Newly-obtained investigative records reveal for the first time that authorities had a prime suspect in her murder but never charged him.
A few months ago that suspect died of old age, having never been charged with her disappearance and murder. At that time, the I-Team filed a Freedom of Information request with federal authorities for a copy of the suspect's file.
In this report: What the I-Team have learned about one of Chicago's greatest crime mysteries.
The February day 34 years ago when Helen Brach disappeared, her personal attendant john "Jack" Matlick was the last person to see her alive. For decades, Matlick was the focus of investigators because he had stolen gold coins, forged Brach checks at the time of her disappearance and had inconsistent alibis.
But to police and this reporter, Matlick always denied have any hand in whatever happened to the $30 million dollar heiress.
"I don't know. I have no idea," Matlick told the I-Team years ago.
Matlick's file obtained by the I-Team tells a different story.
"Mr. Matlick has been and is now the prime suspect," concludes this report by the bureau of alcohol, tobacco and firearms that supervised the Brach case because it was linked to an arson for profit horse insurance swindling scheme - and Brach was a suspected victim.
"Prime suspect" in the disappearance of Helen Brach - that is how Matlick is referred to time after time in federal investigative reports.
In 1990, when federal agents find several guns stashed in a bank safe deposit box leased by Matlick - illegal because he was a convicted felon - they believed that it could be used as "new leverage" to gain Matlick's cooperation in the Brach case. But to the disappointment of ATF supervisor Jim DeLorto, that strategy went nowhere.
"They didn't think there was enough to actually charge him with the murder," said DeLorto. Did you think there was? "I thought it came real close to charging him with the murder."
But the records the I-Team obtained spell it out: assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Miller has decided Matlick will likely not be charged.
"We certainly tried to pry whatever he knew out of him, whatever that might be, whatever his knowledge of third party involvement or his own involvement, he would never admit to any wrongdoing whatsoever," said Miller.
Matlick's friend Richard Bailey pleaded guilty in 1995 to swindling Helen Brach in the horse scheme. Brach was about to turn Bailey into the FBI when she vanished.
Bailey was sentenced to life in prison on the evidence that he had hired someone to kill Brach. Many believe that someone was Jack Matlick.
"We were always suspicious. He was a close confidant of hers, but he hung with Bailey, we knew that, they played cards together occasionally, so there was certainly a chance that he knew what was going on or that he may have been involved," said Miller.
But chances don't make good criminal cases. When federal prosecutors declined to charge Matlick, ATF agents encouraged the Cook County state's attorney to look at charging him. The states attorney never did. Matlick died in February, taking whatever he knew and what if anything he did, to the grave.