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Catherine Suh begins life term in boyfriend's slaying

Editor's Note: This story from the Tribune archives was originally published in the Chicago Tribune on Thursday, June 27, 1996. RedEye has reposted it to accompany our story about an episode of Investigation Discovery's "FBI: Criminal Pursuit" that examines the infamous Catherine Suh case.

Maybe for a moment Wednesday, out of the corner of her eye, Catherine Suh glanced at the relatives of the man she contrived to kill.

When Cook County Criminal Court Judge John E. Morrissey asked the former fugitive to turn around and face the family, she only stared straight ahead.

Any glimpse would've come when Suh--a woman with a taste for luxury cars, free-spending boyfriends and clothes with exclusive labels--was led in jail scrubs from a Cook County courtroom, marking the official end of her vacation from justice as well as the psychological end of the family's grief.

"I can start remembering Robbie and feel good that justice has prevailed," Margaret Nolan said, referring to her son, Robert O'Dubaine, and the effort to put his killer behind bars.

It was a moment deferred.

Suh, 27, was ordered by Morrissey to immediately begin serving the life sentence she earned for orchestrating the 1993 murder of O'Dubaine.

She was convicted and sentenced for the crime last October in her absence, after disappearing the month before from a high-price life in Chicago to one of similar leisure in Hawaii.

On the run and mentally fatigued after she was featured in a segment of "America's Most Wanted" in January, Suh finally gave herself up to the FBI on March 8 in Honolulu.

"She kept us hanging by a thread for the last 2 1/2 years," said Kim Lewis, 32, O'Dubaine's sister. "Today, Judge Morrissey cut the string."

Before fleeing Chicago, Suh drove a Jaguar, lived at Lake Point Tower and shopped at tony North Michigan Avenue boutiques. After landing in Hawaii, she quickly found a boyfriend and persuaded him to move to a more stylish condo.

It was this kind of lifestyle that prosecutors say Suh coveted when she had her brother, Andrew, a 21-year-old college student, shoot O'Dubaine in their Bucktown apartment in September 1993. Suh was hoping to collect on O'Dubaine's $250,000 life-insurance policy, prosecutors say. She already had inherited hundreds of thousands of dollars--and raised the suspicions of police--when her mother was killed.

"She was always a money-hungry person," said O'Dubaine's stepfather, Tom Nolan, standing in the hallway of the Cook County Criminal Courts Building. "We always had a funny feeling about her; something wasn't right. But we would never tell Robbie that, because he would have taken it the wrong way."

Both Suhs were convicted in the murder, with Andrew now serving a 100-year sentence.

Their mother, Elizabeth, was killed in 1987, stabbed 37 times in her Evanston dry-cleaning shop.

The brother and sister inherited $800,000 from their mother's life-insurance policy. Although a prime suspect at the time, Suh was never charged with the murder because O'Dubaine told police she was with him at the time it took place. Afterward, she shared the wealth with O'Dubaine and began a life of fun and glamour.

Reflecting on the case outside of Morrissey's courtroom, O'Dubaine's mother said that Suh's whole life seemed to smack of arrogance.

"Catherine is incapable of respecting anyone or anything," said Margaret Nolan, 56, a nursing supervisor from the west suburbs.

In court, that hubris seemed to have long-ago drained from her as Judge Morrissey asked a nervous Suh to pay her respects to Nolan and the rest of the family.

"You may want to say goodbye to Robert's family," Morrissey said to Suh, motioning in the direction of a dozen of the clan who had stood up upon the judge's instruction. "You missed them last time--when you were on vacation."

But Suh wouldn't pay penance to the family members, who filled three rows of benches in the courtroom.

Looking gaunt, she only fidgeted as she was led away, after Morrissey agreed with prosecutors to drop additional charges stemming from her flight so Suh would go directly to prison.

"But she saw us, you know, out of the corner of her eye as she was being led away. She knew we were there," said Nolan, who was surrounded by family members outside the courtroom. "One of the bailiffs told me that. I am so elated. In order for me to have closure, I needed to see them haul her away from the courtroom."

She described a nightmare period that began after Suh was first charged in 1993.

Suh had made bond and moved to Lake Point Tower, an expensive high-rise beside Navy Pier. She kept trolling for rich boyfriends and tried to re-invent herself, introducing herself to neighbors as Kasia Kane, a real estate consultant.

"That really upset all of us when she was out on bail, that she was still able to live the good life, and Robbie was dead," Nolan said.

The beginning of the end came in March, when the Nolans got the call letting them know Suh had turned herself in after living under an assumed name with a surfer in an expensive Honolulu condominium.

The family didn't get to see Suh when she made a brief appearance in Cook County court following her extradition from Hawaii earlier this month.

So Wednesday became the day when the family could get a small sense of justice.

"This finally represented closure for us," said Tom Nolan.

Added his wife: "Now she can no longer go to Bloomingdale's, Nieman Marcus. Nothing."

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