Schmich: Hudson family home stands in a neighborhood of despair

The big, old, white house with the boards on the windows and the trash in the yard remains a landmark.

The Hudson place. Neighbors still call it that even though the Hudsons haven't lived there since the murders.

"Did you know them?" I asked the man who stood on the sidewalk Tuesday morning gazing at the littered empty lot next door. Before he could answer, a loud pop cracked the air. We both twitched.

"What was that?" he said. His eyes darted toward the alley.

Another pop. It sounded like a gunshot. He relaxed.

"Firecracker," he said.

Yeah, he knew the Hudsons. But when he added that he'd been asked to testify about Jennifer's brother in the trial that began earlier this month, I quickly told him I didn't want to compromise a witness. He gave me his name anyway, without my asking, then walked off, only to call out a minute later from a nearby porch.


He walked back to the Hudson place. Another loud pop.

"I hope I'm not going to look up and see my name in the newspaper."

He flashed a hard look that seemed to add: Don't mess with this.

The streets in this part of Englewood have Ivy League names. Princeton. Harvard. Jennifer Hudson's family lived on Yale.

That's where her mother and brother were shot to death in October 2008, a few days before her 7-year-old nephew was found dead in an SUV on the West Side. Prosecutors say her sister's jealous ex-husband, William Balfour, did it.

The testimony that began Monday is happening in a different piece of Chicago. A few miles north, in the safety of a courthouse, reporters from all over hang on the comings, goings and stylings of Jennifer Hudson, the famous member of the family.

Here in Jennifer's old neighborhood, where discarded plastic bottles and junk-food bags are almost as thick as the weeds, where it's hard to tell the frequent firecrackers from the common gunshots, there is no safety or high style.

On Tuesday, down at the corner of Yale and 71st Street, a red car pulled up to the curb. Two men peered inside and walked away carrying small plastic bags, past Linda's Daycare, where the sign out front promised "hot meals," "foreign language" and "computer," along with a "safe" and "bright" environment. All the blinds were drawn.

The men disappeared into a gangway. One reappeared a while later.

"Don't nobody mess with that house," he said, looking over at the Hudson place.

Right after the murders, he said, thieves stole whatever they could from inside, but that was before the boards went up and the "No Trespassing" signs took on moral force.

Featured Stories