When my phone rings at 1:00 a.m. I usually sleep right through it. Unfortunately on June 12, 2001 I woke up. Waking up suddenly at 1:00 a.m. does not leave me ready to deal with a phone conversation. In fact, I'm often quite confused and disoriented, even in my own home. Confused, I answered the phone with a noise I imagine sounded much like, "He-o." I’m not sure what I expected the person on the other end of the phone to say, but I was definitely unprepared for the conversation I was about to have. Of course, I was unprepared for anything anyone would have said to me except, "I'm sorry, wrong number." If that was the case, I would have hung up the phone and gone back to sleep. No problem. This man made a terrible mistake. He asked me a question.
"Is this Jeff Ford?"
"Huh?" I wittily replied.
"Is this Jeff Ford, damnit?"
"You killed my brother."
"Right. Wait WHAT?!" At this point I was officially awake yet I hadn't quite grasped the concept that he was accusing me of murder.
"You heard me. You killed my brother."
"I'm sorry, you've got the wrong guy."
"You've got the wrong guy. I didn't kill your brother."
"Is this Jeff Ford that lives at 750 Chicago 60657?"
"Um, yeah," I said, knowing that no such place existed in that zip code, and even if it did, I didn't live there.
"You killed my brother, I'm coming to get you."
"Excuse me?" Notice how polite I am to this man accusing me of killing his brother and now threatening to "get me."
"I'm coming to kill you. You killed my brother." Now he’s officially threatened to kill me. I’m not sleeping tonight.
"Who is this?"
"You know who I am."
"No, I don't. Who is this?"
"Tyrone. Man, you killed my brother. I'm gonna get you."
"Me? But I'm not the guy you're looking for."
"You're Jeff Ford, right."
"Yeah, but not that Jeff Ford."
At this point I decided there was no point to engaging in an argument with this man about how Jeff Ford is a common name in this nation and that he might have to try several times before he found the guy. I hung up the phone.
I would have liked to return to my slumber, but closing my eyes and hanging out in dark places wasn't something I wanted to do anymore. Tyrone was coming to kill me, after all. Instead, I called the cops. The cops put me on hold. They didn't seem to understand the urgency. I mean, I was standing alone in a dark apartment at 1:00 in the morning and there was a crazy man who was coming to kill me at a non-existent address. Once the officer returned to the line, she got my information and I described the situation to her. She said, "Well, did you kill his brother?"
"No! I don't even know who this guy is!” Did she think she just got a big break on a murder case?
"Okay, relax. Well, I'll file it and someone may be in touch with you, but don't hold your breath." Don’t hold my breath? I shouldn’t expect a call back from the Chicago police after I received a death threat? Serve and protect, my ass.
A week later, the phone rang. I picked it up and said, "Hello, Jeff Ford."
"Mr. Ford, this is Detective Marcucci. I'm calling about the threatening phone call you received."
"The death threat? Yes."
"Are you aware of your name?" I answered the phone with my name, maybe that wasn't enough for him. "Sir, are you aware of your name?" he said quite loudly.
"Um, yes. I’m Jeff Ford."
“Yes. Have you heard of Jeff Fort?”
"I am Jeff Ford." Are we going to do “Who’s On First” next?
"No, Jeff Fort. With a T."
"Oh. No, I've never heard of Jeff Fort."
"He was a leader of a gang in south Chicago in the '60s called the Black P. Stone Rangers. He's killed many men and is now serving a life sentence in a federal prison. This Tyrone fellow probably had you confused with him."
"Well, there you go. If he calls back let me know."
Unsatisfied, I turned to the Internet. I searched for Jeff Fort and found the following picture.
￼This is a picture of him testifying before congress in 1968 so it may not be an accurate representation of what Jeff Fort looked like in 2001. However, I was still pretty sure that no one was going to confuse me with him, even if he had grayed in the 33 years since then.
For more info on Jeff Fort, click here for his Wikipedia page.