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Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010 02:57 pm

Closed murder case still raises questions

No charges for second assailant, victim’s sister seeks closure

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Harold “H.P.” Page III is pictured here holding a nephew, one week before Page was murdered in a stairwell at Ridgely Elementary School.

On a mild November night in 1993, three young men  went into a below-ground stairwell at Ridgely Elementary Schoolm 2040 N. Eighth St., in Springfield. Two of them left on foot; the third left in a coroner’s body bag with two gunshot wounds to the head.

The murder of 14-year-old Harold “H.P.” Page III on Nov. 11, 1993, held the city of Springfield in suspense for 18 days, until Springfield police solved the case with a confession from the gunman. Michael Gansbauer, then 17, was convicted of first-degree murder and is currently serving a 40-year sentence in the state prison at Jacksonville. Though the case is closed and the shooter is in prison, there are still questions about that fateful night – such as why the third person in that stairwell was never charged with a crime in connection with the murder. Now, the victim’s sister is looking for answers.

Gansbauer told police he had been drinking all day on Nov. 11, 1993, when he and John Rockwood, then 20 years old, went to Harold Page’s house. Rockwood suspected Page of stealing his bicycle, and he and Gansbauer hoped to get the bike back. That’s where their stories diverge.

Where Rockwood told police he only wanted to scare Page, Gansbauer’s confession says the pair were “talking about going over to [H.P.’s] place and getting him.” Both Rockwood and Gansbauer admitted hitting Page after luring him to the stairwell with promises of beer, but Rockwood claimed to only have hit Page once, while Gansbauer told police they both punched and kicked Page for about a minute. Rockwood told police he ran away after trying to stop Gansbauer from shooting Page, yet Gansbauer said Rockwood ran away when Page began fighting back during the beating. Gansbauer said he thought Page was reaching for a weapon when he pulled the trigger.

“He just kept looking at me, and then he tried to reach behind his back again, and that is when I started to shoot the gun after I just snapped,” Gansbauer told police in his official confession, which was taken after Gansbauer learned that Rockwood had fingered him for the murder. Rockwood was not charged with any crime in the case, apparently because his testimony was to be used by prosecutors to help convict Gansbauer. But Gansbauer’s confession was enough to put him away, meaning Rockwood may have gotten a deal from prosecutors to avoid prison time without giving anything in return.

Sangamon County First Assistant State’s Attorney John Milhiser says it’s tough to tell how he would handle the case if it were up to him. He is currently reviewing the case at Illinois Times’ request.

“There are a whole bunch of reasons why we may or may not charge someone in a case like that,” Milhiser says.

Now, Page’s sister, Crystal Page, is seeking closure on the case. In 1998, a Sangamon County judge granted Crystal Page a civil judgment against Gansbauer and Rockwood for $1 million each in connection with the murder. The case was originally filed by Harold Page, Jr., Crystal Page’s now-deceased father. Harold Page, Jr., and his wife, Linda Page, both died of cancer in February 1996.

Crystal Page says she isn’t very concerned with getting paid by Gansbauer because he is already paying for his crime in prison, but she is hoping to track down Rockwood, who Sangamon County court records show has not paid Page anything in the case. Court records show Rockwood evaded a court summons on Aug. 21, 2008, though he was sentenced to 10 days in the Sangamon County Jail for an unrelated traffic case on Aug. 27 of that year.

“I feel that Rockwood should have to pay for his part,” Crystal Page says. “He caused the whole situation, and he walked away with nothing. … It was a really senseless slaying.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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