Deana Balfour is a friend of a missing South Side woman, and she is really frustrated.
Her friend Chaunti N. Bryla, 43, was last seen on March 14. A missing person’s report was filed with the police on March 18, and a detective was assigned to the case.
Flyers bearing the missing woman’s photograph were circulated in her South Side neighborhood, and two local news stations picked up the story. Bryla’s close-knit family even gave police a lead on a possible person of interest.
But there’s been no arrest.
“They can find two African brothers all the way in Africa and can’t find somebody on the South Side,” Balfour said, referring to Ola Osundairo and Abel Osundairo, two brothers of Nigerian descent involved in the fake attack on “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett.
The city of Chicago has filed a lawsuit against Smollett seeking to recover the costs of its investigation.
But the money isn’t the most damaging aspect of what turned out to be an elaborate publicity stunt. The intensity with which detectives went about solving the Smollett case set a very high bar — one that detectives aren’t likely to meet again until there’s another high-profile case.
Still, Balfour, a former public relations specialist and a longtime employee of the clerk of the circuit court’s office, says she expected more.
“We talked to the detectives last night, and they keep saying they are working on it,” Balfour told me. “But that is not sufficient. She has been gone for almost four weeks. That is not normal behavior. And she did not live a hazardous lifestyle.”
The missing woman’s family suspects that someone known to them was involved in the woman’s disappearance.
“She had just gotten her income-tax check.” Balfour said. “The individual is on a surveillance video that shows him getting money out of the ATM, and her account is now totally empty. Police have not picked him up even though he has a history of battery to other women.
“This is just disheartening. There are so many girls missing or getting killed, the community has become numb.”
To back that up, Balfour offers this as evidence: “I posted a flyer on my Facebook page, and 53 people responded saying they liked it. I posted a picture of a dress I was trying on and got 2,000 likes.”
And police investigators can come off as cavalier when worried relatives push for information.
I reached out to the Chicago Police Department about the status of the Bryla investigation and also about Kierra Coles, the U.S. Postal Service worker who vanished last October. Coles, 27, was three months pregnant when she vanished. A surveillance video showed her leaving her apartment.
“When this incident occurred, we told her mother that we were going to do everything to help find her daughter,” said Mack Julion, president of the Chicago branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service offered a $25,000 reward. Coles’ union added $2,500, and community activist Andrew Holmes contributed $1,000 to the reward pool.
“We simply do not know what happened,” Julion said. “We are trying to prevent this from becoming a cold case and have been planning vigils and other things to try and keep it in the media’s eyes.”
Luis Agostini, a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department, responded to my inquiry about these missing women with this on Friday: “Just confirmed with Area South SVU detectives that both investigations are still ongoing. We’ll be sure to reach out if/when any additional information or updates come through.”
You can see why Balfour is concerned. Unlike the daily drumbeat that turned the Smollett investigation into a soap opera, there does not seem to be the same sense of urgency with these less high-profile cases.
But how do we rest knowing that these two black women are possibly victims of foul play and that whoever’s responsible might be somewhere chilling?
There’s something terribly wrong with our priorities when a pregnant woman disappears in the heart of the South Side and the city hums along as if it didn’t happen.
And there’s something incredibly cold about a city where a mother can vanish from her home, leaving her purse on the kitchen table, and there’s no public outcry for answers.
“This family needs CPD to put the same efforts in finding Chaunti as they do for high-profile cases,” Balfour said. “This is a travesty that CPD has not made the effort in finding this woman and the others in Chicago still missing.”