The journey of Judge Joan Lefkow

So, OK. She would let us share what happened next as she looked for what she would come to call her "little resurrections."


She walks back into a still life of her lost life. Against a green wall in the dining room, her mother's gray crutches. On a bedside table in her blue bedroom, her husband's amber prescription bottles, a stack of his self-help books. "Compass of the Soul." "Wonderful Ways to Love a Teen." On a refrigerator magnet, a warning from Mark Twain: "In all matters of opinion, our adversaries are insane."

Except for plants as brittle as papyrus, everything in Joan Lefkow's house this April afternoon looks as it did when she walked in from work on that cold Monday evening in February, laid her purse on the dining room table, took off her jacket and wondered why her mother wasn't reading as usual in the red recliner in the front window, and why her husband hadn't returned her calls and why the house was so quiet.

She left her home that night in a blast of police and TV lights and went to live in hiding, estranged from her belongings, her routine and her past.

Now, after all these weeks away, she wanders the rooms and says, "It feels good to be home."

But where is home, really?

Is this home, this place where the familiar and mundane have turned into relics and omens? This house where cars slow and drivers gawk? This place without a husband?

Home is not the corporate apartment where she has been living, that blur of beige whose only charm is the gym where lately Darryl, one of the marshals, has persuaded her to go each day before breakfast even though she always resisted her husband's urgings to work out.

Home is not the apartment she's about to rent, the low-ceilinged high-rise place that yesterday when she'd pushed the door open for the first time made her feel her life had been shrink-wrapped.

Home is where her history is. Where her future was. Here. Home is still here.

And she can't stay. She can no longer risk living so exposed, even if she could live with the memory of the blood in the basement.

"There's the basement," she says, points, always quick to anticipate the needs of others. "You can go down."

From the basement of the house Joan Lefkow once considered home, you can hear the life above. Footsteps. Muffled voices. Notes plunked on the upright piano her parents gave her as a child.

The killer would have heard the lives upstairs as he waited with his gun down near the washer and dryer.

For 21 years, the house overhead vibrated with a family in motion. Four girls growing up. Michael Lefkow listening to Mozart, Aretha, bluegrass, opera. Joan cooking dinner, different meals for every girl, which she did most nights despite full days in court.

The Lefkows' colonial revival house, with the white vinyl siding they'd only recently stripped off and not yet replaced, was far from the grandest on their street in Chicago's Lakewood-Balmoral neighborhood. They spent their money on their daughters' educations, not on interminable home rehab. Or on pricey home security.

In many ways, they were an old-fashioned family. They didn't own a TV until their oldest daughter was 12. On Saturday afternoons, they held family meetings with bylaws and a minutes book to chronicle chores and vacations.

Then the girls grew up. One by one, the older three moved out, leaving behind their dollhouses, prom dresses, piano books and their youngest sister, Meg, who on this April day is looking for packing material.

"Mom," says Meg, rattling a New York Times stiff with age, "do you want the newspaper from February 27?"