Demetrius Griffin case: Did serial killer targeting Blacks burn Chicago teen alive and dump body in trash can?

Some believe the 15-year-old's murder is tied to an unidentified serial killer who had previously targeted two African-American women

                            Demetrius Griffin case: Did serial killer targeting Blacks burn Chicago teen alive and dump body in trash can?
Demetrius Griffin (GoFundMe)

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS: Demetrius Griffin Jr. had his whole life ahead of him before it was tragically taken away in the span of one horrific night in 2016. His murderer remains unidentified and, very likely, free. The death of George Floyd and subsequent protests have highlighted the country's problems with deep-rooted and systemic racism and has also been suggested that Griffin's murder was actually a hate crime.

Griffin, a 15-year-old Black boy, had started high school just two weeks before his disturbing, gruesome death. Talented in science and math, he had been looking forward to the freshman year of high school and had been preparing to join the swim team. But all those dreams and aspirations were ripped away on September 16, 2016. Griffin, ever the punctual teen who had never missed a curfew in his life, failed to show up at home at the usual time. He had last been seen walking back from school with a female friend. The uncharacteristic behavior immediately rang the alarm bells. His mother, Polly Sykes, later admitted it was so out of the norm for him to not return home at his usual time and that she knew something horrible had happened.

At around 1:30 am the next day, police received what they thought was an unrelated call about a refuse fire on the west side of Austin. When they responded to the scene, they found the body of a young boy that had been burned beyond recognition in a garbage bin. A subsequent autopsy officially identified Griffin and ruled that he had died of thermal injuries due to incendiary fire in a garbage can. In simpler terms, he had been breathing when the fire was started and had been burned alive. The death was ruled a homicide.

The murder made no sense to his family, who could not fathom how anyone could have had animosity towards a teen described as a "gentle and respectful child" who was close to his parents and was always available to lend a helping hand.  His former high school teachers remembered him as a "class clown who loved to make people laugh" and never bullied or belittled his peers. He always put in the extra effort to put a smile on others' faces, they said. His neighbors spoke similarly highly of his character.  He was the kid who would volunteer to walk their dogs without even being asked and who was eager to carry their groceries for them.

Family theorized that, while Griffin was not involved in any gang, he might have inadvertently died at the hands of one. They said it could have been a case of mistaken identity or that he had been the victim of a gang initiation that involved prospective members killing an innocent person to prove their loyalty. Others speculated Griffin could have been the victim of a predator and that the teen had been abducted and possibly assaulted before he was killed.

Around 10 years before Griffin's death, the bodies of two African-American women were found in startlingly similar circumstances, reported AETV. Both had been strangled, stripped and then disposed of in burning dumpsters near Washington Park. The first remains were of Theresa Bunn, a 21-year-old who was eight-months-pregnant at the time of her murder. Her body had been sprayed with a flammable accelerant before it was set on fire. She was so badly burned, her dental records were needed to confirm her identity. But even before authorities made that match, the body of 52-year-old Hazel Lewis was discovered by firefighters tasked with putting out the flames from a garbage can that was located just two miles from where Bunn was found.

Monique Bond, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Police Department, admitted investigators were looking into the possibility of the murders having been committed by a single perpetrator, a serial killer. That was 13 years ago. No one has been arrested or charged in either Bunn's or Lewis' death. 

"We have a monster out there," Griffin's aunt Rochelle Sykes was quoted saying at the time of her nephew's death a decade later. "Nobody's child is safe."

But close to four years after that heartwrenching statement, his murder remains unsolved and investigators have made little headway.

In February 2019, community and faith leaders announced they were increasing the $10,000 reward for information that would lead to the arrest and prosecution of his killer to $15,000. "It’s a shame that the Chicago homicide clearance rate is less than 20%, and that’s one reason we have seen this chaos in our streets," said Pastor Marshall Hatch the Griffin family's minister. "Demetrius Griffin’s heinous murder must be solved and those responsible
must be brought to justice before we can move on…this is Chicago’s unfinished business."

"Can you imagine the screams? Burning him alive? And you did nothing," said his mother, addressing the city's high rate of homicide. "How can they pay the attention to this case that it needs if they are constantly called away because someone else has been murdered."

"Community, I need your help. They killed my baby out here in this alley. I need somebody. If you know something, please come forward. They took my life."

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