Evanston murder unsolved after seven years

Nathan Adkisson

Joseph Fouche (second from left) poses with his family. His murder in 2002 is unsolved still to this day.
Photo courtesy of Djenane Fouche

When Djenane Fouche’s brother was murdered in an Evanston parking lot in 2002, the police told her family they only had one theory.

Now, seven years later, Djenane wants to know why her brother’s killer still walks free.

Police say Joseph Fouche’s case is one step away from being solved, but without an eyewitness, they doubt it will stand up in court.

Nineteen-year-old Joseph Harry Isibor Fouche was the son of a Haitian diplomat and an English interior designer. He had four sisters including Djenane, who is now a senior psychology student at DePaul University. Djenane remembers him being a quiet but compassionate brother. When he was not playing basketball in the park, he was collecting comic books or working on his car.

Joseph came home from school on the evening of October 24, 2002 and asked his mother to borrow her car. He planned to leave the family home on Chicago’s northwest side and drive into Evanston to pick up a girl he worked with. He said he wouldn’t be back until the early morning.

As he drove the silver Hyundai Sonata toward Evanston, Joseph picked up three other college-aged men. Djenane had never met these men, but police told her one of them was a classmate of Joseph’s named Mario. Then they picked up Joseph’s female friend. Djenane never knew the name of this girl, and police won’t tell her.

Police can only speculate about what happened next.

They said they think someone made an offensive comment and the girl asked to be taken home. Afterward, Joseph and the three men went back to Howard Street and parked the car in an alley behind a McDonald’s. By then, it was nearly midnight.

Police said they think two of Joseph’s companions took the car for a joyride. When they returned, an argument began, and one of the men apparently shot Joseph twice. As he lay bleeding, the men allegedly took his ID and drove west, stopping in the suburb of Hoffman Estates to buy a can of gasoline. They re-entered the city and parked on a quiet street south of the Eisenhower Expressway, according to the police theory. Then they poured the gasoline on the car and set it on fire.

Meanwhile, when officers responded to reports of gunshots on Howard Street, they found Joseph sprawled on the ground with blood seeping from wounds in his groin and head.

Police eventually used fingerprints to determine Joseph’s identity. Djenane said she remembers the officers coming to her door shortly before midnight the next day.

“I was upstairs, but I heard when the police knocked, because they hit that door hard,” she said. “I came downstairs and stayed down until they said, ‘Are you the parents of Joseph Fouche?’ Then I knew something was wrong, horribly wrong.”

Joseph’s family was told he was in the hospital. When they arrived, they were told he had been moved to the morgue.

Joseph Fouche had died at 3:23 p.m., seven hours before his family found out.

Relatively rare

Unsolved murders like that of Fouche are rare in Evanston, said Evanston Police Department Cmdr. James Elliot, who led the investigation.

All murders in Evanston are turned over to the North Regional Task Force, a collaboration between 13 communities north of Chicago, Elliot said. The task force provides a full forensic team, as well as more officers to work on the case. Its success rate has historically been very high.

“Since 1990, we have had maybe half a dozen unsolved murders,” Elliot said.

Brian King, Wilmette police deputy chief, was commander of North Regional Task Force from its inception in 1997 until 2003. He said the task force’s high clearance rate is more than 90 percent. The City of Chicago has a much lower clearance rate, near 40 percent, he said.

“Statistically, the odds of Fouche’s case getting solved would have been much lower if he had died on the other side of Howard,” King said.

Five slices of an eight-slice pie

Police began their investigation into the Fouche case at Lincoln Technical Institute in Melrose Park, where Joseph was a student, Elliot and King said. The search led to the names of three men who are believed to have been in the car with Joseph. All three are members of the Latin Kings gang and had prior arrests. When questioned, they refused to cooperate and requested lawyers. Joseph’s female friend was also unable to identify the others in the vehicle after several line-ups.

The investigation yielded little usable physical evidence, police said. No fingerprints were recovered from the burned car. The McDonald’s had video surveillance, but it was a moving camera, so only certain moments were captured. One shot shows Joseph standing near one of the passengers, but the next shows Joseph sprawled on the ground. Police found a Hoffman Estates gas station with a recorded gasoline canister sale the night of the murder, but the clerk was unable to identify the buyer in a line-up.

The case is reviewed every six months, but police have not had any new developments since 2002, Elliot and King said. They said it is possible one of the associates of the murderer will provide information as part of a plea bargain, but they said they think it is more likely someone who was in the area at the time of the crime will come forward with new information.

Before they can take the case to trial, police need to have proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Mario or one of his friends did it.

“It’s very frustrating,” Elliot said. “If you take an eight-slice pie, we may have five slices, but we need three more slices to make the case.”

The police said any of the three passengers in Joseph’s car could have been the shooter, but the case hinges on Mario, because they know he and Joseph knew each other from school.

Djenane said she wishes the police kept her family updated more, but Elliott said they haven’t had any new information since 2002.

“I’m a parent,” he said. “Would I be happy to hear the police say, ‘We can’t solve this case?’ They want closure. We know the family wants information, but we don’t want to give them false hope.”

Hoping for Justice

Djenane said while her parents are still haunted by the case, she has tried to move on.

“I don’t think about the case as much as I think about the fact that I don’t have a brother anymore,” she said.

But sometimes she is reminded of the case in unexpected situations.

“When I moved to New York, this guy really liked me,” Djenane said. “And his name was Mario, and I was like, ‘Uhh, I can’t talk to you.'”

Djenane wants justice for her brother, but she’s conflicted about what should happen to the murderer. She said she doesn’t support the death penalty and thinks jail isn’t effective.

“Incarceration doesn’t really help a person,” she said. “Maybe they should have the guy in therapy. They told me that one time when he was being held, he wasn’t even in jail, he tried to cut his wrists and kill himself. What does that say about a person?”

Nevertheless, Djenane said she wants to prevent other people from being hurt.

“I have a feeling he’s done other stuff, so I hope he gets tried for the shit that he’s done,” she said. “Make him understand that what he did is wrong and he caused a lot of people pain.”

Djenane said she knows the police can’t have a successful case without an eyewitness. So she has to keep doing the same thing she’s done for the last seven years – wait.

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