One of Chicago’s toughest problems is, in part, imported from a place that also brought us our city's most cherished music. Over the past four years, more than a thousand firearms seized in Chicago came from Mississippi. So our WGN investigation took us South to trace the flow of guns.
We started on a sweltering summer night down in Holly Springs, Mississippi. The residents had gathered around the courthouse square not minding the heat. The streets were blocked off leaving the kids free to run around. It looked like a Norman Rockwell picture with the flags waving, the hot dogs grilling, kids and adults sipping on cherry flavored shaved ice, while mom and dad sit back in their lawn chairs and enjoy the blues. A summertime Thursday night ritual in the town square.
We’d headed to this small southern town in search of Michael Elliot.
Time and again, reporter Mark Suppelsa would ask the folks milling around the music if they’d seen Elliot. Some seemed to have heard of him. Others were sure they had. Still many more had not. So far, there was no sign of Michael Elliot.
You see, Elliot had made a deal with the devil. For a lousy 100 bucks Elliot agreed to buy a gun in his hometown in Mississippi for another guy in Chicago – eventually it ended up in the hands of a robber who shot and killed a Chicago cop.
Tom and Carolyn Wortham, of Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood, saw Tom Jr. get gunned down right in front of their home. Four guys wanted his sharp looking, black motorcycle. This two-time Iraq war veteran wouldn’t survive his own neighborhood.
The gun that killed Thomas Wortham Jr in 2010, didn’t come from Chicago’s mean streets. Instead it was bought 600 miles away at a country corner store in the middle of nowhere, Mississippi.
It may be hard to believe, but these sleepy little southern towns made famous in the Blues Highway are now a pathway for guns to the North.
So, WGN made the trip all the way down to Watson, Mississippi and Ed’s Pawn Shop.
We wanted to ask Eddie – the owner of the shop – what he thought about a gun from his place being involved in the killing of a Chicago cop.
You see; the Worthams sued the shop to force it to make changes. It now videotapes gun sales, but not much else has changed. All you need in Mississippi is a clean record and a driver’s license to buy a gun – or as many as you want. By the way, Eddie, the owner, was not there.
Alas, we continued our search for Michael Elliot, the guy who bought the gun that was eventually used to kill Thomas Wortham. His sister told us he always hangs in a well-known Blues strip nearby called “The Alley.”
In a town that prides itself on knowing everybody’s business, no one seemed to know where he was. Finally, a girl in the pink shirt knew. She led us to the mother of his children. Turns out, he’s back in prison. Elliot’s girlfriend told us she misses him, but smiled, as she said, he’ll be back.
Turns out, Elliot’s life hasn’t been easy – he spent 6 months in jail for lying – claiming the gun was for him and not Chicago gang bangers. He made the deal while his daughter was dying from a brain tumor. Then he was burned in a propane house explosion. Now a parole violation has him back behind bars.
But Elliot’s girlfriend and the mother of his children says she can be happy because she and Michael are alive. Something the Wortham family can’t say about their son.
It took one gun, from a small blues town in Mississippi to a big city known for its Blues to change so many lives.