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Gary's Will $crilla returns to hip hop after 17 years in prison
Willie Terrell Wallace took the stage Oct. 6 at Gary's Area 51, a welcome home celebration for the rapper who was convicted 15 years ago of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Gerald Wrice in Hammond.
Wallace was paroled from prison May 19. He continued to write songs while incarcerated, drawing from his experiences behind bars.
“I kept my sponge wet,” he said. “I always got my sponge wet from guys with knowledge.”
Wallace, now 46, is grappling with his public image as he reboots his rap career.
He's in one breath the entrepreneurial son of a blue-collar mother – “a steel-toed-boot-type woman” – who rose to local fame in the late 1990s as the rapper Will $crilla and founder of record label Ignat/Sluefoot.
He's also “the voice of the streets” in Gary, not the booming steel town of the 1960s, but a city so awash in guns and drugs in the 1990s it became the nation's murder capital.
“By the time I was out of high school, I got into the street life,” he said. “I graduated with a diploma. I went into the streets.”
Those two images — the rapper and the gangster — collided at Wallace's murder trial.
Wrice, 20, was gunned down around midnight Sept. 14, 1999, during a street fight in Hammond's Maywood neighborhood.
Wrice was transported for multiple gunshot wounds to St. Margaret Hospital, where he allegedly identified Wallace as the shooter while on his death bed.
Wallace maintained at trial he and Wrice were locked in a wrestling match when two shots were fired, which caused him to run to a nearby relative's house.
Prosecutors alleged Wallace resorted to firearms after he was humiliated in a street fight with Wrice.
The jury found Wallace guilty of voluntary manslaughter.
Wallace maintains he didn't shoot Wrice, though he pointed out murder isn't the same as manslaughter, a crime committed in “sudden heat,” without premeditation and driven by an intense emotion.
Wallace's status as a local rapper played a significant role at his trial. He was questioned on the witness stand about his profane and violent lyrics, as well as the AK-47 depicted in his record label's logo.
“Who I am in the recording studio has nothing to do with who I am as a person,” Wallace testified.
Wallace maintains that's still the truth, but admits he's not a “fairly tale kind of guy.”
Wallace was born in Chicago, but raised from age 4 in Gary. His mother was a blue collar worker in a chemical plant and his mother's boyfriend a steelworker who ran a mechanic's shop from the family garage.
He attended Williams Elementary and Pulaski Middle School, where he was first chair on tenor saxophone.
He said his interest in music started at 5 or 6, listening to the soul and pop music of the 1970s. At age 11, he became more interested in the “phonics” of language.
He was introduced to hip hop in the 1980s through Sugar Hill Gang, Run DMC, Fat Boys and LL Cool J. His own fledgling craft began during that same time period.
“In middle school, these people would call me up and ask me to rap for them,” he said. “It was about the wittiest punchlines, it was about who made you laugh. We'd talk about dudes' shoes. It was a 'fight' or a 'duel.'”
He also began scraping together his allowance to buy records from shops on Broadway, which he used to DJ after-school parties.
“I was the guy with the milk crate of music,” he said.
His first public performance as a rapper was at the now-defunct Chez Crouton, at 17th Avenue and Grant Street in Gary. He said it was a “euphoric” experience, that cemented his love for performance.
“I didn't have the butterflies,” he said. “Some people might not believe that. The only fear I had was the fear of not being believable.”
Rapping is storytelling for Wallace. In prison he kept up with hip hop through radio and magazines, and laments modern rap's reliance on glossy production and dance beats.
“A lot rappers now are mumble rappers,” he said. “You can't make out what they're saying. They're not audible. It sounds good because the beats carry you — the beats make the production now.”
That philosophy about music also explains his frustration with how he was portrayed by the prosecutors at trial. In Wallace's mind, he is a performer and Will $crilla is his role.
“I'm entertainment,” he said. “Is it because I'm black, that I can't be a person different from who I played?”
But Wallace also insists he's not a “studio gangster,” someone who just profited off the gangster persona.
Wallace said he graduated high school and moved out from his parent's home. He sold drugs, crack cocaine and marijuana, from 1989 to 1996 in Gary, which he called “The Murder Cap.”
“What attracted me to it was it was glamorized,” he said. “They were the guys that got the accolades.”
He said poverty, gangs and a lack of education were other factors that drove him and others into drug dealing.
“There were skating rinks, and Boys and Girls clubs, but they didn't prepare you for anything,” he said about Gary. “They facilitated amusement. Nothing prepared you for moving forward in your life.”
In 1997, he began performing as Will $crilla. He incorporated Ignat/Sluefoot in 1999. That same year he was featured on a compilation album released by Laidback Records and Concord Affiliated. He also appeared in “Live and Die in G.I.,” a video about the rap scene in Gary, and formed The Grind Family, a rap super group representing The Region.
“That's when I took off,” he said.
The original members of The Grind Family were Will $crilla and Soope (now Soope Da Roadrunna) from Gary, Ric Jilla from Hammond, and COB, C-Ghetto and Whissit Ave. from East Chicago.
The group released the album "In The Grind We Trust, Vol. 1," in 1999.
Wallace said he was always entrepreneurial. He cut grass and packed boxes at the corner liquor store as a child to get pocket money. He said those same skills made him successful as an adult, both in rap and dope dealing.
“I made a lot of money,” he said, adding later. “I had an accountant named Sherry. I lived in a $250,000 house.”
All that was lost when he was sentenced in April 2002 to 35 years prison for Wrice's killing. He also faced an additional 4 ¼ years in prison for a federal firearm offense filed three days after the shooting of Wrice.
He continued to work while incarcerated. He obtained a drum machine and keyboards, and estimated he wrote about 500 songs in prison.
“I had guys who were around me who helped me, he said. “I learned a lot. I came across people from all walks of life, from millionaires to the poor, the educated, the crafty, the religious.”
Wallace obtained two associate's degrees, in general science and business management, and become a licensed landscaper through the Indiana Department of Labor. He also converted to Islam.
Wallace remained a popular local rap figure despite, or perhaps, because of the crime.
A clip from “Live or Die in G.I.,” which features Wallace rising from a casket holding fistfuls of cash before launching into “Photo Album,” has more than 65,000 views on Youtube. A music video for a new song by Wallace, called “Ghost from the Gutter,” was published Aug. 9 on Youtube. It already has more than 27,000 views.
“I'm blessed,” he said about his longtime fans. “I get a lot of love.”
Wallace has relaunched his rap career, beginning with a show Sept. 3 at Club Limelight in Indianapolis. He's also created a Facebook page, using the moniker Gary Dios, to sell merchandise and promote upcoming projects, including a new album, "I/E," or intellect over emotion.
Three artists are currently represented by Ignat/Sluefoot — Isaiah "Slimmattic" Griffin, 30, Aaron "Shotta" Nevils, 30, and Roxanne "Roxsy Love" Tucker, 28.
He said Soope Da Roadrunna, a member of the Grind Family, flew from New York with recording and video equipment to help get him restarted.
“I'm still a poster boy of the streets,” he said. “I can't escape that if I wanted to. That's my legacy. But it's not just about where I began — it's about where I end up.”
Griffith man taken to hospital in critical condition after New Year's Day crash
HIGHLAND — A Griffith man was taken to a Cook County hospital in critical condition Monday after a two-vehicle crash on U.S. 41.
Police said the crash happened about 1:48 p.m. in the 9400 block of U.S. 41 in Highland, according to police Cmdr. John Banasiak.
A preliminary investigation shows the first driver — a 55-year-old man from Los Angeles — was northbound on U.S. 41 in the outside lane when a Griffith driver attempted to make a left turn into the Easy Clean Car Wash, 9425 Indianapolis Blvd.
The first driver, unable to avoid the collision, struck the second driver's passenger side. The Griffith man in the second car had to extricated by Highland fire crews, Banasiak said.
He was first taken to Munster Community Hospital. He was then transported to Methodist Hospitals Northlake Campus in Gary and then to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Illinois in critical condition with mid-body injuries, Banasiak said.
The second driver from Los Angeles was taken to Munster Community Hospital with minor aches and pains as a precaution, police said.
A preliminary investigation shows the northbound driver from Los Angeles had the right-of-way, but an official cause is under investigation, he said.
The Highland Police Department is leading the investigation. The Lake County Sheriff's Accident Reconstruction Team assisted.
Additional information, including the victims' names, were not immediately available Monday.
Woman in 'Children for Sale' photo and brother still searching for answers
Two siblings tied to a historic photo of a woman and her children — behind a sign advertising "4 Children for Sale Inquire Within" — continue to search for answers nearly 70 years later.
RaeAnn Mills, of Washington, Indiana, was one of the four children on the stoop of the Chicago home of Ray and Lucille Chalifoux where the family lived in August 1948. The children in front of Lucille Chalifoux, 24, on that stoop included Lana, 6, RaeAnn, 5, Milton 4, and Sue Ellen, 2. One other child, born Bedford Chalifoux, was born in September 1949.
The picture was published in The Vidette-Messenger, of Valparaiso, on Aug. 5, 1948, as well as various other newspapers around the country. A story several days later in the Chicago Heights Star stated a Chicago Heights woman offered to open her home to the children and that offers of jobs, homes and financial assistance poured in.
Within two years of the photo being taken — which some family members believe was staged — the siblings went in different directions. Bedford Chalifoux was only 9 months old when he was adopted by Harry and Luella McDaniel and renamed David McDaniel.
In June 2013, The Times wrote about what happened to some of the children. Several weeks ago, The Times spoke again to the two surviving Chalifoux siblings — Mills and David McDaniel.
While Mills, 74, and McDaniel, 68, ended up with families only a couple of miles apart in Jasper County, Indiana, they had much different experiences growing up in the 1950s.
Mills and Milton Chalifoux told The Times in the 2013 article that their life with the late John and Ruth Zoeteman on a DeMotte farm was one of abuse and being treated as forced laborers. The two siblings were renamed Beverly and Kenneth Zoeteman after being taken in by the couple. They would use those names with each other for the rest of their lives.
Unlike McDaniel, who has adoption papers showing he was adopted, Milton Chalifoux told The Times that the Zoetemans were considered foster parents to him and his sister.
McDaniel doesn't recall exactly when his adoptive parents told him he was related to Milton and RaeAnn, other than it was before he was a teen. Mills said McDaniel was the one who then told her and Milton that he was their brother.
McDaniel remembers later going over to the Zoeteman home and finding his brother and sister tied up in the barn. After releasing them, McDaniel recalls how he was followed to his home by John Zoeteman. McDaniel's adopted father ended up stopping a possible confrontation between the young boy and the older man, he said.
McDaniel said that unlike his two siblings, he had a good childhood growing up in the small community of Kersey. McDaniel said he was a bit rebellious, though, and thought his adoptive father was overly religious. He left home when he was about 16½ and drifted a bit before eventually joining the military.
Despite leaving as a teen, McDaniel retained fond memories of the area and in August 2016, he moved to Wheatfield — about 5 miles from where he grew up — after reconnecting with a childhood sweetheart. He said he enjoys spending much of his leisure time these days fishing.
"It was a good place to be raised," he said of the small community.
FORGIVENESS AND BITTERNESS
While McDaniel is forgiving of his birth mother who gave him up for adoption, he continues to harbor hard feelings toward his birth father.
Reflecting on his birth mother's decision to give up the children, McDaniel asked, "What are you supposed to do? Your husband leaves you, you don't have a job and you're getting ready to be thrown out of your apartment; what are you supposed to do? And my opinion was, she was thinking about us kids."
McDaniel used an unflattering epithet to describe his birth father. "I mean, what father is going to father five children and then turn around and abandon them?"
He said he didn't know much about his father until later in life. Records that McDaniel gave to The Times earlier showed his birth mother was on public aid for several years and her husband abandoned her and the family. His birth father, according to the records, did "not return home because of a criminal record against him in Cook County, Illinois."
Still, McDaniel would like to know more about his father's life after he left the family. He wants to know whether his birth father fathered other children when he moved to New Jersey.
"I may have siblings out there, stepbrother or stepsister," he said. "It would be nice to know."
Mills feels differently than McDaniel when it comes to their birth father. She recalls that her birth mother told her their father had died when she was young, but Mills said their father actually was still alive when they were given away.
Mills, who believed she was named for her father, Ray, said she wanted to take her original name back for his sake.
COMING BACK TOGETHER
McDaniel has been busy reconnecting with family the past few years. He traveled to Tucson, Arizona, to visit Milton Chalifoux on his brother's 70th birthday, and talked to him daily until Milton Chalifoux died in December 2016. He also paid for Mills to come visit him in August 2013, when he lived in Roy, Washington.
"It was really good," Mills said of that visit. She stayed a week and visited various attractions in the area.
McDaniel's girlfriend, Bonnie Darner Dunlap, currently has a granddaughter who goes to Vincennes University, in Vincennes, Indiana, not far from where Mills lives with her family. When the pair go to visit her, McDaniel said he takes his sister, her husband and her son, Lance Gray, out to dinner.
Gray said it has been nice to get to know McDaniel, and it has led to an increased sense of belonging for him. Growing up, Gray noted, he was envious of others who had large families.
Mills and her son also briefly reunited with her sister, Sue Ellen Chalifoux, of Hammond, a couple of months before she died in July 2013. She was the fourth of the five siblings born to Ray and Lucille Chalifoux, and three years younger than Mills. McDaniel said he did not get to see Sue Ellen in person, but was able to speak with her before she died.
During her trip to see McDaniel in 2013, Mills also said she met with a daughter of their older sister, Lana, who died in 1997. Mills said the niece, Nancy, who lives in Vancouver, Washington, told her that "all my mom talked about was finding you before she died."
Mills said she still keeps in touch with that niece along with another daughter of her oldest sister. She also still has the last message that her brother, Milton Chalifoux, left her before he died, which ends with loving words.
"That's the last words I heard from him: 'Love you, Beverly,'" she said of her brother.
THE SEARCH FOR A DAUGHTER
Mills is hoping that she can fill another void by locating the daughter she was forced to give up years ago.
Mills recounted to The Times in 2013 how she was kidnapped, raped and got pregnant in her late teens. She was sent to Michigan to a home for unwed mothers, Mills said, and then brought the baby girl back to DeMotte.
Although the Zoetemans initially said she could keep the baby, Mills said, they eventually arranged for someone to take the child when the baby was 6 months old.
"That was my little girl and I wanted to keep her. Because, you know, my mother gave us away, and that is something I had on my own that I could love, but they took that away, too," she said. Mills was 17 years old at the time.
Her daughter would be 57 now. With the help of her son, McDaniel and his girlfriend, Mills continues to look for her. They have reached a dead end, but have not given up hope.
"It hurts me everyday that I don't have my baby," Mills said.
Mills left the Zoetemans home after her baby was taken away, and she never went back. She remembers reconnecting briefly with her birth mother years later, who remarried and had a second family, but that reunion did not end well. She has not stayed in touch with her four stepsisters.McDaniel, however, said he has developed a close relationship with one of the stepsisters.
McDaniel said he has mixed emotions about the earlier Times story detailing what happened to him and his siblings, because some of his stepsisters were hurt by it, he said. Perhaps, he speculated, he could have had a relationship with more of them if not for that story, and he does not want to cause any more pain.
"I don't want to hurt nobody's feelings, that's the thing," he said. "I'm too old to lose family."
Crime plummets at former Mansards apartment complex in Griffith, town overall
GRIFFITH — When The Mansards apartment complex was acquired 14 months ago by Bayshore Properties, there was more than a change of names. A change in the crime rate also took place — a dramatic improvement.
Since acquiring the troubled complex in October 2016, the Merrillville-based firm gave it a new name, Park West Apartments, and is making major upgrades to its image.
During last week's Town Council meeting, Police Chief Greg Mance noted that overall crime in the complex is down 39 percent. There was a 79 percent reduction in burglaries and thefts are down 48 percent.
"The numbers look very promising," Mance said, adding that crime also is down 18 percent across the town.
The complex broke ground in 1965 and welcomed its first tenants in 1972, property manager Miljan Lukajic said.
Known then as a luxurious apartment complex, its image was tarnished in recent years with increasing crime rates. But that image is changing through the mutual cooperation of Bayshore and the Griffith police.
In particular, Griffith Officer Tony Hemphill, on special assignment for the past 14 months, has helped facilitate the improved crime numbers.
Hemphill said the major issues have been reduced to simple parking squabbles.
"The extraordinary reduction in crime over the last year at the complex is an example of the excellent work done by Officer Hemphill and our entire police department," said Town Council President Rick Ryfa, R-3rd.
He said the old ownership frequently battled with town officials, and that it is great to work with a cooperative owner.
Lukajic said his firm is taking "a proactive rather than reactive approach" to eliminate problems before they happen, including a strict screening process for future tenants.
Residents of the complex have enjoyed the improvement.
"I did notice a difference," Susan Miller said. "I do see things getting better."
She said things have been improving within the last year, especially since the new ownership took over.
However, other residents haven't seen it as an issue.
"I never saw any crime in this building," Marilyn Rosen said of her 25 years as a tenant.
"Without our residents, Chief Mance, the Griffith Police Department and the Griffith Town Council, we could not have experienced this positive change in 2017," Lukajic said.
He said major upgrades have been done to exterior sidings, building entrance glass, the parking lots and exterior lighting to go along with the landscaping, signs, renovated refuse stations, hallway carpeting, a 24-hour fitness center and the Match Point Tennis facility.
As the future unfolds, Lukajic said there are plans to revitalize and expand the unique amenities that made the complex such an iconic place to live.
This will include improved landscaping at the main complex sign, updating the complex entry area, lakes/ponds and the swimming pool areas.
Ryfa said the housing and business markets have exploded all over Griffith.
"The northern corridor is a very important part of our town, and the Town Council will strive to see that its economic and quality of life improvements continue and expand," he said.
Fire Chief: Rumors of fire at Lake Central High School unfounded
ST. JOHN — Social media was abuzz Monday afternoon about a possible blaze at Lake Central High School, but the rumors turned out to be unfounded.
St. John Fire Chief Fred Willman said crews were dispatched to the school, 8400 Wicker Ave., at about 5:15 p.m. after receiving a call from someone who believed they saw smoke billowing from the school's roof.
Crews arrived to no fire, but instead vapor billowing from the outdoor air ventilation system that was drawing heat off of chemicals that treat the school's indoor swimming pool.
The vapor, when met with extreme cold air, appears thicker and mirrors that of smoke, he said. It's similar to when you see steam coming from the dryer vent outside your home, he added.
As a precaution, fire crews searched the building and checked the fire panels to make sure firefighters didn't miss anything.
"We had an inclination as to what it was," Willman said. "But we never assume anything. We found it not to be anything faulty or dangerous."
Willman said the vapor will continue but there's nothing to be worried about.
St. John Police Chief James Kveton sent a statement regarding the reports.
"I have received some calls and reports of social media posts regarding a video of a fire at Lake Central High School earlier this evening. These are false reports. Per police officers that were on the scene and the St. John Fire Department this was just vapors from the swimming pool system venting out into the very cold outside air," the statement said. "This is a vent that regularly operates but produced a more vivid visual effect due to the very low outdoor temperatures. There was no fire found at Lake Central High School."