(Tribune) Chicago police have concluded that the same gun that killed two men in execution-style slayings last fall in the Rogers Park neighborhood was later used in separate shootings on the West Side, the Chicago Tribune has learned.
The fatal shootings just 36 hours apart of Douglass Watts, who was gay, and Eliyahu Moscowitz, an Orthodox Jew who wore traditional religious attire, shook the culturally diverse Far North Side community, sparking fears at the time that a serial killer bent on hate crimes might be on the loose.
Two weeks after their slayings, someone pulled the trigger on the same .40-caliber gun more than 10 miles away in the West Side’s Lawndale neighborhood, wounding two men following a petty dispute, according to police reports obtained by the Tribune through a public records request.
Then in late March, the same weapon was used in yet another shooting about half a mile west of the United Center, the reports show. No one was injured in that shooting.
Despite the ballistic matches on shell casings found at all four shootings, police appear no closer to solving the two Rogers Park killings because the gun has not been recovered.
“We continue to seek community information given the leads that were initially investigated about the offender did not identify a person of interest,” Anthony Guglielmi, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, said Wednesday.
Police think the Rogers Park killer may have gotten rid of the gun after the crush of media attention in the days after the killings of Watts and Moscowitz just blocks apart.
“It’s not uncommon for guns to trade hands,” Guglielmi said. “It’s kind of a street culture that these guns trade hands frequently.”
2 killings, 2 days, 1 gun
The randomness of the two Rogers Park killings set them apart from Chicago’s usual violence. Watts, 73, was walking his two small dogs just steps from his home in the 1400 block of West Sherwin Avenue when a lone man walked up and shot him on a sunny Sunday morning — the last day of September.
Barely 36 hours later — about 10:20 p.m. that Monday, Oct. 1 — Moscowitz, 24, was slain as he walked alone on a popular lakefront bike path in the 1100 block of West Lunt Avenue in Loyola Park. Moscowitz, who supervised a kosher kitchen at a Jewel-Osco store, was dressed distinctively in a black suit, white shirt and black hat.
Both were shot once in the head at close range.
Police were at a loss for a motive. Nothing was taken from either victim even though both had cellphones, wallets and credit cards.
Watts and Moscowitz also did not know one another, police said.
A day after Moscowitz’s slaying, police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, joined by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the Rogers Park District police station, announced that the same gun was used in both slayings, most likely by the same gunman.
The next day, police released video from a surveillance camera that captured the suspect at the time of Watts’ shooting. He had a slim build and wore a black tracksuit with a hat and scarf obscuring most of his face. Police emphasized his distinctive gait, with his feet splayed outward.
No video was obtained of Moscowitz’s killing, police said.
At a community meeting, more than 100 people crowded into a gymnasium at Loyola Park and heard Anthony Riccio, first deputy police superintendent, say investigators believed the gunman lived in Rogers Park because the video captured him walking to the scene of the first shooting.
The shootings created palpable fear in Rogers Park — not one of the city’s most dangerous areas but the scene of occasional spurts of gun violence, including two killings since last week.
Last fall, some residents had refused to leave their homes, while others avoided walking alone outside. Police increased patrols, saturating the lakefront and surrounding areas in Rogers Park with officers, some on bicycle. Officials at nearby Loyola University Chicago issued an alert encouraging students to walk in pairs and avoid listening to headphones if out alone.
Hundreds of tips poured in, and police assigned as many as 40 detectives to work the two killings. The FBI and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined in the investigation.
Within weeks of the slaying, a reward for helping solve the killings rose to $150,000, perhaps the largest ever for a Chicago crime.
“We had some good leads initially,” Guglielmi said. “Unfortunately, we have not been able to confirm any sighting of the possible offender.”
A link to a West Side shooting
Two weeks after Moscowitz’s killing, two men in their 20s riding in an Infiniti SUV in the 4300 block of West Fifth Avenue were shot by an occupant of a passing vehicle shortly before midnight on Oct. 15, the police reports show.
One suffered a graze wound to his upper left arm, while the other victim had three bullet wounds to his right hand.
At Loretto Hospital, a 31-year-old woman riding with the victims told an Area North detective she believed the shooting was linked to a petty fight she had been involved in moments earlier.
The woman said she had traveled on the CTA Blue Line in hopes of selling a coat to a woman who lived near Van Buren Street and Kostner Avenue. The buyer offered $20, but the woman told the detective she insisted on $30.
The two argued on the street, leading a man to grab someone else’s crutch and strike the seller on her left arm, injuring her, police said.
Police were called, and the woman told the detective she reached out to a friend to pick her up. The friend arrived in the Infiniti about the same time as police, so the woman left without speaking to officers, according to the police report.
As the Infiniti drove off, another vehicle pulled up from behind and an occupant opened fire at the Infiniti, one victim told police. Surveillance cameras captured a light-colored, four-door sedan — possibly silver or gold — then pulling alongside the Infiniti, according to the police reports. The footage shows the person in the sedan’s front-passenger seat opened fire, shattering windows and wounding the two men, the reports said.
The sedan then went into reverse, heading east on Fifth Avenue, while the Infiniti continued westbound, police said.
Police recovered nine .40-caliber shelling casings at the scene, the police reports show.
Two weeks later, an Area North detective submitted a report to his sergeant explaining how shell casings recovered at the Lawndale neighborhood shooting matched those found at both the Rogers Park killings, according to the police reports.
Chicago police use firearm examiners trained to analyze each shell casing under a high-powered microscope, said Thomas Ahern, a Chicago police spokesman who is also a former ATF special agent. Images of the casings are then recorded, entered into a national database and compared with casings from police investigations across the country.
“Every gun leaves unique markings on shell casings,” Ahern said. “It’ll match up what’s already in the system of another shell casing from another crime. … But these crimes could be across town, across the state, across the country.”
A second West Side shooting
Police records show the Chicago police firearms laboratory reported April 5 that shell casings recovered from a shooting on the Near West Side about a week earlier also matched those found at both the Rogers Park killings and the Fifth Avenue shooting.
According to the reports, officers responded to a call of shots fired at a residential complex in the 2300 block of West Jackson Boulevard shortly before 1 a.m. on March 28. At the scene, three employees at a security guard outpost told police that gunfire erupted after a white SUV pulled up there. No one was hurt.
The security employees reported hearing five or six shots, and investigators later found several shell casings at the crime scene, police said. Detectives also found evidence that bullets struck a fence, a concrete barrier and a window frame, police said.
The department did not provide additional information about the shooting or the SUV.
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