Chicago Tribune

75 women have been strangled or smothered in Chicago since 2001. Most of their killers got away

CHICAGO - More than 10 years have passed, but Margaret Gomez's family members still drive by a Southwest Side corner searching for the man they believe strangled the 22-year-old and left her in a muddy lot in the shadow of the Stevenson Expressway.

They don't expect to find him but feel it's something they must do. That and pray.

"Lately, I said a prayer to the Virgin Mary," the mother, who shares the same name as her daughter, told a reporter in a quiet voice. "And then you called. Maybe it's a sign?"

Other families have waited even longer for an answer.

Over the last 17 years, at least 75 women have been strangled or smothered in Chicago and their bodies dumped in vacant buildings, alleys, garbage cans, snow banks. Arrests have been made in only a third of the cases, according to a first-ever analysis by the Chicago Tribune.

While there are clusters of unsolved strangulations on the South and West sides, police say they've uncovered no evidence of a serial killer at work. If they are right, 50 murderers have gotten away with their crime.

Fifty people who used belts, bras, ropes, packing tape or their bare hands to kill these women. Fifty families still looking for justice for a mother, a sister, a daughter.

It has mostly been a silent vigil. There have been few news stories and even fewer memorials or other public gestures that would have focused attention on these women and how they died.

The Tribune began reviewing their cases while following up on the largely ignored story of a woman strangled last summer, her body dumped along a curb on the West Side. We wanted to find out how many other women had been strangled and abandoned: Who were they and had their killers been caught?

"It's a staggering number," said Kaethe Morris Hoffer, executive director of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation. "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. 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."

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