Could a serial killer be stalking the streets of Chicago? The new discovery+ docuseries The Hunt for the Chicago Strangler (streaming from Dec. 3) makes the case that an unknown killer (or killers) is responsible for the unsolved murders of dozens of women, including many women of color.
‘The Hunt for the Chicago Strangler’ explores a disturbing mystery
Since 1999, at least 51 women, most of them Black, have been strangled and then dumped in alleys and abandoned buildings across Chicago. All but one of the murders remain unsolved. Over three, 45-minute episodes, The Hunt for the Chicago Strangler delves into this series of crimes. It chronicles the lives of some of the victims and the search for the person — or people — responsible.
There are similarities between the victims, the manner of death, and where the bodies were found. That’s led some people to suspect that at least one serial killer may be at work in the Windy City. But it took years for anyone to notice a pattern to the killings. Victims’ families and activists say that has everything to do with race and the fact that the women were mostly from parts of the city troubled by poverty, high crime, and neglect. However, police say they have not found clear evidence linking the murders to a single person.
The new discovery+ true crime draws attention to victims who are often ignored
Like HBO’s recently-released documentary series Black and Missing, The Hunt for the Chicago Strangler shines a light on cases that often go ignored by law enforcement and underreported by the media.
“Being a Black woman puts you on the bottom of the totem pole, of the resources and the care and concern that is available,” says activist and writer Beverly Reed Scott. “But I know these women’s lives had value.”
Chicago business owner and entrepreneur Nancie Walker went missing in 2003, around the same time that Laci Peterson vanished in California. Peterson’s case got front-page coverage in the Chicago Tribune. Walker’s disappearance was relegated to page 57. Police eventually found her dismembered body several months after she vanished.
“Laci Peterson … had no connection to Chicago,” Walker’s friend Delmarie Cobb says. “But somehow a white woman in California gets to be on the front page of a Chicago newspaper. But a Black woman from Chicago gets to be at the back of the newspaper. As a Black woman, it’s insulting.”
The Hunt for the Chicago Strangler tells the stories of several of the murdered women through interviews with their loved ones. In 1999, Angela Ford went to pick up her children’s report cards from school and never came home. Gwendolyn Williams disappeared in 2002, leaving her devastated siblings to wonder what happened to her. In the process of profiling the victims, the series also highlights the history of Chicago neighborhoods such as Lawndale and Bronzeville.
Is a serial killer to blame for the murders in Chicago?
Initially, the media and police seemed unaware of the pattern of deaths in Chicago. But people in the affected communities knew that a killer appeared to be targeting Black women. Eventually, community leaders began to pressure the police to investigate links between the crimes. Then, the nonprofit Murder Accountability Project (MAP) took at look at the cases. They used data to spot a pattern in the deaths that led them to suspect that one or more serial killers were active in the city.
So far, there are no clear suspects in the Chicago strangulation murders. But MAP founder Thomas Hargrove says a possible candidate for some of the killings Darren Deon Vann. In 2014, Vann confessed to strangling multiple women in nearby Gary, Indiana, and then dumping their bodies in abandoned buildings. He also told police that he had killed even more people in Illinois. However, Chicago Police say they can’t connect Vann to the crimes at this time.
The Hunt for the Chicago Strangler is streaming on discovery+ beginning Dec. 3.
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