Chester Weger

1. Unmaking a Murderer

On February 21, 2020, Chester Otto Weger, prisoner C-01114, stepped out of far-downstate Pinckneyville Correctional Center into the cool air of an overcast morning. It was the 21,646th day behind bars for the state’s longest-held inmate. It would also be his last. Chester Weger served 59 years behind bars for one of the most heinous crimes in this state’s history. Now out of prison, he is on a mission to prove his innocence, with help from a high-profile lawyer. Inside the effort to exonerate the “Starved Rock Killer.”

Igor Koralnik

2. The Long Haul

Inside Igor Koralnik’s quest to solve the mystery of COVID’s most puzzling complication. Northwestern’s chief of neuroinfectious disease and global neurology is at the forefront of the search to better understand long COVID’s effects on the brain. He’s become one of the world’s leading experts, opening a clinic to treat neurologically affected long-COVID patients and publishing numerous papers to boost our understanding of this condition and its ominous implications for all of us.

Chefs preparing dishes in the kitchen at Alinea

3. The Problem with Alinea

Nearly two decades in, Chicago’s only Michelin three-star restaurant continues to achieve moments of brilliance but struggles to keep up with the times. Our restaurant critic John Kessler takes on one of the city’s most lauded fine dining spot. “Alinea feels stuck in time, relying on its old bag of tricks. The sleights of hand have grown familiar, and the flavors don’t always add up. The food can be delightful, but it can also be too salty, too sweet, too off-key, and just too weird.”

Evan Cotter Jr. holds a piece of the plane whose wing smashed through his family’s brick bungalow.
Photograph: (plane) Don Casper/Chicago Tribune

4. The Day a 737 Crashed Into West Lawn

Fifty years ago, a jet fell from the sky into the Southwest Side neighborhood. We look back at what happened, in the words of those who were there. “I was sitting on the left side of the plane alone, near the wing and two rows from an emergency exit. I knew something was wrong because [the pilot] started to rev the engines,” says Marvin Anderson, a 43-year-old assistant research director at the Illinois Institute of Technology and passenger on the plane. “I thought, He’s in trouble and I’m in trouble, but I didn’t have time to think of much else.”

Yesterday storefront

5. The Night Hawk

There’s something different about Chicago at night. When the sun sets and the city lights up, Dave Jordano ventures out, driving around for hours at a time in search of subjects to photograph. He prefers the shops, restaurants, convenience stores, bars, and motels that give Chicago its unique charm — the institutions of the neighborhood.

A woman mowing the lawn outside Midway Airport

6. Welcome to Midway

Paul D’Amato, a photographer and Columbia College professor, has spent the last eight years documenting the often-overlooked neighborhoods — such as Chicago Lawn, Brighton Park, West Lawn, and Garfield Ridge — that surround Midway. In this working-class slice of the city, jets roar so low that dishes rattle in kitchens. The proximity makes for a study in contrasts.


7. The Death (and Possible Rebirth) of Jackowo

Jackowo — a patch roughly bounded by Diversey on the south, Belmont on the north, the Kennedy on the east, and the Union Pacific Northwest railroad tracks on the west — was once the biggest immigrant hub of its kind in the United States. But the Poles are moving out, real estate costs are going up, and buildings sit vacant along the once-humming Milwaukee Avenue. What will become of Chicago’s last Polish neighborhood?

Stacy Davis Gates

8. Stacy Davis Gates Won’t Back Down

The Chicago Teachers Union president sees herself as a righteous champion of not just educators but of students. And she’s not about to let anyone stand in her way. Including the mayor. “I’m not the caricature in the letters to the editor,” Gates says. “The problems are complex. And I think because of that, it’s easier for people to extract characters and focus on them.”

Matthew Baron

9. The Accusation

The telephone call that upended everything came late on Friday, May 3, 2019. Matthew Baron was in a hotel room in New York City, where he was scheduled to play a series of concerts with Future Hits. On the other end of the line was the familiar voice of Deborah Clark, then the longtime principal of Skinner West Elementary, where Baron had taught social-emotional learning and English as a second language since 2015. Clark told him she needed to discuss a serious matter. “There’s this sixth-grade student … well, Mr. Baron, he’s saying that you touched him.”

Insurrectionists flying Kekistan flags at Capitol
Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post

10. The Big Truth

University of Chicago professor Robert Pape has spent the past year and a half examining the January 6 insurrectionists — and sounding the alarm about the future of democracy. Although Pape has consulted with multiple presidential administrations, he has been particularly in demand of late. He spent two days briefing the Biden administration at the White House and has met with the CIA, FBI, and Pentagon. The House January 6 committee asked Pape for extensive written testimony, and in June he testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled “Examining the ‘Metastasizing’ Domestic Terrorism Threat After the Buffalo Attack.”