An ongoing struggle between rival gangs in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood may be at the root of last week’s middle of the night murder of Clarence Haven Fambro, Jr., 23, on Division Street in Oak Park.

There have been a number of shootings in the West Side neighborhood recently, reportedly the result of tensions between two street gangs. Two Oak Park and River Forest High School students were shot and a 17-year-old Austin resident killed outside a house party near Long Avenue and Iowa Street in Austin shortly after midnight Sept. 7. A week earlier, three people were shot in the street in the 3200 block of West 16th Street. A 17 year old died and two other teens were injured.

Oak Park police are “optimistic” they can solve Fambro’s murder and continue to conduct interviews as part of the ongoing investigation into the crime committed early last Wednesday morning.

Fambro, of the 5500 block of West Fulton Street on the West Side, was shot in the back at least once. Fambro, who had an extensive criminal record, was found lying in Division Street just east of Cuyler Avenue shortly before 3 a.m. Wednesday. One witness reportedly said he was still breathing immediately after police arrived, but stopped within a minute. Paramedics attempted to treat Fambro, but he was unresponsive and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley identified Fambro as an active street gang member, with 17 arrests and 24 convictions, most for drug and weapons violations. He had been paroled last November from the Western Illinois Correctional Center after serving one year on a three year sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Tanksley said the killing was a “spillover” incident from events that began in Chicago. Police said it appeared likely that Fambro, who did not own a car, was driven to the Division Avenue site by others before being shot.

Division Street is one of several east/west thoroughfares through the Village of Oak Park that serve as routes between the West Side of Chicago and the western suburbs.

Deputy Oak Park Police Chief Bob Scianna said Monday the investigation into Fambro’s murder is “progressing well.”

“There is progress, but nothing that’s resulted in an arrest,” said Scianna. “I’m very optimistic about this.”

Tanksley stressed that while the circumstances leading to Fambro’s killing may have begun in the city, Oak Park wasn’t shifting responsibility.

“This is our homicide,” he said. Tanksley said Oak Park police have been working closely with Austin’s 15th District cops and Area 5 Division officers regarding gang and narcotics issues.

“There is ongoing violent gang activity, and the city is addressing that,” he said. “They’ve been pulling out all the stops.” Tanksley noted that 15th District Commander Alfonza Wysinger is a former gang and narcotics division commander.

“He’s working hard on this,” said Tanksley.

Chicago police spokesman Pat Camden said that while he could confirm that there has been a struggle between West Side gangs, it was impossible to attribute a motive until arrests are made.

“Has there been an ongoing dispute between gangs? Sure there has,” said Camden.

“But until we get the (shooter), we can’t know the motive for sure. We don’t know what the original circumstances were here.”

The last time West Side gang violence spilled into Oak Park was three years ago. On Jan. 9, 2004, reputed Mafia Insane Vice Lord gang member Keith Blackwell, 41, was shot near Augusta and Pine in Austin. Blackwell drove himself to West Suburban Hospital, but his assailants caught up with him there and shot him again. He was rushed inside the hospital where he later died. At the time of his death, Blackwell, who had a criminal record dating back 18 years, was scheduled to appear in criminal court in Maywood on two separate charges of unlawful use of a weapon.

Oak Park neighbors say police arrived very quickly after last week’s incident, in one case before one couple could call 911. Police closed off traffic on Ridgeland Avenue just west of the scene, and two blocks on Division between Ridgeland and Harvey, as well as 200 feet of the 800 block of North Cuyler.

Flood lights were brought in to aid the search for any evidence. There were two fresh patches on the parkway where it appeared that five inch square tuffs of grass had been cut out for evidence.

Joyce Philippi, who lives several doors down from the scene, said she and her husband were awake at the time, and heard “four or five” gun shots.”

“I said to my husband, that doesn’t sound like fireworks,” said Philippi, who said police were already on scene when her husband stepped outside to see what had happened.

Neither Philippi nor her neighbor, Kris Gallagher, heard a car leave, but Gallagher said she was awakened by loud voices.

“It was very brief, one, possibly two sentences,” said Gallagher. Then a “loud sound.”

 


Correction

In the Sept. 13, Austin Weekly News article titled Oak Park students shot in Austin, Jerel Smith, 17, is actually a resident of Austin. Wednesday Journal regrets the error.