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Bronzeville, Near South Side

What’s Being Done To Solve The Murders Of Black Women On The South And West Sides? ‘Don’t Dismiss This,’ Families Implore

A community forum Thursday night left some people with more questions than answers as families grapple with the murder of 51 women.

Thomas Hargrove, Founder of the Murder Accountability Project, shares his serial murder research at a community meeting Thursday evening convened by Rep. Bobby Rush.
Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago
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BRONZEVILLE — Calling for transparency and communication, residents demanded answers from the Chicago Police Department Thursday evening about 55 murdered and missing women in Chicago.

It’s been nearly two months since Supt. Eddie Johnson announced that the police department and the FBI would be working together on a Serial Killer Task Force to solve the murders of 51 women on the South and West sides, but some fear that little progress has been made.

On Thursday U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush’s (D-Chicago) held a community meeting at Northeastern Illinois University’s Carruthers Center, 700 East Oakwood Blvd.

Chicago Police detectives working some of the cases answered questions from victim’s families and residents, saying they’re working around the clock.

Rush told the audience he sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, but has yet to receive a response. He later told Block Club Chicago that he would get answers, even if it meant going to Wray’s office himself.

“We’re going to be aggressive in terms in holding all of us accountable,” said Rush, who added that he’ll be convening additional forums in the future to ensure the women aren’t forgotten.

Murder Accountability Project Founder Thomas Hargrove gave a brief presentation before a panel of experts — including detectives who have worked several of the victims’ cases — fielded questions from Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell.

The Chicago Tribune, in a special investigation published in Jaunary, 2018, first detailed the massive number of unsolved strangulations of women on the South and West sides. More than 75 percent of the victims were black women.

Hargrove and his team developed an algorithm that identifies possible serial killer patterns, grouping data by victim type, geography and the manner in which the victims were murdered. The algorithm is in the process of being updated with the help of a grant from Radford University, which maintains a serial killer database of their own with Florida Gulf Coast University.

Hargrove told the audience that the algorithm update will help with tracking error rates.

“[The algorithm] is not perfect, but it absolutely has detected previously unknown serial murders,” said Hargrove. “It’s been signaling a kind of ‘red alert’ for Chicago and other cities for several years.”

Among his other findings, Hargrove shared that his project noticed possible Chicago serial murderer patterns as far back as 2005, and that a number of bodies were found near “L” stops, which could mean that the killer or killers are using public transit.

Families of the murdered and missing were also in attendance, imploring law enforcement to take the matter seriously.

Gods Gorillas Founder Riccardo Holyfield spoke on behalf of his cousin, Reo Renee Holyfield, whose body was discovered in a dumpster last fall. Holyfield said that while putting up fliers of some of the 55 women in neighborhoods on the South Side, he noticed each location where a victim went missing or a body was discovered was just minutes away from each other.

“I don’t know what information you’re looking at,” said Holyfield, “but that sounds like a serial killer to me. Don’t dismiss this. Don’t keep trying to go about proving that there’s not a serial killer.”

Eileen Ross, the aunt of 43-year-old Chaunti N. Bryla, who was last seen March 14 near her home on 85th and Bennett, said that Chicago Police had not been in contact to update the family on the case.

“I understand there are things we can’t know to maintain the integrity of the case, but a phone call would be nice,” said Ross, who now looks after Bryla’s 11 year-old son.

Det. Melissa Staples, one of the panelists who has worked several of the victims’ cases, assured families that the Chicago Police Dept. has been working around the clock to find answers for them. She told the audience that protocol dictates that detectives contact families six months to a year after the initial interview, which she later retracted after being corrected by fellow panelist Det. James Jones, who has also worked several of the cases.

A heated Q&A session immediately followed, with some audience members taking the CPD to task for not taking the matter seriously and offering what one called “Officer Friendly” advice to women about staying safe.

Another audience member, the Rev. Greg Greer, challenged Staples on her assertion that CPD’s murder clearance rate is at 51 percent. Clearance rates fell to an all-time low in 2017, with 17.5 percent of cases being solved. When asked how many of the cases were those of black female victims, she told Greer that she didn’t have that data on hand.

Some attendees came away from Thursday night’s meeting with more questions than answers.

“We have all this data we could be getting from CPD. Why aren’t we using the Freedom of Information Act FOIA to get it? Why aren’t we holding hackathons?” asked Paula Robinson, an urban developer from Morgan Park who works in Bronzeville. “We’ve become desensitized to this, and shame on us for not doing more.”