Chicago police officials say they’ve tested all available DNA evidence from 51 cases of unsolved murders of women and found no evidence of a serial killer.
In April, the department detailed a team of homicide detectives to review the cases of women who were strangled or suffocated to death and found on the city’s South and West sides. The move was done in response to a growing concern among Chicago residents and experts that at least some of the murders are the act of a serial killer or serial killers.
Most of the women were found outside or in abandoned buildings, and investigators believe many of the victims were sex workers. The cases go back to 2001.
“We’ve given these 51 cases to this team of 10 homicide detectives from Chicago who are on an FBI violent crimes task force,” Chief of Detectives Melissa Staples said. “They are reviewing every piece of evidence in every one of these cases, and this is gonna take some time.”
Staples spoke Thursday at a forum on the murders organized by Congressman Bobby Rush.
She said the detectives are still reviewing cases, but they have tested all available DNA evidence.
“We have no DNA at this time that links these cases together,” Staples said.
Staples said they have testable DNA from 21 cases.
That still leaves more than half of the murders without DNA evidence of any kind.
Deputy Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan said detectives are still working with the FBI to review cases and look for evidence, but there is no other DNA evidence from other cases that they can test.
“In these specific cases, every single swab, every single fingernail, everything has been worked up,” Deenihan said.
Deenihan said the DNA evidence from the 21 cases turned up 21 separate DNA profiles of men who are unknown to police.
The lack of a link did nothing to assuage the concerns of the crowd at Thursday’s community meeting.
Addressing the group of about 40, Rush said he called the meeting to try and get an answer to the question: “Is there a serial killer?”
“We must have that answer,” Rush said. “And if the investigators … cannot rule it out because of the evidence, then we all must continue to think that there is a possible serial killer or killers that’s living among us.”
Brenda Stewart with The Dreamcatcher Foundation, which works with sex workers in Chicago, said women are afraid.
“The ladies out there, when I’m talking to them … it’s a fear,” Stewart said. They feel that [there’s] not any help out there.”
There was a sentiment among many in the crowd that because most of the victims in the unsolved cases are black, and believed to be prostitutes, police do not care as much about solving them.
Staples said that isn’t true.
“Any uncleared murder, unsolved murder, is a concern to us absolutely,” Staples said.
Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice desk. Follow him @pksmid.