By KRISTEN TORRES
Homicide Watch Chicago
Marla Conway last heard from her son, Luther Levall Turner, on Oct. 27, 2006. “He was on his way home from his girlfriend’s house,” Conway said. “He called his sister and said he’d be home soon. I went to bed right after that.”
He never made it home.
The 18-year-old, who lived in the 1100 block of South Richmond Street, was standing on the sidewalk in the 1500 block of South Central Avenue about 12:20 a.m. when a man approached and shot him once in the head, Chicago Police said at the time.
“I woke up to my daughter saying the police were on the phone, and they needed me to get down to Mount Sinai to identify my son,” Conway said. “I was expecting them to rush him to the ER and take the bullet out of his head, but they said we would have to wait until the morning for the neurologist to take a look at him. That was the hardest part—all the waiting.”
Turner was pronounced brain dead by neurologists at 9 a.m. the next day.
According to police, robbery did not appear to be the motive for the shooting.
Still unsolved, the murder is one of many cold cases in the city. According to Chicago Police annual reports, the clearance rate—number of cases closed with arrests—for homicides, was 38 percent in 2006 and trended downward:
- 2010 - 34%
- 2009 - 34%
- 2008 - 39%
- 2006 - 38%
- 2005 - 43%
- 2004 - 52%
- 2002 - 46%
- 2001 - 54%
- 2000 - 49%
“Police kept asking if Luther was involved in any gang or drug activity. I kept telling them he wasn’t,” Conway said. “I worked hard so that he had everything and didn’t have to go out to fend for himself.”
According to Conway, police at the time speculated Turner was a victim of mistaken identity. Gang-related turf wars were tearing apart her North Lawndale neighborhood that year, she said.
“It’s hard. Every day is hard. I have to keep busy, keep my mind going. We have to keep moving. We’re the ones left behind and if we weren’t here we wouldn’t be able to keep his memory alive,” she said.
Conway was born and raised on the West Side. The family moved to North Lawndale when her father had to be put in a nursing home and her mother moved in with them.
Fallon Davis, Turner’s best friend at the time, describes the West Side neighborhood as “non-threatening” at the time of Turner’s death.
“We felt safe in the neighborhood at that time,” he said. “We knew the possibilities of danger, but before his [Turner’s] death, nothing that drastic had happened.”
Turner, an aspiring mechanical engineer, had just graduated from Marshall High School, and had been accepted to Truman College on a scholarship, and had hopes of someday owning his own body shop.
“Luther dreamed of owning his own business. He wanted to do auto body repair. He had a fascination for classic cars and wanted to learn how to take apart and rebuild them,” Conway said.
And his interests stretched far beyond automobiles. His love for singing, horticulture and animals propelled his involvement in other student activities.
Involved in Future Farmers of America, a national organization that promotes agricultural education, Turner helped start the community garden at Marshall High, and would volunteer to do maintenance at the Garfield Park Conservatory. He was also involved in the school’s poetry slam and won awards on the wrestling team.
“He had so much love toward the environment and animals. He would bring home stray dogs all the time. I would constantly have to yell at him and say ‘You know we can’t keep it right?’” Conway said.
“While he was alive, we went through multiple geckos, cats, stray dogs, turtles and a snake. The snake is what did it for me. I made him get rid of it after I found frozen mice in my freezer. I didn’t like that. That’s where I drew the line.”
Turner’s success in school left more than just the student body grieving. Conway said Teachers at Marshall reached out to her multiple times after his death, offering any type of support they could give.
“All his teachers were calling me that Monday because they wanted to know if I could postpone the funeral. They came out and gave me a declaration of remembrance. They sent flowers,” she said.
Turner’s friends also took the loss hard. Davis remembers Turner and Conway fondly, as members of his extended family.
“He [Turner] was my best friend. His mom was a mom to me. They became part of my family,” Davis said. “He was supposed to be my child’s godfather. My world was crushed when I found out he had died … that was my best friend.”
“You never think it can happen to you until it does. The feeling of losing a child … it’s unexplainable. It hurts every single day,” Conway said. “We all just want some closure.”