“Unforgotten: The Untold Stories of Murdered Chicago Women.”
OVER THE SPRING AND FALL 2020 semesters, journalism students at Roosevelt University enrolled in the capstone journalism course undertook a working investigative reporting project, examining the mostly unsolved strangulation murders of at least 51 Chicago women over two decades. More than three-quarters of these women are African American, according to the Murder Accountability Project, a nonprofit research organization based in Alexandria, Virginia, that studies homicide and has used algorithms to conclude that the murders are the work of one or more serial killers. Chicago police continue to investigate.
The project, led by Roosevelt Professor John W. Fountain, a former New York Times national correspondent and once the Chicago Tribune’s chief crime reporter, seeks to humanize the victims whose bodies were discarded, in many cases, in alleys on the West and South Sides like yesterday’s trash. The project includes narrative story telling and multimedia stories, culminating in a final published project that appears here on this website.
Among our chief aims, unapologetically, was to raise this story, this issue, to greater public light by public service journalism, which we believe is at the core of our duty to social justice as journalists.
The Cases date back to 2001. The pattern reportedly started again in 2017 and “continued with a vengeance” through 2018. The victims summarily have been strangled or asphyxiated and dumped by garbage, alleys, vacant lots and buildings, some set on fire.
Using the traditional approach of public affairs reporting, we took to the streets and to the computer using traditional journalistic reporting techniques to find out who these women were, to simply humanize them, to try and put a face to each tragic story. In addition to the written narratives, we also sought to document through the use of digital media, the voices and faces of those working for organizations like The Dreamcatcher Foundation in Chicago that seeks to end human trafficking.
Also included in our final project are some of the stories of the student-journalists themselves in their own voices on their reportorial foray into covering this story, its impact on them, and also the unique difficulties it presented—given that we found ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic while covering this story, which the first class of Convergence began in January 2020, and which the next class picked up in Fall 2020 and carried to year’s end.
What we present here as a team of 16 student-journalists and their professor is a snapshot of the story of the 51 murdered Chicago women. Our collective stories range from the portraits of those women whose families we were able to find, to the work of organizations seeking to help women who are most vulnerable to deadly street violence, to other related stories.
We hope that what we present here makes some small difference, perhaps inspires or compels the solving of these cases, maybe brings some measure of solace for their loved ones deeply wounded over the deaths of their sisters, mothers, aunts, daughters, and the way in which their lives were stolen, their bodies and their memories desecrated.
“I knew early on that this was an ambitious project, to say the least,” Prof. Fountain said. “Thomas Hargrove who founded the Murder Accountability Project told me as much. But the loss of humanity and the coldness of the response, or lack thereof, in this city, where, if 51 dogs had been slaughtered and set on fire, we would all be up in arms, demanded that we at least try to tell this story.”
Indeed it was Hargrove’s words to Prof. Fountain early on that sealed his decision to move forward on the Unforgotten project.
“These murders are still unsolved. The more you can humanize them” Hargrove told Fountain. “The attention that you would bring to these women would be a good thing.”
We humbly hope that we have done a good thing. —John W. Fountain