The people who lived in a home in the 8300 block of South Drexel Avenue — a mother and her three sons — had not been seen for a week.
The boys would often be on the block wrestling or throwing a football. But the playful commotion that filled the air went silent, replaced by the terrible stench that neighbor Donald Martin could no longer ignore.
Martin, 61, reported it to police Saturday night.
Chicago Police found the bodies at 8:25 p.m. The Cook County medical examiner’s office confirmed the deaths but did not release additional information Sunday morning.
ALSO: Autopsies inconclusive for woman, children found dead in Chatham
Relatives told the Chicago Sun-Times the bodies were those of Latoya Jackson, 27, and her three sons: Andrew, 11, Cameron, 9 and Cantrell, 5.
There was evidence of a fire in the home, but it was contained to the inside of the building and had not spread or been reported, according to a fire department official.
The bodies had some burns, but it was not known whether they occurred before or after the deaths, according to the official.
A source reported that Latoya Jackson appeared to have a head injury.
A joint death investigation was being conducted by several agencies, including the Chicago Police Bomb and Arson Unit; the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives; the Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal; and the Chicago Fire Department’s Office of Fire Investigation, said Special Agent Thomas Ahern, spokesman for the ATF.
Ahern said the nature of the scene — the number of dead bodies and evidence of fire — required the multi-agency response.
“It was a hazardous situation because of the condition of the bodies,” Ahern said, who could not comment on how the bodies were found.
He added that the investigation might take a while because it’s not “a basic fire scene.”
Leon Ervin said Sunday he was saddened to hear the news about his former daughter-in-law and her children. “She was a nice person, and they were good kids,” he said. Ervin said his son, Andrew Simms, was killed in a drive-by shooting in 2005.
Travante Ederenor, 18, a nephew of Latoya Jackson and a cousin of the three boys, said his father told him about their deaths Sunday morning.
“I was devastated,” said Ederenor, who was told all four relatives were murdered.
” “That’s crazy, in my head I imagine each one of them watching each other die and like crying and like begging for their lives,” he said. “They’re children. Whatever happened . . . it’s like, you killed a lady and her children. It’s a lady, dude, like, what’s wrong with you?”
Ederenor said the boys attended Caldwell Elementary School, 8546 S. Cregier Ave., and the family lived with relatives in a home near the school until they moved a few months ago to the home on Drexel.
Before asking for a moment alone, Ederenor said his aunt loved to barbecue and her sons loved to play video games and sports.
“I just don’t want to be around anybody right now. I wanted to come look at the house,” he said.
Neighbors milled around the scene Sunday morning in the Chatham neighborhood, chatting about the woman and her children and wondering what happened.
Other relatives and friends at a Sunday evening vigil said they didn’t think the deaths were caused by an accident or a gas leak.
“I smelled dead bodies,” not a gas leak, said Latoya Jackson’s friend, April Bussell.
Martin and another neighbor said the woman who lived at the home often got into loud arguments with a boyfriend.
The woman moved into the home about six months ago, neighbors said.
“She was sweet. She wasn’t stuck up,” said a neighbor, who added that her kids were always inside around the time the streetlights came on.
Outside the home, candles spelled out the names of her three boys. A poster said, “Rest in Heaven.”
Contributing: Maureen O’Donnell