Saying their names: Remembering murdered Chicago women

“It’s not easily dismissed as, ‘she’s just a prostitute or she’s just an addict’ when she has a name,” says activist Beverly Reed Scott.

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This is the third in an occasional series titled, “Unforgotten: The Untold Stories of Murdered Women.” It is about 51 mostly unsolved strangulation and asphyxiation cases in Chicago since 2001, as identified by the Murder AccountabilityProject.

In spring 2020, my Convergence Journalism class at Roosevelt University took on this case that I titled “Unforgotten.” Ours is a working project that seeks to humanize the victims whose families still hope for justice. The project resumes this fall. This is a story by Roosevelt senior Mohammad Samra:

Fifty-one women. Fifty-one lives. Fifty-one women strangled. Fifty-one souls. These are the Chicago women — from Jan. 4, 2001 to Sept. 10, 2018 — whose homicides are believed connected to one or more serial killers.

This is a story by the numbers. Just the facts. A portrait of this case with no frills, although revelatory and piercing in its numerical simplicity:

Ninety-four percent were found dead in Chicago alleys, vacant lots, abandoned buildings, some of them set on fire in trash cans. Seventy-six percent were African American. The median age was 36. Makalavah Williams, at 18, was the youngest; Catherine Saterfield-Buchanan, 58, was the oldest.

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Angela Marieanna Ford was the first victim — found Jan. 4, 2001. Reo Renee Holyfield was the most recent — Sept. 10, 2018.

In two separate cases, two victims were discovered on the exact same date. On average, over the 18-year period, there were about three murders a year, with 2003 having the highest number of related strangulation victims — eight.

Nancy Walker, Tarika Jones, Linda Green, Rosenda Barocio, LaTonya Keeler, Latricia Hall, Lucyset (aka Mary) Thomas and Ethel Amerson were the eight slain in 2003.

Tarika Jones and Linda Green were found slain May 20, 2003. The bodies of Latricia Hall and Lucyset (aka Mary) Thomas were discovered less than five months later on the same day: Oct. 15, 2003.

Yvette Mason, 35, was found on Christmas Day 2005, strangled, and in an alley at 5031 S. Indiana Ave.

Of the 51 women identified by MAP, there was only one slaying in each of the years 2008, 2011, 2012, and 2014. No slayings were recorded in 2013, 2015 and 2016.

Twenty-seven percent of the bodies of the 51 were recovered in an alley. About 16 percent in garbage cans and about 16 percent in vacant lots.

Fourteen women — Jody Grissom, Loraine Harris, Celeste Jackson, Linda Green, Rosenda Barocio, Tamala Edwards, Precious Smith, Denise V. Torres, Yvette Mason, Veronica Fraizer, LaToya Banks, Shannon Williams, LaFonda Sue Wilson and Velma Howard — were found in alleys.

Seven women — LaTonya Keeler, Michelle Davenport, Antoinette P. Simmons, Theresa Bunn, Hazel Marion Lewis, Diamond Turner and Reo Renee Holyfield — were found in garbage cans.

Ten women — Angela Marieanna Ford, Bessie Scott, Dellie Jones, Tarika Jones, Lucyset (aka Mary) Thomas, Ethel Amerson, Shaniqua Williams, Kelly Sarff, Quanda L. Crider and Nicole Lynell Ridge — in abandoned buildings; eight — Charlotte W. Day, Brenda Cowart, Latricia Hall, Wanda Hall, Margaret E. Gomez, Angela Profit, Pamela Wilson and Lora Dawn Harbin — in vacant lots.

Nine women — Winifred Shines, Elaine Boneta, Gwendolyn Williams, Nancy Walker, Makalavah Williams, Genevieve Mellas, Vanessa Rajokovich, Catherine Saterfield-Buchanan and Valarie Marie Jackson — were found in what is described as “outdoors”; and three women — Charlene Miller, Mary Ann Szatkowski and Saudia Banks — were discovered “indoors.”

By the numbers: Fifty-one women. Collectively they represent 1,878 collective years of life. Contained within those years are moments worth more weight than perhaps any statistics could ever convey.

“They (the victims) have become very important women,” said Beverly Reed Scott, an advocate for women’s issues who was inspired to create an event to honor the murdered women.

The story of their lives “can be a bridge for us to cross over into deeper understanding about what it means to try to live — to try to have your existence and have it matter in the world,” Reed Scott said.

“It’s not easily dismissed as, ‘she’s just a prostitute or she’s just an addict’ when she has a name ...”

One hundred percent of them have names. One hundred percent had lives and loved ones. One hundred percent of them had stories.

And the number of them who deserve justice? Every single one.


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