• Unspeakable Times

The Tragic Family Nightmare That Nearly Derailed Jennifer Hudson's Entire Life

Jennifer Hudson seemed be living large in the early months of 2008. Still fresh off the success of the hit film Dreamgirls in 2006, she was lauded as a singer and actress, she'd won an Oscar, and her career was soaring. She was very close with her family, including her nephew, Julian, who was only seven. But in October of 2008, everything came crashing down as her former brother-in-law turned a gun on Hudson's family. William Balfour killed several of her family members — including her mother — in their own Chicago home, leaving her and her sister, Julia, in a state of horror and shock.

People whose families are murdered don't tend to be able to rise from the ashes with ease, and this experience took a toll on Jennifer and her sister. At first they were mostly silent about their trauma, but eventually both became advocates to help family members deal with loss. Even years afterward, though, both women understandably still find it hard to talk about the grisly incident.

The Jennifer Hudson family murder facts are quite grim. However, the good that the Hudson family has done, and the way they have persevered in the face of tragedy is at the very least an inspiration.

  • Photo: WEBN-TV / flickr / CC-BY-ND 2.0

    Jennifer Had Always Disliked Him

    Jennifer Hudson lost her mother, brother, and her nephew all in one day, and saw her sister subsequently descend into a deep melancholy. It completely turned her life upside down, and she has said that it will always impact her.

    While she initially refused to comment on the murders, she eventually stepped up to take the witness stand to testify against her former brother-in-law. What she said was not only telling as far as Balfour’s character, but also to how much this loss had affected both her and her sister. She had apparently known Balfour for years, even when they were in sixth grade together, but had never liked him even then, and had always thought that he was a terrible match for her sister. In court, Hudson stated, “None of us wanted her to marry him. I tried to keep my distance with William any chance I got. Where he was, I tried not to be.”

  • Balfour Had Been Abusive To His Wife

    Julia had every reason to want to be free of Balfour, besides her family’s encouragement to leave him. He was allegedly verbally abusive to her, and had been seen threatening her life at work and in public. Julia later said that he had once ominously threatened to kill her entire family, before he would kill her. He may have also been physically abusive, and had broken parole from a previous sentence by both taking illegal substances as well as getting his hands on a firearm. Balfour also apparently had at least one girlfriend on the side, and was expecting a baby with her. 

  • Photo: Birute00 / YouTube

    Balfour Stalked The Family Before Murdering Them

    One particularly damning detail that came out during the trial was that Balfour had apparently planned the crime before he went on his killing spree. A friend and neighbor to the family testified in court that he'd seen Balfour lurking outside the Hudson family home the summer before the murders. Reginald Jones said that he'd been walking home and had found Balfour sitting in the dark at the bottom of the stairs, right beneath the bedroom window of his wife, Julia, from whom he was by then estranged. The two had spoken briefly, but at the time, Jones hadn't thought much of it.

    Another witness said that Balfour had followed Julia to a park and confronted her there. In her testimony, Maria Wilkes said that Balfour had even talked about how to get in touch with his estranged wife, although Wilkes was only 13 at the time. She also said that she'd seen Balfour approach her on the street, and that she'd said she'd go to the police if he didn't stop. In return, he'd threatened to kill her and her family.

  • Balfour Claimed He Was Innocent Despite The Evidence Against Him

    Balfour was taken into custody on the same day that the bodies were found, but not arrested for the crimes, and the police did not file charges against him. According to the Chicago Tribune's timeline of events, when police arrested him at his girlfriend's apartment and questioned him, he refused to take a polygraph test. 

    "Balfour's girlfriend contradicts his alibi and tells police he was involved in the killings of the two adults, but not that of the boy."

    Police held Balfour for 48 hours — the maximum time a person can be held without being charged — but he was then released. Meanwhile, Jennifer identified the bodies of her family members, and two days later her nephew was found in the SUV.

    Balfour was found to have broken parole, however, and in November of 2008, he was held again. During that time, authorities got enough evidence to arrest him, and he was at last charged with murder December 1, 2008. Balfour's girlfriend later admitted that Balfour had confessed the killings to her a day or two later. 

    For a long time, however, Balfour claimed he was innocent. He claimed he loved Julia and Julian, and that he could not have possibly hurt the child. The defense argued that the whole case was circumstantial, and that the case had been rushed and used for headlines, because it was tied to Jennifer Hudson. They also said that, although Balfour had been in possession of the same kind of gun that had killed the Hudson family, there was no DNA evidence of him. They suggested that, instead, Jason Hudson’s activity selling drugs had much more likely lead to the murder. There was also a question as to whether the murder bullets matched a gun Jason once owned and had reported stolen from his home. The murder bullets were eventually traced back to a stolen gun in Michigan.