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SCENE OF THE CRIME: What chain of events could have led to the disposal of a suburban teenager’s body in this alley in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood? The police in the case were stumped.
The glow of the streetlight shone dully in the frigid darkness, casting an amber pall on the alley that ran like a scar between two rows of clapboard and brick flophouses on the western border of North Lawndale. It was a little after 5 p.m. on Sunday, December 16, 2007, nine days before Christmas, and the trash-strewn, rutted path of concrete, walled off from the Eisenhower freeway by the squat homes along Lexington, lay robed in white from a snowstorm the night before.
Had it not been for that pale backdrop, the man might not have noticed the long, black object at the foot of the dumpster next to his garage: It was the body of a man, a young man—a teenager even—lying face-down and dressed in a black sweater, black pants, and a hooded sweatshirt. The corpse wore no shoes. From the looks of the limbs, the body had been there for at least a few hours. The legs stretched stiff and frozen. The arms locked slightly at the elbows. The hands were gnarled claws, perched on the hard snow. To the man, the body looked as if it were doing a pushup.
Someone called the police, and soon the alley crawled with officers. The man was struck by how long they took to investigate. He guessed it must have been two hours before they finally gave the go-ahead for the body to be hauled away. He couldn’t say he was surprised at the official diligence. He had known this was no ordinary case the second he saw the dead boy, or rather, the second he saw the color of the boy’s skin. Dead junkies were nothing unusual in this neighborhood, but young white ones were. The body in the alley had come from somewhere else. But where? the man wondered. Who was this kid, and how did he wind up face-down and frozen, doing a dead-man’s pushup in a back alley where even residents feared to tread?
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Photograph by Taylor Castle