Boy's 1980 death ruled homicide

OAK FOREST Cook County sheriff's investigators say a man originally convicted of minor traffic-related charges in connection with the death of Edwin Gulbransen is now charged with first-degree murder.

The suspect, Ronald Rice, is currently in prison for sexually assaulting another young boy two years after Gulbransen's death.

Authorities say information gathered over the last 10 years led them to conclude that what they once thought was a tragic accident was no accident at all.

Cook County prosecutors say Rice confessed to several department of corrections employees during the past 10 years. The murder charge comes four years before Rice is scheduled to be released from prison on the other case.

Before his 1980 death, Eddy Gulbransen had just returned from a student exchange trip to France. His family says the 11-year-old was an excellent student who loved sports. The boy was last seen on his bike when he rode a couple blocks from his Oak Forest home to buy milk.

It was a story that made national headlines. Hundreds, including Eddy Gulbranson's Boy Scout troop, packed an Oak Forest church to say goodbye to the 11-year-old.

Days later, Rice turned himself in to police after being charged with leaving the scene of an accident and obstruction of justice. Twenty-eight years later, police say Gulbransen's death was no accident. Rice is charged with the boy's murder. "Today, the truth paints a very different reality, a much more gruesome one," said Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart.

Originally, Rice told police he struck Gulbransen with his car, then panicked when the 11-year-old boy wasn't breathing and dumped the child in the woods. But investigators now say Gulbransen intestinally hit Eddy to get his attention, then persuaded the boy into Rice's car.

"He then drove a short distance into the forest preserve area, where he sexually assaulted Edwin. After he was done, he then strangled him with his hands. Then to assure he was dead, he jumped up and down on his chest," said Dart.

Dart says Gulbransen's body was found four days later. Because it was already decomposed, Dart says the autopsy could only conclude that Gulbransen's neck was broken.

But in 1980, there were plenty of holes in Rice's story, including a witness that told police she saw Rice escort young Eddy into his car.

"The offender put his arm around the boy, walking to the passenger's side, opened the door and placed the boy inside of the vehicle," said one officer in 1980.

Four years after the Gulbransen case, Rice was convicted for sexual assault of a boy on separate case.

Cook County prosecutors say during the past 10 years, Rice has told at least eight Illinois Department of Corrections employees that he kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered Eddy Gulbransen.

The 11-year-old's mother, Bette Kociolek, released a statement Wednesday saying, "My entire family and I are devastated by the details concerning Eddy's death, as painful as this is, it has to be done to protect all of our children."

Eddy Gulbransen's mother was supposed to attend Wednesday's press conference, but after hearing in court the details of how her son died, she was too distraught to go before the public.

Sheriff Dart says this case is not over. They are investigating several aspects, including how it was investigated back in 1980.

After reviewing the 1980 autopsy report this year, the Cook County Medical Examiner stated that the injuries Eddy suffered are more consistent with strangulation than a car accident.

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