|Joanne Signa poses with the Stanley Cup in 2015. | Facebook
Guilty pleas from two men have brought an end to one of the most violent, vicious crimes in recent Lakeview history. What happened early one January morning in 2016 changed the fabric of the neighborhood for many residents. It prompted others to launch one of the city’s first privately-funded armed security patrols. And it irreversibly altered the life of a 77-year-old woman who had called Lakeview her home for decades.
Sometime after midnight on January 9th, 2016, eighteen-year-old Eli R. Ruff of Englewood; 19-year-old Lilearl T. Taylor of Grand Crossing; and 19-year-old Tracie J. Towbridge of Roseland kicked in the back door of Joanne Signa’s home in the 3600 block of North Magnolia. Just two blocks from Wrigley Field, the three men beat her repeatedly. She was knocked to the bedroom floor. The men stomped her head whenever she made a sound or moved, prosecutors would later say.
For Ruff, Taylor, and Towbridge, the break-in was a violent escalation in a series of burglaries and robberies the trio was suspected of committing across Lakeview that winter. (Shortly before entering Signa’s home, Taylor mugged a woman near the Belmont Red Line station, causing her to suffer a concussion, prosecutors would allege.)
|Left to right: Ruff, Taylor, and Towbridge | Chicago Police Department
Possibly hours after first entering Signa’s home, the three men kicked down the back door to the second-floor rental unit. The tenant called police. An officer, just starting his shift, arrived at the house alone around 6:15 a.m. Without waiting for back-up, the lone officer entered Signa’s unit and found her bleeding on the floor.
|Signa’s crashed car in an ABC7 video grab. | ABC7Chicago
Less than an hour later, Ruff, Taylor, and Towbridge were taken into custody when they crashed Signa’s car on the Dan Ryan Expressway. Taylor had fallen asleep at the wheel while driving it.
Joanne Signa—a long-time volunteer at nearby St. Andrew Parish—suffered severe head injuries and trauma in the attack that morning. She has never been back inside her home, a neighbor told us recently. The men left her blinded in one eye. When we last spoke with her neighbor this spring, Joanne was in an assisted living facility.
“I was sickened by this attack,” the neighbor told us. “I am very upset to this day. Upset as in pissed off.”
Last Friday, Eli Ruff pleaded guilty to one count of Class X felony home invasion causing injury. Judge James Obbish sentenced him to 20 years in prison with at least 85% of the time to be served behind bars. Ruff was given 923 days credit for time served.
Yesterday, Tracie Towbridge pleaded guilty to the same charge as Ruff. Obbish sentenced him to 13 years with at least 85% of the time to be served. He was given 929 days credit for time served.
The third man, Lilearl Taylor, pleaded guilty in April to home invasion and was sentenced by Obbish to 20 years with 85% to be served. His parole date is set for December 30, 2032.
Prosecutors dropped numerous felony robbery, burglary, aggravated battery, and theft charges against all three men in exchange for their guilty pleas. Combined, they were charged and suspected of being involved in nearly a dozen burglaries and robberies in Lakeview.
In the months following the attack on Signa, people who live in her part of Lakeview banded together to pay for one of Chicago’s first privately-financed armed security patrols, the Southport Community Alliance.
The alliance, supported by over 100 donor families, provides off-duty police patrols in the area between Southport, Ashland, Grace, and Roscoe. A similar armed patrol was later established by residents who live between Barry, Ashland, Roscoe, and Racine. And the Chicago Cubs have since begun paying for community patrols near Wrigley Field during critical periods.