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Amanda Lynn WALLACE

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - 20-year history of psychotic behavior
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: April 19, 1993
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: July 24, 1965
Victim profile: Her 2-year-old son, Joseph
Method of murder: Hanging (she tied an extension cord in a bow around his neck, said goodbye and hanged him from a transom)
Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison without parole on July 25, 1996. Strangled herself in her prison cell on August 3, 1997
 
 
 
 
 
 

Joseph R. Wallace (July 29, 1990 April 19, 1993) was a two-year-old boy who was murdered by his mother in their Chicago, Illinois apartment. The circumstances of Wallace's death and the ensuing public outcry precipitated large changes in the Illinois child welfare system and the Cook County juvenile court.

Wallace's mother, Amanda Wallace, was known to be mentally ill. Despite this, Joseph and his younger brother Joshua were removed from a foster family and returned to their mother. Amanda killed Joseph with an electrical cord.

 
 

Peace Comes To Amanda Wallace

ChicagoTribune.com

August 5, 1997

Amanda Wallace has taken another life, this time her own. She died Sunday, three days after she strangled herself in her prison cell. For anyone who has been committed to protecting Illinois' most vulnerable children, the news had to be cause for contemplation.

The last time she took a life, it was that of her 3-year-old son, Joseph. She stood him on a chair and tied a cord around his neck and kicked away the chair, and all of Chicago reacted with revulsion.

Within a year of his 1993 murder, police discovered 19 children living in inhumane conditions at the infamous house on Keystone Avenue, and a 5-year-old boy named Clifford Triplett was brought to a Chicago hospital so malnourished that he weighed but 18 pounds. It was a horrible year for vulnerable children.

Joseph's death was cause for a reckoning in Illinois. People realized you can't dump 75 children on one Department of Children and Family Services caseworker and expect that caseworker to protect every child. Today DCFS has fewer paper-shufflers and far more people on the front lines protecting children.

People realized that they couldn't tolerate courts that handled kids like widgets on an assembly line. Today the Juvenile Court in Cook County has more judges and, just as important, more judges who recognize their first priority is to keep children safe from harm.

The years since Joseph's death have been relatively quiet for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, the agency charged with protecting children like him. They've been quiet at least in terms of those belief-defying cases of torture and mindless neglect that jangle the nerves. And that's a relief.

Things have been quiet, but that isn't to say that each day children aren't beaten, burned, sexually assaulted or subjected to other cruelties that simmer just below what happened to Joseph Wallace. At the least, though, there is a greater sense that when these children come to the state's attention, the state has half a chance of saving them from further harm.

Amanda Wallace has taken another life, but this time there is no public revulsion, no call for action in the legislature.

When one reflects on the life and death of Amanda Wallace, the dominant sentiment is pity, and even a sense of relief. She wasn't so much evil as desperately ill. She was spared the death penalty after her conviction for killing Joseph, but sentenced to a life with the demons inside her. Now, one hopes, she has found some peace.

 
 

Mother Sentenced to Life in a Killing That Shook Chicago

By Don Terry - The New York Times

July 26, 1996

It was a crime that convulsed this city. On a spring day three years ago, Amanda Wallace wrapped a brown extension cord around the neck of her 3-year-old son, Joey, waved to him as he waved goodbye, and hanged him from a transom.

His death became a lightning rod for critics of the Illinois child welfare system, much as the death of 7-year-old Elisa Izquierdo, who died at the hands of her mother in New York City. Joey's hanging forced sweeping changes in the state's child welfare system and led to the dismissals of the administrators who had insisted on returning him to his mother from foster care even though psychiatrists had warned that his mother was mentally unstable and might well kill him.

Over the past four days, another chapter in the tale of the hanging and bureaucratic blunders has unfolded during Amanda Wallace's sentencing hearing in a third-floor courtroom here, as the state that failed to protect Joey argued that his mother should be put to death.

Today, Judge Michael B. Bolan of Cook County Circuit Court said that sentencing Ms. Wallace to death might be the most merciful thing for the defendant but that it would not help society. He sentenced Ms. Wallace to life in prison without parole.

As she was escorted out of the courtroom, Ms. Wallace looked up at the judge and said, "Thank you, Your Honor."

Jack O'Malley, the Cook County State's Attorney whose office prosecuted the case, said: "I'm not disappointed. The judge seems to be saying that this is not a situation where you send a message of deterrence to others. We are relieved that this woman will spend the rest of her life in prison and not hurt anyone else."

Before he imposed the sentence, Judge Bolan listened to closing arguments in which the prosecutor, Jeanne Bischoff, said Ms. Wallace had had a history of violence and was "evil personified," adding, "No-one has mastered the abuse excuse better than Amanda Wallace." Ms. Wallace was abused at the hands of her own mother.

Ms. Bischoff said, "If this woman is crazy, she is crazy like a fox."

The defense lawyer, Jimmie L. Jones, carried in three cardboard boxes and put them on the courtroom's gray carpet. They contained just some of Ms. Wallace's records from mental hospitals, Mr. Jones said. "It's time Amanda Wallace received some compassion," he said.

Last month, Ms. Wallace, who turned 31 on Wednesday, was convicted of murder after delays and questions about her fitness to stand trial. Judge Bolan had originally declared her unfit but reversed himself last year after psychiatrists determined that she was competent.

"Everyone in the system failed Joey Wallace, including me," Patrick T. Murphy, the Cook County Guardian, whose charge is to represent children and the elderly in court, said in a telephone interview. "We failed horribly by returning him to her. She is very, very insane. But we're all getting off scot-free. She's going to spend the rest of her life in prison."

Mr. Murphy said his office had erred by failing to fight a judge's order to return Joseph to his mother.

After Joey was killed, three social workers and administrators responsible for protecting him were dismissed and new laws were enacted that reversed the longtime emphasis on reuniting families and instead required the child welfare system to consider first the best interests of the child. Foster parents were also given an increased role in determining when it was safe to return a child to a troubled parent. Joey's foster mother pleaded with the system not to return him.

"Did the Amanda Wallace case result in more than some people getting fired?" Jess McDonald, the director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, said today in an interview. "The answer is yes. Changes in law, changes in training, changes in the way things are done."

But the changes have not been enough, said Michelle Oberman, a law professor at DePaul University, who studies mothers who kill their children. The Illinois child-welfare agency and others like it across the country continue to be under financed and poorly staffed, she said, adding, "What really frustrates me about this case is that we're trying to purge our guilt as a society by punishing a woman who everyone knew could not do the job of parenting."

Ms. Wallace grew from a troubled little girl into a deeply disturbed woman in a long list of foster homes and mental institutions. Before her ninth birthday, she had begun a well-documented lifetime habit of self-destruction: swallowing glass and nails, stabbing herself bloody with needles and setting fire to her bed.

When she was not hurting herself, her mother was hurting her. She locked the child in a dark closet for hours without food or water and whipped her with extension cords. The mother, Bonnie, testified for the prosecution on Monday and said that her daughter had started running away from home when she was 7 years old "anytime she could get out."

"I whipped her butt," Bonnie Wallace said. "I didn't beat her." She said Ms. Wallace was sent to live with in a foster home when she was 8 but was transferred to a mental hospital after setting fire to her bed.

Today, Evelyn Walker, Amanda's older sister, testified for the defense that when she was 11, she wet her bed. Her mother punished her by whipping her with an extension cord. Then, as 2-year-old Amanda watched, their mother placed Evelyn on a stool, wrapped the cord around her neck and looped it around a light bulb hanging from the ceiling. She then kicked away the stool, but Evelyn fell to the floor unharmed.

Ms. Wallace did not see her mother testify. On Monday, she erupted at the judge as he recited some of the details of Joey's last moments.

She pushed back her chair at the defense table and began walking toward the jail lockup. Judge Bolan ordered her to stop and two members of the Cook County Sheriff's SWAT team assigned to guard Ms. Wallace grabbed her wrists and dragged her before the bench.

"I'm not listening," Ms. Wallace said.

"Yes, you are," the judge said.

She struggled with the guards, who held her in place.

"You're not my God," she told the judge, sprinkling her statements with profanities. "I did not do this."

"You hung Joey," he said.

After a few minutes, Judge Bolan ordered the guards to take her to a holding cell, where she could hear the courtroom through a speaker.

But as her mother testified a guard came into the courtroom to report that Ms. Wallace had tried to strangle herself with a jail undershirt.

The judge dismissed the incident.

Dr. Clotiel J. Harris, a psychologist, who has known Ms. Wallace since she was 7 years old, was in court and watched Ms. Wallace's outburst. "She has been mentally institutionalized for most of her life," Dr. Harris said. "It's absolutely ridiculous to even think of executing someone like Amanda Wallace. She is ill. What is society's excuse. How did we become so mean?"

 
 

Last Act In A Tragedy: Life In Prison For Amanda Wallace

Murdered Son Might Be Catalyst For Hope

Juvenile Court And Dcfs Reforms Could Be The Legacy Of Joseph Wallace

By Louise Kiernan - ChicagoTribune.com

July 26, 1996

At the foot of a small hill in a Northbrook cemetery rest the remains of a 3-year-old boy buried with a "Sesame Street" videotape by his side.

Of the many places to look for signs that Joseph Wallace's death meant something more than another ugly story of the horror a parent can inflict on a child, his grave might offer the only irrefutable evidence that time has, indeed, wrought change.

Dead grass obscures the edges of the flat marker for "Joe Moe." A scraggly pine tree planted by his foster parents now stands about 2 1/2 feet tall.

Some greater consequences for Joseph's murder will undoubtedly be suffered, too, in the prison where his mother, Amanda Wallace, must live out the rest of her days, paying for her crime in whatever ways her troubled mind and heart can.

On Thursday, Cook County Circuit Judge Michael Bolan sentenced her to life in prison without parole. He could have imposed the death penalty but chose not to--and Wallace muttered her thanks to the bench.

Earlier in the day, Wallace's oldest sister, Evelyn Walker, had commented: "Everybody had a hand in Joey's death--my mother, my sister, DCFS, even me. Everyone who had a hand in his case is responsible for Joey's death."

Bolan's decision meted out society's punishment to Wallace, who was herself an abused child, and concluded in one sense this disturbing case. But the accounting for society's failure to protect Joseph from her remains murky.

More than three years after his murder provoked a maelstrom of political and public outcry, the state system that unintentionally sent Joseph to his death by repeatedly returning him to his violent and mentally ill mother has not changed so much as the initial clamor promised nor so little as cynics may suspect. But more children than ever--50,000 young lives--are in its hands.

Most people say, with a silent knock on wood, that Joseph Wallace would not die now.

Enough has improved that someone--a lawyer, a caseworker, a judge--would almost certainly halt the slow-motion fall that began before Joseph was born, when his pregnant mother mutilated her womb, and concluded in the early hours of April 19, 1993, when she tied an extension cord in a bow around his neck, said goodbye and hanged him from a transom in the family's West Side apartment.

Yet the sheer awfulness of what happened to Joseph Wallace provoked so much fear among the people who make decisions about the lives of abused children that it created another set of problems.

No one wanted to risk another murder, and as a consequence, an already sluggish system locked up.

More children were taken from their parents and fewer were returned home. Instead, they drifted through foster care while their cases languished in the hands of people scared that any choice would be the wrong one. Only now does the paralysis appear to be easing.

Many flaws clearly persist in the long-troubled system, and one needs look no further than Joseph's younger brother, Joshua, to find evidence of them. Still legally bound to his mother, he has been in the state's care and without a permanent home since the day of the murder.

Some of the reforms most likely to improve children's lives, while certainly influenced by the Wallace case, are not those that arose in the frenzied weeks following revelations that Wallace regained custody of her children despite her well-documented history of violent and bizarre behavior. Instead, these changes result from much broader, slower shifts.

The most dramatic improvements lie within the gleaming white walls of the Cook County Juvenile Court building on the West Side.

Dismissed three years ago by one task force investigating the Wallace case as a "huge, unworkable failure," the Juvenile Court system now harbors a few glints of hope as bright as the sunlight that plays along the glass bricks lining the waiting areas.

After the building opened in January 1994, the number of judges hearing abuse and neglect cases doubled to 14, and another judge has since been added.

More important than the quantity of new judges, however, is their quality.

Juvenile Court has long been considered a judicial dumping ground, but attorneys and workers on all sides of abuse and neglect cases cite the caliber of the judges as the most significant change.

"We have intelligent, hard-working, progressive judges here, which never happened before," said Cook County Public Guardian Patrick Murphy, a frequent critic of the court, whose office represents children in abuse and neglect cases.

Last year, Circuit Court Chief Judge Donald O'Connell split Juvenile Court into two divisions--juvenile justice and child protection--as part of his plan to overhaul the court.

He named Judge Nancy Sidote Salyers to preside over child protection. During her tenure, the court has made dents in clearing up backlogs, devoted three courts to terminating abusive parents' rights and fixed other long-standing problems such as coordinating cases so all the children in one family appear before the same judge.

The Cook County Board has also budgeted $4 million to buy a computer system to replace one from 1974. And, after several delays, hearing officers hired to ease judges' workloads are helping to determine whether children should ultimately be returned home or put up for adoption.

Caseloads, although halved in 1994, remain crushing. Each judge is responsible for about 3,500 children, and attorneys in the child-protection courtrooms routinely handle 300 or more cases apiece.

Frustration surfaced as recently as Tuesday, when one-third of the court's assistant public defenders called in sick in an apparent protest of the heavy workloads and staff shortages that make transfers out of Juvenile Court difficult.

Court workers are swimming against a tide of new cases. More than 17,000 children have entered the child-welfare system since Joseph died. His murder helped increase the stagnant pool of old cases because it seemed safer to keep children in foster care indefinitely than to risk returning them home.

Assessing the Wallace case, Salyers said: "It almost seems that everything that could go wrong with it did go wrong.

"It was such a stunning tragedy that everyone lost their confidence. As a result, it's taken years of additional training to get that confidence back up to make those hard but good decisions. And some of those decisions, obviously, are to reunite families."

Some observers say caseworkers, judges and lawyers still remain skittish about sending children back to their parents. "When have you ever read a headline `Judge slow to reunify family'? " asked one attorney.

But there are some signs of movement. In each of the last four months, the court closed more abuse and neglect cases than it opened.

"I am still cautious because it's not a trend yet," O'Connell said, "but there has been a leveling off and we hope it continues."

The massive influx of children into the care of the Department of Children and Family Services also appears to be slowing somewhat, but reforms at the agency remain more difficult to assess.

Murphy asserts the agency "hasn't gotten better, but it hasn't gotten better for a variety of reasons."

Some things, however, have improved. Caseloads are half what they were five years ago (about 25 children per worker, according to Director Jess McDonald). Foster parents have more of a say, at least under the law, in what happens to their young charges. An inspector general provides independent oversight of DCFS' workings. The agency is developing a program to better train workers to assess risk.

DCFS announced this week an overhaul of its most ambitious reform effort, which grew out of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in 1988.

The new plan, which must be approved by a federal judge, would replace specific requirements--for example, the number of children per caseworker--with the more general goal of making children safer.

Critics say the plan is an acknowledgment that previous reforms failed, but McDonald says it refocuses the agency on its mission.

"What do you want the system to do?" he asked. "You want it to make children safer. It should be obvious, but that's one of the reasons the system got sued in the first place."

Similarly, the impact of the most publicized reform stemming from the Wallace case, the "best-interest" law, is unclear at best. The state law, implemented within two months of Joseph's death, puts the best interests of children first at all stages of Juvenile Court proceedings, replacing language saying the courts should reunify families whenever possible.

"There clearly was a major impact on everything that goes on in Juvenile Court (from the Wallace case), and it's still being felt," said Bruce Boyer, supervising attorney with Children and Family Justice Center of Northwestern University Law School. "But it would have happened without regard to what was going on in Springfield. It wasn't so much a legal change as a change in attitude."

Still, that law gives comfort to the woman who cared for Joseph for much of his short life, foster parent Faye Callahan.

"You hear that statement a lot, `best interests of the child,' " she said. "So, maybe that's Joe's legacy. The awareness of that statement."

Another legacy continues in the Park Ridge home where she and her husband, Michael, live. The Callahans continue to care for foster children and have adopted a state ward who is now 3 years old.

"It's not a matter of thinking about yourself," Faye Callahan said. "It's a matter of thinking about the children. I've dealt with loss and frustration, but is it fair to penalize a child because I don't want to deal with it?"

No one inherited the pain and frustration of Joseph's murder more directly than his brother, who is now 4 years old.

Joshua's situation has been complicated by the attempts of family members to win custody of him and confusion over the identity of his biological father. But mostly, the boy has waited in limbo because his mother was accused--but not convicted--of murder.

The Cook County state's attorney's office didn't want to pursue termination of Amanda Wallace's parental rights, which would free Joshua for adoption, until she was tried for Joseph's death. Her murder conviction will make the termination case, set for trial in September, easier to prove.

Joshua's years in foster care have taken a toll. He has twice told people his mother hanged his brother. He recently appeared not to recognize her when she was on television. He also has had behavioral problems but has settled down, according to his attorney, assistant public guardian Djuana O'Connor.

Joshua lives with a foster family in Oak Park.

"He's a very perceptive and engaging child," O'Connor said. "He's a child who wants to be part of a family.

 
 

Wallace Trial Set To Begin Mid-june

ChicagoTribune.com

March 30, 1996

Chicago Criminal Court Judge Michael Bolan said Friday that Amanda Wallace will go on trial June 17 for first degree murder in the hanging of her 3-year-old son, Joseph.

Two weeks ago, Bolan reversed a year-old ruling that Wallace, 30, was mentally unfit to stand trial for murder in the 1993 death.

Her son had been removed from her custody before his death, a death that attracted wide attention because it occurred only two months after the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services convinced the Juvenile Court to return him to Wallace. Other family members had opposed the move.

 
 

Wallace To Stand Trial In Son's Death

Mother Now Ruled Mentally Competent

By Maurice Possley - ChicagoTribune.com

March 16, 1996

For more than six months Amanda Wallace had been telling authorities that she was not mentally ill--that she wanted out of the Elgin Mental Health Center to stand trial for the murder of her 3-year-old son, Joseph.

Though psychiatrists had declared her mentally unfit for trial a year ago, Wallace had since convinced state medical experts that despite a 20-year history of psychotic behavior, she understands the court system well enough to be declared fit.

On Friday, Cook County Circuit Judge Michael Bolan granted Wallace her wish.

"Let's get on with the trial," Bolan declared, setting aside last year's ruling that she was unfit.

As if to underscore Bolan's finding, Wallace immediately turned to her defense attorney, Jimmie Jones, and--using language ordinarily spoken by lawyers and judges--said she wanted to meet with Bolan and assistant state's attorneys to discuss pleading guilty to the first-degree murder charge.

Wallace whispered to Jones that she wanted him to ask for a "402 conference," referring to Illinois Supreme Court rule 402, which sets out guidelines for plea negotiations before trial.

Wallace's use of the legal term in requesting the conference was an example of what the prosecutors have contended for months--that Wallace is not mentally ill, but a crafty manipulator who has tried to control the system.

In February 1995, Wallace, 30, had been declared unfit to stand trial for the 1993 murder of her son. But following nearly 20 hours of testimony on a motion by prosecutors to overturn that decision, Bolan ruled that she now understands the workings of the court system and is capable of assisting Jones in her defense--the two legal standards that must be met to be ruled mentally fit for trial.

Wallace, who had turned in her chair to face away from Bolan as he began discussing his ruling, swiveled around to face the bench, smiled and nodded when the judge said, "I'm satisfied, having heard the evidence and listened to the experts, that the defendant is fit."

After Wallace asked for the 402 conference, Jones was granted an off-the-record discussion with Bolan and the prosecutors that was held in the courtroom, but in whispers. At one point, Jones, in an audible voice, could be heard to protest his client's position, saying there were "several defenses" that he planned to explore for possible use at trial.

Bolan conceded that Jones was in a difficult position, but he said Jones would have to follow Wallace's wishes.

After the hearing, Jones declined to comment, but prosecutors Jeanne Bischoff and Linus Kelecius confirmed that Wallace had asked for the plea negotiation session.

It is unlikely that such a session will be held. The murder charge against Wallace carries a maximum penalty of the death penalty, and the Cook County state's attorney's office has a strict policy that forbids any plea negotiations in a capital case.

After spending more than a year in the Elgin Mental Health Center since being declared unfit, Wallace no longer wishes to reside there. Several state psychiatrists testified that she repeatedly demonstrated her knowledge of the court system and an ability to work with Jones in an attempt to be declared fit and be returned to the Cook County Jail.

Bischoff, in her closing argument, branded Wallace a malingerer whose actions--including setting fires and swallowing glass and a plastic spoon--were "calculated" and "aggressive."

Bolan ordered Jones to file by March 29 any pretrial motions that would address such issues as a potential insanity defense or suppression of Wallace's admissions to police immediately after she was arrested. Minutes before, according to authorities, Wallace had strung an electrical cord around the neck of Joseph, attached it to the crank of a door transom, waved goodbye and kicked out the chair under the boy's feet.

Wallace has a long history of psychotic behavior, and authorities believe she was sexually abused and beaten as a child. She began engaging in self-mutilation at a young age, using items such as light bulbs and soft drink cans, and in 1974 was removed from her mother because of abuse, according to a report compiled by the Illinois State Police.

The tragedy of Joseph Wallace's death was compounded because family members had asked the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to award them custody of the boy and his younger brother, Joshua. That didn't happen, despite Wallace's threats to kill the boys, because DCFS caseworkers and private agencies hired by the state convinced at last two Juvenile Court judges that Joseph was better off in his mother's care.

An investigation touched off by Joseph's death ultimately led to the firing of three DCFS workers, reforms in DCFS and the removal of Joshua from Wallace's care.

As the case proceeds to trial, the next step will be to determine whether Jones seeks an insanity defense. Under state statute, a successful insanity defense requires Wallace to prove that at the time of the crime she lacked the substantial capacity to understand the criminality of her actions.

Defendants acquitted by reason of insanity are ordered confined to Elgin for no longer than the maximum penalty of the crime charged--natural life in Wallace's case--but can be released earlier if cured of mental illness.

State law also allows for a verdict of guilty but mentally ill--a finding that allows a judge to sentence a defendant to prison where treatment can be obtained for mental illness. Under that statute a finding is made that the defendant was not mentally ill enough to be determined insane at the time of the crime but was ill enough to require treatment in prison.

 
 

Amanda Wallace's Story

'Good Luck To You, Mother'

With Those Words, A Judge Returned 3-year-old Joseph Wallace To His Mentally Ill Mother. Whether Officials Knew The Extent Of Amanda Wallace's Vicious Past, Chronicled Here Is Under Investigation

By Cameron McWhirter and Andrew Gottesman - ChicagoTribune.com

May 9, 1993

Troubles grew as she did.

A ward of the state since age 7, Amanda Wallace reeled through a litany of destructive and self-destructive events. She frequently attempted suicide by overdosing on pills or cutting herself. She burned down houses and once tried to burn herself alive. She attacked people with baseball bats. At Elgin police headquarters, Wallace's record fills 10 computer screens.

Amanda Wallace spotted a nurse in the peach-colored hallway of Ward One and began badgering her. The nurse turned and walked away.

So Wallace attacked, throwing the nurse to the floor and breaking her elbow. Lumbering above the frightened woman, the 250-pound patient punched wildly at her head.

Security guards raced to restrain Wallace on the afternoon of June 26, 1989, in the Acute Treatment Center of the Elgin Mental Health Center.

But they had to be careful. The 23-year-old woman was, after all, about to become a mother.

Thirty-four days later, Joseph Wayne Wallace was born. His short life would be ruled by child welfare workers, judges, his mother's doctors-and by this threatening woman who wanted desperately, in her own confused way, to be his mom.

And 1,360 days after coming into the world, police say, Joseph would die by his mother's hand, but only after she gained custody through the juvenile courts.

The story of Amanda and Joseph Wallace was a slow-motion disaster. The lives of a deranged mother and a tortured son unraveled as those within a child welfare bureaucracy stumbled through court dates and paperwork without seeing the obvious: Amanda Wallace was out of her mind.

Their inexplicable blindness to Amanda Wallace's 20-year history of bizarre and often criminal behavior made Joseph's life a perilous experiment destined to end violently.

"If they didn't have that information available to them, why not?" said John Casey, an attorney serving on a committee investigating how the courts handled the Wallace case. "If they did, what the hell were they thinking?"

Joseph's death has sparked action from Chicago to Springfield to Washington, D.C. Policymakers are reviewing the state's child welfare laws, specifically, those statutes that make reunification of families the top priority.

Interviews, court documents and police records show the 5-foot, 10-inch-tall Wallace to be a woman for whom the steadfast patience required to raise a child was not remotely possible.

A ward of the state since age 7, she spent most of her formative years in mental institutions and foster homes. Relatives said Wallace never forgave her mother when she was consigned to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. She also never forgave DCFS.

Wallace's life became a vicious litany of destructive and self-destructive events. She frequently attempted suicide by overdosing on pills or cutting herself. She burned down houses and once tried to burn herself alive. She attacked people with baseball bats. At Elgin police headquarters, Wallace's record fills 10 computer screens.

Despite her incessantly turbulent history, Wallace, described in one evaluation as "charming and manipulative," repeatedly convinced DCFS caseworkers, judges, private doctors and government lawyers that she could be a good mother if given the chance.

"My future, to me, is my child," she said in a Dec. 12, 1989, custody hearing. "I want to give him love, affection, something I didn't have."

The child welfare system gave her three chances, until Joseph was hanged on April 19, the 16th Chicago-area child under the age of 15 to be killed this year.

- - -

Amanda Lynn Wallace was born July 24, 1965, on Chicago's West Side. She was the second child, and the first daughter, of Oliver Barnes and Bonnie Wallace.

Her father was shot to death three years later, on Aug. 23, 1968. The circumstances are unclear.

Around the same time, her brother Henry died in a house fire that began accidentally. Amanda's brother Paul said he started the blaze while playing with matches.

The family, which included three more children by other fathers, moved to the South Side-into the new Madden Park housing development in the 3800 block of South Ellis Avenue.

"As time went, the project was infested with a lot of gangs and violence, so mom moved us out," said Paul Wallace, 30.

The Wallaces went farther south, to the Roseland community at West 107th Street and South LaSalle Street. But the new family home would never be a part of Amanda's life, a fact that would always infuriate her.

Relatives said that Amanda, described as a tomboy, was a bright student at Van Vlissingen Elementary School. But they also said that she was developing signs of serious mental problems and anti-social behavior.

At first, she picked schoolyard fights. Then her mischief turned into small crimes, such as stealing and vandalism. She also started to set fires.

"She wasn't impossible to deal with, but that's how mom saw her," Paul Wallace said.

Their mother, Bonnie Wallace, worked as a coach cleaner for the Chicago & North Western Railway.

"Every time mom would go to work and try to make a living, she would be bombarded by phone calls from the police (about her children)," Paul Wallace said.

Bonnie Wallace said she finally let DCFS take Amanda in hopes the child could be reformed. DCFS officials would not discuss how or why Amanda became a ward of the state.

"She (his mother) felt there was nothing else she could do if she was going to make a living," Paul said.

Amanda never recovered.

"She hasn't forgotten that she was given over to the state," said Ada Smith, Amanda's great-aunt. "It still lives with her, and she still hates Bonnie for it."

"It seems like she's been mad at me pretty much all my life," said Bonnie Wallace.

DCFS first sent Amanda to a foster home on the South Side, relatives said. She stayed there for about two months before moving in with Smith, her second foster parent.

The child's behavior became more violent and her fascination with fire grew into a chronic problem. In four months, she set two fires in Smith's house. The second started when Amanda opened a closet door and dropped in a burning scrap of paper before walking off to school.

The blaze caused $12,800 worth of damage.

"I gave her up the next week," Smith said. "I said, `Did you set the fire?' She said, `Yes, auntie, I did.' I said, `Why?' and she said, `Because mommy said if I burned down your house I could come to live at home.' "

The confused child was wrong; she would never again live at home, except for a brief period more than a decade later.

Nine-year-old Amanda was sent to a series of institutions. She entered residency programs at Chapin Hall, which at the time provided treatment for emotionally-disturbed children, and Chicago Read Mental Health Center.

She told family members that she was physically abused in the institutions, and often tried to escape. Once she climbed through a window, but fell and hurt her head.

Several relatives see her as a victim, albeit a devious one, who needed special attention.

"She was not crazy," Paul Wallace said. "Living in the institution, she took on her environment ... she had behavioral problems.

"Everybody else sees her as schizophrenic. I saw her as extremely cunning and manipulative."

Despite their sympathy, family members began to fear Amanda. That fear persisted until the day she allegedly killed Joseph.

Relatives visited Amanda occasionally, but the meetings were hostile. She frequently exploded with rage, fought with her mother and threatened to kill her family. She also turned violent against herself, swallowing foreign objects and cutting her arms, legs and stomach.

Amanda's final institution in Chicago was the Henry Horner Children's Center. "We all concurred, I think, that she was very deeply disturbed," according to a former Horner staff member.

By the time she left, Amanda was swallowing glass and mutilating herself.

At 18, having spent nearly a decade in institutions, Amanda Wallace left the state's care and was on her own.

- - -

She went to live with friends from the institutions, both in Chicago and in Elgin. Briefly, Amanda moved back into her mother's Roseland house.

Then she set it on fire.

"She told me the reason why she did it was because she never lived in the house and it was some type of revenge," Paul Wallace said. "If she couldn't enjoy the house, nobody would."

Amanda Wallace got several apartments in Elgin, but spent much of her time in the nearby state-run Elgin Mental Health Center. As crises would develop, she would regularly use the center as an escape.

She started several fires in the hospital. Once, she attempted suicide by using a Bic lighter to ignite the bed on which she was strapped.

But doctors repeatedly let her return to the outside world. Physicians prescribed a slew of medications for numerous medical problems, including epilepsy, borderline personality disorder, high stress, insomnia, headaches, gallstones and poor circulation.

Using income from disability checks, Wallace rented several apartments in the poorer sections of Elgin, often with other ex-patients. She never had a job and appeared to spend much of her time getting into trouble.

From 1987 until 1992, Elgin police compiled 68 reports involving Wallace. On another 28 occasions, she made unsubstantiated or vague accusations against landlords and neighbors.

In April 1988, Wallace pleaded guilty to damaging state property after she destroyed a room at the mental institution. In December 1989, she pleaded guilty to smashing store windows in downtown Elgin. Wallace told police that she wanted to get arrested, according to the report.

That year, she also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery in the attack on the nurse.

It was in this world that Joseph was conceived, with a man known as Eric Harrison. He was one year younger than Wallace and also had been a patient at the mental health center, according to police records.

Harrison later filed two complaints against his ex-girlfriend with Elgin police, one in August 1989 for battery. He told police that he had visited Wallace to talk about their child. He said she flew into a rage, pounding him to the ground, kicking him and then knocking him unconscious by smashing his head into a brick wall.

Officials have been unable to locate him.

- - -

When Joseph was born in July 1989, he was immediately taken by DCFS.

Wallace's psychiatrist at Elgin said the new mother "might hurt (or) kill her baby," according to a state investigator's report made only 9 days into Joseph's life. In heavy pen, the DCFS investigator stressed another comment from the doctor, John Rohr.

"Amanda should never have custody of this baby or any baby."

The doctor said Wallace treated her new child as an object, not as a person.

Initially, DCFS and the courts agreed. Joseph, given the identification number X0439003, lived in an Oak Lawn foster home from August until late October 1989.

In September, a DCFS child welfare expert recommended that Joseph "remain in the custody of DCFS and that he be placed in a long-term foster home."

The baby was transferred to Michael and Faye Callahan, a Park Ridge couple who took in Joseph for much of his 45 months of life. They first cared for him from October 1989 to late June 1990.

A light-skinned boy with loose curls and long eyelashes, Joseph was described as happy, though slow, during his initial stay.

Meanwhile, Wallace moved from apartment to apartment in Elgin. And wherever she went, she caused mayhem.

She was named in several police reports for burglary, disorderly conduct and other serious crimes.

In February 1990, Wallace was accused of pouring black paint on a neighbor's car because she thought the woman's children had broken into her apartment. In March 1990, a complaint was filed against Wallace for threatening another woman. The woman said she had refused to rent an apartment to Wallace, who then threatened to burn down her house.

 
 


Amanda Wallace and her children, Joshua, center, and Joseph Wallace, right, who was hanged by an electrical cord by his mother in 1993. Joseph's death sparked an uproar across the country and helped prompt Illinois to overhaul its troubled Department of Children and Family Services. Nearly two decades later, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services yet again struggles with high caseloads, staffing shortages, and recent troubling child deaths

 

Amanda Wallace is led through the Area 5 Police headquarters after being charged with hanging her 3-year-old son Joseph Wallace. Just months prior, the courts had returned Joseph to his mother, who had a history of mental illness.
(Carl Wagner, Tribune archive photo / April 19, 1993)

 

 

 
 
 
 
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