Jury finds tenant guilty of dismembering beloved Rogers Park landlord

After more than seven hours of deliberations, a jury on Monday found a woman guilty of murdering and dismembering her Rogers Park landlord in a grisly 2022 homicide.

The verdict came in late Monday evening after jurors heard closing arguments in the case against Sandra Kolalou, 37, who was convicted of murder, dismembering a body and aggravated identity theft in the killing of Francis Walker.

In testimony that began last week, almost everyone agreed that Walker was cherished by neighbors, family and her tenants. Even the attorneys defending the woman accused of killing Walker said friends and family of the Rogers Park landlord “loved her to her core.”

The 69-year-old was a smiling presence in the 5900 block of North Washtenaw Avenue where she rented subsidized rooms, threw in free Wi-Fi and played the piano at church. But the likeable landlord met a gruesome death. On Oct. 10, 2022, Chicago police officers investigating her disappearance found her dismembered body parts in a freezer in her Rogers Park home.

Jurors last week began hearing evidence in the case, viewing medical examiner photographs of Walker’s head and limbs laid out anatomically on the table.

They began deliberating around 2 p.m. Monday afternoon.

During closing arguments at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, prosecutors told the jury that Kolalou was heard arguing with Walker shortly before her death. They said she planned to evict Kolalou after their relationship had worsened.

They alleged that Kolalou cut up her landlord with a knife, placing the head and limbs in the freezer while discarding the torso near Montrose Beach.

“Fran Walker was always smiling,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Gail Bembnister, “She was always friendly. She was someone everybody could count on.”

Kolalou’s attorneys, though, pointed the finger at Walker’s husband instead, arguing that Walker wanted a divorce. During closings, Kolalou slouched low in her chair, wearing a pink suit. She had previously testified in her own defense, at one point telling the jury she would never hurt a “hair on Fran’s head.”

“Unfortunately she was betrayed by those closest to her,” said Kolalou’s attorney, Sean Brown, speaking about Walker.

Friends and family gathered in the courtroom, at times audibly crying.

On Oct. 9, 2022, after fielding complaints, Walker notified Kolalou that she would be evicted, prosecutors said. Later, Kolalou went to a party, then returned to the residence around 11:30 p.m.

In the middle of the night, other tenants said they overheard the two arguing, with Walker sounding distressed, Bembnister said.

The next morning, other tenants were concerned about Walker when she didn’t respond to calls and texts, she said.

“What is the defendant doing this whole time? She’s sitting in her bedroom not concerned at all.” she said. “She knows that Fran is dead because she killed her and dismembered her body.”

Kolalou was found with Walker’s credit card and phone, prosecutors said, and surveillance video shows Kolalou leaving the residence with a suitcase that they said contained the torso. Kolalou’s DNA was also found on the bags that contained the body parts, they said.

Brown, though, argued to the jury that Walker’s husband profited off her estate after she died, and would have been physically able to dismember the body.

“He’s the only person capable of doing this heinous crime,” he said. “The bones were crushed.”

In rebuttal, Assistant State’s Attorney Daniel Crone said Walker’s husband wasn’t present that night.

“What evidence is there that he did it?” Crone said. “None.”

Shortly after her killing, Walker’s brother Arnold told the Tribune his sister had degrees in music from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern University and played the cornet, piano and organ. She also arranged music and accompanied choirs in church.

“She was a pillar of the community. She cared for the young and old,” Arnold Walker said.