CHICAGO – An investigation by the Chicago Tribune has found that at least 75 women have been strangled or smothered over the last 17 years, though arrests have been made in just a third of the cases.
The newspaper reports that the women's bodies were found in vacant buildings, alleys, garbage cans and snow banks. Many of the women struggled with drugs or prostitution, while some had no arrest records. Chicago police say they've found no evidence of a serial killer.
The newspaper's analysis of medical examiner records and public crime reports also found that the women ranged in age from 18 to 58 and most were African-American. Of the 75 cases, 25 have been closed with the arrests of 13 men. That leaves 67 percent unsolved.
Police wouldn't say if there are active suspects in those cases, but officials reviewed more than a dozen cases after being contacted by the newspaper and referred three to cold case detectives.
Autopsies show some women were also raped and beaten. Others were gagged, had plastic bags tightened around their heads, suffered severe head injuries and bruises over their bodies.
"The brutal nature of these crimes is very disturbing," Chief of Detectives Melissa Staples said.
The police department had formed a task force when the bodies of dozens of women were found in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The task force solved the slayings of 40 women, but it was eventually disbanded. Staples said she isn't sure the task force needs to be reinstated, but Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx said it was worth considering to raise the "level of urgency" in clearing cases.
Kaethe Morris Hoffer, executive director of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, said it's a staggering number of cases.
"It is odd how easy it is to disrupt people's sense of comfort when a large number of people are all killed at once," she said. "It is likewise upsetting to realize how, if you spread out over a long period of time, how inured people are to the murdering of women, particularly marginalized women."