Singer-actress Jennifer Hudson’s brother, mother and nephew were killed by her sister’s ex. But why?
As people finished their breakfast and left for work on 24 October 2008, gunshots rang out in Englewood, Chicago.
Little did anyone know that Grammy and Oscar award-winning singer and actress Jennifer Hudson’s family had just been brutally murdered – by her brother-in-law.
At around 9am, William Balfour, then 27, sneaked into their home and shot dead her mum Darnell Donerson, 57, and brother Jason Hudson, 29.
They were found at 3pm, when Jennifer’s sister Julia – Balfour’s ex-wife – arrived home. Jennifer’s 7-year-old nephew Julian was found dead in the back of a van three days later. He’d been shot in the head.
Balfour had shot Darnell in the back, then Jason twice in the head as he lay in bed.
When police arrived, there was blood everywhere and Julian was missing.
It wasn’t the first time Balfour had broken the law. A career criminal, before he was even 14, he’d been arrested for heroin possession and possession of a stolen vehicle.
He’d had a troubled childhood, having been given up by his mum and put into care in 1996.
Contact with his father was also limited, as he’d been jailed for 30 years in 1987 for murder. And Balfour’s grandmother had been jailed, too, in 1969, for manslaughter.
Some said Balfour showed a different, more endearing side at times. He worked part-time at a restaurant, and was friendly with co-workers.
In high school, his teachers said he enjoyed Maths and Biology, and even spoke of becoming an architect.
But, from a young age, he’d suffered with depression and insomnia, and told doctors he smoked marijuana to repress thoughts of hurting others.
During his teens, Balfour was in and out of prison or living on the streets. He joined a gang called the Gangster Disciples – and, at 17, he was convicted of attempted murder.
In November 1998, a 48-year-old man had caught Balfour stealing his vehicle.
In a bid to stop him, the man jumped on the luggage rack. But, instead of stopping, Balfour had sped up, leading police on a high-speed chase around South Side, and along the Dan Ryan Expressway.
Balfour hit 100mph as he tried to shake the man from the roof.
He eventually crashed the car into a telephone pole, seriously injuring the man.
Balfour was arrested, and later pleaded guilty to attempted murder and vehicular hijacking.
He was jailed for seven years. Then, on his release in 2006, he rekindled his romance with former flame Julia Hudson, who he’d met at high school.
Apparently, Jennifer had begged Julia not to marry Balfour because she didn’t like the way he treated her.
But, after a whirlwind romance, they eloped, and Balfour became stepdad to Julian – the boy he’d later brutally murder.
It wasn’t long before Balfour and Julia started arguing, and the fights soon became physical.
In early 2008, they split up, but Balfour continued to show up at Julia’s house. And the death threats began…
Julia said Balfour would regularly threaten to kill her.
It was only in September, a month before that fateful day, that Julia found the courage to tell Balfour it would never work.
Yet, he refused to see sense.
In the weeks following, Balfour was seen in the neighbourhood, spying on his ex.
And, around a week before the savage massacre, Julia had bumped into him while driving her school-bus route.
He told her he’d shown up at her work earlier to kill her, and thought about taking Julian.
On the day of the murders, Balfour spotted a gift of balloons in the house, which he believed were from Julia’s new boyfriend.
Balfour flew into a jealous rage – and, just a few hours later, Julia returned home to find her brother and mother dead.
Running into the street, she called 911, saying, ‘Someone’s killed my mum,’ and explaining that her son was missing.
When Balfour missed his parole meeting, alarm bells started ringing. Police tracked him down, hoping Julian would be with him. But he wasn’t.
Balfour was arrested – and, when his alibi didn’t match a friend’s who was also questioned, he was remanded in custody.
Meanwhile, Jennifer offered a $100,000 reward (around £75,000) for Julian’s safe return… Sadly, it was too late.
Three days later, the sweet 7-year-old’s body was found in an abandoned van.
Afterwards, neighbours gathered in candlelit vigils.
As the police and Forensics gathered evidence, Balfour was kept in custody.
Finally, in December 2008, he was charged with three murders. The prosecution used his mobile-phone records to place him near the scene of the crime, and found gun residue on his clothing and car steering wheel.
He claimed this evidence was planted by the police.
But, in May 2012, William Balfour, 31, was found guilty of home invasion, aggravated kidnapping, residential burglary, possessing a stolen vehicle and three counts of first-degree murder.
On 24 July 2012, he was handed three life sentences with no possibility of parole. In 2015, he lost an appeal.
Balfour maintains his innocence to this day. But the overwhelming evidence puts him firmly in the frame.
For Jennifer Hudson and her family, the heartbreak and grief will never end.