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Chicago police launching their own video series on cold cases

The new series aims to find answers and closure


The children of Elizabeth Dunlap at Loyola University Hospital on Jan. 4, 1977, after they were found huddled next to their mother’s body the previous week. The cold case is set to be featured in a new series by the Chicago Police Department.

Hardy Wieting

By Paige Fry
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — A woman was left dead in a West Side alley with her two youngest children huddled next to her on Dec. 30, 1976. Another mother and her 7-year-old child died on July 2, 1981, after being strangled in their West Side apartment.

They are two of the Chicago Police Department’s hundreds of cold cases, and the first to be featured in a new series the department is launching in an attempt to find answers and closure.

Starting Monday, CPD will begin releasing an in-house produced series on its social media channel. The first two episodes — featuring the homicide of Elizabeth Dunlap and the double homicide of Lizzie and Lucretia Lee — are around 8 minutes long and include emotional interviews with the then-children who were left behind.

Police superintendent David Brown said the first goal of the videos is to try to solve the cases, and the second is to change the perception that the police department doesn’t treat all investigations the same based on who the victim is or where they lived.

Brown said the idea for the video series came after he and Mayor Lori Lightfoot were discussing clearance rates.

“That led to cold case discussions about how even the older cases are important to solve,” he said. “But also the old cases are important to deal with the perceptions that these stories are told from generation to generation to generation in the community — that the Chicago Police Department doesn’t treat our cases in various communities the same as they treat other cases.”

The series didn’t have a separate budget because it was all made internally, a police spokesperson said. Segments will be released on a once-a-week basis, and six videos have been finalized so far.

Starting the series with two Black women who were mothers on the West Side was purposeful to highlight violence against women, Brown said.

In the video about Elizabeth Dunlap, her daughter Tara King Dunlap describes how she remembers being 4 years old in the car of a strange man who had offered her mother and her little sister a ride, and her mother telling him multiple times, “You’re going the wrong way” before he pulled over and took her mother out the car.

Tara said she later learned what he had done to her mother before he took her and her sister out of the car, taking their shoes, socks, coat, hat and gloves, and leaving them on either side of their motionless mother lying on the snowy ground.

In the video about Lizzie and Lucretia Lee, Osmond Malcom said he was only 2 years old when he remembers his 4-year-old sister, Nicole Lee, telling him to be quiet under the bathroom sink where they were placed before the murder of their sister and mother took place. When they came out of the bathroom, they found their sister Lucretia unconscious, and police later found their mother in a closet.

When picking what cases to cover, family approval and participation were important, Brown said. They also worked to highlight a range of demographics in the victims in the cases.

CPD defines a case as cold when detectives run out of leads, Brown said, as opposed to on a set timeframe.

Deputy Chief of Detectives Rahman Muhammad said each of the five police areas has about six to eight detectives assigned to cold-case teams, and each detective has about 10 to 12 cases each. Each area was tasked with supplying some cases that they thought would be good for the video series. After that, family liaisons approached the families to see who would be interested in participating.

Muhammad said police told the families that they still want to continue working on their loved one’s case and that they haven’t forgotten, but that they had hit a brick wall with their investigation.

“We wanted to jump-start the investigation, and by doing that, we wanted to highlight and put out there into the public sphere the case itself, and hope with (the family’s) participation, which was definitely hugely important, because when you see these videos, and you see the pain, suffering and grief that they still have … it was still like it was yesterday,” Muhammad said.

Brown said the timing of the videos was right because the department is trying to “make wholesale improvements in the Bureau of Detectives, but specifically in the violent crime units.” At the highest point, there were 1,300 detectives at CPD; but in recent years the budget has included 1,100 detectives.

“We want to get back to 1,300 detectives,” he said. “The timing of all of what we’re doing is in context with we’re really trying to improve our detective bureau by putting in some best practices that’s really highlighting getting the case flow per detective low, so this cold case series is part of a bigger effort,” he said.

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