Trashed: The death of Michael York and how heroin has invaded the Chicago suburbs

Nearly two years ago, the body of Michael York turned up in an alley on the West Side. The high-school student had died of an apparent overdose after a weekend bacchanal at a St. Charles mansion, and his friends had dumped his corpse in the neighborhood where they bought drugs. Three young people have now been charged in a case that painfully illustrates how heroin has invaded the suburbs

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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.
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

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5 years ago
Posted by patti

My Heart is hurting because I have lived and worked in this community all my life and I'm 47. I just heard of this because of your article in Chicago Magazine Bryan, because my business receives Chicago magazine and a client told me of this horrific thing that happened 11 years ago. Dear Bryan, I just can't help but feel sorrow for everyone involved. Thanks Patti Hodge Samuelson

5 years ago
Posted by recoveringbataviaaddict

This is such a sad story. I feel for these young adults who have had everything handed to them and became addicts. I used to be there as well. I got sober in 2002 with the help of retired Judge Doyle's drug court program through kane county. I have been clean and sober ever since. These young adults need a strong support system and rehab, rehab, reahab! I pray that these people don't go to jail and come out of the system much worse.

5 years ago
Posted by michelleh

Bryan, as a mother of a 21yr old. boy who has been struggling with a heroin addiction here in Lake Zurich, I just want to thank you so much for shedding light on the truth of Heroin. It is a poison that destroys the minds of our children and turns them into something that they weren't before they started. I am currently trying to wake up my town to the realization that we have a Heroin problem here. We have had three kids die in the last year. There has been seven since June 2009 within a 30 ml radius. The towns of Arlington Hts (August) Glenview(September)Lakemoor(Sept.) Algonquin(Oct.) Barrington(Oct.) and I'm sure these aren't all. These are all kids from 18yrs old to 22 yrs old! This has got to stop!!!!!!!!! Plz continue to report on this issue until people understand and cry out for action. The govt. is currently taking away what funds there are for public awareness and education and also rehabilitation. How are we going to stop the madness? Thank you for a very enlightening article I am sharing it with many.

4 years ago
Posted by Stephen Problem

I thought this was a magazine about Chicago, not its suburbs.

While any young person's death is tragic, the tone of this article suggests that drug addiction and overdose deaths are only worth paying attention to once they reach the more white, affluent environs of the city.

I lived in Glen Ellyn from ages 10 to 20, and by the end of it saw a disturbing number of people around me turn into junkies. Two OD'd and died. In retrospect, it all seems more indicative of social problems in suburbia than in say, North Lawndale or Austin.

To suggest that this is unusual, teenagers from St. Charles or Glen Ellyn or the North Shore going down to Independence Boulevard or what have you to cop dope: your denial is palpable. There is no evidence to show that any one particular socioeconomic group uses drugs more than any other, and yet the outrage shown here is decidedly not-in-my-backyard.

Market capitalism and the war on drugs' disproportionate targeting of poor urban blacks have created ghettos like North Lawndale. They've also created the false perception that there is something pristine and sacrosanct about places like St. Charles that can be bought and insulated by distance and cultural capital. But the more we segregate by wealth and social class, the more desperate for economic opportunity of any kind the inner city becomes.

4 years ago
Posted by Stephen Problem

The 'war on drugs' is now thirty years old, and what a godawful pointless drag on government budgets it's been. The prison system is swollen: 1 in 83 Illinois adults were under some form of "correctional control," i.e. incarceration, parole, probation, in 1982. By the end of 2007, it's ONE IN THIRTY-EIGHT. [see Pew Center on the States, 'Prison Count 2010' Illinois fact sheet]

Meanwhile, there's $400 million-plus past due to the state public university system, last I checked... whereas the Illinois Department of Corrections gets the equivalent of a year's private college tuition money for every prisoner they slap with a letter and five numerals. And no blowhard "tough on crime" state politician would want to disappoint his paranoiac constituency and pull the money out of THAT particular five or six percent of the state's budget.

The more you go zero-tolerance and punitively sentence drug offenders, as opposed to providing mandatory public health drug treatment, the more you stigmatize them, the more you ruin their chances of an economic future or an education, the more likely you make them to just say "hell with it - once a junkie, always a junkie."

4 years ago
Posted by cdub278

Our son died in November 2009 along with his friend on an overdose of heroin in combo with other pot and xanex. Both were addicts. My son was a scholar student, a fine athelte with potential, and a wonderful, kind and compassionate person. He had more to live for and more potential than almost anyone I knew at the same age. He was 20 when he died and apparently didn't mess with drugs until 18 years old. He wouldn't listen. Did one stint in rehab. Once hooked, he tried to stay clean and apparently was clean up to the week before he died. My wife and I, his sisters and some dear friends die a million times each day since he went away. I am sure we made mistakes and I feel all the guilt in the world for them. More than anything, I wish he had another opportunity to take back the one mistake of trying heroin sometime 2 years or so ago. I wish he had all the things he can never now enjoy and experience on this earth. I can only look forward to seeing him again when my time comes.

4 years ago
Posted by S. Problem

I really don't know how to respond to any of the grieving parents here directly -- it doesn't seem like there's any appropriate way to do it. I'm 24 and have no real concept of their sense of sorrow and loss. I'm just a kid who regrets some personal choices, but regrets more that some of my friends are gone.

I do believe that their kids were probably smart and relatively accomplished and/or original, NOT because I think children are automatically special, but because the couple of kids I've seen die from heroin were among the brightest I knew.

I hope, genuinely sincerely... that the parents here might take some solace in the fact that their kids could not escape certain social/cultural forces, that they weren't confirmed screwups, that it was not entirely their fault that they made the fateful choices they did.

I don't say this to create scapegoats for what happened to them -- really. I genuinely worry that far too many everyday people get obsessed with the individual tragedies and in doing so ignore what really goes on and what keeps vapid glossy waiting room fodder like Chicago Magazine feeding on these kinds of sad sordid "bad things happen and no solution in sight" exploitative pieces.

I recently trained a pretty smart young guy to take over for me at my job of 2 or 3 years, and I brought up the subject of this article [which yes, I commented on in 5/2010 and still think about] when we were taking a break together.

He brought up an angle I hadn't really considered: The stigma of the ghetto... is such that if Michael York's young, black, poor analogue ODs and dies, it's because THAT IS WHAT THE GHETTO IS DESIGNED FOR, to create a kind of landfill for tragedy that translates it into the banal and non-newsworthy. i.e. "This is where bad things happen, this is the appropriate venue, don't let them happen to the people who pay their mortgages and village taxes in full." I wish he weren't right [and maybe I'm elaborating too much on his more basic point], but he's essentially, depressingly right.

3 years ago
Posted by jm9

Michael York was a close friend of mine.
He left many devastated and confused.
He was the friend who would keep you laughing, no matter the mood you were in.
He's give the shirt off his back to anyone who would need it.
Never to judge anyone, he made friends easily, and kept them by always remaining by their side.
He was so young. Never deserved this.
His mother, step-father, sister, and baby sister didn't deserve this.

May he rest in peace.

3 years ago
Posted by Stceast2012

I am going to be a senior this year at east. And from who I know and the thins I have seen the drug problem is horrible. I have been sucked into it as well it starts with weed. Than you kinda think ok i have smoked Alot of weed what's a few pills. So you pop some of your parents vicoden. Then you decide that pills arent going to hurt you. Than comes Xanax. Xanax is a HUGE problem at east. It just makes you relaxed and enjoy life more. You feel like you can open up like being drunk without the slurred speech and stumbling...ok I have tried Xanax...how about oxycontin. For 5 dollars a pill it's pretty cheap why not give it a shot?? That's where the addiction starts. Your body goes numb and you don't has a care in the world. So heroin? I haven't tried that...I know A LOT of kids who have though. They try it once and say that they aren't addicted so they do it again...and again and pretty soon they will be dead.

That's my experience growing up in saint Charles where I know that the #1 student a few years back was also a stoner. So if you catch your kids with weed don't yell at them or ground them..they are obviously rebelling and that sure won't help. Don't send them to rehab for it either. That will make them mad let them read this article and show them what's happening to my friends and others. Let them know that this will be them if they keep on experimenting.

3 years ago
Posted by Stceast2012

I am going to be a senior this year at east. And from who I know and the thins I have seen the drug problem is horrible. I have been sucked into it as well it starts with weed. Than you kinda think ok i have smoked Alot of weed what's a few pills. So you pop some of your parents vicoden. Then you decide that pills arent going to hurt you. Than comes Xanax. Xanax is a HUGE problem at east. It just makes you relaxed and enjoy life more. You feel like you can open up like being drunk without the slurred speech and stumbling...ok I have tried Xanax...how about oxycontin. For 5 dollars a pill it's pretty cheap why not give it a shot?? That's where the addiction starts. Your body goes numb and you don't has a care in the world. So heroin? I haven't tried that...I know A LOT of kids who have though. They try it once and say that they aren't addicted so they do it again...and again and pretty soon they will be dead.

That's my experience growing up in saint Charles where I know that the #1 student a few years back was also a stoner. So if you catch your kids with weed don't yell at them or ground them..they are obviously rebelling and that sure won't help. Don't send them to rehab for it either. That will make them mad let them read this article and show them what's happening to my friends and others. Let them know that this will be them if they keep on experimenting.

2 years ago
Posted by courtyslayer

Mike York was my BF at the time, and these stupid jerks killed him. He was supposed to be on the way to MY house... I talked to him that night. They have just lied and lied, and its pathetic I go to his grave site yearly. the funeral was unbearable and i miss him so dearly. :(

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