The journey of Judge Joan Lefkow

Her daughter Laura glances up from the family photos she's sorting on the couch. Her dad in an Afro. Her mom in a miniskirt.

"You're not alone," Laura says in a tender voice. "You have us."

"There's this whole social conditioning," Lefkow goes on. "You have a husband. People treat you in a certain way because you have a husband, no matter how unhappy the marriage is. To say the least it's uncharted territory."

She circles her teacup in the saucer. The china clinks in the quiet room.

She stands up, brightens. "Did I show you my dress for the wedding?"


On a Saturday in September, Helena Lefkow, daughter of Joan and Michael Lefkow, marries Jake Edie. The groom wears the tux Michael Lefkow had planned to wear to his daughter's wedding.

The fatherless bride wears an ivory gown and, on her right forefinger, her father's wedding ring.

The flower girls--twin daughters of the daughter Michael fathered with another woman--wear mango-colored sashes made by Joan.

The marshals wear their Sunday suits.

Relatives, judges and lawyers have come, friends from the old church and the old neighborhood, a full assembly of the Lefkow family's shattered community.

At a pre-wedding party with an Elvis Presley theme, Joan Lefkow had dressed like a backup singer, in a cat suit and a big teased wig.

On the wedding day, she wears a strapless periwinkle Nicole Miller gown as she stands to address the gathering:

"The poet Diana Der-Hovanessian wrote, `When your father dies, the sun shifts forever, and you walk in his light.' I shall not attempt to put a good light on what happened to deprive Helena's father of his great joy of being here tonight to celebrate and amuse you all with a cleverly eccentric blessing of his daughter Helena's marriage.

"But I do know that the light cast by his life on his daughters and the family and community in which he lived and worked will sustain you, Helena, and all of us as we go forward without him.

"And let us also acknowledge another person we miss, Helena's grandmother Donna, who always said goodbye with `this is my last trip to Chicago' but always pulled herself together to be there for every christening and graduation, and many birthdays and Christmases. We miss her warm presence with us."


Often in the seven months I spent talking with Joan Lefkow, I would look at her, this strong and tender woman, and repeat to myself the soul-rattling thing that when you're with her you can never quite forget and never quite believe: Her mother and her husband were murdered. In her home. Because of her job. By someone who wanted to kill her. She found the bodies.

How had it happened that the ordinary things this humble woman loved and wished for most--family, home, meaningful work--converged and exploded on one awful winter day in the middle of her life?

You could chalk it up to fate, to the inexorable drive of the actions of her life toward a single point. You could subscribe to the dark theory, "Your luck is your doom."