The house at 785 Mildred Avenue is closed up now — not exactly boarded up, but old cabinets hold a sheet of plywood against the front door and pallets are crammed around a back entrance. A yellow-green sign that the Village of Cahokia stuck on a front window proclaims the building "uninhabitable."
"They shut that house down," says a neighbor, who declined to give her name. "There was a murder."
She and another neighbor interviewed by the RFT suspected it was a drug house. It had sold for $8,000 last year, and people seemed to come and go at all hours.
The morning Mahir was killed, a neighbor says she heard maybe three blasts from a gun at about 3:30 a.m.
"I heard the shots, and then I heard a scream," she says.
Police pulled up shortly after. Later, a SWAT team arrived and surrounded the house for hours before entering late in the afternoon, the neighbors say. There was apparently no one inside.
It is a little more than seven miles from the house to the Brooklyn strip clubs — not far, but not around the corner, either.
"My strong gut feeling is that he was lured there, maybe for them to rob him," Mahir's friend Ilir says in a phone interview. "I don't see any other reason for him to be there."
If that was the case, Ilir suspects he was chasing a woman. Another longtime friend, Ibro Suljic, agrees. "His weakness was women," he says.
Suljic says Mahir had been at a Bevo Mill bar called Triple Crown for a drink the night before he was killed and apparently drove across the river to Illinois later. He suspects that if Mahir did, in fact, get into a confrontation with the people at the Cahokia house, Ross would have quickly realized he wouldn't win a fistfight with the strongman. Tall and slim at six feet two inches tall and 180 pounds, Ross would have been no match physically for Mahir, who sometimes worked as a bouncer for concerts and events in the Bosnian community. Instead, Suljic suspects Mahir was taken off guard. He doesn't believe he was killed in self defense.
"If he was in his car, in reverse, how the hell were you afraid for your life?" Suljic asks.
Mersad Smajic has considered marshaling the Bosnian community and Mahir's friends to protest prosecutors and police in St. Clair County over the handling of the case. But he does not know whether that would be effective, and ultimately, they are one of the few avenues for his family to get any more answers about what happened.
"The way he was killed — the way he lost his life — was so miserable it blows my mind," Mersad says. "It blows my parents' minds. It blows my brother's mind."
The worst part is the effect on Mahir's eight-year-old son and five nephews and nieces, he says. Shortly before he died, Mahir took Mersad's son to the mall to look for a pair of shoes. They couldn't find the right ones, so they planned to go back later. There was no reason to think it would be the last time they saw each other. Four days later, a detective contacted Mersad to deliver the bad news.
"My son, man, my son took it so hard," he says.
It has now been sixteen weeks since Mahir's death. Mersad wonders if he will ever know for certain the details, even if they're ugly, of what happened that morning. The little he does know and the questions it raises eat at him. How could someone just walk up and shoot his brother in the head one night in some random neighborhood away from his friends and family?
"It's so cheap, you know what I mean?" Mersad says. "For what?"