Murders plague Chicago Heights
By Casey Toner email@example.com January 26, 2011 7:34PM
Cops: two victims were crack dealers
Two of the eight 2010 Chicago Heights murder victims, Julian Allen and Oshay Wells, had criminal records and were known drug dealers, according to police and court records.
Allen, 23, was shot to death June 11 at the corner of Center Avenue and U.S. 30.
Wells and his girlfriend, Toya Bradley, were shot to death July 26 at Thornwood Apartments, 19460 Glenwood Road.
According to police and court records:
Allen pleaded guilty to marijuana possession charges in July 2004 and was placed on court supervision for six months.
Allen was charged with trespassing in 2004 and 2007, domestic battery in 2006, possession and manufacturing a controlled substance with intent to deliver in 2007 and aggravated assault in 2009. All charges were dropped.
Wells pleaded guilty to criminal trespass to land in 2005. He was charged with marijuana possession in March 2008 and felony weapon possession in June 2008. The charges in both cases were dropped.
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Five-year-old Courmarion Wells is bouncing around his cousin’s house, chattering about video games, Legos, sports.
His daddy was a great football player, he says. His daddy promised to take him to a game one day, teach him how to play.
It’s a promise Courtney Wells will never fulfill. He was murdered on Nov. 20 — shot in the head and chest nearly 30 times in a grisly street slaying.
Courtney’s mother, Deborah Wells, broke the news to the young boy the next day.
“He wanted to know why the bad man did his daddy like that,” she said. “We told him, ‘Because they were cowards.’ ”
Stories like Wells’ have become more common in Chicago Heights. He was among eight people murdered in the city last year. A ninth homicide has not been declared a murder.
Two homicides have already been recorded there this month. In one, the victim was a 3-month-old boy.
While the number of victims can be tallied, the toll the murders take on the city and its residents can’t be quantified. Seemingly everybody has something to be concerned about: the loss of a loved one, stray bullets, witnesses clamming up, finding funding that might help fight the violence.
It’s certainly cost Deborah Wells and her grandson.
“He didn’t deserve to be shot,” she said. “I want to catch them and have them burn in hell.”
By the numbers
The population of Chicago Heights is about 30,000, meaning one in about every 3,750 residents was murdered in 2010. Five people were murdered there in 2009.
Chicago Heights’ murder total was its highest since 2000, when 10 people were murdered, the most Police Chief Michael Camilli has seen in nearly three decades with the department. Joliet, which has about five times the population, had 11 murders last year.
Connections and quiet
Of Chicago Heights’ eight murders last year, just two have been solved. Police believe at least four of the unsolved cases are linked, a bloody trail that started with the slaying of Julian Allen.
Allen, a man police say was a well-known drug dealer, was shot to death outside a liquor store in the city’s east side neighborhood on June 11. Police have said Allen’s murder is connected to the shooting deaths of Oshay Wells and his girlfriend, Toya Bradley, on July 26, and to the slaying of Oshay’s cousin, Courtney.
Police Sgt. Tom Rogers said he “wouldn’t discredit” the idea that the Wellses were killed in retaliation for Allen’s murder.
Solving one of the murders would lead to solving all four, Camilli said.
“Once the house of cards falls on one, it falls on all of them,” he said.
The problem, he says, is that no one is providing police with any information.
That doesn’t surprise Lawrence Blackful Jr., an associate pastor at St. Bethel Church in Chicago Heights, who has known the Wells family for several generations. He said it’s common for witnesses in gang- and drug-affiliated murders to keep quiet.
“You have people who say if they do or say anything, then they become the target,” Blackful said. “The criminal has the right to address and identify their accusers in court, so the people are just not willing to put the information out there.”
People don’t risk speaking up because they don’t feel safe doing so, said Blackful, 39, who grew up in the Wentworth Gardens housing project on Chicago Heights’ east side.
“They don’t feel like they have anyone to turn to and they don’t have confidence in the police department,” Blackful said.
Another murder victim had a connection to the Wells family. Jerome Johnson, a longtime boyfriend of Oshay Wells’ aunt, was shot to death July 1, his body was dragged and placed atop a rusty trampoline outside the family’s house. But police say his murder was unrelated.
Fear hits home
Lucille Mosby, Greater Faith Baptist Church’s soup kitchen and homeless shelter coordinator, is still waiting for witnesses to come forward in a murder that hit close to her heart.
Michael Sobucki, 55, formerly of Lansing, started frequenting the shelter in February. He would stop by the shelter for food, rest or just to chat up the workers and talk about the Chicago Blackhawks.
The homeless man, who had two sons, was well liked among the church volunteers. He offered to fix church vehicles and once helped Mosby unload the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Produce Mobile at a Ford Heights church.
Sobucki’s skull was crushed with a chunk of concrete on June 12 in the 1400 block of Emerald Avenue. He died less than a block from the church.
Since the crime, Mosby has heard nothing from the police other than the posting of a sign offering reward money for tips.
“People won’t come forth or speak up because nothing is truly done. There’s no follow through,” she said. “That’s the effect on the community — let sleeping dogs lie because nothing is being done.”
The sister of church pastor and 1st Ward aldermanic candidate Walter Mosby, Lucille Mosby lives on the city’s west side, an area that has its share of drugs, gangs and shootings. Greater Faith Baptist Church sits in the 3rd Ward, where four of the city’s eight murders took place.
“I worry about stray bullets because bullets have no name (for the people they harm),” she said. “With gunshots being so commonplace, it does make me afraid.”
The murders of Johnson and Allen almost certainly would have been captured on video if a police camera at U.S. 30 and Center Avenue was working. Police officials say the camera stopped working about a year ago, and the department can’t afford to replace it.
Fixing the camera likely wouldn’t pay off in the same way fixing the culture would — at least that seems to be the hope of local lawmakers.
State Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) said she’s expecting the state to come up with more money for after-school programs funded through the recent income tax hike.
Hutchinson, who has an office in Chicago Heights, believes better education and keeping children engaged after school is key.
“Kids that are high-achieving have something to live for,” she said. “These babies need something to live for.”
Ald. Wanda Rodgers (3rd) said she hopes to host a stop-the-violence rally as well as a prayer vigil in the summer. When she hosted a prayer vigil in July in an empty gravel lot across the street from King Park, about 100 residents as well as a mix of politicians, city officials, police officers, gawkers and vagrants attended.
Rodgers pointed to a lack of education and high unemployment as contributors to the city’s recent violence.
Jobs are scarce on the city’s east side. Once known as the south suburbs’ industrial hub, the area has deteriorated. Many storefronts are closed, and vacant lots and empty warehouses are common.
One business that hasn’t vacated the area is Faso Excavating, 137 E. 17th St., run by Ald. Joe Faso (4th). The Faso family has owned the company for 100 years, and he said the shootings are no reason to move.
But that doesn’t mean he isn’t vigilant on the streets.
There are a lot of nice people in the area, Faso said, and the only people who bother him aren’t from the neighborhood.
“I’m concerned about the murders, but I’m not going to hide,” he said. “If it was a retail business, I would move, but we’re not going anywhere.”
Can the unsolved be solved?
It’s likely going to take time and tips to one day bring charges in the six unsolved murders from last year, Camilli said.
Sitting at a table at the police department, Camilli compared what happened in Chicago Heights last year to the 1993 Brown’s Chicken massacre in Palatine.
In January that year, two men robbed the restaurant and killed seven employees. The brutal crimes remained unsolved for nine years until one of the killers’ girlfriends spoke to police.
Rogers said it might take that kind of tip to get charges in the shooting deaths of Allen and the members of the Wells family.
Police have offered $1,000 rewards for information leading to charges in the murders, but no one has come forward. The offer still stands, and the department has an anonymous tip line, (708) 756-6421.
Even though the killers are still at large, Camilli maintained Chicago Heights is a great community, with problems like any other. He bristled at the notion that Chicago Heights is a bloody city.
“Every year, we have murders,” he said. “To say that we’re never going to have a murder, that’s untrue. So what should we tell the community? Trust in the police department. Trust in our officers. Continue to call us.”