Debra Keene was working a shift at an Indiana uniform retailer when she missed a call from the McHenry County Coroner's Office.
Unable to use her phone at work, Keene slipped away to listen to the voicemail notifying her that her ex-husband, 51-year-old Robert Krikie Jr. had died. His body, she later learned, was found March 17, floating in the water at Three Oaks Recreation Area in Crystal Lake. His death is being investigated as a murder.
"When this happened, they found my number in his wallet and the coroner’s office called me," Keene said. "I was the one that called his mother and told her."
A shelter-in-place order issued by Gov. JB Pritzker shortly after Krikie's death means the Tennessee native's family hasn't had the chance to hold a memorial service. Krikie was cremated, but his mother, Donna Gesselle, hopes to honor her son's life more formally once the shelter-in-place order is lifted. Although family described Krikie as having lived a "hard life," they also remember him as a sweet, gentle man who liked to live his life on his own terms.
"He was a good person, so whoever these monsters were – there was no reason to hurt my boy," Gesselle said through tears.
Three men have been charged in connection with Krikie's death. According to court documents, 33-year-old Michael Miller, 23-year-old Devin J. Petersen, and 50-year-old William P. Linke, beat Krikie and hit him in the head with a rock, killing him. The men also are accused of taking Krikie's wallet, which, Keene said, likely contained no more than $5 and half a pack of cigarettes.
"It just floored me," Keene said. "I never dreamed that anybody would ever do that to Robert. And I know he fought them back, I know that."
Miller, Peterson, and Linke each are charged with first-degree murder, robbery, aggravated battery, concealment of homicidal death and mob action. They remained at the McHenry County Jail Saturday and are expected to make their next court appearances April 8.
Investigators believe Krikie and the accused men, all of whom were homeless, knew one another, although it's unclear what they were doing at Three Oaks that evening.
By his family's account, Krikie battled a drinking problem. It was a struggle for which he refused help, telling family he was content as long as he had "a beer and [his] smokes," Gesselle said.
Even so, those who knew Krikie describe him as a "sweet man" and a "free spirit." Keene laughed as she recalled the weeks Krikie spent riding his bicycle from Panama City, Florida, to Hopkinsville, Kentucky – a feat he would brag about for years to come.
"He was a good guy," Keene said. "He didn’t deserve this, and I want to see these men get everything they deserve."
Krikie and Keene met in February 2012 and married just more than a year later. The marriage was short-lived, but the pair remained friendly throughout the years.
In fact, she'd spoken with her former husband about three days before he died.
"He said he was getting by," Keene said. "He said it was hard. He’s always had a hard life."
Krikie was born in Tennessee, where his mother and grandmother largely looked after him, Gesselle said. During a phone call with the Northwest Herald Saturday, Gesselle referred to Krikie as her "beautiful, beautiful boy."
In time, Krikie, one of five children, had a daughter of his own.
"He loved her to death, and he wanted to be a good father. He just didn’t know how," Keene said.
His drinking habit and vagabond spirit eventually made it harder for Krikie's immediate family to keep tabs on him, though they tried, his mother said.
"Bobby made his life and everybody loved him, but that’s just the way he was," she said.
Now, his family struggles to make sense of what little information they have about Krikie's untimely death. As they search for answers, the allegedly violent end Krikie met doesn't seem to fit with the person they remember.
"Bobby never would hurt anyone," Gesselle said. "He wouldn’t hurt a flea."