The Crusader Newspaper Group

4 years later no leads in dismemberment of elderly woman

Ashanti Chimurenga still remembers the day when she learned how her mother died. Four years later, the pain of the gruesome murder of 81-year-old Thana Muhammad remains fresh for Chimurenga as her mother’s murder case remains unsolved.

With no closure or answers, the cold case has been Chimurenga’s stumbling block in her journey toward healing. Thousands of flyers and door-knocking efforts have turned up empty while Muhammad’s killer remains on the street.

On June 10, 2018, police found her mother dead inside her home in the Roseland neighborhood. Muhammad’s body was found cut up in pieces and placed in two plastic storage bins. Muhammad’s purse had been stolen along with her Honda Accord, which was later recovered.

The murder dominated local headlines and evening newscasts in a city where murders are a common occurrence. But the gruesome details of Muhammad’s murder kept many residents talking for days and her neighbors on alert.

Today, there are few new leads and still unanswered questions about Muhammad’s murder. But a new detective from Crimestoppers provides some fresh hope and renewed attention on the case as Chimurenga and other surviving relatives continue to seek justice for Muhammad.

It is a case that has frustrated law enforcement officers and detectives.

For Chimurenga, the silence and years of waiting are painful. But she remains hopeful that her mother’s killer will be found.

Chimurenga is also resilient. In the same home where her mother was brutally murdered, Chimurenga gave a telephone interview to the Crusader. She talked about her mother’s shocking murder and the days and years of overwhelming grief as Chimurenga struggles to move on with her life.

“I really believe my mother would not want this house to look like a ghost house,” Chimurenga told the Crusader.

In 2018, Chimurenga had not seen her mother in months but stayed in contact with her with phone calls and text messages. When she did not respond to phone calls and text messages for several days, police were sent to her home for a well-being check. What they discovered continues to haunt Chimurenga and other surviving relatives.

There were rumors about her mother’s murder circulating in the neighborhood. Chimurenga said she remembered getting a phone call from Chicago police, asking her to come to the local police precinct. Chimurenga said she was sitting in the lobby of the local police precinct when she Googled her mother’s name.

“I screamed. I found a story that said my mother had been decapitated. But that wasn’t true,” Chimurenga said.

Police would later give Chimurenga the facts surrounding her mother’s death. Muhammad had been murdered before she was cut up in three pieces that were placed in two storage bins in the basement of the home. After two autopsies, it’s still unclear how Muhammad was murdered before her body was dismembered.

“We know from the second autopsy that there was some trauma to her body,” Chimurenga said.

The body was badly decomposed. Johnson’s Funeral Home on the West Side handled the arrangements. Despite the grizzly discovery, Chimurenga said she asked the funeral director if she could view her mother’s remains but was told no.

“I knew I would be told no,” Chimurenga said as she cried. “I just wanted to see my mom again.”

Muhammad’s closed casket funeral was held at Hales Franciscan High School in Bronzeville. Despite the nature of her mother’s murder, Chimurenga and surviving relatives somehow managed to celebrate Muhammad’s life as a well-loved community activist.

For Chimurenga, her mother did not deserve to leave the world in this manner. She had moved to Roseland from Bronzeville and was in the process of unpacking her belongings when she was murdered.

Chimurenga said the house is still owned by the family and there are no plans to sell it. Months after it was a restricted crime scene, police returned the door keys to Chimurenga. She said many of her mother’s items and clothes are still there, but many things had been cleaned out. Chimurenga doesn’t live at the home but visits there when she’s in town.

“We want to leave it like that for a while because she loved this place. We don’t want to rent it and we’re not going to sell it,” Chimurenga said.

Her mother’s home and belongings provide some comfort to Chimurenga as she holds on to things that her mother loved. Chimurenga said she hasn’t received trauma counseling, and the pain of her mother’s murder is still raw.

“It’s been so painful,” Chimurenga said. “It’s an experience I never had. I asked myself everyday what happened here. It’s just been a nightmare. I’ve been into some really dark places since my mother’s death.”

Since her mother’s murder, Chimurenga has moved to New York City, where she underwent surgery for a new hip.

Chimurenga said her mother’s murder has helped her relate to those who lost loved ones to violence in Chicago.

“I realize what other families are going through with all the violence here,” Chimurenga said. “But the silence in my mother’s case is painful. The grief hurts.”

Chimurenga has also been busy contacting the Chicago Police Department for any new leads in the case. She remains frustrated and believes the police are not doing enough to solve her mother’s murder case.

And the clock is ticking for Chimurenga, who said some people she talked to about her mother’s murder have since died. She said several weeks ago, after calling Chicago police for answers, a detective asked her if she reached out to Crimestoppers, the non-profit organization that takes on cold cases.

At Crimestoppers, Chimurenga has been working with Detective George McDade, a volunteer who’s been with the organization since 1995 after working as a security guard at a Marriott hotel in Chicago. So far, the calls have been slow.

“There’s no smoking gun leads that’s going to solve this case,” McDade said. “I think [moving the case] is about keeping the conversation going in the community. The community stills know about the case and has information, but it needs an outlet.”

Despite the pain, Chimurenga is slowly moving on with her life.

“I dream about my mom and look at photos of her. They didn’t steal memories of my mom,” Chimurenga said.

If you have any tips or information of Muhammad’s murder, call Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.

A $15,000 award is offered leading to an arrest and conviction.

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