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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.

(page 7 of 7)

 

Grace phoned her friend Mark Williams on several occasions, sometimes in the middle of the night, to tell him that she and Thompson had fought, violently. Williams exhorted Grace to break up with him, but to little effect. “She’d say, ‘Yeah, that’s done,’ when it really wasn’t done,” Williams recalls. Grace’s high school friend Steve Adams says that he and many others begged her to leave Thompson. “I just don’t know what she was able to hear,” he says. Grace’s parents say she felt sorry for him. “She said, ‘Mom, if I throw him out, he doesn’t have anyone,’” Ruth Grace says.

Late last fall, Grace visited her parents in Florida. While there, she looked at real estate to buy and talked seriously about selling her condo and leaving the city. Soon after, on November 28th, Ruth Grace says, Thompson flew into another violent rage. “I barely got away,” Julie told her mother afterward. “I thought I was going to die.” Thompson was arrested and convicted of domestic battery; he was sentenced to 18 months of probation. A judge also granted Grace a restraining order against Thompson, requiring him to stay away until June 2004. He did not.

On March 8, 2003, two months before she died, Grace phoned her college roommate Mary O’Brien and told her Thompson had beaten her up the night before. He had been arrested, and she planned to bail him out of jail, Grace said, because it was his birthday on March 10th.

O’Brien asked her friend what she liked about this man and remembers that Grace replied by saying “he wasn’t a bad guy” and that she wanted to help him overcome his problems. Grace mentioned that he was kind to animals. “I said, ‘He beats the crap out of you, but he’s kind to animals?’” O’Brien recalls. “She said, ‘Oh, Mary . . . ‘” And then she had to go.

Thompson again was convicted of domestic battery. Although he was given a 90-day jail sentence, he never served the time because the sentence was postponed until June. In May, he was arrested and charged with Grace’s murder.

* * *

Sometime on May 17th, Thompson and Grace ended up together in her condominium. According to reported accounts, the prosecutor in the case, assistant state’s attorney Patricia Sudendorf, told the judge at a bond hearing that Thompson had hit Grace many times and pushed her, causing her to strike her head on a dresser. He allegedly then watched her slip in and out of consciousness, convulsing with seizures and vomiting blood, for three days. Thompson finally called paramedics.

Thompson told Chicago magazine that the prosecutor’s account was “an exaggeration” and said what had happened to Julie Grace was “an accident.” He would not otherwise talk about the events leading up to Grace’s death on May 20th. Behind the bulletproof glass window of the visiting room at the Cook County Jail’s maximum security facility, where he is awaiting trial, Thompson is polite and soft-spoken. He listens attentively, leaning in. He has penetrating, light-colored eyes and clean, trimmed fingernails. When asked to describe Grace’s behavior while drinking, he says, “I don’t want to say nothing bad about Julie. I loved her, you know?”

Thompson’s defense attorney, Tom Breen, says: “Under no circumstances do I anticipate George Thompson being found guilty of anything. There is a great deal of information that has not come out as of yet and will only be able to be brought out in the course of the trial.”

Word of Grace’s death traveled quickly. Camera crews from the local TV stations showed up at the Time bureau. Elizabeth Taylor, who once worked with Grace at Time and is now an editor at the Chicago Tribune, was pulled out of a meeting and, upon hearing the news, burst into tears. “My first thought was, ‘I should have done more for her,’” Taylor says. Others who knew Grace say they were shocked and saddened, but not surprised.

Julie Grace almost made it out. Her parents say that three weeks before her body was found, Grace told them she was ready to move to Florida, a sentiment she repeated to a neighbor four days before she died. She wanted to be near her parents, to get a fresh start. She probably imagined sitting out in the sun, no longer needing to bronze her skin at tanning salons during long Chicago winters. Grace once was quoted in a Tribune story about the city’s tanning fanatics. “I envision sunny,” she told the reporter. “I take a deep breath, sigh and find comfort in the warmth on my face.”

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