Illinois State Sen. Patricia Van Pelt is calling on the Chicago Police Department to expand its investigation into 51 unsolved murders of women that West and South side community members and a computer algorithm suggest could be the work of a serial killer or killers.
“When the people who are in charge, who are supposed to be serving and protecting you, are not doing their job, you have a reason to be afraid,” she told WBEZ’s Morning Shift Thursday.
Fourteen of the 51 murders were in Van Pelt’s district on Chicago’s West Side.
Last month, the non-profit Murder Accountability Project released a report showing startling similarities between the murders, which run from 2001 to the present.
All of them were strangulations. Most of the victims were African American women. And the bodies were found in clusters on Chicago’s South, West and far South sides. Many of the bodies were found in trash cans, alleys or abandoned buildings.
Since late March, six CPD detectives who are also sworn with the FBI have been re-examining the cases on a part-time basis. The work is ongoing, but at this point, a CPD spokesperson says there is no DNA evidence connecting any of the murders in the possible series.
Morning Shift talks to State Sen. Van Pelt about why she believes CPD needs to commit more resources to the effort and the stress and fear victims’ family members and their communities feel as so many of the murders have gone unsolved.
What concerns her most about possible serial killings in Chicago
Sen. Patricia Van Pelt: Most concerning to me is that the police are not acknowledging the fact that a year ago we came to them about this trying to see if there was a serial murderer in our area. They told us no, there’s no evidence for it, and then we find later that more and more are killed and we learned about the Murder Accountability Project.
What she’s hearing from victims’ families
Van Pelt: I’m hearing from a couple of the mothers who have daughters who were found murdered, and they’re waiting for the police to give them some information about what happened, how it happened. And they’re just concerned that over in Crystal Lake, that a young boy was killed, and they found him in five days, and here we are. We have women who have been missing for long periods of time. Even those that they found, they haven’t been able to figure out who is responsible. They’ve already charged the parents on that young boy’s murder, so why aren’t they getting charges on those cases? There could be 51 different murderers, which would be even more horrific than having a few serial killers, but we need to get to the bottom of it.
On taking part in a community event where she read victims’ names aloud
Van Pelt: It was important because those women’s names have not been mentioned in a long time, so all of us wanted to call their names out one by one because they are important. They are our sisters. They are our aunties. They’re our mothers. Our cousins. They are family members of all the people in this city, and we need to respond to their murders.
On the impact so many unsolved murders has on people in her community
Van Pelt: It stops them from being able to move about, to live, to be able to experience the best things in the community. They can’t even come out. They’re afraid to come out. And I don’t blame them because any time the police are willing to just sweep all these murders under the rug as if there’s nothing going on here, and then tell us, ‘It’s OK. Nothing’s happening. There’s no serial murderer.’ And we know without a shadow of a doubt that something is going on. And when the people who are in charge who are supposed to be serving and protecting you are not doing their job, you have a reason to be afraid.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
GUEST: State Sen. Patricia Van Pelt, 5th District