Friday, August 08, 2008

My Fate Is Sewn Into the Hem of Her Failings

By Kevin Guilfoile

The August issue of Chicago magazine includes a lengthy update on the fate of Jeanette Sliwinski, the model/stripper who killed my friend Doug Meis and two other Chicago musicians three years ago. Incredibly, although she was sentenced to eight years last November (far less than prosecutors sought in a bench trial) due to incomprehensible prison math, she's likely to get out of prison in just a few months:

[A]round Thanksgiving this year, [Sliwinski] will be asked to gather her things and prepare for her release from Dwight Correctional Center. The announcement will probably come on the day before her sentence officially ends: Jail officials say they time it that way so nothing holds up the inmate's last obligation—a meeting with a prison counselor. In this meeting, Sliwinski will receive a check from her "trust fund," the bank account that holds the prison wages she has earned since her first day in jail. The counselor will then describe the conditions of Sliwinski's parole, likely mentioning whom she'll report to and how she will be expected to conduct herself. Before she's set free, Sliwinski will likely learn that, in two years' time, she can petition for the return of her driver's license.

Depressing as that thought is (and perhaps nothing will anger you more than reading about the violence done to her victims in Noah Isackson's account and then glancing at Sliwinski's unblemished, unemotional DOC mug shot), there is a light at the end of the weekend. Doug was a drummer in several bands. One of them, Exo, disbanded after his death--the thought of playing those songs on stage without Doug's exuberance behind them had become unthinkable. But this Sunday night (August 10) at Schuba's in Chicago, Exo is reuniting for an acoustic show, with all proceeds being donated to the Doug Meis Gifted Artists of Tomorrow Scholarship Fund. It will be intense and it will also be great fun, an emotional gathering of musicians and friends honoring Doug and John Glick and Michael Dahlquist, as well. Absentstar will open the show and the terrific Coach K, who nearly ten years ago DJ'd the infamous McSweeney's event at the Ethiopian Diamond restaurant, will man the turntables starting at 7PM.

I hope to see you there. I hope to see lots of people there.


Simon Baatz's For the Thrill of It is out this week. The extensively researched non-fiction account of the Leopold and Loeb case is reviewed in this weekend's Trib and I have a short piece on the legacy of that murder (featuring comments from novelist and Friend of the Outfit Sam Reaves) in Saturday's book section. I commented on L&L just a few weeks ago so I'll leave it at that post and this weekend's essay, but frequently when I read a book like this it helps me to make a map of the events. And since I'm much more familiar with Chicago's north side than I am with the south side, it was particularly helpful for me in this case.

View Larger Map

This was a working map I slapped together as I was reading and I make no warranties to its accuracy. But it really struck me as I followed the geography of this case that, sensational as it was (and still is), this really was a neighborhood crime. The murderers lived within blocks of each other and Richard Loeb lived right across the street from their victim, Bobby Franks. (The fact that Kenwood is now Barack and Michelle Obama's neighborhood adds an irrelevant yet irresistible contemporary twist, of course.)

History has dwelt on the existential evil of the case, but the real horror of this particular Crime of the Century was a timeless one--the fear of the devil who lives next door.


Barbara D'Amato said...

Kevin, I wish I could be there, but I'm out of town.

To this day I'm very sad about your friend. It was a horrible, unnecessary thing, and the result as far as I can see of sheer selfishness and insensitivity. Has she ever said anything about being sorry? -- not that that would help, but I just don't get what she's like inside.

Kevin Guilfoile said...

Barb, here's a bit from the Chicago mag article:

Sliwinski declined to be interviewed for this story. But her parents, in their first formal media interview since the crash, say their daughter grieves for the victims and their families as she serves her sentence in the Dwight Correctional Center, a maximum security women's prison about 80 miles southwest of downtown Chicago. Her mother says that, to this day, Jeanette can't explain what was going through her mind in the minutes before the crash. "She does not remember anything specific," says Ursula Sliwinski, who speaks with her daughter several times a week. The family members say they now live in fear of a potential civil suit and that the media still hound them, intrigued not only by a tragic story line but also by Jeanette's stints as a model and stripper. Recently, a cable network had been calling to interview them for Snapped, a series on female killers. They declined.

Here is how Detective Brent Fowler describes his conversation with Sliwinski immediately after the crash:

When Fowler asked the young woman why she had been driving so fast, Sliwinski told him that she had argued with her family. He recalls that she said she wanted to get away, find some railroad tracks, and kill herself. "Ms. Sliwinski went on to say that she was looking for the tracks, but she couldn't find them," Fowler wrote in his July 19, 2005, police report. "I asked Ms. Sliwinski at this point how was she feeling, [to] which she responded by saying that she was angry and frustrated and all she wanted to do today was to end it. Ms. Sliwinski went on to say that she saw the cars stopped in front of her and she decided to kill herself so she put her 'foot to the floor' and ran into the back end of a car that was stopped at the stoplight. Ms. Sliwinski further stated that she 'didn't want to hurt anybody else, just hurt myself.'"

Judy Alter said...

I grew up in Kenwood in the '40s and '50s, and Loeb and Leopold was very much our neighborhood crime, the story that frightened us as young children. The man next door, father of my two playmates, had supposedly played with Bobby Franks the day he disappeared.
To this day, I'm fascinated with mentions and revisits to the story. It's far too grim for me, a "cozy" writer, to do anything with, though I once tried. For me, it wouldn't translate into fiction. The reality was too awful.
I've been away from Chicago since 1960 but its stories and history fascinate me yet.

Sara Paretsky said...

My son and granddaughter were hit by a woman in Evanston w ho ran three red lights, hit two cars before hitting them and then drove her own car onto the sidewalk and into a lamppost. The police did not ticket her. They said they thought she was reaching for a lipstick and anyone could have had the same accident. The woman worked for one of Chicago's Big 4 law firms and her life partner, whose car she was driving, was a partner in the firm. I wanted to take action, but my son felt that since he and the kid were okay, he wanted to let it lie. It's not a question of what was going through her head--it's a question of, she is a menace, get her off the road before she does what Sliwinski did.

Anonymous said...

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