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One of the Boys

Kurt Landrum let just about anyone into his house for video games and good times. One guest turned out to be his killer.



On Tuesday morning, there were two funerals on 79th Street between State and Wabash. On the north side, at Carter Temple C.M.E. Church, the Reverend Charles Shyne and his wife, Verlena, lay in state. They were famous all over the south side, so when they were killed by a drunk driver they were eulogized with TV news reports and hymns on the radio.

On the other side of the street, at the C.B. Taylor Funeral Home, was a service for Kurt Landrum, a 35-year-old who was shot to death in a robbery last week. Landrum was well-known only around the corner of Sheridan and Pratt, but he was the most popular man on his block. The parlor's pews were filled with neighbors who had taken off work and driven 20 miles to see him one last time.

Landrum, who was raised in Roseland but had lived in Rogers Park for the last 11 years, was famous for his barbecues and for late-night PlayStation marathons where all the teenagers in his building were welcome. Most nights he'd fire up the video games, and a crew would rotate through his apartment. He sometimes held tournaments. He didn't always win, but it didn't matter. He was surrounded by friends.

"Even though he was a grown man, he had a kid's heart, he loved to play video games, watched wrestling with us," said Chris Miller, a teenager from across the courtyard.

For the last few years Landrum had worked as a limousine driver. He was always good for a ride in the Lincoln Town Car. When Carla Popper went into labor, she paged Landrum at 1:30 in the morning, and he drove her to the hospital.

"He had the Town Car," said Popper, a cashier at the White Hen Pantry across the street from Landrum's apartment. They often joshed each other when he came in to buy candy. "He saw my son Joshua a couple times, and he used to say, 'Oh, I saw you on the way to the hospital before you were born.'"

The police will say only this about Landrum's murder: he answered a knock at his back door, an argument ensued, and he was shot twice, once in the ribs, once in the left arm.

The neighbors give a more detailed account. According to a man who works a few doors away, Landrum was watching television with a few friends on the night of November 7. There was a knock at the door. "He let a couple of guys in," said the neighbor, who asked not to be identified, since the killers are still on the loose. "They went back to the kitchen, and they decided they'd turn it into a robbery."

One of the men walked into the living room, where he forced Landrum's friends to blindfold themselves with duct tape. Then he returned to the kitchen, where Landrum was being held at gunpoint. Realizing he was about to be shot, Landrum made a break for the back door. As he ran into the paved courtyard, he was hit by bullets from a .22-caliber pistol. Shouting "Call the police! Call the police!" he staggered before collapsing about 100 feet from his door.

The killers stole only the Sony PlayStation and fled out the front door. Landrum's friends gave chase. One retrieved a gun from his car and fired at the killers' brown-and-tan van as it sped through the alley between Columbia and Pratt. The shots broke the windows of a restaurant, and "they may have hit that van too," said the neighbor, who ran out his back door after hearing the gunshots in the alley. He found Landrum's friends crouched over his dying body, "asking Kurt, 'Who is it? What did he look like?' But Kurt was barely breathing. They told me he flatlined in the ambulance."

Adrienne Jett, Landrum's sister in every way but blood, flew in from Los Angeles to close up his house. She owed him--he'd driven her moving van out to California this summer.

"We had the best time," she remembered. "We went cross-country in a 15-foot trailer. I videotaped the whole thing. I took him to Venice Beach. I've got videotapes of him dancing with half-naked women, just grinnin' like a Cheshire cat."

The day before the funeral, Jett was standing in front of Landrum's apartment, waiting to welcome a police detective. She was wearing one of his floppy hats, his jacket, and a rubber bracelet she said she had given him 22 years before.

"It was for our love, and how he's the best brother," she said. "Now it's never coming off."

Jett was also the caretaker of a shrine that had appeared in Landrum's doorway. Dollar store candles burned on the threshold, a Mylar balloon twirled in the wind, flowers were already shriveling. A sheet of poster board over the window served as a giant condolence card: "To a man that showed me how to be a man. Thank you, Kurt." "R.I.P. Kurt. See you when I get there. T." A teenage boy Landrum had befriended rode his bike in circles up and down the block, looking morose.

Sean Patrick, who studies martial arts at the dojo down the street, stopped and wrote, "R.I.P. Love Always, Big Sean." Then he rapped the door twice, gently, the way you'd punch a friend on the arm. The sound brought Jett to the door.

"Who knocked?" she asked.

"I was just giving him my love," Patrick said.

Another friend talked about memorializing Landrum with the kind of party he loved: "Probably what we'll do, the boys'll all be here, and we'll videotape us talking about him, and send it to the family. The boys, the crew, boys from the neighborhood between 14 and their 40s."

On Tuesday afternoon, after Landrum was buried at Mount Glenwood Memory Gardens West in Willow Springs, his mother, Florence Dowdell, who now lives in Richmond, Virginia, remembered her son as a boy so outgoing he had to be reminded that strangers could be dangerous: "As an only child I had to tell him, 'Not everybody is a friend.'"

Most people on the block are sure that Landrum was killed by someone he knew. He opened his door to almost everyone--people who needed cigarettes, people who needed to borrow money, people who wanted to talk. One day he let the wrong people in.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jim Newberry.

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