Community members question what the Chicago Police Department is doing to stop a potential serial killer on the city’s south and west sides

Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-1st) hosts a community forum in Bronzeville about the ongoing investigation of the 55 women and girls who have been reported missing or found murdered on the city’s South and West sides. (Photo by Samantha Smylie)

Staff writer

BRONZEVILLE — Community members demanded answers, and action, from the Chicago Police Department and local politicians about 55 women and girls, many of whom are Black or Latina, who have been reported missing or murdered on the city’s South and West sides.

On Thursday night, Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-1st) hosted a community forum about the 55 women and girls at Northeastern Illinois University’s Carruthers Center, 700 E. Oakwood Blvd.

A panel moderated by Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell featured Thomas Hargrove, Founder and Chairman of the Murder Accountability Project; Brenda Stewart of Dreamcatchers Foundation; Chief of Detectives Melissa Staples; Brendan Deenihan, Deputy Chief of Detectives; James Jones, Deputy Chief of Detectives; Commander Rodney Blisset, Area South Detective Division; and Michelle Papa and Toni Giancola, Assistant State’s Attorneys.

Setting the tone for the evening, Rush started with a question for the audience and the panelists to think about, “Is there a serial killer or killers living among us? We must have that answered. The investigators, at the state and federal levels, cannot rule it out because of the evidence,”

Rush’s question is one of the biggest arguments between the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and community members and the families of the 55 women. CPD has not found evidence to connect each case, but community members begged on Thursday night for CPD to search for a serial killer

“We’ve put up flyers for the 50 plus women, each location was three minutes apart or a little bit more, maybe 10 or 12 minutes, to get to the next spot on the map. I don’t know what information ya’ll are getting or what ya’ll see, but that sounds like a serial killer to me,” said Riccaldo Holyfield, co-founder of Gods Gorillas and cousin of Reo Renee Holyfield, a 34-year-old woman whose body was discovered Sept. 10, 2018.

Another common thread between the women that are missing or found dead was that they were sex workers and addicted to drugs. Community members and advocates cited it as a major factor in the cases and should be looked into.

“Victims disproportionally had histories of sex work, illicit drug use, or both. This, historically, has been the preferred victim for a serial killer,” said Hargrove during his presentation at the forum.

Hargrove and the Murder Accountability Project team have developed an algorithm that identifies serial killer patterns based on information about the victim, location and the manner in which victims were murdered. The team is working to update the algorithm with Radford University.

Towards the end of the evening, during a question and answer session, families and community members asked that the police department provide better data on the murders, maintain communication between detectives and families and investigate cases of women who are sex workers and addicted to drugs.

“I am here to tell law enforcement to not dismiss this because they are all supposedly sex workers or women of the night. Don’t dismiss this. That is another common factor that they all have together,” said Holyfield.

After the meeting, Rep. Rush promised to hold another community forum to update the cases.