Editor’s note: Read Part 1 of this story, which traces the brewing conflict in the neighborhood.
The patrol wagon rushed 13-year-old Helene Navarro to Evangelical Hospital, three blocks from the street corner where she’d been shot. One bullet had struck her eye and lodged in her brain. Another had passed through her shoulder.
Helene’s neighbor, 12-year-old Bobby Leonard, had been shot once in the chest and died at the scene—on the porch of a building at 51st Place and Peoria, just around the corner from where Helene was found.
At the police station later that night—September 1, 1971—Bobby Hisson recounted the shooting to detectives. Hisson, who was 14 and lived in the neighborhood, said he was talking with Helene and another friend, Margie Flynn, on the sidewalk between the corner of 51st and Peoria and the mouth of an alley. Bobby Leonard was standing a few yards north of them, nearer the corner. Hisson saw “a colored guy come out of the alley with a rifle,” he told the detectives, according to the statement they wrote up. The guy said, “Move, girls”—but before anyone had time to budge, he started shooting.
Hisson said he pushed Margie out of the way, falling to the ground. He heard five shots. When he looked back at the mouth of the alley, the shooter was gone. Margie was clutching her leg, which had been grazed by a bullet. Hisson helped get her around the corner to the front porch at 51st and Peoria, where a crowd was hovering over Leonard. He was bleeding from his chest. Helene Navarro’s mother, Audrey, had Leonard cradled in her arms; she didn’t yet know about Helene.
Hisson then remembered Helene and went back around the corner looking for her. He found her alone and facedown on the sidewalk. He lifted her head, saw the blood, and shouted to a neighbor to call for help. That’s when Helene’s father, Sam Navarro, raced up, crying and screaming. A moment later Audrey Navarro, howling, was at Helene’s side as well.
The police wagon got her to the hospital within minutes of the 8:45 PM attack. But she couldn’t be saved.
Duffie Clark’s family received a welcome typical for blacks who dared move into white neighborhoods in that era: hails of rocks and bottles.
Hisson had told the officers who arrived in the first squad car that he knew the shooter and where he lived. He got in the car and directed the police a half block east, to a bungalow on the 5200 block of South Green Street. Other officers marched several young black men out of the house. When Hisson saw 20-year-old Duffie Clark, he said, “That’s the guy.”
At the station, Hisson told detectives he knew Clark from the neighborhood—he’d played basketball with him that summer. He knew him as “Stan,” Clark’s middle name.
Margie Flynn told detectives she’d seen a pair of black kids in the mouth of the alley, that one of them said “Move, girls” and then opened fire with a rifle. She didn’t think she’d seen either of the kids before, but she viewed a police lineup and identified Clark as the shooter. Another witness, an 11-year-old, said he saw three black boys, one with a rifle, running down 52nd Street, from Peoria to Green Street, after the shooting. He, too, picked Clark out of a lineup as the one with the rifle.
Clark told detectives he’d been with his girlfriend in his family’s bungalow at the time of the shooting. He said they were talking in his bedroom, which was in the basement, when they heard “bottles and bricks . . . hitting and smashing” outside. (White youths were hurling missiles at Clark’s house and his relatives and neighbors standing out front.) He said he looked out a window and saw everyone ducking for cover—but that he didn’t leave the bungalow until the police came and arrested him. His girlfriend, 18-year-old Clemmie Jean Richmond—who was seven months pregnant with their child—corroborated his alibi. But when detectives pressed her, Richmond allowed that after they heard glass breaking outside, Clark ran out of the basement and was gone “a little while”—and didn’t return until right before the police arrived.
Clark was charged with the murders, as was his 24-year-old brother and two cousins, ages 25 and 21. They all lived in the bungalow at 5213 Green.
The previous January, Clark’s family had become the first blacks to move into the Back of the Yards enclave, between 51st and 53rd streets and Halsted and Morgan. They’d received a welcome typical for black families who dared move into white neighborhoods in that era: hails of rocks and bottles, aimed at their home—or even themselves when they were out front. A group of white youths known as the One-Way Gang led the attacks, which continued through the summer. More black families moved in on Green Street nonetheless. Clark’s mother called the police repeatedly about the attacks, but they seemed indifferent and their response ineffectual. Clark preferred to fight back, and he and some of his brothers and cousins who lived with him in the bungalow occasionally returned fire with their own rocks and bottles.
Sam Navarro and Clark first met one evening that summer. Clark had walked his dog to a weedy vacant lot at 52nd and Peoria—and soon was dodging the rocks and bottles being hurled from an adjacent alley. “Get outta here, nigger!” the white kids were yelling. “You don’t belong here!” Navarro chased the kids away. He apologized to Clark for their actions and walked him home. “If you ever have another problem, come see me,” he told him. “My door is always open to you.”
After Navarro came to Clark’s aid a second time that summer, Helene told her father that people in the neighborhood were calling him “nigger lover.”
Navarro, a city plumber, had lived in the neighborhood for almost 25 years. He’d intervened because he thought it was right, and because he feared what the battles in the neighborhood might lead to. He worried about the safety of his five children.
Helene, blue-eyed and blond, idolized her dad. She had a precocious interest in her community and in civic affairs, and her father taught her how to write letters to public officials about social and political concerns she had. Helene let her dad know she supported his interventions on Clark’s behalf despite what some neighbors were calling him. She told him that if black kids were among her classmates at Saint John the Baptist grammar school that fall, which would be a first, she’d befriend them.
But as the summer wore on, and more blacks moved in and whites moved out, the conflicts continued—and the Navarros decided to move. Sam, Audrey, Helene, and her sister Jacky spent the afternoon of September 1 looking at houses near Midway Airport.
As they were heading back to the neighborhood at around 8:30 PM, yet another bombardment was taking place on Green Street—the one Clark would later tell police he heard from inside the basement. No one was injured, but the windshield of Clark’s stepfather’s car was cracked.
At about the time of the barrage, the Navarros’ station wagon turned onto Peoria Street. Sam was about to pull into the alley to park in their garage when Helene spotted her friend Margie Flynn. Helene usually accompanied her dad to the garage and opened and closed the overhead door for him, but she asked if she could go talk with Margie. Her dad said yes, and Helene got out on Peoria with her mother and sister. Helene and Margie were walking up Peoria when they ran into Bobby Hisson and paused to chat with him. Sam Navarro was coming from the garage when he heard what he thought were firecrackers.
Navarro is 84 now, and lives near Benton Harbor, Michigan. He recalls that on that night 40 years ago, in the first hours after Helene died, he wasn’t thinking about who was responsible. He was thinking about what he could do to help Helene. The answer—nothing—was too hard to bear. His most important job as a father, he’d always believed, was protecting his kids. He remembers pacing the floor of his home, yanking at his hair.
He doesn’t recall feeling any sense of betrayal when he realized that the man accused of shooting Helene was the one he’d helped earlier that summer. He was certain Helene hadn’t been the shooter’s target. What he felt instead of betrayal was that his attempts to deter a tragedy had failed utterly—”that all my efforts were futile.”
An enraged crowd formed in the neighborhood the night of the shootings, but police kept it in check and it eventually dispersed. Early the next evening, members of the One-Way Gang and other neighbors began gathering in a playlot near Saint John the Baptist school. By twilight the throng had grown to 150 and was buzzing with threats of retaliation against the blacks living on Green Street. The district police commander, Captain John Haberkorn, drove up and pleaded for calm. “You’ll get some woman or some little kid killed, and you’re not going to prove a thing,” he shouted over jeers, according to a Tribune story.
have got to reach out our hands in
love and understanding or we have nothing.
May God bless and please forgive us all for
our intolerance.”—A letter from Navarro,
published in the Tribune six days after his
“What if it was your kid?” a man shouted back.
“I can’t honestly tell you what I’d do,” Haberkorn replied.
The crowd again disbanded. For days after, police walked the streets and unmarked cars cruised them. Captain Haberkorn told reporters he blamed the shootings “on the parents, both black and white, who allow their children to harbor this racial hatred.”
While denying that anyone from her household was involved in the shootings, Clark’s mother, Essie Camel, pointed to the department’s apparent apathy about the incessant attacks on the black residents of Green Street that preceded the killings. She told the grand jury that indicted her sons and nephews that she’d called police countless times and sent innumerable letters pleading for help, but “all I got was a letter back from the captain saying it wasn’t nothing but a hot summer.”
A few days after Helene was killed, a black man who’d once worked with her mother and was a friend of the family dropped by the Navarros’ to pay his respects, but neither Audrey nor Sam was home. The relatives who were around recognized him—and urged him to leave the neighborhood posthaste. “The other white people in the neighborhood would have killed him,” Audrey later said.
Sam Navarro worried about where his neighbors’ fury would lead. Though he could no longer protect Helene, he thought he might be able to do something to protect his remaining kids, and the others in the neighborhood.
So he did what he’d taught Helene to do. He wrote a letter.
Six days after Helene’s death, the Tribune ran his open letter to neighbors on the front page, under the headline “Slain Girl’s Dad Pleads: Halt Racial Violence.”
Navarro recounted the circumstances under which he’d met Clark earlier that summer, and how he’d escorted him home and met his brothers. He described how he’d apologized for the actions of the white kids in the neighborhood and tried to make Clark understand “that we are not all so mean and hateful as this.” He said he’d asked Clark “to please come to my home anytime he had any kind of problem and I would attempt to help him anytime of the day or night.” And now, Navarro wrote, Clark was accused of killing his daughter.
He also recalled how Helene had pledged to befriend any black children who might come to her school in the fall. “She was as innocent as many of you who read this,” he wrote.
The rifle used in the shooting hadn’t been found, and he implored anyone who knew its whereabouts to come forward “and help save some other innocent black or white human being from being senselessly destroyed. In this way we can come closer to loving and understanding one another.
“Also by helping recover the weapon used,” he continued, “we can help this man, Duffie Clark, should he be innocent. For so help me God, we have got to reach out our hands in love and understanding or we have nothing. May God bless and please forgive us all for our intolerance.”
Today, sitting on the wooden porch of his home, Navarro says his reason for writing the letter was simple: “I didn’t want to see anybody else get hurt.”
He and Audrey received notes of sympathy and thanks from blacks and whites after the letter was published. Sam also got a few letters from whites who’d dismissed his call for love and understanding. He says one writer suggested he grab a shotgun, drive east, and kill every little black girl he saw.
Chicago’s black-owned newspaper, the Defender, ran excerpts of his letter and an editorial paying him homage. In the city’s “long history of racial turmoil, mutual hatred and tragic baptism of blood,” the editors said, they couldn’t recall a more “moving plea for interracial peace and goodwill.” Nor could they imagine an act equaling “the nobility of heart” and “forgiveness of spirit” Navarro had shown. “Hats off to a great Christian, a civilized man of boundless humility and compassion.”
The Navarros moved to Garfield Ridge, on the western outskirts of the south side, soon after the shooting. Audrey, dazed by Helene’s death, was hardly aware of the move. Sometimes when Sam would leave their new home for work she’d remind him to bring Helene back when he returned.
Any doubts Sam Navarro initially had about Clark’s guilt quickly disappeared. Since Hisson had known Clark before the shooting, Navarro figured it couldn’t be a case of mistaken identification. The witness accounts incriminating Clark’s brother and the older of his two cousins were equivocal, and charges against them were dropped. Besides Clark, the other man still facing murder charges was his 21-year-old cousin, Ray Stafford, who some witnesses said they’d seen with Clark in the alley.
Navarro’s certainty about Clark’s guilt wasn’t shaken when, before trial, both Clark and Stafford took lie-detector tests, denied committing the shootings or knowing who did, and were judged to be truthful by the polygraph examiner. “There had to be something wrong with the test,” Navarro says today. “Guys can fool it, certain guys.”
Polygraphs are rarely admitted as evidence in criminal trials because they haven’t been shown to be reliable. Judge Benjamin Mackoff denied the defendants’ motion to inform the jury of the tests.
Clark and Stafford’s trial began in October 1973 in the Cook County Criminal Courthouse, and lasted ten weeks. The spectators’ gallery was sharply split racially, with friends and relatives of the Navarro and Leonard families to the left of the center aisle, and friends and relatives of Clark and Stafford to the right. Clark recalls there being either one or two blacks on the jury. In his opening statement, assistant state’s attorney Ronald Magnes asked the jurors to disregard race as they considered the evidence. The shootings had occurred in a neighborhood that “was being integrated,” Magnes said, but that was “not an issue.” What motivated the defendants was likewise not relevant, the prosecutor said, “nor does it excuse their conduct.”
In addition to Hisson and the other young witnesses, a white woman who’d lived next door to Clark’s family testified for the state. She told the jury that shortly before the shooting, she looked out her window and saw Clark, Stafford, and two other young men standing outside their house. Clark was holding a long object. The four men ran down Green toward 52nd Street; a few minutes later, she saw them run back to their house. Then the police came and made their arrests.
“I’ve never felt as compelled to help somebody. And there were definite reasons to doubt his guilt.”—Dana Orr, who represented Duffie Clark pro bono in his parole case
As the prosecutors acknowledged, the rifle used in the shootings was never recovered.
Clark’s girlfriend, Clemmie Jean Richmond, allowed on cross-examination that Clark had left the basement after they heard glass breaking outside, and didn’t return until right before police came and arrested him.
Clark took the stand and testified that he never left the basement after he heard the glass breaking.
But Clark recently told me he did in fact leave the basement after he heard breaking glass. He said he went upstairs, where his mother told him someone had shot a hole in the windshield of their car. So he stepped outside and examined the windshield. Then he returned to the house and told his mother he was tired of these attacks. “I said, ‘I’m fitting to go try and find out who did it,'” Clark told me. But his mother told him to go back downstairs—she’d already called the police and she wanted to let them handle it. Clark said he did as she asked, and “the next thing I know, the police was in the house.”
When Clark was on the witness stand, his lawyer, Robert Cummins, asked him if he’d shot Helene Navarro. “No, sir, that would have been impossible,” he told the jury. Had he shot anyone? “No, never in my life.”
In his closing argument, Cummins said the eyewitnesses were all “mistaken” or “confused,” because Clark was in the basement of his house at the time of the shooting. “I am not going to call them liars,” Cummins said. “I would hope, in God’s name, that they were just innocently mistaken.”
The jury deliberated for 12 hours. Judge Mackoff warned the spectators to receive the verdicts in silence. “This court is aware that since Sept. 1, 1971, there have been strained feelings between the family of the defendants and the family and friends of the deceased,” the judge said.
The witnesses against Stafford had expressed uncertainty in their testimony, and he was acquitted. But the jury convicted Clark. The only sound during the reading of the verdicts, according to the Tribune, was the weeping of Audrey Navarro and Essie Camel.
When Sam Navarro recalls the reading of Clark’s verdict, what comes to mind isn’t the relief or satisfaction it gave him. “When they announced Clark guilty, Essie Camel let out a moan of agony you couldn’t believe—and I felt sorry for her as a mother. I thought, here’s a mother raising these kids, and this is what it comes to. One of the state’s attorneys comes over to me, he says, ‘Whaddya think?’ I says, ‘I sure feel sorry for that woman.’ He says, ‘Boy, I don’t.'”
At Clark’s sentencing hearing a month later, in January 1974, Cummins called Clark’s conviction “perhaps the greatest manifestation of injustice I have ever had any personal experience with.” Cummins still today attributes Clark’s arrest and conviction to the racial polarization in the neighborhood at the time. “I have so much certainty about his innocence,” he says. “He’s about as guilty as you or I.”
During the sentencing hearing, however, Judge Mackoff said the jury had reached the right verdict. He said the evidence indicated that Clark, undoubtedly disgusted after yet another shower of rocks and bottles, had taken a rifle to Peoria Street to “seek redress.” He likely was aiming at someone older when he killed the two young bystanders. Mackoff said the tragedy showed what can result when conflicts in a racially changing neighborhood “are allowed to fester and escalate.” He sentenced Clark to 40 to 140 years.
Clark was an industrious inmate. He registered for classes and threw himself into them to “keep my mind off my case, keep from letting it tear me up.” He earned his GED and two college degrees. He planned food drives, led African-American history month programs, edited a newspaper, and founded an actors’ workshop. He studied law and worked in the law library, helping innumerable inmates with their petitions and appeals.
He also developed his relationship with his daughter, Latonia Richmond, born to Clemmie Jean Richmond two months after Clark was arrested. Clemmie Jean broke up with Clark after Latonia was born, but she abided by his wishes to get to know his little girl, bringing Latonia to the Cook County Jail and then the Stateville prison for holiday visits. Latonia’s aunt took over the task when Clemmie Jean moved out of state. Clark sent Latonia birthday and Christmas presents—inexpensive items he could buy from the commissary—and wrote her frequently.
Latonia Richmond, now 39, says her father’s academic accomplishments in prison inspired her to work harder on her own studies. “I felt like, if he could learn all that when he didn’t know he was ever getting out, surely I can do something with school,” she says. She thought of becoming a lawyer and working to free him. She ended up getting a bachelor’s in corrections and now works as a youth development specialist for the Cook County juvenile detention center.
Richmond says she never could get her mother to talk much about the shootings, but other family members insisted her father was innocent, and she always assumed it was so. She’d never discussed the shootings with him, but one day when she was a teenager she simply asked him if he’d shot the two kids. If he’d answered yes, she says she wouldn’t have loved him any less. “He was still my dad. I would have just known that he made a mistake.” But her father told her, “Absolutely not.”
Clark’s appeal of his conviction was rejected in 1977. He became eligible for parole in 1981, ten years after he was locked up. In his annual petitions, he expressed sympathy for the Navarro and Leonard families, but said he couldn’t be remorseful for a crime he hadn’t committed. The state’s attorney’s office vehemently opposed his release, calling him “extremely vicious” and “without morals,” and saying he had “contributed nothing to the community except grief.” The prisoner review board rejected petition after petition, citing the nature of the crime. “The Board is favorably impressed with what Mr. Clark has accomplished during his years of incarceration,” it said in 2001, 30 years after the murders. “However, this most egregious crime that took the lives of two innocent children for no apparent reason is too heinous to overcome.”
“I’ll go to my grave and never change my mind about what I seen”—Bobby Hisson, the key witness against Duffie Clark
In the early 2000s several of Chicago’s top law firms took on, pro bono, the parole cases of some of the state’s older inmates. The prestigious law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal began representing Clark in 2004, and Dana Orr, then an associate with the firm, eventually wound up with the case. “I’ve done a good amount of pro bono work, but I’ve never felt as compelled to help somebody as I did after meeting Duffie,” she says. “He struck me as a perfect gentleman: intelligent, dignified, funny, a respectful family man—just a really stand-up guy. And there were definite reasons to doubt his guilt.”
At a hearing in 2005 Orr argued that Clark had been wrongly convicted, pointing to the racial tension in the neighborhood at the time of the shootings, the age of the key witnesses, and the lie-detector test Clark had passed. The board is rarely swayed by wrongful conviction claims, but Clark had other factors in his favor. He’d already served 34 years and served them well. His daughter told the board her father had been “a better father than some fathers who are in free society” and that he could live with her if he were paroled. Unlike most murder convicts, Clark also had a job awaiting him; his trial lawyer, Cummins, promised the board he’d hire Clark if he were released.
On January 12, 2006, the board voted 13 to 1 to grant Clark parole.
The board doesn’t explain the reasoning behind its decisions. Clark says he believed the board was convinced of his innocence. But former board member Jorge Montes, the chair at the time, says that’s not his recollection. “I’m pretty confident the board acted because of his rehabilitation, not because we actually bought that he was innocent.”
Clark worked for Cummins’s law firm for two years before moving on to Uptown People’s Law Center. There, he read and summarized letters from inmates seeking legal representation for their appeals or raising complaints about prison conditions. The summaries were sent to a network of pro bono lawyers for consideration. An important part of his job was judging the credibility of the claims made by inmates. Belinda Belcher, the center’s executive director, says Clark was especially adept at “seeing what was real and what was a lie.” Clark lost the job in January. He says Belcher wouldn’t tell him why. Belcher says that’s untrue; she says she gave Clark her reasons, though she can’t disclose them. “He was very good at what he did here, and it was a difficult decision,” she says.
Clark’s collecting unemployment now, and hoping to form a paralegal services group with some other ex-cons he knows who also worked in prison law libraries.
“To be quite honest, prison made me a better person,” he tells me. “Had I not been locked up for some shit I didn’t do, I never would have got those degrees, and I wouldn’t know many of the things I came to know. So it did have its rewards—but only because I pulled it out of there.” He says he wishes his mother had seen him freed; she died in 2004.
Last fall, Clark petitioned the prisoner review board for executive clemency. A declaration that he is innocent would qualify him for $200,000 for his years of wrongful imprisonment. The board makes confidential recommendations to the governor, and there’s no deadline by which the governor must act.
Clark tells me he thinks he knows why Hisson pinned the crime on him. He says that one night late that summer, he happened to see a friend of Hisson’s hiding behind some bushes on Green Street, aiming a shotgun. A police car came by, according to Clark, and this friend of Hisson’s fled. Clark says he slugged the guy the next time he saw him—and that Hisson no doubt held that against him. But Clark didn’t testify about the incident. Clark also says he believes that in the police station after the shooting, Hisson manipulated the other eyewitnesses into identifying him.
Hisson says none of this is true. He also says that a few weeks before the shootings, Clark approached him, stuck a gun in his stomach, and told him, “If your friends don’t stop throwing the rocks and bottles, I’m gonna start throwing some lead.” Hisson didn’t mention this when he testified. He says he probably didn’t tell the police about it “because it was kind of after the fact.” (Clark says of this claim by Hisson: “He’s still with his fantastic stories, I see.”)
Regarding his identification of Clark, Hisson says today: “I’ll go to my grave and never change my mind about what I seen. I couldn’t put someone in jail for something he didn’t do.”
“Every time you see a little blond girl go by, it’s Helene.”—Sam Navarro
Clark says the real killers probably were young black men who lived east of Halsted and who fought regularly with the One-Way Gang that summer. He says the damaging of his stepfather’s car minutes before the shootings was coincidental.
He also feels sure that whoever killed Helene Navarro and Bobby Leonard hasn’t gone unpunished: “Every day of his life he’s going to be thinking about what he did, and the suffering he caused those families.”
After the shootings, “White people moved out so fast you didn’t even know they had been here,” Flora Henry says of her Back of the Yards enclave.
Henry—who moved in on Green Street shortly after Clark did—was glad to see them go. She was tired of the rock-and-bottle attacks, and of worrying about her kids being assaulted on their way to and from school.
But as the neighborhood changed, it also declined. The new black residents were poorer and more often unemployed than the whites they replaced. “When whites was living over here, they all worked for the city,” Henry says. “Mayor [Richard J.] Daley saw to it that they had jobs, and when their daddy quit, the child took the job.”
Once the whites left, “wasn’t no jobs,” she says. The A&P supermarket at 52nd and Halsted closed, as did many smaller businesses, and they weren’t replaced. The federal program that helped Clark’s mother buy the bungalow turned out to be a debacle, resulting in foreclosures and abandonment in poor and changing neighborhoods throughout the city. Camel’s home was foreclosed on in 1972 and, like many homes in the enclave, was soon demolished. A 1975 Tribune article on the failed program described the area as “a neighborhood of broken-down, abandoned houses littered with broken glass, battered doors, and other debris.”
By 1980, the surrounding census tract was 93 percent black. Unemployment had tripled in ten years, and the poverty rate nearly quadrupled, to 43 percent. Robberies and thefts had become common. “When people don’t have a job, they don’t have nothing to do but mess with somebody else’s stuff,” Henry says.
Not much has improved since. The poverty rate in 2000 was the same as in 1980. Unemployment was higher. The area has continued to hollow out, with still more homes lost to fires, wreckers, and foreclosures. In the latest census bureau estimates (2005-2009), 19 percent of the census tract’s housing units were vacant. (The vacancy rate citywide is 7.6 percent.) The tract’s population in 1970 was 3,379; in the latest estimates it was 1,851. Ninety-nine percent of the residents were black.
Today the neighborhood’s sole thriving business is the sidewalk sale of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. The dealers “make your block look bad and make people scared to visit you,” Henry says. But their 24-7 operations do serve as an effective neighborhood watch, she adds. “We don’t have to worry about people breaking in our houses or stealing our cars, ’cause they’re out there all the time.”
Chicago’s ghettos continued to expand after 1971, although at a slower pace. As southern blacks realized the Promised Land wasn’t that promising, their flow into Chicago reduced to a trickle. But whites kept departing for the suburbs, and so, on the south side, the frontier boundaries kept falling: Racine, then Ashland, then Damen, and, farther south, Western and California. As the ghettos grew and grew, and the poverty within them deepened and the violence raged on, the city’s leaders responded with their usual shrugs.
A few months after the shootings at 51st and Peoria, before all the whites fled, there was trouble at the local public grammar school, Sherman. Black parents complained to school administrators that their kids were being attacked and insulted by whites. A Sherman official told reporters the black parents weren’t being realistic. “When a community is in its change,” the official said, “things are going to happen.”
Once, when I was talking with the Navarros on the porch of their cottage, Audrey told me it was simply Sam’s nature to help Clark the way he did. “He always went for the underdog,” she said of her husband. To which Sam responded defensively, “Isn’t that a human reaction?”
Audrey died last year, at age 78. She’s buried next to Helene in a cemetery in south-suburban Evergreen Park. “We were married 62 years,” Sam Navarro says, “and that incident [Helene’s murder] brought us very close to breaking up. We kept trying to rationalize whose fault it was. Had Helene come to the garage with me, it wouldn’t have happened. If Audrey hadn’t have let her go to the corner, it wouldn’t have happened. You’re trying to rationalize where the blame lies. The blame lies with Duffie Clark.”
Time can soften anger, but in Navarro’s case it seems to have done the opposite. “The lack of having Helene—each day, it just became more and more unbearable,” he says. And so his bitterness toward Clark grew. He and Audrey adamantly opposed Clark’s parole and were furious when it was granted. “I’m too old now, I’m not getting around that good,” Navarro tells me. “Otherwise, I think I’d go after him. ‘Cause it bothers me that this man is still walking around, and my girl is rotting in her grave.” His eyes misting, he adds, “Every time you see a little blond girl go by, it’s Helene.”
Thinking about the trivial nature of the episode that preceded her death, and the intolerance behind it, only makes his loss more painful.
“If he’d have come to me about the windshield, I would have found who was responsible, and went to their parents and tried to get the money to repay him,” Navarro says. “The boys in the neighborhood probably would have called me a nigger lover again. But if someone’s just trying to live there, not bother anybody, why would you break their goddamn windshield?
“You gotta blame both sides,” he says. “The hate was preached on both sides. I didn’t teach my kids to hate like that. But apparently there were people in the neighborhood that did.”