CHICAGO — As fatal shootings spiked in Chicago over the last decade, Chicago Police detectives solved more of those cases — “clearing” them, in cop parlance.

In 2021, when the city logged more than 800 murders, CPD detectives cleared 346 cases, a 160% increase from 2012 when the department reported 133 clearances.

Yet while the CPD considers more murders “cleared,” police department data show that a growing share of those killings are carried out by people who themselves die before criminal charges can be brought.

Between April 2012 and April 2022, CPD detectives cleared 2,292 murder cases, according to data obtained by WGN Investigates. Nearly 10% of those — 222 cases — were deemed cleared via “death of offender.”

One such killing occurred on a sunny Friday morning in late September 2017 when a 33-year-old man and 20-year-old woman were fatally shot as they were in a car parked in a vacant lot on the Far South Side.

The woman, Charnella Lemon, was 8-months pregnant. She was shot four times — twice in the chest, once in the abdomen and again in the hand. Doctors at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn were able to deliver her child via c-section, but the baby, Jenae Lemon, died four days later.

The man, Terrence Carter, was shot once at the base of his neckline. The Cook County medical examiner’s office ruled each death a homicide and, after the newborn’s death, the CPD logged the shooting as a triple murder.

At four-days-old, Jenae is one of Chicago’s youngest murder victims in the last decade, according to data from the medical examiner’s office.

Carter’s and Lemon’s families could not be reached for this story.

Initially, the CPD told the Chicago Sun-Times that the two were ambushed by an assailant as they sat in the vehicle. Yet within three weeks, CPD detectives considered the case “cleared” after they determined that Carter and Lemon shot and killed each other with Lemon’s .25 caliber pistol — the same gun used to murder another man in south suburban Dolton three months prior.

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On the morning of the triple murder, a nearby resident was taking out the trash when he heard a series of pops. The man later told police that “he thought that it was unusual to be hearing fire crackers that early in the morning.” He walked outside and soon heard a woman yell, “Help, help me, somebody!”

The neighbor looked down his alley and saw a woman, naked from the waist down, lying on the ground near a utility pole, about 10 feet away from a red Kia wagon. The man went back inside his home and called 911.

Responding officers and paramedics soon arrived and took Lemon to Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. Carter, also naked from the waist down and wearing a condom, was pronounced dead in the Kia’s driver’s seat. An unspecified amount of money was found strewn about the front of the car.

Two .25 caliber pistols were recovered in the backseat, one in the driver’s side door pocket and the other on the passenger’s side floorboard. That gun, a Beretta, had a round in the chamber but an empty magazine. The other gun, a Lorcin L25, had a round in the chamber, too, but was without a magazine. Amid the blood splatter, an evidence technician collected six .25 caliber shell casings inside the Kia.

Detectives soon made contact with a man romantically linked to Lemon. He told them Lemon was pregnant with his child and that the two “had an open relationship, and that he was aware that she was a prostitute,” according to a copy of the detectives’ case file obtained by WGN Investigates through the Freedom of Information Act.

The man told detectives that, for the last two years, Lemon worked in Roseland. She was assaulted in the past, so she carried a pistol for her own protection. After Lemon didn’t return home, he tried to file a missing person report at the CPD’s Calumet District station, but an officer there said to file the report in south suburban Dolton, where he and Lemon lived.

At Christ Medical Center, Lemon’s mother told detectives that “she is aware Lemon would solicit herself in the streets, for money, and that she had been doing that for the last two years,” adding that “Lemon would frequently carry a small handgun for protection when she would date men,” according to CPD records.

Police eventually found Lemon’s car at 105th and Wabash, less than a mile from where the shooting occurred.

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Chicago police detectives will “clear” a murder in one of three ways.

Most clearances result in criminal charges brought against a suspect. However, if those charges are later dropped or the suspect is found not guilty at trial, the CPD will still consider it a cleared case.  

Another “cleared” designation is “death of offender.” That means the person who the CPD believes to have committed the murder died before charges were brought. Often, those uncharged suspects are murder victims, too. 

The third “cleared” category is “bar to prosecution.” That means prosecutors were presented evidence collected by police, but they did not believe there was enough to secure a conviction. Even if prosecutors decline to bring charges, the murder is still considered “cleared” by CPD. 

Between April 1, 2012 and April 20, 2022, Chicago recorded 6,044 murders, according to publicly accessible city data. In that time, the CPD opened 5,771 murder investigations as incidents with more than one victim — double, triple and quadruple murders — are still classified as a single case.

(Not every murder that occurs in Chicago is investigated by the CPD. For example, fatal shootings that occur on Chicago expressways are investigated by the Illinois State Police.)

In that 10-year span, Chicago police detectives cleared 2,292 murder cases, according to the data obtained by WGN Investigates. Of those cleared cases, just over two-thirds — 1,548 — resulted in criminal charges brought against a suspect. Another 222 cases — nearly were cleared via “death to offender.” 

But prosecutors didn’t think there was enough evidence to secure a conviction in the other 524 murder cases that the CPD says it solved in the last 10 years — 22% of all clearances in that time frame. 

(In two instances, the CPD said a case was cleared both by “death to offender” and “bar to prosecution.”)

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Carter often patronized sex workers, his brother told police. After his release from prison on a robbery conviction, “Carter would frequently give prostitutes money for sex, and he would often pull into alleys and vacant lots to have sex in the car,” a detective wrote. Carter recently bought a .25 caliber pistol, too, his brother told police. But the gun was unreliable and “it would only fire sporadically.”

Less than two weeks after the shooting, the CPD’s Forensic Firearms Lab determined that each of the six shell casings found inside the Kia were fired from the same gun — “The said firearm is believed to belong to Lemon,” a detective wrote.

CPD records indicate the triple murder was deemed “cleared” via “death of offender” on Oct. 17, 2017, about three weeks after the shooting occurred.

“The Reporting Detective’s investigation has revealed that both Terrence Carter and Charnella Lemon were the only occupants in the vehicle wherein this crime occurred,” CPD Detective Donovan Jackson wrote. “This was confirmed by eyewitness accounts and physical evidence obtained at the scene. While in the vehicle an altercation occurred which led to both Terrance [sic] Carter and Charnella Lemon engaging in an exchange of gunfire which caused the death of Terrance [sic] Carter, Charnella Lemon and Lemon’s unborn child, Jenae Lemon.”

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In mid-December 2017, Jackson received a call from Eric Price, a detective in the Dolton Police Department. Price — now a commander — was investigating a murder in the south suburb that occurred about six months earlier. The victim in that case, 39-year-old Ronald Muhammad, was thought to be with a female sex worker just before he was fatally shot in a car.

Price believed that “the victim may have contacted the female prostitute on Facebook prior to his death,” police records show. “Price related that he later found out through his investigation that the prostitute’s name was Lemon, Charnella J.”

Price told WGN Investigates that he used cellphone records to link Lemon to the Dolton murder. In speaking with Chicago police, Price noted that a .25 caliber shell casing was found at the crime scene. Further, “he determined the motive in his case to be a Robbery and documented it as such.”

Jackson asked the Illinois State Police to compare the bullet casings recovered at both scenes. In January 2018, the results came back: “The expended shell casings recovered from both scenes, in Chicago and Dolton, were fired from the same firearm.”

Speaking with WGN Investigates, Price said Dolton police consider the Muhammad murder case to be closed. He added that Lemon was not suspected in any other acts of violence in the south suburb.