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The price of intolerance, part 2

Forty years after racial tensions escalated to tragedy in a south-side neighborhood, Duffie Clark maintains that someone else pulled the trigger.


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.

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