Morning Shift

A Serial Killer May Be Preying On Black Women In Chicago

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, right, and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson appear at a news conference in Chicago in March 2019. Police and the FBI are now investigating 51 unsolved murders over the past two decades to determine whether they are the work of one or more serial killers. AP Photo/Teresa Crawford

Daniel Tucker
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The Chicago Police Departmentand the FBI are now investigating 51 unsolved murders over the past two decades to determine whether they are the work of one or more serial killers.

The murders share a number of characteristics. They’re all strangulations. They took place on Chicago’s South and West sides over the last two decades. All of the victims were women and more than three-quarters were African-American women. And the list goes on from there.

A nonprofit called the Murder Accountability Project used a computer algorithm to identify this particular pattern of murders in Chicago, and CPD says it is aware of that algorithm. 

Thomas Hargrove, a retired investigative journalist, is the group’s founder and chairman.

Identifying patterns in murder records

Thomas Hargrove: The way [our] algorithm works is it takes — we now have 769,000 murder records — and it organizes them into more than 10,000 groups, looking for groups of homicides of similar victims: male or female, similar methods of killing: the weapon used, and in a similar geography: either the metro area or a particular county. It looks for clusters that had extremely low clearance rates. The reason it does that is we’ve found that the presence of a serial killer can affect the batting average for police — how often they solve a murder. We concentrate on female murders because the FBI tells us that serial killers most often target women, and so we concentrate on murders of women. And most of the time, murders of women are solved, in Chicago even.

51 unsolved murders on the South and West Sides follow similar patterns

Hargrove: [Those murders] have a remarkably similar M.O. First of all, almost all of the victims were recovered out-of-doors, often in alleyways or abandoned properties. That’s pretty unusual. At least three quarters of the victims — their deaths had a clear sexual component. The victims were found partially disrobed, completely nude, or parts of their clothing were ripped to expose the female form. Victims frequently showed signs of recent sexual activity, and not necessarily voluntary activity.

It is also important to note that there are geographic patterns to where these body recovery sites have occurred. They’re predominantly in three areas: the West Side, the South Side, and the extreme South Side. In the South Side cluster, the largest [one], there’s a very unusual linear structure, north to south pattern, as if a killer or killers were finding women along a route that they often drove. We do believe, if this is a series — and we absolutely believe it is — that the killer or killers has access to a vehicle that they are able to transport themselves, find victims, [and] that they’ve become quite adept at disposing of their bodies without being detected, or at least without witnesses coming forward to describe the assailant.

Reporting the data to Chicago police

Hargrove: Nothing much happened immediately, but the press kept picking at it. HBO, Vice News did a story, and then Channel 2, the CBS affiliate, did a series of very powerful stories just recently. And the Chicago police have — Eddie Johnson, the superintendent of police, has called for a full-fledged review. Such a thing is really quite labor-intensive. It’s going to take quite an effort just to assemble all of the documentation — the 51 murder books were scattered in precincts all over the city. It’s gonna take a while to do this review, but they are quite clear that they are going to do a proper job. They are going to try to identify untested DNA, which there seems to be quite a bit.  

This interview was edited for clarity and brevity by Char Daston. Click play to hear the full conversation.  

GUEST: Thomas Hargrove, founder and chairman of the Murder Accountability Project

LEARN MORE: Chicago police are finally investigating whether a serial killer murdered 51 women since 2001 (Vice News 4/12/19)

Is There A Serial Killer On The Loose In Chicago? Dozens Of Similar Cases Unsolved (CBS Chicago 2/19/19)