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Bodies have been washing up on Lake Michigan and river shores. A 1993 Tribune article could explain why.

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 4/26/2022 Tatyana Turner, Chicago Tribune
A member of the Chicago police marine unit works the area of a body search in the South Branch of the Chicago River in 2018. © Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS A member of the Chicago police marine unit works the area of a body search in the South Branch of the Chicago River in 2018.

In just one week in April, the bodies of three women and a man were recovered from Chicago lake and river shores but the causes of their deaths remain unknown.

There are no suggestions of criminal activity, nor is it known if any of the deaths are connected, authorities have said. But why would so many appear around the same time?

The situation may mirror that of 29 years ago. In early April 1993, the Tribune wrote that the bodies of two women had been found in the lake and a third in the Calumet River. The torso of an unidentified woman was also discovered.

That spring the Tribune reported that the annual thaw could be to blame. The bodies of those who drowned during the winter months could appear alongside more recent cases.

“During the winter months, especially in areas where it’s really cold, decomposition gets delayed or stops especially if the water starts freezing,” said Dr. Ponni Arunkumar of the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

“What happens when a person drowns is they sink down and as the bodies start decomposing, because all of us have bacteria in our intestines and bacteria in the water surrounding, during the decomposition process the gasses make the body lighter so they come to the surface and that’s when people see the bodies and report them.”

Yuet Tsang, 80, was one of the women pulled from the Chicago River. The Near North Side woman was discovered April 16 off the 2800 block of South Eleanor Street near Bridgeport, according to the medical examiner’s office.

Within an hour another woman, who has not been identified, was discovered at the 100 block of North Riverside Plaza in the West Loop Gate neighborhood, officials said. The next day, on April 17, the body of an unidentified man was discovered in Lake Michigan near the 3000 block of South Fort Dearborn Drive.

A week later, a Back of the Yards woman later identified as 31-year-old Karina Alanis was found near the 2600 block of South Damen Avenue, officials said.

Arunkumar said that decomposition can start at 60 degrees.

“In the summer months, the process is much faster,” Arunkumar said. “People nearby will see these bodies quicker meaning someone who (drowns) may be seen within a few days.”

In 2020 and 2021, 60 to 70 drownings were reported, according to Arunkumar. That number includes all bodies of water but also indoor cases.

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