Gwen knew the streets. Chicago's mean streets, growing up in the sixties and seventies, had taught her that her little sisters and brothers needed a guardian angel, at least someone to keep them from the elements that consign countless children in hardscrabble urban neighborhoods to poverty and hopelessness.
"My sister didn’t deserve the way she died. ...It still hurts me to this day. You can’t have closure when your wound is still open."
-Rose Pritchett, Gwen's sister
The family settled on the South Side, near 35th Street, in the shadow of the White Sox’s Comiskey Park, recalled the two youngest sisters, Audrey Blinstrup, 53, Sharon Pritchett, 49, born after the move to Chicago. Gwen was the consummate big sister—babysitting, cooking, and shielding her sisters and two brothers from hurt, harm and danger.
“She was a loving person. You never heard anything mean come out of her mouth. Never ever,” Blinstrup said.
She was also a “tough cookie,” even at only 5’4” and petite, with pretty brown eyes. Like the time, Lil Rose, now 57, recalled, when a group of little girls, likely jealous, were throwing spitballs at Gwen and her little sisters during service at the 39th Street Church of Christ. “Gwen said, ‘Don't worry, I’ll take care of this,’” said Lil Rose. She never knew what Gwen did. But the spitballs suddenly ceased.
Church on Sundays
|Gwendolyn Williams as a little girl.
Church on Sundays and several times during the week was the family’s routine. Even when Gwen was grown and gone, she knew enough whenever she visited home to bring her “church clothes” so she could attend Sunday morning worship.
Inasmuch as she was well versed in Bible teachings, Gwen had been baptized in the unforgiving lessons of the streets. She understood that the streets could be consuming, cold and cruel. That the streets could inflict lasting scars. Dissolve innocence like Alka Seltzer tablets, and entrap young women—and young men—in swirling waters from which they might never escape.
So she instructed her sisters: “I need you to stay straight.” She wanted them to finish school, to go to college, to grow up to be successful. She wanted them to “have more.”
And they did. Sharon earned a doctorate in business administration and currently works as a senior administrator for a major national health network. Audrey is an administrator at four Chicago area schools. Lil Rose is a caregiver at a nursing home. All three sisters say they are proud products of Gwen’s protection and that their big sister celebrated each and every graduation along the way, smiling for photos and basking in the glow of their achievements. There was, however, no protection for Gwen from Chi-Town’s streets.
|Gwendolyn Williams (on left) with one of her sisters.
Sharon is still haunted by the call that morning from police with news about Gwen. The night before Gwen had been at her house caring for her as she was mending from surgery. The two sisters had sat in bed watching movies, laughing, Gwen planting kisses on her sister’s dogs. Princess, a Dalmatian, still had Gwen’s red lipstick on her black-and-white spotted face when the phone rang with news of the murder.
The impact was greatest on their mother. A part of her died that day. She was never the same, although she mustered the strength to make arrangements to bury her child and to pick a dress in the mother’s favorite color: royal blue.
|Gwendolyn Williams (on right) holding baby sister.
“A life is a life. ...And a murderer is free to continue to go kill somebody else's sister or somebody else's daughter. It’s almost like we’re saying, 'go head and kill off the black women. Like you're saying, ‘It is okay 'cause it was just another black woman.’”
The sisters had hoped to tell their mother someday that Gwen’s killer had been found. She died September 30, 2018, the case still unsolved, despite evidence that had uncovered a suspect in recent years who has never been charged.
The Pain Lingers
“My sister didn’t deserve the way she died,” Rose Pritchett said. “And it still hurts me to this day... You can’t have closure when your wound is still open. …It’s still heartbreaking.”
Since Gwen’s murder, her siblings have gone back again and again to the site where her body was found. Drawn by memories, by unseen forces, still searching for answers, for resolution and for justice for Gwen who lies buried in a South Side cemetery a few feet from her mother in a royal blue dress.
Gwen the protector. A loyal big sister with a “heart of gold,” loving, true-blue. And forever Rosa Mae Pritchett’s baby girl.
|Gwendolyn Williams (second from right) poses with her sisters.