Hudson's family torn apart

Chicago Tribune reporters

Tragedy and mystery engulfed the family of actress Jennifer Hudson as police searched for her nephew and questioned her brother-in-law in connection with the slayings of her mother and brother.

Authorities confirmed Darnell Donerson, 57, and Jason Hudson, 29, were fatally shot inside the family's Englewood neighborhood home, which the actress often visited. Jennifer Hudson, who rose from "American Idol" hopeful to bona fide movie star, was not in Chicago at the time of the slayings Friday, her publicist said.

William Balfour, who married Hudson's sister in 2006, was believed to have abducted his 7-year-old stepson, Julian King. But when he was arrested Friday night, the boy was not with him, authorities said.

Police were not discussing Julian's possible whereabouts.

Balfour had not been charged Friday night.

Standing outside the Wentworth Area police station with Rev. Jesse Jackson, demanding to see her son, Michele Balfour said there had been infidelity in the marriage and her son had grown tired of his in-laws meddling in the relationship. But he was innocent, she said.

Both she and Jackson made pleas for Julian's safe return.

"All I want is for whoever has Julia's son to bring him back," Michele Balfour said. "I'm begging them to return Julian back to my daughter-in-law."

Jackson, who said he has known the Hudson family for several years, said anyone with information who does not feel comfortable talking with the police may call the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition headquarters with tips.

"We all are sort of distraught over what has happened," Jackson said. "We all want to know who the killer or the killers are. We hope that child is alive. Be merciful enough to let the child go."

Julia Hudson reported Julian missing from the family home Friday afternoon, a police source said. Julian is described as 4-foot-11 and weighing 130 pounds. He has brown eyes and black hair and was last seen wearing a striped polo shirt and khaki pants.

Michele Balfour said her son and Julia Hudson were separated, and Donerson had thrown him out of the family home last winter.

William Balfour, 27, told his mother he wanted a divorce, she said, but that he still loved Julia. Despite the bad blood, he never would have killed his wife's family, Michele Balfour said.

"He loved Julia and her mother. He put that girl's mother before me," she said.

A relative found Donerson fatally shot in her living room Friday afternoon, officials said. The family member notified authorities, who then found Jason Hudson dead in a bedroom.

Neighbors in the 7000 block of South Yale Avenue reported hearing gunshots about 9 a.m. There were no signs of forced entry.

Family members said they spoke with Balfour on Friday afternoon and that he sounded as though he had been sleeping. There was no trace of panic or anxiety in his voice, they said.

"I didn't raise no murderer," Michele Balfour said. "He was not a child abductor. They have the wrong person."

Balfour grew up in Englewood and had been childhood friends with the Hudson siblings, his mother said. On his MySpace page, he discussed life with a famous sister-in-law. "I might as well let you all know that Jennifer Hudson is my wife's sister," he wrote. "I'm proud of her and wish her nothing but the best in what she do but don't hit me up asking about her, other than that it's on!"

Cook County court records show Balfour pleaded guilty in 1999 to attempted murder and vehicular hijacking. He also was convicted in a 1998 case of possession of a stolen motor vehicle, records show.

He was released from the Illinois River Correctional Center in Downstate Canton in May 2006 after serving 7 years in prison. He is still on probation, state records show.

Friday afternoon, scores of onlookers flocked to the corner nearest the Hudson home. They pressed up against yellow police tape for a glimpse of the white house three doors down.

Many neighbors' thoughts turned to Jennifer Hudson, who recently had been in town to promote her new movie, "The Secret Life of Bees." A 1999 Dunbar Vocational Career Academy graduate, Hudson could walk through the Englewood neighborhood without anyone hassling her or following her with a camera.

"She never had no problems with fans stalking her," neighbor Vanessa Stanton said. "She didn't even need a bodyguard [though she had one]. The whole neighborhood block would look out for her."

Ethel Grissom, a longtime family friend, said: "The entire family were just real friendly people who enjoyed being together. This is going to be devastating for them."


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