Subscribe to The Atlantic and get 2 free issues

Penny Pritzker's Path from Family Tragedy to Business Success

How the Obama Commerce Secretary’s early family tragedies shaped her path to business and political success:

Earlier this year her youngest brother, J.B., told Chicago magazine of his mother’s battles with alcohol and how the children were often left to fend for themselves. As the oldest, Penny says, she stepped in to take care of her brothers, especially J.B., who was only 7 when their dad died. “I tried to be positive and hold us together as a family,” she says. But she remains protective of her mother’s legacy. For all her troubles, Sue was a mother who instilled in her daughter the confidence to take risks. “She believed I could do everything,” Penny says.

PUBLISHED: June 4, 2014
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3700 words)

The Truth About Chicago’s Crime Rates

The city’s drop in crime has been nothing short of miraculous. Here’s what’s behind the unbelievable numbers:

Unfortunately for all concerned, January 2013 could not have started out worse. Five people were murdered in Chicago on New Year’s Day. The number hit 17 by the end of the first full week. “This is too much,” Al Wysinger, the police department’s first deputy superintendent, told the crowd in the January 17 CompStat meeting, according to a memo summarizing it. “Last October and November, I kept saying we have to start 2013 off on the right foot. Wrong foot! We can’t reiterate this much clearer.”

PUBLISHED: April 7, 2014
LENGTH: 27 minutes (6980 words)

The Last Hike of David Gimelfarb

On August 11, 2009, 28-year-old David Gimelfarb disappeared while hiking in Costa Rica's Rincón de la Vieja National Park. His remains have never been found. His parents have spent more than $300,000 searching for him and are still holding out hope:

"'We believe David is alive,' said Roma, 66, his eyes searching mine to gauge a reaction.

"They told me that there continued to be sightings of a man who resembled their slight, red-headed son. The latest report had come last October from Limón, on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, a five-hour drive from the national park. A man who was dirty, disoriented, and unable to speak had walked into a minimart there and gestured that he needed something to drink. Recognizing him from a newscast they’d seen on TV about David’s disappearance, a family took the stranger to a local police station. But after a brief interview, the police let him go without even snapping a photograph. The minimart’s owners insisted that the man was the missing American hiker.

"Was this David Gimelfarb? Or just another false glimmer of hope for two grief-stricken parents desperate for good news?"
PUBLISHED: Aug. 1, 2013
LENGTH: 19 minutes (4896 words)

Can $86 Million Save a Neighborhood?

In 1999, Gary Comer, the billionaire founder of Lands' End walked into an elementary school in a struggling neighborhood in Chicago and wrote the principal a check for $68,000. Comer and his foundation have invested $86 million into the neighborhood since then:

"Comer’s Pocket Town project has already yielded some clear successes. The youth center, for example, offers not only recreational activities for kids who don’t have many but also provides hundreds of year-round jobs for them. The center’s garden yields 6,000 pounds of vegetables annually. Perhaps most important, the center serves as a much-needed haven from the violence that continues to plague the area. In 2012, Greater Grand Crossing saw 36 homicides—and one shooting in Pocket Town itself. 'Being here has changed me because I’ve learned how to be safe,' says Demetrius Walker, 15, a youth center regular. 'It keeps me out of the streets.'"

"Comer’s health initiatives have been a slam dunk too. This year, for instance, the clinic has vaccinated 700 youths—a third of whom would not have been able to return to classrooms otherwise.

"Unfortunately, when it comes to schools and housing, results have been mixed."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 17, 2013
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3215 words)

Lawmakers Gone Wild

Lawmakers in Illinois are living large on campaign money. A joint examination by Chicago magazine and the Better Government Association:

"Because it’s perfectly legal to use campaign funds to rent campaign offices, many Illinois politicians, like Welch, choose to locate the offices inside property that they (or a family member) already own. Consider Alderman Mell, 74, he of the Vegas getaway. Mell bought a single-story brick storefront on the Northwest Side for $210,000 in 1996, according to public records; he has owned it free and clear since 2004. From January 2008 to August 2012, he used campaign money to pay himself $231,000 in rent on the place and is currently collecting around $4,450 per month. Mell says that there is nothing illegal about it: “It’s convenient, and it’s in the ward.”

"Vehicles are another major area of questionable campaign spending. The Chicago/BGA analysis found that more than 100 lawmakers and candidates have used nearly $1.3 million in campaign funds to lease or buy cars, often high-end models, over the past five years. For example, Patrick O’Connor, the 40th Ward alderman and the mayor’s floor leader, paid $7,500 in campaign cash to McGrath Lexus in 2011 for a four-door sedan; he has since billed the campaign $1,100 every month in lease payments."
PUBLISHED: Dec. 17, 2012
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4622 words)

Chicago Tylenol Murders: An Oral History

Thirty years after seven people in Chicago died after taking cyanide-laced Tylenol, investigators, law enforcement officers, health and public officials, and friends and family members recount how it all unfolded. The perpetrator was never found, and the case was recently reopened:

"Nurse Jensen
The [Janus] family was all at Adam’s house, planning the funeral and mourning together. Adam’s younger brother, Stanley [Janus], had some chronic back pain. And he asked his wife—they had been married just a little while, and her name was also Theresa—to get him some Tylenol. And she came out and gave him two Tylenol, and then she took two Tylenol. And then he went down. And then she went down.

"Charles Kramer
Lieutenant with the Arlington Heights Fire Department [to the Daily Herald] When I arrived at the house, there were cars and people everywhere. All eight of my men were working, four on one man and four on a woman. Everything that would happen to the man happened to the woman a few minutes later.

"Dr. Kim
As I was putting on my blue blazer to leave, around 5:30, a nurse told me that they were bringing the Janus family back. And I said, 'Well, it’s probably the parents,' because they were feeble and they might have been very upset. And the nurse said, 'No, it’s his brother.' I had been talking to this six-foot healthy guy. And I said, 'Well, what happened? Did he faint?' And she said, 'They are doing CPR—and they are working on his wife too.' That’s when I took my blazer off."
PUBLISHED: Sept. 24, 2012
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5348 words)

Maywood Confidential: The Unsolved Murder of Police Officer Tom Wood

Very few cases of law enforcement officers who are "feloniously killed" in the line of duty go unsolved. The murder of officer Tom Wood in Maywood, Chicago is one of those unsolved cases, and corruption in the Maywood force may have impeded the investigation:

"The ensuing homicide investigation was equally haphazard. Several witnesses whom Wood saw or called in the days leading up to his murder were never questioned. And although the flooding problems at Maywood’s police station were well known, officers allowed evidence in Wood’s case, including a cell phone, to get wet. (Officials insist that the material was not badly damaged.)

"Meanwhile, Elvia Williams, who had been Maywood’s police chief for only a few months when Wood was killed, made a decision that, according to current and former police officials, complicated and perhaps encumbered the investigation: She asked for help from the West Suburban Major Crimes Task Force (known as WESTAF), a consortium of detectives and other specialists from police departments in the western suburbs.

"Some Maywood officers were angered by the outside interference (Maywood isn’t part of WESTAF) from a group they thought had little knowledge of the local bad guys. And the WESTAF members—well aware of the history of corruption and brutality on the Maywood force—did not fully trust the local cops. One former WESTAF member even suggests that the Maywood cops held back relevant information."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 15, 2012
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3235 words)

The Life and Death of Blago Aide Christopher Kelly

(City Magazine (CRMA) Award nominee.) "He was part of [Blagojevich’s] inner, inner circle, about as close to the sun as you can get.” Those days were gone. Now Kelly was holing up on and off in this trailer near 173rd and Cicero. His marriage was on the rocks—he was shacking up in a downtown condo with his girlfriend, Clarissa Flores-Buhelos, a married woman two decades his junior. The feds had indicted him three times in two years; he had pleaded guilty twice, and he was slated to go on trial with his old pal Blagojevich on the third set of charges. A decade or more of prison loomed. In fact, Kelly was expected to turn himself in within a few days. “My life is over,” he had admitted to reporters four days earlier, in a rare unguarded moment before the press.
PUBLISHED: May 1, 2010
LENGTH: 27 minutes (6925 words)

A Mugging on Lake Street

A veteran investigative reporter looks into his own beating and finds himself confronting harsh and lingering questions of race
PUBLISHED: Sept. 1, 2009
LENGTH: 26 minutes (6627 words)