Those of us who keep journals do so in order to have an outlet for our innermost thoughts. Nowadays, many people find that using things like Facebook or other social media outlets to share those thoughts is much more cathartic. Still, for many, the old way works best.
She was a beautiful, 8-year-old girl with a terrific smile, full hair, and as unimportant as it seems at first glance, wonderful penmanship. This fact is important because it was Gizzell’s writing that ultimately helped the police to discover what really happened to her…
Diary of Gizzy
Gizzell was, like many girls her age, wide-eyed, intelligent, and ready to face the world with eyes untarnished by life’s many trials and tribulations. Also, like many 8-year-old girls, Gizzell, or “Gizzy” as her friends called her, kept a diary. She did it so that she could record all her thoughts, ideas, and experiences.
Like many diaries, Gizzy’s diary was striped with rainbows, and she used a pink marker for her entries. Gizzy’s first few entries were about typical third-grade things. She wrote about the fun she had jumping rope, her annoying school teachers, the clothes she liked, and of course, her friends. But soon enough, those entries would shift towards something much more unnerving…
A few months after Gizzy started keeping the diary, she was found dead in her grandmother’s home. She had been strangled and so badly beaten that she no longer resembled the happy, smiling, little girl that she had when she began her diary entries. Police had an inkling as to what may have occurred, but they wouldn’t get the proof until they discovered her diary.
Gizzell’s life in Chicago was derailed in the summer of 2013, when she and her single father, a hard, cantankerous man, were forced to move in with her grandma Helen. It was after this move that Gizzy’s diary entries went from being light hearted recollections to dark anecdotes of her soon to be different life at grandma Helen’s…
The diary soon included many sordid details about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her grandmother. One of her entries explained the position she was now in. “I know if I be good and do everything I’m told I won’t have to do punishments,” she wrote. Punishments in this case included being forced to squat or stand in one place for hours at a time.
Freedom in School
It got so bad at grandma Helen’s that Gizzell actually began to look forward to the start of school in August. She wrote as much in the diary and hoped that the day would come soon when she could be out of the house for hours at a time. Of course, things would soon get much, much worse…
Oddly enough, that didn’t seem to affect Gizzy’s upbeat personality, not as much as you would think anyway. “People say I’m smart and courageous and beautiful…I am going to be a beautiful smart and good young lady,” she wrote after one particularly hard day. “I can do anything I put my smart mind to…”
Take for Granted
In the same entry, Grizell wrote about how she wished she could have some of the things that other 8-year-olds take for granted. “I hope that I don’t mess up today because I really want to be able to just sit down, watch T.V., talk and play with everybody,” That day, things would go from mildly bad, to much, much worse…
“I am going to be great all day.” Gizell wrote as she began her day. Later, she added a postscript that read. “Not true…I failed.” It was July 11, 2013, when she finally wrote her very last diary entry: “I hate this life because now I’m in super big trouble.” The next day, police received a tip that she had died. Once her body was taken away, they discovered her diary.
Two to Tango
After reading the diary, police arrested Gizzell’s father and grandma Helen. The grandmother, 55-year-old Helen Ford, was put on trial but her father, Andre Ford, died before he could be brought to justice. He passed away in 2014 of a rare skin disease that caused him to have a heart attack. As for Grandma Helen…
It wasn’t until the trial began that the world finally learned the truth behind the abuse. It was not Grandma Helen who masterminded the attacks but Grizell’s brutal father who directed them. Helen Ford just carried out the attacks, though with far more added gusto and venom than anyone ever needed.
Obviously, the most compelling piece of evidence for the prosecution was Grizell’s diaries. As it happened, there were also some other bits of damning evidence that pointed the finger at Grandma Helen, including a cellphone video that allegedly showed her berating the terrified 8-year-old for breaking house rules, and it got worse from there…
If Gizzell cried out in pain, Helen would stick a sock in her granddaughter’s mouth. One time, she had been tied to the bed for several days. Her evil father and grandmother would deny her food and water and if she even so much as tried to sneak a sip of water from the toilet, they would punish her even more.
Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Ashley Romito spoke to the jury about what they were seeing. “They’re the most haunting images any of us will see until the end of our days,” she continued by saying that “What Helen Ford did to her reduced that child to something completely unrecognizable.” It was hardly just DAs who were affected by the unnerving evidence…
One witness, a veteran Chicago police forensic investigator, broke down on the stand when she was shown photos of Gizzell’s body. Even after 30 years on the force, she couldn’t help but lose control. She described the injuries as some of the worst she has seen in all that time.
More Than One Victim
When Gizzell’s 10-year-old half brother took the stand to testify, it was revealed that he too had suffered at Helen Ford’s hands. He spoke softly, as if he were scared to say what he had to say, but told the judge that he too was beaten by Helen with a belt. She also forced him into similar punishments as his sister…
He was forced to squat for hours as well or stand in the same contorting positions as his sister. But the real revelations came when he told them the things Helen did that weren’t in the book. Things like hitting Gizell with a spatula in the mouth and forcing her to eat hot peppers.
A Good Friend
The boy too, burst into tears as he described his little sister, telling the court that, “She was very nice…She liked to make friends. She liked to play.” Almost everyone who met Gizell thought the same thing and strangely enough, so did Grandma Helen…
Helen Ford, who wept as she listened to everyone’s testimony, decided not to testify. Meanwhile, her public defender, Judie Smith, acknowledged the tragedy of the case in her opening statements. Of course, he also tried to paint Helen as sympathetic by describing her as “overworked, overwhelmed and overcome” with the daily responsibilities of taking care of her three grandchildren and her son, who as it happened, was completely bedridden.
According to the defense, many of Gizzell’s injuries were actually self-inflicted. “She was a tragically troubled young lady,” explained Smith “She coped by injuring herself.” In the end, the jury didn’t buy it and Helen Ford was given life in prison for her complicity in Gizell’s death.