Behind Her Smile

After climbing through the ranks at Time magazine, Julie Grace fell into trouble. In May she was found dead. Now her friends are asking how they could have saved her.

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In the late 1980s, anyone sidling up to the gleaming wood bar at Gibsons on Rush Street likely would have seen Julie Grace. She would have been laughing, probably, a glass of wine in her hand. Or she might have been listening to someone tell a fantastic tale, her eyes locked on the storyteller, rapt with interest.

If it had been possible to see the invisible lines of acquaintances in the room, the spot where she stood would have looked like the hub of a wheel, because in a place like this, where major and minor figures in the city’s political scene gathered for drinks, Grace, it seemed, knew everyone.

Her popularity made it all the more shocking to hear that in the dark morning hours of May 20th, a Tuesday, Grace was found dead in her 20th-floor condominium at 1540 North LaSalle Street, a high-rise gray slab on the edge of Old Town. Her body was visibly bruised, her lips blue. The medical examiner’s office later would determine that she had died of an acute inflammation of the lung tissues caused by a blow to her head. Police arrested her boyfriend, a 33-year-old man named George Thompson, at the scene and took him into custody. Three days later, he was charged with first-degree murder, following what authorities say was a confession. Thompson has pleaded not guilty.

Grace’s death brought a stunningly tragic end to a life of great promise. She was only 41. After working in government during the mid-1980s, Grace turned a chance introduction into a job in Time magazine’s Chicago bureau as its office manager. Ambitious and persistent, she then talked her way into reporting assignments and proved to have a sharp eye for telling detail and a warm manner that made even the most reluctant sources feel comfortable. At Time, she covered some of the grimmest stories of the 1990s: the spate of school shootings; grisly local crimes, often involving children; the hunt for the Unabomber; and the Andrew Cunanan serial killings.

The sympathetic heart that helped draw out interview subjects, however, may have contributed to Grace’s undoing: Her parents say she began suffering panic attacks while covering the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. They now believe she began drinking heavily to “self-medicate” anxiety and depression. She met George Thompson in a substance abuse rehabilitation program at Chicago Lakeshore Hospital.

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