August 10, 2011

2/28/10: Jay Polhill, 20, Chicago, IL

Update: In October 2010, an update occurred in this case. The medical examiner amended the cause of Jay Polhill's death from "inconclusive" to "drowning due to multiple injuries and assault." Please read the details below.

Jay Polhill, 20, a student at Columbia College in Chicago was last seen on Feb. 28 at his residence hall at the University Center at 525 South State Street in the South Loop area.

While police launched an investigation, Polhill's family had turned to the online community for help in finding the missing student. One friend on the site, described Polhill as a "a truly wonderful guy" loved dearly by his many friends, girlfriend and family. "He is an extremely talented photographer." Polhill, a photography major, was set to graduate in 2012.

Click here to read an essay about Jay, written by his friend and roommate, Ryan Buell.


On March 2, 2010, the body of Jay Polhill was recovered in the Calumet River near 126th Street and South Stony Island in South Chicago. The body was naked from the waist down. An autopsy the following day, ruled the cause of death as inconclusive, pending a police investigation. But friends believe Jay was murdered, pointing out that he did not have his camera, laptop, or wallet with him, and had no reason to be in that area.The final autopsy report later revealed that Jay had suffered "extensive skull fractures" on both sides of his head, along with a broken neck bone. Despite this, the manner of death was "undetermined."

Polhill's family hired a private investigator and also consulted with a pathologist in another state. The pathologist said the injuries did not support an accident or suicide theory, and "really shouts out as an assault."

In October 2010, the Polhills met with the Cook County pathologist in Chicago assigned to their son's case. After consulting with other pathologists in the medical examiner’s office, she amended her findings the following month. Jay Polhill's cause of death is now, "drowning due to multiple injuries due to assault.” Yet, police still have not ruled it a homicide. The case is still under investigation.

In a May 2011 article by CBS Chicago, reporter Pam Zekman raised the question that perhaps Jay Polhill's death was not ruled a homicide because of pressure to keep Chicago's homicide rate down. The city's homicide rate went down more than 5 percent last year--the lowest homicide rate in 45 years. Thomas Byrne, chief of detectives for the Chicago Police Department, has denied this. "There’s not a detective or a police officer out there that I know that would misrepresent a homicide as a death investigation” Byrne told Zekman.  (Read the article at CBS Chicago.)

About Jay Polhill

Polhill's obituary, published in The Journal-Standard on Mar 05, 2010 reads:

"Lena, Ill. — Jay Richard Polhill, 20, of Lena died unexpectedly on Tuesday, March 2, 2010, in Chicago.

He was born June 9, 1989, to Richard “Rick” and Jane (Patterson) Polhill in Monroe, Wis. Jay was a graduate of Lena-Winslow High School with the class of 2008. He was in his junior year attending Columbia College in Chicago, majoring in photography.

Jay had taken a trip of a lifetime to South Korea to visit his friend K.J. in the summer of 2008. He was blessed with an insatiable sense of humor and boundless energy, and photography was his passion. He was adventurous, spontaneous and enjoyed hanging out and visiting with his friends.

Jay was a member of St. John Lutheran Church.

Before entering college he was employed by Sullivan’s Food and the Lingle Design Group.

He is survived by his parents; one brother, William “Billy” Polhill and special friend Rachel Carton of West Allis, Wis.; his maternal grandparents, William and Mary Patterson of Bettendorf, Iowa; paternal grandparents, Melvin and Judy Polhill of Lena; two uncles, Bruce (Cheryl Sievers) Patterson of Chenoa and Kirk (Lynn) Polhill of Lena; three cousins, Kyle, Kory and Kaitlyn Polhill of Lena; and Jay’s special friend, Tiana Saknoa.

Cremation rites were accorded and a memorial service will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, March 12, at St. John Lutheran Church in Lena. The Rev. Rick Bader will officiate the service.

Visitation will be from 2 to 6 p.m. Friday at the church.

In lieu of flowers, a Jay Polhill Memorial Scholarship Fund has been established.

Condolences may be sent to the family at

Copyright 2010 The Journal-Standard. Some rights reserved.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jay Polhill's family and friends.

Facts of Interest
Name/age: Jay Polhill, 20
College: Columbia College
Last seen: 02/28/10, Chicago, IL
Recovered: Calumet River, Chicago, IL (South Chicago)
Investigating Agency: Please call (312) 746-6000 with any information.

[Footprints' note: To date, this is the second case that we know of to be reclassified as a homicide, thanks to the dilligent efforts of a loving family. This is also the first case that clearly shows that homicide by drowning does, in fact, exist.]

Originally published: 3/4/10. Updated: 04/20/10, 08/10/11.


Monique777 said...

Sadly, Jay Polhill has been found in or near the Calumet River.


Craigs said...

Weird. He was found in the Calumet River. Calumet Photographic sells camera equipment, and Jay Polhill was a photographer.

Not making anything of it; just thought it was interesting.

osu11 said...

So Sad. Why does this keep happening?

Craigs said...

Has anyone read anything on his last known whereabouts? There is a forest preserve nearby. I wonder if he was just out taking pictures and fell. I still think the Calumet coincidence is interesting.

Nonetheless, another tragedy.

Craigs said...

Okay, from what I just read, it seems he was last seen in his dorm. If he didn't have a car, he would have had to take some sort of public transit or get a ride from someone to be in the area he was found in. It's a 20 min. drive, so I doubt he went on foot.

It's on I-94.

Craigs said...

"Daryl Wright, a friend, said Polhill sent a text message to his girlfriend Monday morning saying he had spent the night at a party on the city's North Side."

He was found on the South side. Hopefully the authorities look into cell phone records, etc. Maybe he wasn't where he said he was.

osu11 said...

Anyone can send a text from someone else's cell, maybe it wasn't him who texted her...

Monique777 said...

By media accounts there is something really fishy to this story. Jay texts his friend early Monday saying he spent the night at a party, a Sunday night party much less and after his friend gets this text he reports Jay missing and starts searching for him?
It all doesn't make sense. If something happened to Jay on the north side of Chicago, that is likely where he would have been found. Even if an accident or altercation happened at this supposed party, they are not going to drive to the far south side of Chicago to get rid of him.
From what the media reports, it makes me really wonder if there was even a party Joe went to on a Sunday night. He's a student and any one who has gone to college knows, unless it's Super Bowl Sunday or some event,it's not common because there are classes on Monday. I'm kind of wondering if something happened to Jay on Sunday and the party idea on the north side wasn't made up to throw people off from finding him on the far south side.
And why did his 'best friend' not know exactly where Jay went Sunday night? So many odd things going on-I hope the police really look into this one.
One more thing, the 'best friend' claims he will 'kill the person who hurt Jay'. Why would anyone asume he was murdered? He may have slipped while photographing or any number of things.
Maybe we'll learn more from the news to straighten these odd things out.

MS said...

your a fucking idiot. He fell in? Maybe he fractured both sides of his skull to and got naked from the waist down to before he fell in? Do us all a favor and just shut the fuck up you closed minded skeptical pos trying to cloud people with doubt. And the camera store comment is bullshit to.

Its difficult to understand when its not your best friend that is dead, but when it is, you just know.. If its homicide. Im sure his friend knew it was murder the second he heard of his death, even without knowing the circumstances yet.