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Boyfriend can’t shake memory of dead girlfriend

Updated: November 16, 2011 1:21AM

It was 5 a.m. when Alex Jones got home from work the Saturday before last and noticed a hubbub of police activity just across the corner from his apartment.

Jones lives at 59th and Kedzie, works a late shift in Schaumburg and relies on public transit to get back and forth, which meant the big storm that blew through the previous night had delayed his commute home by hours.

His exhaustion exceeded only by his curiosity, Jones wandered over to take a look beyond the police tape and saw a covered corpse lying on the sidewalk near a window air-conditioning unit that was no longer in the window. The third-floor windows above were askew.

When Jones asked what had happened, somebody told him a woman had fallen. He stayed on the scene until the dead body was finally taken away by the medical examiner.

“I didn’t know the body was Cyndi,” Jones told me days later. “All the time I was out there I didn’t know she was under that sheet.”

The stunning realization that the dead body on the sidewalk was Jones’ sometime live-in girlfriend, Cynthia Barnes, a neighborhood prostitute and crack addict, didn’t come until police knocked on his door several hours later, Jones said.

Authorities would later tell reporters they believed Barnes, 39, was pushed through a window by a man who subsequently jumped from the third floor himself, suffering critical injuries in the process.

All police told Jones was that they were at his door because Barnes had listed his address with her parole officer. They asked who he was and told him she was dead.

Jones, 55, describes himself as Barnes’ boyfriend. He said they met last year when they were both living at the Ashland Hotel in the Back of the Yards, where she originally was paroled out of Lincoln Correctional Center after a three-year sentence for robbery. She had been staying at the hotel with another man. When Jones moved, he says, he invited her to stay with him, and she accepted.

I’ve told you previously Barnes was homeless, and maybe you see a discrepancy there, but the truth is that a lot of homeless people have places where they occasionally stay, until they get kicked out, and such was the case with Barnes.

On one hand, life on the street is infinitely more complicated than it is for the rest of us, and on the other hand, it’s elementally simple — a raw battle for survival.

It should come as no surprise then that Barnes would have an acquaintance with whom she sometimes stayed — essentially trading housing for sex — and another “boyfriend” on the street, such as AWOL, whom I told you about in Sunday’s column.

“She shuttled from him to me and back and forth,” Jones acknowledged, betraying no hint of resentment.

Jones referred to AWOL as Barnes’ “running buddy on the street” whom she needed for protection.

When he picked his 59th Street apartment, Jones said he hadn’t realized the location was smack on top of the turf where Barnes had long practiced the sex trade before going to prison. Soon she was back in it, he said.

Jones said Barnes kept clothes in his apartment and often showered there.

“If she needed something to eat, I never refused her,” he said.

She also used his apartment to smoke crack.

Jones, who insists he does not use illegal drugs, said he came to understand Barnes preferred to do drugs in his apartment rather than on the street because it relieved her of the responsibility to share — part of the what’s-yours-is-mine code of the street.

Jones said Barnes had a key to his apartment for a time, but that he had to take it away after her activities drew the attention of his landlord.

“I couldn’t trust to leave her here,” Jones said. “When she goes to sleep, she goes into a comatose sleep, and you couldn’t wake her.”

One week before she died, Jones said, he and Barnes “had a big blowup.”

“She refused to leave. I called the police. She hit me. I hit her back. By the time police got here, she was gone.”

On the night she died, Jones said, Barnes left him a message on his cell phone while he was at work in response to his efforts to get her to remove a suitcase of her belongings. He never got back to her.

Now, “every time I come out my door, I see the window she came out of,” he said. “You can’t help but look.”

Some look. Some look away.

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