Craig Denham, a companion of R. J. Vanecko

Craig Denham, a companion of R. J. Vanecko


Published May 27, 2011


Staff Reporters

The other key figure in the deadly 2004 confrontation involving a nephew of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley is a British-born businessman who’s also related to the Daley family.

Craig Denham, 36, is now a brother-in-law of Nora Daley Conroy, the former mayor’s oldest daughter who recently was appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to chair the city’s Cultural Affairs Advisory Committee.

Denham has declined interview requests about the seven-year-old homicide case, which the Chicago Police Department formally closed earlier this year, determining that his friend Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko, a Daley nephew, punched 21-year-old David Koschman of Mount Prospect in the face but shouldn’t be charged in his death.

The police department’s handling of the case is now itself the subject of an investigation by City of Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, prompted by reports in the Chicago Sun-Times that revealed discrepancies between what witnesses say happened in the Rush Street area in the early morning hours of April 25, 2004, and what the police say those witnesses said.

Denham – the son of Nigel Denham, a wealthy British businessman with interests in a wine distributorship, a catering company and a golf course – grew up in West Yorkshire County, England, about 200 miles north of London. He moved to Alabama to attend the University of Mobile, where he was on the golf team from 1995 to 1998.

In April 1999, he started working for LaSalle Bank in Chicago, eventually becoming a vice president.

Soon after moving to Chicago, Denham met Joseph Carroll, another British native, and they made plans to set up a wine-distribution company, according to Carroll.

“We had the contacts to make a very good business, but we never did,” Carroll says.

He says Denham “came from what seemed like a very decent family. He worked hard at the bank. He was a straight-up honest guy.”

On the night of the confrontation that led to Koschman’s death 11 days later from brain trauma, Denham, then 29, had been drinking with friends including Vanecko, according to police reports and interviews.

They had just gotten out of a cab on Division Street near Dearborn about 3 a.m. when Denham bumped into a group of five younger men, including Koschman. Denham’s glasses were knocked off. He later told the police that made him “mad.”

Denham started “arguing with the group of males, and pushing and shoving began between him and one of the males in the group, now known as David Koschman,” according to a police report.

Koschman’s friends tried to calm things down, and Denham, Vanecko and their friends Kevin McCarthy and his wife, Bridget Higgins McCarthy, started to walk away.

Then Vanecko punched Koschman in the face, knocking the younger man to the street, leaving him unconscious, and Denham and Vanecko ran off, according to the police.

Denham later told the police he never saw anyone punch Koschman, who had been bar-hopping with his friends.

“Denham stated as they were walking away from the group of kids, he felt a hard jolt from behind,” according to a police report from the original investigation in 2004.

“The next thing he knew, he and Vanecko were running down the street, and he really didn’t know why he was running.

“Denham stated he was pretty intoxicated and doesn’t know if he was running because he was afraid of getting jumped, or if he was just afraid of being arrested for public intoxication. Denham stated he and Vanecko got in to a cab and went to another tavern.

“Denham stated he didn’t think anything of the incident after they left and didn’t know someone had been hurt.”

Though Denham and Vanecko took off, the police detained their friends, the McCarthys, who denied knowing the two men who ran away, according to the police. Kevin McCarthy initially was handcuffed by a police officer, though he and his wife were released after the police interviewed them.

It wasn’t until 18 days later – May 13, 2004, a week after Koschman had died – that Bridget McCarthy told the police the names of the two men who had run off, admitting she and her husband knew them and had been with them. It took the police six more days before they questioned Denham about his argument with Koschman.

On May 20, 2004, the day after his interview with police, Denham appeared in a police lineup. Koschman’s four friends and two bystanders viewed the lineup, but none could identify him as the man who had argued with Koschman. One of Koschman’s friends said he did recognize Denham, but he misidentified him as the man police officers had handcuffed and detained with Bridget McCarthy.

Denham speaks with a distinct British accent – something that isn’t mentioned in the police reports.

Three of Koschman’s friends told the Chicago Sun-Times they don’t recall anyone speaking with any sort of foreign accent during the confrontation. The other friend couldn’t be reached.

Shortly before the confrontation with Koschman, Denham had met Vanecko and the McCarthys at an engagement party for a couple from England, according to the police. The Sun-Times couldn’t confirm who the party was for, though, five months later, in September 2004, Nicholas J. Davies, a boyhood friend of Denham, married Katherine Daley, a niece of the former mayor, who had been working in London. Her father, Michael Daley, is a brother of the former mayor and a partner in the family law firm of Daley & George.

Denham, Davies and the Daleys all either declined to comment or didn’t return messages.

At the time of the engagement party, Denham was separated from his first wife and living in a condominium near Belmont and Halsted. He is now married to Jill Conroy Denham, whose older brother, Sean Conroy, is the husband of Nora Daley Conroy, the former mayor’s oldest daughter.

Jill Conroy Denham and Nora and Sean Conroy all attended Fairfield University in Connecticut.

Conroy Denham graduated from the Loyola University Chicago School of Law. While in law school, she had an internship with then-Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine, a longtime friend of the Daley family whose office decided in 2004 that the police didn’t have enough evidence to charge anyone with any crime in Koschman’s death.

Conroy Denham passed the Illinois Bar exam in 2004 and was hired as an associate attorney at Daley & George.

She and her husband now live in New York, on Long Island, where her family is from.

Craig Denham is now chief operating officer of Wanzenberg Partners, a small financial advisory firm based in Chicago.

For seven years, Koschman’s case remained classified as an unsolved homicide, until early this year, when he Chicago Police Department reopened the case after the Sun-Times sought records in the case.

The police reinterviewed all of the witnesses, including Denham. He received a phone call on Jan. 27 at his home in Manhasset, N.Y., from Detective James Gilger.

Denham “related essentially the same account” as he did seven years ago “in that his glasses were knocked off and an argument ensued, but Denham never saw who punched the victim. Denham stated he would stand by his earlier statement,” Gilger wrote in a report dated Feb. 28.

That reinvestigation concluded that Denham had been arguing with the 5-foot-5, 140-pound Koschman, who was then punched by the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Vanecko. The police decided that Vanecko – who has never spoken with them – had acted in self-defense.

On March 1, they formally closed the case, declining to ask the Cook County state’s attorney’s office to decide whether to file criminal charges.