the roads were closed for a funeral cortege. She decided to drive her car backwards down the nearby street, but the road dead-ended into a private drive. Abandoning her car, she removed her bloodstained shorts and tied a blue garbage bag around her waist. With her two remaining guns she made her way through the woods and came upon the house of the Andrew family. Dann entered the house and met a mother and her twenty-year-old son, who were in the kitchen. She claimed she had been raped by a man in her car and had shot the rapist in the struggle.[8][15] The Andrews were sympathetic[15] and tried to convince her that she need not fear the police because she had acted in self-defense. Mrs. Andrew gave Dann a pair of her daughter's pants to wear. While she was putting them on, Philip Andrew was able to pick up and pocket the Beretta. He suggested that she call her family. Dann agreed and called her mother, telling her she had done something terrible, and that the police were involved. Philip took the phone and explained Dann's story about the rape and shooting, suggesting that Mrs. Wasserman come to get Dann; Mrs. Wasserman said she could not come because she did not have a car.

Mr. Andrew arrived home, and they continued to argue with Dann, insisting she give up the second gun. Dann called her mother again and this time Mr. Andrew spoke with Mrs. Wasserman, asking her to persuade Dann to give up the gun. While Dann spoke with her mother, Mrs. Andrew left the house and alerted the police. Mr. Andrew told Dann that he would not remain in the house if she did not put down the gun, and also left the house. Dann ordered Philip to stay. Just before noon, seeing the police advancing on the house she shot Philip in the chest, but he managed to escape out the back door before collapsing and being rescued by the police and ambulance personnel.

With the house surrounded, Dann went upstairs to a bedroom. The Wassermans and Russell Dann were brought to the house. At about 7 pm, an assault team entered the house while Mr. Wasserman attempted to get Dann's attention with a bullhorn. The police found her body in the bedroom; she had shot herself in the mouth.[8]



  • Nicholas Brent Corwin (8)


  • Lindsay Clark Fisher (8)
  • Peter Munro (8)
  • Mark Teborek (8)
  • Kathryn Anne Miller (7)
  • Robert Trossman (6)
  • Philip Andrew (20)


Corwin's murder at a school was among the first to feature prominently in the 24-hour news cycle, mostly revolving around the mental state of Dann. Because no other school shooting had received such wide coverage, Corwin's murder is sometimes called “the first school shooting.” Since his murder, a school shooting was widely reported almost every year. Others noted that his shooting marked an "end of innocence"[17] for the prosperous community along Chicago's North Shore, which had not had a murder in 30 years.

All but one of the victims wounded by Dann recovered from their injuries, including the schoolgirl who was shot and suffered severe internal injuries. The victims, school children, and parents received extensive support to help them cope with the psychological after-effects of the attacks.[8][18]

Parents and members of the community subsequently devoted many years to gun control policy.[8][19] Philip Andrew gave interviews about gun control from his hospital bed, and later became active in local and state gun control organizations as the executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence; he subsequently became a lawyer and then an FBI agent.[11][15][20]

Dr. Donald Monroe, superintendent of Winnetka School District 36 noted "his 'safe' school" was "not as isolated and insulated as we thought."[21] At the time of the shooting, Hubbard Woods, like many schools, was an open campus, with many doors, such as those to individual classrooms, kept open. After the shooting, a pattern of single-point entry emerged in more schools.[21]

The Dann shootings also fueled the debate about criteria for committing mentally ill people to mental health facilities against their will. Some favored the involuntary commitment of a person who is determined to be mentally ill and incapable of making informed decisions about treatment; civil libertarians like Benjamin Wolf (staff counsel for the ACLU of Illinois[11]) opposed the idea saying, "It would be a shame if we cut back on the civil liberties of literally millions of mentally ill people because of the occasional bizarre incident."

A book called Murder of Innocence was written by Eric Zorn about the tragedy, and a made-for-television film of the same name was based on it. In the film, Dann's name is changed to Laurie Wade. She was played by Valerie Bertinelli.[22] Russell Dann helped coach Bertinelli while she was preparing for the role.[23]

Search for a rationale[edit]

Some blamed Dann's family for defending and protecting her in spite of the signs of her deteriorating mental health.[11] Investigations were hampered by the Wassermans' refusal to be interviewed by police[11] or to provide access to Dann's psychiatric records—the records were eventually obtained by court order. On the night of Dann's death, the Wassermans allowed only a very brief search of her bedroom, after which they cleaned it and removed potential evidence.[7] The police were criticized for not sealing off Dann's room as part of the crime scene.[8] Parents of the shooting victims subsequently sued the Wasserman family for damages.[7][8]

Further criticism was directed at Dann's psychiatrists for failing to identify or take action regarding the signs of Dann's decreasing mental stability.[11] At the time of her suicide, Dann was taking an unlicensed drug, clomipramine.[7][24] The effects of this drug were initially considered as contributing factors to Dann's mental well-being, but ultimately ruled out.[25]

Two newspaper clippings were found among Dann's possessions after her death. One described a man who randomly killed two people in a public building. The other described a depressed young man who had attempted to commit suicide in the same way that Dann did; he survived and discovered that his brain injury had cured him of his obsessive-compulsive disorder.[7]

One theory of Dann's rationale was that she targeted people who had "disappointed" her in some way: her ex-husband, her former sister-in-law (through the firebombing attempts at her children's schools and daycare), her ex-boyfriend and his wife, the family who was moving away, as well as former friends and babysitting clients.[8]

Dann was also briefly investigated as a possible suspect in the Chicago Tylenol murders, but no direct connection was found.[26]

In his book The Myth of Male Power, author Warren Farrell suggested that Laurie Dann's actions were an example of women's violence against men. He claimed, erroneously, that all of Dann's victims were male, that she had burned down a Young Men's Jewish Council, had burned two boys in a basement, had shot her own son and had justified the murder of Nick Corwin by claiming he was a rapist.[27] Men's rights activists,[28] academics,[29] and the media have repeated Farrell's errors and conclusion.[30][31][32] Farrell later issued a partial correction on his web site.[33][b]


  1. ^ Sources ascribe similar notes to different recipients. For example, Associated Press[12] articles mention that a note "Love your little sisters. Enjoy" was sent to a family, while a Chicago Tribune article,[13] and Kaplan et al. (1991)[4] suggests that similar notes ("Love, your little sisters. Enjoy" and "To the ATOs, from your little sisters") were received by fraternities. Similarly, a longer text "I'm going to be in Glencoe when your in town-look forward to seeing you guys. I was going to send you coffee cake, but I was making rice crispy treats for school and decided to send some. Enjoy. Love, Laurie" was sent by mail according to the Kaplan et al., and attached to the fraternity deliveries according to the Egginton (1991).[7]
  2. ^ "While Laurie Dann did go into a boys' bathroom and not a girls' bathroom, and tried to kill the boys for whom she was a babysitter, the Chicago Tribune on May 21, 1988, section 1, does list two women who were direct victims of Laurie Dann, and a mother who was an indirect victim, when she tried to rescue her two sons who had been taken to a basement by Laurie Dann, who immediately lit a fire in the basement. Therefore my suggestion that she was a parallel force to the celebrated University of Montreal killer who focused on women, was not accurate. — W. Farrell"[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Silverman, David (July 17, 1988). "Nicky's story: Meet the boy, not the victim, from Winnetka". The Chicago Tribune. Chicago IL.
  2. ^ Lucadamo, John (23 September 1988). "Park to be renamed for Dann victim". The Chicago Tribune. Chicago, IL.
  3. ^ a b Brower, Montgomery; Bell, Bonnie; Breo, Dennis; Brott, Jody; Hevrdejs, Judy; Klebman, Barbara Mills; Tamarkin, Civia; Greenberg, Justin (6 June 1988). "Mad enough to kill". People. Cover story.
  4. ^ a b Kaplan, Joel; Papajohn, George; Zorn, Eric (1991). Murder of Innocence: The tragic life and final rampage of Laurie Dann. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 0446360023, ISBN 978-0446360029.
  5. ^ "Slain boy buried: God is weeping". The New York Times. New York, NY. Associated Press. May 24, 1988. p. D27.
  6. ^ Black, Lisa (20 November 2008). "Winnetka repeals 20 year-old ban on possessing handguns". The Chicago Tribune. Chicago, IL.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Egginton, Joyce (1991). Day of fury: The story of the tragic shootings that forever changed the village of Winnetka. New York: William Morrow and Company. ISBN 0-688-09085-0.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae Kaplan, Joel; Papajohn, George; Zorn, Eric (1990). Murder of Innocence: The tragic life and final rampage of Laurie Dann. New York City: Warner Books. ISBN 978-0-446-36002-9.
  9. ^ a b Papajohn, George (June 5, 1988). "The Many Faces Of Laurie Dann". Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Illinois: Tronc. Retrieved December 18, 2018.
  10. ^ a b c "Police Still Unraveling Trail Left by Woman in Rampage". New York Times. Associated Press. May 22, 1988. Retrieved February 14, 2007.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Eloise Salholz; Patricia King (1988-06-13). "Falling Through the Cracks". Newsweek. Archived from the original on 2007-04-02. Retrieved 2007-07-28.
  12. ^ a b "Woman sent poisoned snacks before school shooting spree". The Toronto Star. Associated Press. 1988-05-22. Archived from the original on 2007-02-13. Retrieved 2007-02-14.
  13. ^ a b Johnson, Robert Enstad Steve; Hunt, Maria; Gibson, Ray; Odom, Dennis; Ibata, David; Kaplan, Joel (23 May 1988). "Scared town comforts families - special services soothe the pain in Winnetka". The Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 13 February 2007. Retrieved 14 February 2007.
  14. ^ Gibson, Ray; Myers, Linnet (22 May 1988). "School killer left a trail of poison – fraternities, homes receive tainted food". The Chicago Tribune.
  15. ^ a b c Halperin, Jennifer (December 1993). "The education of a crusader". Illinois Issues. Archived from the original on 2006-09-08.
  16. ^ "Shock, Gloom Hang Over Wealthy Suburb After School Rampage". The Atlanta Constitution. May 21, 1988. Retrieved April 3, 2024.
  17. ^ Constable, Burt. “1988 school shooting in Winnetka."1988 school shooting in Winnetka was different." The Daily Herald. Arlington Heights, IL. Feb 20, 2018.
  18. ^ Wilkerson, Isabel (1988-05-28). "Shootings Leave a Suburb in Trauma". New York Times. Archived from the original on 2007-04-02. Retrieved 2007-07-28.
  19. ^ "School shooting remembered 20 years later". ABC local news. May 20, 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-21.
  20. ^ Black, Lisa; Rubin, Bonnie Miller (May 20, 2008). "Old hurts, new lives emerge two decades after Dann shootings". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2008-05-21.
  21. ^ a b Wilkerson, Isabel. Shootings Leave a Suburb in Trauma.” New York Times. New York, NY. May 28, 1988.
  22. ^ "MURDER OF INNOCENCE (2013)". Fisher Klingenstein Films. 1 December 2013. Retrieved 19 October 2017.
  23. ^ Zorn, Eric (October 20, 1996). "Russell Dann Moves Out of His Ex-Wife's Dark Shadow". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2019-01-29.
  24. ^ Gibson, Ray (June 2, 1988). "Winnetka Killer Treated With Psychiatric Drug". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 2007-02-13. Retrieved February 14, 2007.
  25. ^ "Drug Dann Used Gets FDA Approval". Chicago Tribune. June 8, 1988. Archived from the original on April 2, 2007. Retrieved July 28, 2007.
  26. ^ "Tragedy in Winnetka: the answers are few". Milwaukee Sentinel. 25 May 1988. Retrieved 30 December 2009.
  27. ^ Farrell, Warren (1993). The Myth of Male Power. New York City: Berkley Books. p. 216. ISBN 978-0-425-18144-7.
  28. ^ Equal Parents of Canada (March 31, 1998). "Brief to the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access". Retrieved 2007-02-16.
  29. ^ Fekete, John (1994). Moral Panic:Biopolitics rising. Robert Davies Publishing. pp. 31, 339. ISBN 978-1-895854-09-1.
  30. ^ Raeside, Peter (September 1, 1993). "Peter Raeside takes a look at the views of 'men's liberationist' Warren Farrell". The Globe and Mail. ProQuest 385254075.
  31. ^ "Corrections and Clarifications: Peter Raeside takes a look at the views of 'men's liberationist' Warren Farrell". The Globe and Mail. September 4, 1993. ProQuest 385254075.
  32. ^ Kay, Barbara (December 5, 2007). "The last white ribbon". National Post.
  33. ^ Farrell, Warren (2011). "Other Resources/Sources". Archived from the original on 2011-07-28. Retrieved 2023-07-17.
  34. ^ Farrell, Warren. "Other Resources/Sources". Archived from the original on 31 March 2019. Retrieved 19 June 2023.