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Too Young and Too Pretty

Before someone found Amber McGathey’s body in the Jeep, she’d spent months trying to find her way home

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At first, she was just a body in the River Market.

A 22-year-old white female, four days dead, concealed in a Jeep Cherokee parked at Fifth Street and Delaware.

Parts of her head and body were wrapped in duct tape, Jackson County Medical Examiner Thomas Young would write in his autopsy report. Also encircling the head, neck, trunk and knee areas are portions of speaker wire that are fastened in simple overhand knots. The subject wears no clothing. A silver metal ring with nine clear stones encircles the left long finger. A bracelet composed of multiple beige beads encircles the left wrist. A necklace composed of turquoise and other types of beads and stones encircles the neck.... A colorful tattoo of a parrot on a tree branch lies in the right buttock.

Police took the owner of the Jeep, 38-year-old Matthew Davis, into custody early on June 6. He was arrested on an existing warrant for domestic abuse.

That day, police went to the Cup and Saucer restaurant on Delaware and flashed a photograph of two regular patrons, a couple who lived in the River Market Lofts across the street. The photo was of Davis and his girlfriend, 22-year-old Amber McGathey. McGathey, they said, was the dead woman in the back of the Jeep. That was five months ago, but the events leading up to Amber's death have remained a mystery to police and prosecutors. Davis has refused to speak to anyone except his lawyer about what happened; sources close to him told the Pitch they expected him to plead guilty to a felony charge of abandoning a body at a hearing scheduled for November 4. Amber's father, however, is convinced that Davis deserves to be charged with murder.

Bartender Jack Ferguson, a twentysomething with star tattoos in the crooks of his elbows and a closely shaved head, still has vivid memories of the couple. "Amber was always Versace-ed out," he tells the Pitch. "She was always wearing these bright, fluorescent colors. They both had this celebrity aspect to them. They were reclusive and outlandish. I was fond of them. They were good tippers."

Matthew Davis was 16 years older than Amber McGathey, but the two had a lot in common. Both lived off trust funds. Both struggled with drug abuse.

One was my friend.

I met Amber McGathey five years ago, when we were freshmen at Loyola, a Catholic university on Chicago's north side; she sat next to me in a smoky dorm room crowded with kids bonding over pot. She told me how the seedy neighborhood had inspired her to hand out blankets and hot chocolate to homeless people downtown.

When Amber and I ran into each other again, we shared Parliament Lights in front of Mertz Hall. In conversation, she'd cock her head and concentrate as if she could see into your brain. When she spoke, she physically gripped people -- their hands, their shoulders, their wrists -- in a way that demanded attention. Her energy was unsettling.

It scared me.

Once, I saw Amber and some friends tripping on acid on the Jes Res (the nickname for the lawn between the chapel and the hall where the school's Jesuit priests lived) in view of Lake Michigan. That type of partying was acceptable college recreation.

But by sophomore year, Amber's drug use had clearly bypassed everyone else's. She took a job at a club called Le Passage on pricey Rush Street downtown and grew thin, which complemented her fashion sense but betrayed her growing dependence on cocaine.

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