Last Monday morning, X and I set out with the goal of photographing 10 sites on the West Side. It was not as successful as we hoped. We got 7 photographed and had to pass up at least 4 locations for various reasons. The indian summer we were experiencing had everyone out of their houses making it difficult to make photographs in many places.
When X picked me up at around 7:30, the sun was already up and the temperature had already reached about 65 degrees. We looked at the map to figure out how to tackle the days locations. X suggested that we start on the northern most site on the West Side and work our way south. The last time we went out, we started with the easier locations and went to the harder ones. By the time we reached some of the more dangerous spots, we had to pass them up because they were too busy. After reminding him of this, we changed our plan of action. We would start due west, just south of I-290 and work our was north from there, hitting the more problemed areas first in hopes that they would be quiet this early in the morning.
First we headed to 4134 West Wilcox Street in West Garfield Park where 21-year-old Erik Thompson was fatally shot after he tried to break up an altercation between his aunt and her boyfriend in his aunt's residence. When he tried to break it up, the boyfriend shot him in the head. When police arrived, Thompson was already dead. The shooting happened about 11:32 p.m. on the 10th of January. When we rounded the corner from Keeler onto Wilcox, there was a huge memorial on the south east corner. There were about 40 empty Patron bottles perfectly lined up in a rectangle on the ground. A t-shirt with a photograph of a teenage boy hung from the wrought iron fence the bottles stood before. I did lots of investigating into who was killed there. The only thing I can find is that 21-year-old Martece Colston was shot and killed at that address in December of 2008. I wonder if the memorial at that corner is still the one built for him 4 years ago. After passing the memorial, we turned on to Wilcox. There were several people hanging out in front of the address where Thompson was killed. We had to pass it up. Strike one for the day.
From there we haeded just north and west a few blocks to 3849 West Flournoy Street where Vernell Anderson, 23, was shot and killed at 11:54 p.m. near the front steps of a gray stone on December 16th. He was found with multiple gunshot wounds to his body. As we neared the location, X explained that there is a turf war going on between two seperate gangs. One of the gangs runs drugs on Polk and the other on Flournoy. They made an agreement that no one would sell on Lexington, the street between them, but someone violated that agreement. Now they are at war with each other. One cannot step over the boundary without risking getting shot. The block didn't seem to live up to the danger X prefaced it with. It was still early, so no one was out. The streets were lines with beautiful old gray stones, a few of which had been abandoned. The sidewalk where Anderson was killed was in front of one of the abandos. Interestingly, when I looked on Google's streetview, the house was not yet abandoned. There was a lot between it and the next gray stone that oddly had half of the grass cut creating a perfect bisection of the yard.
The next site posed a small problem. We were headed to what we thought was 5327 West Lake Street where Alfred Reese was shot and killed in the stairwell of the building. When we arrived at the location, the address was no where to be found. The entire 5300 block was a huge red brick old factory building. The lowest number on the building before the side street was 5333. This was impossible. We mulled it over for a while doing laps around the block to see if we could get a look at the sides of the building. There was no 5327. I looked up the article on Chicago Breaking News and saw that it said that Reese was killed on the 5200 block. We had the wrong address by 100. The actual address was 5227 which was in a strip of storefronts abotu a block away right next to a day care. This was also the only building on the block that appeared to have a stairwell like that described in the incident. We stopped and photographed quickly. Our rounding the block a few times drew attention from a close by drug corner and a few of the young men were walking in our direction. I made my pictures as fast as I could and hopped back in the car.
The next two locations were strike outs number 2 and 3 for the day. It was barely 9 o'clock and we were already having problems. We passed by both 1048 North Springfield and 918 North Harding because they were both very active drug corners that were in full swing. The Springfield address brought us to 5 men stationed one on each corner and one in the center of the round about in the middle of the street. As we passed there, I actually watch ed a man in a black pick-up truck get served by a young woman that counted the money as she walked away from his car. A young man in a gangway just a few lots down stared at us as we passed. He was holding a white plastic bag that he appeared to be trying to hide before we saw him. On another block nearby, we passed a group of men sitting on folding chairs on the sidewalk in front of a house. One of the men seemed like he wasn't paying attention. When he saw us pass in the car, he braced his seat as though he was about to take off running. As soon as he saww that we were just passing by, he returned to the relaxed pose in his seat.
We were finally able to stop at the next site. James Daniels was stabbed in the neck with a broken bottle by his 18-year-old niece during an argument at 1740 North Sawyer Avenue in Logan Square. The address was a two story home with white siding and tall wrought iron gates surrounding a large concrete front area. There were two chairs in the front. The most striking thing was that, posted on the front facade in multiple places, there were signs saying "Keep Off." This was a location that I had a hard time approaching. I knew that the family most likey still lived in the house and that it was probably not something they wanted to be reminded of. I tried to take my photographs with out being intrusive. As guarded as I thought the family must be and as the hosue seemed to be showed in the photographs. The view inside is blocked by massive iron gates and blaring red signs.
Next we headed to 2100 North Laramie Avenue where 41-year-old Bacilio Flores was stabbed to death in an apparent home invasion on November 13th of last year. The neighborhood was very nice in comparison to the sort of hell we just left. The block was lined with houses that had yeards and flowers and manicured lawns. 2100 sat on the corner and appeared to be a three flat with one of those apartments being a garden. There were cleaning supplies in the ground floor window that sat at sidewalk level on the side of the building. A house plant climbed its way up the pane of the inside of the front first floor window. Leaves blew all around us as I photographed in silence. As we returned to the car, a utility van drove by with the windows open leaving the pungent smell of marijuana in the air.
We went from there to 2424 North Marmora Avenue where Ryszard Koineczny was killed on November 11th. This was a homicide that I found out through the police that never showed up on the homicide trackers. As we neared, X pointed out that we had been here before. Last summer I was just across the alley photographing the site of a homicide that was a robbery gone awry. Here is that story:
The owner of a Northwest Side pawn shop called Fullerton Pawners at 5900 W. Fullerton Avenue in the city's Belmont Cragin community shot and killed one of three men who tried robbing his business at gunpoint shortly before 1 p.m. on June 8th. Michael McMillan was dead at the scene, while a second of the robbers may have been wounded before he and a third man fled on foot. McMillion had a prior robbery conviction in 2006 and had been sentenced to the Cook County Sheriff's boot camp program.
Now I was standing just a few 100 feet away photographing another death. As you can see from the google street view, the house at 2424 North Marmora was kept up nicely until very recently. When we arrived, the front yard was over grown with weeds and tall grass, the first floor windows were boarded up, there was a huge orange sticker on wood piece over the front door declaring that the water was to be tunred off, and there was a mattress on the second floor porch. The house was in poor shape. It's been interesting to see how many of the houses where someone was killed are now abandoned close to a year later. Visiting the sites this far from when the incidents actually happened gives a whole new outlook on what transpired in these places because I get to now see the transformations (or lack there of) that took place over the course of a year.
The next location we photographed was at the busy intersection of Diversey and Austin where Cesar Salgado was driving his red jeep when he was struck by gunfire. The incident happened at 10:44 p.m. on December 30th. We parked on the north west corner in front of P & S Auto Repairs. Salgado was shot while traveling east just before the intersection in front of a bar that had beer and music written on the windows in Spanish. It took a long time to get a few peopleless images at this location. It was extremely busy with traffic, people waiting for public transportation, and a bustling Dunkin Dognuts across the street.
Before we left there, X looked at the map to see if there were any other places he thought might be possible today. We picked the alley behind 3121 West Homer Street where an unidentified woman was found at 7:35 a.m. on the morning of November 27th. She had been strangeled to death. The house that she was found behind had a gated backyard where there were several chickens clucking. From behind the buildings I could see that there was an interesting smattering of both old vinyl sided houses and new concrete and brick condo buildings. It was an odd location to think that someone found a body, but seemed like a good enough place to bring someone to kill since the alley was oddly convoluted, ending abruptly just off the main street on one side. It also appeared that there must have been a car fire there recently. Many of the garages had melted siding, with no signs of damage to any of the structures.
After photographing there, X and I decided to call it a day. We didn't get the 10 sites we hoped for, but we got 7. Only 28 more to go.