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Illinois' First Feticide Conviction: The Murder of Gwendolyn Whipple

On July 6th, 1982, twenty-year-old Gwendolyn Whipple was playing cards with her friend and roommate Theresa Conway. The two women were living in a one-room apartment in downtown Chicago, along with Theresa’s three children. Gwendolyn herself was expecting a baby and was actually a few days past her due date. Between 11:15 PM and 11:30 pm that night, there was a knock at the door. What started as a seemingly friendly visit from an acquaintance ended in absolute tragedy.

Gwendolyn Whipple was born August 23rd, 1961, in Colorado. Despite an extensive search, I could not find very much information on Gwendolyn. She was a black woman living in Chicago and expecting her first child. Her friend, Theresa Conway, had three children and a fiancé. At the time of this terrible crime, Theresa’s boyfriend was in county jail awaiting charges for an unrelated crime. Both women had an acquaintance they met through this boyfriend. This was a man named Keith Shum, only known to the women as Keith.

Sometime between 11:15 and 11:30 pm, the women’s card game was interrupted by a knock on the door. The person identified himself as Keith, the acquaintance the women knew. They let him inside and he offered the women some marijuana. The three shared a joint and conversation. The conversation soon took a turn, however. Keith told Theresa that he was there to watch over her for her boyfriend, that her boyfriend had asked him to do so. Theresa got upset, telling Keith he was liar. She said that she just spoke to her boyfriend, and he told her no such thing.

This angered Keith, who grabbed an umbrella and pressed the sharp tip into Theresa’s jaw. Theresa pushed the umbrella away from her face, ran across the room, and grabbed a kitchen knife to defend herself. That’s when Keith pulled a gun. Not convinced that the gun was real, Theresa challenged him. Keith showed the women the bullets, proving the gun was real. He ordered the women to lay on the bed face down, side by side.

This commotion woke one of Theresa’s sons. Keith went over to the boy and pointed the gun to his head. As any mother would, Theresa got very upset, rose from the bed, and begged Keith to kill her instead of her child. Keith told her to make the boy lay down and then to get back on the bed. Theresa complied.

Once the boy was settled and Theresa was back on the bed next to Gwendolyn, Keith held the gun to Gwendolyn’s head while he raped Theresa. Following the brutal attack on Theresa, Keith began raping Gwendolyn. According to Theresa, Gwendolyn begged Keith not to rape her and told him repeatedly that he was hurting her. She begged for the safety of herself and her unborn child. Following the rapes, Keith forced both women to perform oral sex on him at gunpoint.

Once the sexual assaults were over, Keith sat down casually, pointing the gun at the two women. According to Theresa, he said “I’m going to kill you”, while alternating pointing the gun at the two women. The next thing Theresa remembers is hearing gunshots. Theresa fell unconscious, but later awoke with serious injuries. Theresa looked over to her friend, Gwendolyn, who had also been shot.

Bloody and panicked, Theresa made her way to a neighbor’s door. At one o’clock in the morning on July 7th, 1982, Theresa banged on her neighbor’s door. Her neighbor described the woman as having “blood all over her hands”. The women explained she had been shot, along with a friend, and begged for help. They asked Theresa who had done this, to which she responded “Keith”.

While waiting for emergency medical services, the neighbor went to the apartment to check on Theresa’s three children. The children were all unharmed. He found Gwendolyn Whipple, shot, and was not able to find a pulse on the woman. When the ambulance arrived, the first responders immediately went to Gwendolyn. There were no signs of life and Gwendolyn’s baby had no heartbeat. There were both gone.

Theresa Conway had suffered five gunshot wounds; one to the right mandible, one to the right side of her neck, one to the right arm, one to the skull that lacerated her brain, and the left shoulder. She was admitted to the hospital, where she miraculously survived her horrific injuries. The Chicago Police Department interviewed her early that morning. She explained that the man who committed these terrible crimes was named Keith and that her boyfriend would know his last name.

Theresa’s boyfriend was interviewed in the county jail at 3:30 am that morning. He told the police that the only person he knew named Keith was Keith Shum. He also provided the address where Keith lived. When police arrived at the apartment, Keith’s aunt let them in. Keith was home, undressed and asleep on the couch. Keith Shum was read his rights and informed that he was prime suspect in a rape and murder. Police took Keith to the hospital in handcuffs, where Theresa Conway positively identified him as the man who raped the two women and shot them.

Gwendolyn Whipple’s cause of death was a gun shot wound to her brain. Her baby’s death was intrauterine asphyxia caused by Gwendolyn’s death. Two physicians would testify at trial that the baby was full term and could have survived outside of his mother’s womb. With this, Keith Shum was charged with rape, murder, attempted murder, aggravated battery, armed violence, unlawful restraint, and Illinois’ first indictment on feticide. The feticide law was passed in August of 1981, so this case would be the first under this new law. For the murder charges, Illinois announced they would seek the death penalty.

At trial, Keith Shum was found guilty on all charges. During the sentencing portion of the trial, the jury had to consider the aggravating and mitigation circumstances surrounding this terrible crime. The aggravating evidence included the injuries suffered by Theresa Conway, who survived the attack. Additional evidence included the fact that the murder occurred during a sexual assault. The court also heard that Gwendolyn Whipple was five days overdue, and her physician told her eighteen hours before the crime that she was in early labor and would deliver within twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Instead of welcoming her baby, Gwendolyn and her baby were brutally killed in a senseless crime.

Mitigating circumstances were presented by the defense. The defense attorney explained that they were unable to secure witnesses, school records, and medical records that would show mitigating evidence on the defense’s behalf. The court determined that there was no substantial mitigating evidence to combat the aggravating factors of the crime. Keith Shum was sentenced to death for the murder of Gwendolyn Whipple. The court added an additional sixty years for the feticide, thirty years for the rape of Gwendolyn, thirty years for the rape of Theresa, and thirty years for the attempted murder of Theresa. The sentences would run concurrently.

Keith Shum appealed his conviction and sentence several times, all unsuccessfully. In January of 2003, Governor George Ryan commuted the sentences of all condemned prisoners on Illinois’ death row to life in prison. This included Keith Shum. In May of 2003, Keith Shum’s defense won a motion to have DNA testing completed in his case.

That is where my research hit a brick wall in this case. I found no further newspaper articles, press releases, or court records on this case following the May 2003 decision. Keith Shum is not listed in the Illinois Department of Corrections inmate database. There are no articles or records to confirm if Keith Shum died in prison or was released. One record I found said Keith Shum’s real name was Keith Shurn, but I found now records under this name either. I have developed an educated guess about what happened with this case after May 2003, but the following is purely speculation:

I believe that the DNA confirmed Keith Shum’s guilt. I believe that if the DNA was not a match, there would have been media coverage and further appeals in this case. My guess is that Keith Shum died in prison as there were no further appeals or media coverage confirming his sentence, commuted to life without parole, was ever overturned or changed.

If you have any information that can help me properly conclude this story, please reach out to us at


Knott, A. (1984). Man guilty in death of fetus. Chicago Tribune. 19 Sep 1984

Chicago Tribune. (1982). 1st ‘feticide’ indictment. Chicago Tribune. 9 Jul 1982

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