A few days after her son was killed in late June, Alicia Diaz felt a wave of relief when the person she believed was most responsible for his death was arrested.
Marcos Diaz, 30, was shot and killed on June 25, just around the corner from his home in the McKinley Park neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest Side.
Right after his death, police arrested Marcos Diaz’s ex-girlfriend in connection to the killing. Witnesses said she was the driver, when a passenger in her backseat shot and killed Diaz.
“They [told me they] wanted to charge her with first degree murder. And we said, ‘well, that’s great. You know, that’s great,’ ” Diaz remembered. “Because at least we felt a little safe.”
The Diaz family believed this woman, the mother of Marcos Diaz’s 1-year-old daughter, had orchestrated the murder. But two days after the initial arrest, police let her go. Alicia Diaz said detectives called to tell her the news when she was in the middle of making funeral arrangements for her son. She couldn’t believe it.
Now, two months later, no one has been charged with the murder, despite two witnesses who are cooperating with police, and the Diaz family is frustrated by what they see as a too-slow investigation.
Chicago police declined to comment on the specifics of the investigation. A spokeswoman said murder investigations are complicated and can be held up as detectives wait for forensic evidence that can corroborate witness testimony. It’s not unusual for murder investigations to last weeks or months. In the meantime grieving families are left desperate for justice, and often, desperate for safety from people who have already shown they’re willing to murder.
‘He was just my buddy’
Marcos Diaz was the father of three children — 11, 9 and 1 years old. He worked two jobs and was going to school to be an electrician.
“He loved to be with his children … everything that he did, every morning that he woke up, he did it for his children,” Alicia Diaz said of her son.
Now Alicia Diaz said she is trying to keep her two grandsons as busy as possible so they don’t dwell on the loss of their dad.
Adriana Diaz is Marcos Diaz’s aunt, but the two are only five years apart in age, so she said they were always more like siblings.
She remembers him as a great cook, and an even better eater.
“He [would] always open the fridge and just be like, ‘oh, well, what did you make to eat?’ He was always so excited to have that moment with the family,” Adriana Diaz said. “He was just my buddy. He was there with me all the time.”
Diaz lived with his two older children, raising them as a single dad. His 1-year-old daughter had a different mother and lived with her.
Alicia Diaz said when the relationship between her son and the baby’s mother didn’t work out, the woman got angry and started making threats. She said the whole family was on edge in the weeks leading up to her son’s murder.
Marcos Diaz was in a car with his sister and her boyfriend on the night he was killed. It was close to midnight on a Friday. He had just gotten off work at his job driving a party trolley.
As the three of them neared Diaz’s home near 36th Street and Hoyne Avenue, they saw the mother of his youngest child sitting in a parked car.
“My daughter saw her parked and my son got out of the car and said, ‘what are you doing here? What are you doing here? You know, I don’t want problems, just leave,’ ” Alicia Diaz recounted.
Then, suddenly, shots rang out from the back of the ex-girlfriend’s car, striking Marcos Diaz. Then the ex-girlfriend drove off, according to Alicia Diaz.
A good city to get away with murder
Marcos Diaz’s sister and her boyfriend told police what they saw, leading to the woman’s arrest. When police let her go two days later, detectives told Alicia Diaz that the woman had gotten a lawyer and refused to cooperate. Alicia Diaz was told they were waiting for test results and other evidence before the investigation could move forward.
Diaz’s sister and her boyfriend said the ex-girlfriend was definitely not the one who fired the shots that killed Marcos, but the family believes she was behind the murder even though there’s no way they can know if the shooting was pre-planned.
What does seem certain is that the ex-girlfriend knows who killed Marcos Diaz, that she drove that shooter away from the murder scene and that police let her go, apparently without learning who did the shooting.
That’s why the Diaz family is so frustrated no one has been charged in the intervening two months.
The length of time the case is taking is pretty typical for Chicago homicides.
So far this year, Chicago police have made an arrest in less than a quarter of all 2022 murders, according to city data. Meanwhile, police data obtained by the investigative news outlet The Trace and analyzed by WBEZ show that of the cases that are solved, the median length of a Chicago homicide investigation is about six weeks. Many cases take far longer.
It can be an agonizing wait for grieving families seeking justice, but police spokeswoman Margaret Huynh said sometimes a “lengthy process” is necessary for “complex cases that require evidence such as witness corroboration and forensic evidence.”
“Laboratory results, forensic results … are a bit of a problem for police,” said Thomas Hargrove, executive director of the Murder Accountability Project. “Because everybody’s overwhelmed … especially in Chicago.”
The Illinois State Police crime lab has become notorious for its huge backlog and slow testing times. The most recent state statistics show the crime lab has made progress speeding things up, but analysis can still take anywhere between three weeks to four months, depending on the type of test being done.
Hargrove is based in Washington, D.C., but he’s become familiar with Chicago homicide investigations over the years because of his focus on missing and murdered women in the city.
Hargrove said his experience with Chicago police is that they are well intentioned, but overworked and underresourced.
“They’re trying the best they can with the resources they’ve been given, which are not enough,” Hargrove said. “If you’re looking for a city to get away with murder, Chicago ought to be on your shortlist. And that in itself promotes more murder, and then more murders overwhelm the police. So you know, it’s a cycle that constantly feeds itself, ever downward.”
Huynh said they know the long wait for justice can put a strain on families, which is why they’ve started the family liaison officer program, with officers dedicated to keeping families informed and advocating for them during investigations.
But without any arrests, the Diaz family is living in fear.
The woman they believe is responsible for Marcos’s death knows where they live. She knows they’re cooperating with police. And the family believes she’s capable of murder.
Adriana Diaz, Marcos’s aunt, said she feels scared walking alone at night.
“It’s frightening to like, see the darkness and know that I’m alone out there,” Diaz said. “I feel scared that, you know, anybody could just come.”
About a week after the woman was released from police custody, Alicia Diaz went and got an order of protection against her. She said they’re installing cameras around their home. She’s hoping to get a prescription to help with her anxiety.