What You Should Know About Chicago’s ‘Unforgotten 51’ Slain Women
Many of their cases have gone unsolved, while dozens of other women are still missing in the city.
September 22, 2021 at 6:45 pm
The Missing Persons Project was recently announced in Chicago as community activists and family members plead with law enforcement to provide more information on the dozens of Black women killed in the city.
The "Unforgotten 51," as a community activist refers to the women as, have each been brutally killed in Chicago over a span of 20 years. Now, leaders and organizers are demanding local officials do more to uncover the truth about their disappearance and deaths.
Here are five things you should know about the women:
1. Most of their deaths remain unsolved
Roosevelt University professor John Fountain assigned his students a hefty project last semester of uncovering the untold stories of the women. While researching, it was revealed that each of the 51 women were either strangled, suffocated or dismembered and burned, WGN9 reports.
Additional digging uncovered that most of the women's bodies were left in alleys, abandoned houses, and vacant lots.
As of 2021, most of their deaths remain unsolved.
One of the students assigned the project in Fountain's class said the victims' families were "thankful that I cared."
“It didn’t matter that I was a student journalist,” Samantha Latson said, adding that "we're America's most unwanted. No one really wants to hear our stories, one because we're Black and two because we're women."
On Nov. 12, 2007, Bunn's nude body was found strangled to death and was badly burned. Similar to Bunn, Gomez's body was found partially nude and was in a salvage yard on Jan. 12, 2006.
Turner's body was dumped in a trash can on the south side of Chicago on March 3, 2017. A suspect was arrested and charged in her case.
Two days after Bunn's body was discovered and less than two miles away, authorities found Lewis' body. The 52-year-old was found in a trash can behind an elementary school and was badly burned.
Smith, a mother of a 6-year-old, was killed in 2018. Her body was found decomposed underneath a car. She was last seen with a man she was involved with. Since her passing, her family has released balloons in her memory as they fight to bring justice.
Holyfield, nicknamed "Chocolate" by her loved ones, enjoyed singing and exploring the city. Her life was cut short and her body was found on Sept. 10, 2018. Her body was discovered inside of a garbage can and was badly decomposed.
2. Nonprofit organization discovered a pattern among their deaths
The Murder Accountability Project, which first sounded the alarm on the women, noticed the pattern among their deaths. The nonprofit organization shared that the pattern suggests a possible serial killer.
The organization also pointed that many of the women killed were either sex workers or had battled drug addiction.
Police, however, said they are doing their best. In 2019, a task force was created to review the cases of the 51 women. Law enforcement added they didn't find a connection through DNA. But Fountain is unimpressed.
“I am convinced that if there were 51 dogs killed in the city of Chicago, people would be up in arms, but we aren’t,” Fountain said. “We have to change that to understand that every life matters.”
3. Many believe their stories have gone unreported because they are mostly Black
Most of the "Unforgotten 51" are Black, and community advocates say that's the problem.
“The value of life depends on your race and color,” Michael Pfleger, who works to combat gun violence in Chicago, said, NBC 5 reports. “Nobody is looking for the 51 Black women who are missing.”
Pfleger made a post on social media urging others to take notice and pleading with local officials to step up their efforts.
“Where’s the outrage? Where’s the commitment? Where?” he asked. “Where is the press conference from law enforcement and city officials to say ‘we’re gonna find the roots of this?’”
Fountain, the professor behind the "Unforgotten 51" project, co-signed those exact thoughts.
“What is missing are the stories of hundreds and thousands of women and girls of color whose stories get blacked out by the news media,” he said.
Fountain wants the cases of the 51 women to receive the same urgency and attention as other women not of color. He added that it's his hope to "humanize" each of the women.
“Their families deserve the same kind of comfort and the same kind of sense of justice that I suspect Gabby Petito’s family is rightly going to find,” he said.
4. There's an alarming number of more missing women in Chicago
According to WTTW, Black women and girls are disproportionately at risk for abuse and violence.
The Missing Persons Project in the city aims to tackle those cases with an initiative to assign detectives to cold missing person cases.
Nikki Patin, director of community engagement for the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, said she believes there are 75 women "missing and murdered since 2001."
Patin also placed blame on Chicago police for their handling of cases involving Black girls.
“When you are a police officer and you can show up to a situation that has a little Black girl at the center and you can look at her and say, ‘It’s not worth making the arrest,’ or ‘It’s not worth the investigation,’ or ‘I think it was consensual.’ These are all things that I’ve heard throughout my time doing this work,” Patin said.
Rev. Robin Hood, a founding member of Mothers Opposed to Violence Everywhere (MOVE), echoed Patin's sentiments on the police department.
“The detectives that are assigned to the cases of the missing girls and women, they need to answer the phone. If you are white, they investigate those murders. Black families have to deal with the fact that law enforcement don’t find this at the top of their, of the food chain, so to speak,” Hood said.
5. Say their names
As investigators are being urged to prioritize the women's deaths, we will continue to say their names:
Theresa Bunn, Margaret Gomez, Diamond Turner, Hazel Lewis, Shantieya Smith, Reo Renee Holyfield, Angela Marieanna Ford, Charlotte Day, Winifred Shines, Brenda Cowart, Elaine Boneta, Saudia Banks, Bessie Scott, Gwendolyn Williams, Loraine Harris, Dellie Jones, Celeste Jackson, Nancie Walker, Tarika Jones, Linda Green, Rosenda Barocio, LaTonya Keeler, Jody Grissom, Latricia Hall, Lucyset Thomas, Ethel Amerson, Michelle Davenport, Tamala Edwards, Makalavah Williams, Precious Smith, Denise Torres, Wanda Hall, Yvette Mason, Shaniqua Williams, Antoinette Simmons, Kelly Sarff, Veronica Frazier, Mary Ann Szatkowski, Genevieve Mellas, Charlene Miller, LaToya Banks, Shannon Williams, Vanessa Rajokovich, Lafonda Wilson, Jessica Flores, Quanda Crider, Angela Profit, Pamela Wilson, Velma Howard, Catherine Saterfield-Buchanan, Valerie Marie Jackson, Lora Harbin and Nicole Ridge.