Murder by Numbers
A Look Behind The Sad Statistics Of Baltimore’s 2005 Homicide Toll
“A lot of times, when the crime is committed, family members are not aware of what they need because they have a lot of family members and friends and everyone is around,” Holmes says. “But then once everyone goes away, you’re left with this emotion, this devastation. When they come in, they feel like the only ones in the world who are experiencing this.”
With 269 murders in Baltimore City in 2005 they are hardly alone. Every year, the four-person staff at the Family Bereavement Center helps around 600 people. Besides counseling, the Bereavement Center acts as a liaison between the family and police and prosecutors; the staff guides the family through the court process and helps them get aid if they can’t afford to pay for the funeral. But mostly those left behind need help dealing with the unthinkable, that someone has unexpectedly taken the life of someone they love. “When this happens,” Holmes says, “most people feel like they were robbed, they were cheated.”
For most of the city’s residents, 269 is just a number, a figure to compare and contrast to other years, other cities. But to the families of the victims, it’s 269 men, women, and children whose lives were ended as a part of the violence that still holds our city captive no matter how many Starbucks open. And every year, people look for answers to why the violence continues.
Some blame the drug dealers and write the victims off as casualties of the war on the streets, criminals swept up in the lives they chose to lead. Some look to Mayor Martin O’Malley, whose 1999 campaign promise to get the murder rate down to 175, once a rallying cry, has become a feeble joke. Others point to the recent parade of police commissioners and their various tactics to stem the bloody tide: zero tolerance, stepping up arrests, gun buybacks, surveillance cameras. Everyone looks for reasons why, when cities such as Boston and New York have gotten their homicide numbers down, ours holds strong.
This article offers no reasons why. It looks instead to answer more concrete questions: the who, where, when, and how. The information was collected over the last two years from the Baltimore Police Department. And while this data can shed light on what happened in our city over the past year, it cannot tell the full story. Numbers do not tell us who these victims were, what they meant to those they left behind, or how we can stop these tragedies from playing out again and again. But they do paint a bloody picture of yet another year in which too many lives were lost.
When looking at homicide, it’s easiest to begin with the numbers, the trivia generated from 269 murders in 365 days. Baltimore City averaged five murders a week in 2005. The longest stretch that we went without a homicide death was seven days. We had one six-day stretch as well. More people died on Wednesdays then any other day, with Saturday coming in a close second, though deaths were pretty evenly distributed throughout the days of the week.
The months of the year offered a bit more variety as 2005 began with an all too literal bang. January was last year’s most murderous month with 33 homicide deaths, an average of more than one a day. There were five on Jan. 20 alone.
Multiple homicides account for some of January’s damage. From the very first homicide of the year, people were taken out in sets. On Jan. 2, Janice Ruffin was found shot to death in the backyard of an abandoned house in the 500 block of East 43rd Street wearing only a pair of panties; Janerio Richardson was found dead inside. A week later, on Jan. 10, Antown Arthur, Nathan Gulliver, and Steven Matthews were executed in a Remington group home (“A Shot at Redemption,” Feb. 16, 2005). In all, 19 deaths were part of multiple murders this year, and seven of those deaths occurred in this first month. More common were murders in which multiple people were attacked but only one perished, such as the Jan. 12 murder of Andre Dyer, who was found lying on the ground in the 1300 block of Stricker Street in Sandtown-Winchester. He and another man were shot repeatedly just after 1 a.m., but only Dyer died.
Dyer’s death was the first in a long line of murders in Sandtown-Winchester last year. In 2005, Sandtown earned the distinction of being Baltimore’s most murderous neighborhood, with 11 homicides, nearly tripling the number of murders there in 2004. Kurt Fulp, a 20-year-old from Sandtown-Winchester, was killed May 22 while he rode his bike in the 1500 block of Presstman Street. A car’s driver intentionally swerved into the oncoming lane to hit him, then kept driving. On Sept. 10, Darryl Outlaw, 32, was driving in a funeral procession. He was stopped at a red light at Laurens and Carey streets when two men on a moped rode up next to his car and shot him. In March, 16-year-old Jessie Peay was found lying face down, shot in the head. His girlfriend was beside him when police arrived. Eight months out of the year at least one person was murdered in the West Baltimore neighborhood. However, according to Maj. Richard Fahlteich, head of the Baltimore Police Department’s homicide unit, it’s not so much that murders were up in Sandtown-Winchester in 2005 as that they were down in ’04.
“The Sandtown-Winchester thing has been on again-off again in my entire 32-year career,” Fahlteich says. “Sandtown-Winchester had a lull for a number of years, but I really think that some of this spike that we had over there was because of enforcement efforts in the Western [police] District and along the border with the Southwest that kind of shifted some of [the crime in the area].” While police and community action can chase criminals off a corner or a block, the violence rarely goes far. It often just moves over a street or two, and in Baltimore, where often every few square blocks is its own neighborhood, that can make a difference.
The Western District had the exact same number of homicides in 2005 as it had in ’04: 38. In fact, looking at homicide numbers across the city reveals more subtle shifts than substantive changes. There were 276 murders in 2004. The number originally released by the police department at the end of the year was 278, but two of those murders were reclassified by the FBI. Accepting the 276 number means that in 2005 there were seven fewer murders, a 2.54 percent decrease. The number of men killed went from 246 in 2004 to 242 in ’05. Shooting homicides rose from 215 to 216. The crimes move around, but they don’t stop.
The Carrollton Ridge neighborhood in Southwest Baltimore has felt these shifts. In 2004, there were five murders in Carrollton Ridge; that number doubled in 2005, with half of those murders in the last two months of the year. With 40 murders, the Southwest District took the crown for most homicides from 2004’s winner, the Eastern. Constance Fowler, the 70-year-old president of the Carrollton Ridge Association, sees a clear explanation for why people were killed in her neighborhood.
“The murders that were committed was all drug related, one drug dealer shooting the other one,” Fowler says. “I don’t want to see anybody die, but in what business they were doing I’m surprised they lasted as long as they did.”
It’s a common refrain. According the Fahlteich, between 82 percent and 84 percent of 2005’s homicide victims had criminal records. And he insists that when he says “criminal records” he’s talking about serious crimes: “If some guy was just urinating in an alley, yeah, he’s been arrested, but that’s not how we look at it. When we say that, we’re talking about usually for repeat involvement in drugs [and] violent crime.”
But for Holmes at the Family Bereavement Center there is no distinction. A death is a death.
“No one’s loss is any more important than another person’s loss,” Holmes says. “Regardless of who that person was, they still was somebody’s mother, somebody’s father, somebody’s sister, somebody’s brother. Before they were any of that other stuff, they were somebody’s child.”
Even within Carrollton Ridge, the distinctions are not as cut and dried as Fowler believes. On Nov. 23, Cristino Purisima ran into his home in the 200 block of Furrow Street yelling, “They’re shooting at me.” He had already been hit several times. At the same time, Tony Campbell, 51, was in the hallway of the rooming house next door when a bullet hit him in the chest—a bullet likely meant for Purisima. Both men died.
In March, 75-year-old Jessie Lee was robbed and beaten to death at his appliance store in the 1900 block of West Pratt Street. And in June, one block over, 34-year-old Milton Johnson was killed by a man who asked to buy some cigarettes for 30 cents a piece. Johnson asked for five more cents, and the man punched Johnson, fracturing his skull and causing him to die several days later.
These shifts in homicide concentrations have been felt in other areas as well. The number of murders in the Northern District jumped from 17 in 2004 to 31 in 2005. The Better Waverly neighborhood was particularly hard hit in the past year, with six murders, up from two in ’04, though not everyone agrees about these numbers.
“I think it is exaggerated when I read information of ‘this is the sixth murder of the year,’” says Debra Evans, co-chair of the Better Waverly Community Organization. “I don’t think all six of them were in what we call, and what’s written on our plan, the Better Waverly boundaries. I think over the passing years, a lot of things have been [called] Waverly or Better Waverly, and actually they have been in other neighborhoods surrounding.”
Neighborhood boundaries are a frequent sticking point when it comes to homicide. No one wants to believe it’s happening in his or her backyard. However, as Evans notes, “Baltimore City’s neighborhoods, you can walk one block and be in paradise and go two more blocks and be in hell.” The neighborhood boundaries for this article, and for the Murder Ink columns in 2005, were based on the Department of Planning’s 2003 Baltimore City Neighborhoods map, the most recent one available at the beginning of 2005.
Evans blames the increased number of homicides in her neighborhood on policing in the surrounding areas, the hells surrounding her little paradise. “When the police start putting all of the policing in certain areas of the city, it pushed some of the violent crime into neighborhoods that didn’t see that before,” she contends. “The policing must be spread out evenly to keep violent crimes from coming into the neighborhoods that don’t have them.”
Fahlteich acknowledges the increase in homicides in the Northern District. “There’s a few more there, but that’s one of those things where there’s more in a pocket in one place and not in another,” he says. “We don’t see anything that’s a systemic kind of a problem in that area. Sometimes it’s just a matter of where someone happens to be. I know in one case, actually, there was a long reoccurring beef between the suspect and the victim, and their paths just happen to cross actually in Charles Village. And it just escalated to a point where the guy happened to have a gun and he killed him, and that’s just because they were there. It could have just as easily happened at Fayette and Eutaw.”
While that is little comfort to the neighborhood’s residents, it is emblematic of the city’s homicides—fights taken too far, disagreements that become murders because someone has a gun or a knife, usually a gun.
Of the 269 murders in 2005, 216 were fatal shootings. The other numbers don’t even come close: one vehicular homicide, eight deaths due to asphyxiation, 20 beatings, and 24 stabbings. A breakdown of the shooting deaths provides even grislier realities, as at least 86 of the victims were shot in the head. One hundred and twenty five of the shooting victims were killed in or near their homes. Twenty-three were found murdered in cars. And, from their descriptions, many of these crimes sound like assassinations. It seems that murders in Baltimore, while often incomprehensible, are infrequently random.
On Jan. 15, 2005, someone came to Lawrence Fields’ front door in the 2600 block of Huron Street. He went to the door and asked who was there. The response was a hail of bullets through the closed door. In February, Reginald Gray was driving near Clifton Park when his path crossed with some people he had gotten into a fight with two nights earlier at Hammerjacks. They followed him, cornered him in the park, and shot him. Shannon Jemmison—his friends called him Shamrock—was playing cards at a car wash in Central Park Heights when a man came in and asked if he could play. The man then pulled out a gun and shot Jemmison four times in the head at close range.
Many robberies turned fatal in 2005. On May 16, 19-year-old Deonte Brown was at the Broadway Carryout when a man walked in and tried to rob the establishment. There was a struggle for the gun, and Brown was shot. In August, Richard Boroughs was at his girlfriend’s house in the 400 block of South Collington Street in Upper Fells Point when three men broke into the house and demanded money. Boroughs’ girlfriend said there was no money, but the men shot Boroughs and then ransacked the place. The next month, 17-year-old Abdul-Bari Muhammad was walking to Mondawmin Mall with his younger brother and cousin. They got as far as the parking lot between the MVA office and the mall when three men approached them. One of the men pulled out a gun, said “This is a robbery,” and pulled the trigger, shooting Muhammad in the head before he even had a chance to respond. The robbers ran off without taking anything.
These crimes, the coldness of them, don’t surprise Fahlteich. He has watched homicides get less and less personal over the years.
“Back in the ’80s and early ’90s, probably 45 percent, in terms of round numbers of our homicides, were acquaintance murders,” Fahlteich says. “These were people who actually knew each other and talked to each other and were in the same neighborhood. [They] had a relationship of one type or another. That’s not so much the case anymore.” Now, Fahlteich says, the victim and the suspect are more likely to be strangers or people who know of each other but have never spent any time together. While he believes that the drug trade accounts for some of this violence, Fahlteich says that it is not the only issue at play: “My opinion is, having watched this for 30-plus years, there is a certain lack of morality,” he says. “And so people, instead of just having an argument, it instantaneously escalates. And whether it’s a firearm or a hatchet or a bowie knife, people just immediately lash out.”
There are plenty of examples in 2005’s homicide rolls to bear him out. On April 30, the bartender at a bar in Brewers Hill announced last call. A couple came in and wanted a drink. The bartender said no. The man and the bartender started to argue. Henry Trociuk tried to help the bartender and was stabbed several times in the chest. He died at Johns Hopkins Hospital at 2:15 a.m.
Back in January, Terry Street went to a birthday party at the Pleasant View Multi-Purpose Center. A fight broke out. It spilled outside, and Street was shot in the head. On Aug. 2, Darrell Winston got into a fight with a woman in the 600 block of North Curley Street. Gene Foreman, a male relative of the woman, allegedly tried to stop Winston, to get him to let the girl go. One of Foreman’s friends went and got a gun and handed it to the 15-year-old Foreman, who police allege fired the gun, killing Winston.
Someone saw a fight and his first reaction was to get a gun and put it in the hands of a 15-year-old.
Foreman himself was shot the next day a few blocks from the scene. He survived and is being charged as an adult with murder.
Acquaintance murders may be down, but they have not disappeared. And domestic violence remains a very real problem in Baltimore. The House of Ruth, a nonprofit organization that provides shelter and services for woman and child victims of domestic violence, had a very busy year. According to its fiscal year 2005 report, the House of Ruth provided services to 11,289 people, a 22 percent increase over the year before; 1,308 victims of domestic abuse requested spots in House of Ruth’s emergency shelter, though it was only able to house 197. In 2005, as in every year, some relationships proved fatal. Thirteen murders took place within a family, household, or romantic relationship last year. Eight of these homicide victims were women.
In September, 15-year-old Blanca Dubon’s throat was slit by two men, one of them her 23-year-old ex-boyfriend. At 11 a.m. on a Thursday morning in February, family found the bodies of 23-year-old Tiarra Palmer and her 26-year-old husband, Larry Brown. Brown had shot Palmer several times and then turned the gun on himself.
In April, John Blankenship stabbed his wife and sister-in-law to death in his home in Medfield. He then stabbed himself seven times and was caught when he crashed his car. And in September, Eartha McClary was shot by her husband Ronald McClary. When police found him, McClary was yelling, “I shot her. I love her so much.”
Women were also more likely to be killed inside their homes. Roughly 200 of the year’s murders took place outside, yet 16 of the 27 women murdered were killed where they lived. And while shootings were the cause of most of the female homicides in 2005, women were disproportionately victims of asphyxiations and stabbings.
Elderly people were more likely to be killed in their homes as well. Seven of the 11 homicide victims over 60 died in their homes. There were only three 60-plus murder victims in 2004. This spike is due in part to a series of connected crimes. Police have charged Raymont Hopewell with the murders of 78-year-old Sadie Mack, 81-year-old Carlton Crawford, and 78-year-old Lydia Wingfield. Hopewell has also been linked to two deaths from previous years.
But the rise in elderly homicide victims is not the most significant change in 2005’s homicide demographics. While so many of the numbers stayed the same, there was some good news nestled among the 269 deaths—or more accurately left out of them. In 2004, there were 31 juvenile homicide victims; in ’05, there were 14. That’s the lowest it’s been in two decades, according to a Jan. 2 Sun article. Fahlteich points to youth programs in the city and a change in the drug trade to explain this drop.
“A lot of kids that were victims of homicides were out slinging drugs, and the uppers echelons of the drug organizations were using kids because they wouldn’t get arrested, they would be released to parents, etc., etc.,” Fahlteich says. “I think that paradigm has shifted. I think that they’re using older people to [deal] drugs, going back to the vintage of the ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s.”
That does not explain the 11 children younger than 13 murdered in 2004, six of whom were under the age of 2. In one particularly awful example, 1-month-old twins Emonney and Emunnea Broadway were found dead in their parents’ home. They were malnourished, and the medical examiner found evidence of skull and rib fractures. Their 17-year-old mother, Sierra Swann, and 24-year-old father, Nathaniel Broadway, were charged with the twins’ murders.
Yet in 2005, only one child under the age of 15 was murdered. One-month-old Joshua Watson was dead when he was brought to Sinai Hospital on Jan. 2. His small body was already stiff and cold. He was covered in bruises and had a broken leg and fractured skull. His parents, 25-year-old Laurence Watson and 20-year-old Tanea Bullock, couldn’t adequately explain his injuries and were arrested.
Child-abuse deaths are always horrifying. And, Fahlteich says, they are among the most difficult murders for law enforcement to prevent. “We, as a police department, really are absolutely powerless to control that,” he says. “There are things that can be done to control some of those kind of things, but it isn’t from a law-enforcement side, it’s from a socioeconomic side.”
The Baltimore City Department of Social Services was vilified after the rash of infant deaths last year, especially in light of the fact that Sierra Swann had another child removed from her care the year before because of signs of abuse. Still, the Department of Social Services refuses to take credit for 2005’s drop in child-abuse deaths.
“I don’t know that we should take credit for the fact that there are fewer deaths, because we certainly wouldn’t want to take blame because there were more deaths,” Department of Social Services spokeswoman Sue Fitzsimmons says. “That’s something that no one really has control over.”
It’s a worrisome statement. If the police and the Department of Social Services have no control over child-abuse deaths, this year’s low number is likely to be an aberration, a statistical blip, rather then a systemic improvement.
Even with fewer children being murdered in 2005, there were still a number of children who were charged with murders. The youngest suspected murderer was 13 years old. On June 25, Jerrod Hamlett was in the 4000 block of Oswego Court with his girlfriend and a male friend. Some kids threw a bottle at them, and it hit one of the men’s foot. Hamlett went over and talked to the kids, telling them to cut it out. His friend and girlfriend went inside, and Hamlett stayed outside working on a car. The kids came over to him, and a 13-year-old in the group, police allege, shot Hamlett in the chest. The city State’s Attorney’s Office requested that the boy be tried as an adult, but the presiding judge refused. The boy was sentenced to seven years in a juvenile detention center and will be released when he turns 21.
If the boy had been one year older at the time of the shooting, he would have been tried as an adult. According to an Associated Press report, Hamlett’s sister was upset by the sentencing and said, “It’s ridiculous, the injustice. . . . This was not self-defense. It was premeditated murder. He wanted to do it. He wanted to be a man and carry and shoot a gun, so why didn’t they charge him as a man?”
The 13-year-old may have been the youngest, but he certainly wasn’t the only juvenile murder suspect. There was Gene Foreman, the 15-year-old who allegedly shot Darrell Winston during a fight. Sixteen-year-old David Reid Jr. was arrested for Jessie Peay’s murder in Sandtown-Winchester. Malik Vandiver, 16, has been charged with shooting 29-year-old Bayonna Cox in the head. At least 18 juveniles were charged with homicides from 2005.
And for every case in which someone is charged with homicide, another goes unsolved. “We have two kinds of cases basically,” Fahlteich says. “We have what we call dunker cases, which is like a domestic case or somebody comes forward immediately and says, ‘Yeah, well, I know that Poopy shot Stinky.’” And then there are “whodunit” murders, which range from solvable but labor-intensive to the near impossible, when, as Fahlteich says, “we have nothing. We have a body in Leakin Park. We finally identify who the individual is, we do everything we know in his background, and we find out that there are just so many tentacles and avenues in the individual’s life that we just don’t know. What we hope and pray is that something will happen here or in some other jurisdiction where somebody will say, ‘I know about Joe Smith who was found in Baltimore in a park someplace.’”
Even in the best of circumstances, identifying and arresting suspects takes time. “I’m always mystified when the news will report, ‘So-and-so was shot and killed last night in the 1200 block of First Street. No arrests have been made,’” Fahlteich says. “I always have to laugh at that. Like the suspect’s going to be standing there saying, ‘Hi, I was waiting for you.’” While that did happen on a few occasions in 2005, few cases are that simple. Fahlteich says the Baltimore Police Department homicide unit ended 2005 with a 55 percent clearance rate. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, the national homicide clearance rate was just below 63 percent in 2004, though that number drops to 55 percent for cities with populations between 500,000 and 1 million, making Baltimore about average. However, with fewer than 110 of 2005’s 269 murders closed at year’s end, the actual clearance number appears to be closer to 40 percent. “In-year cases are about 42 percent,” Fahlteich says. But the police department uses the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting number, which contains all homicides cleared in 2005 regardless of whether or not those murders occurred in that year. “For example, we locked up three people in this last week for cases from 2005; those clearance numbers will be in this year’s figures.”
The slow process of solving murders is often hardest on the families of the victims. Even when police arrest a suspect, the bereaved have to go through the often long and drawn-out court proceedings. Kim Holmes and her team at the Family Bereavement Center try to help the families through it, explaining the procedures and counseling patience. Or, as she puts it, “reminding them that this is not Law and Order, this is not CSI—things don’t happen in a day. DNA evidence don’t come back in two minutes. Those are the expectations that family members have.”
She also has to prepare families for seeing their loved ones’ killer in court, and the very real possibility that they may be sitting next to the defendant’s friends and family. “When the defendant comes out, he may not know any of you. So he may come out, he sees family members, he may smile, wave, grin. That may affect them,” Holmes says. “Its like, ‘How dare he.’”
And no matter how much Holmes tries to prepare the families, there is no telling how they will be affected when they get in that courtroom and hear the court clerk read the charges against the defendant. “They hear their loved one’s name in the same sentence as murder and it becomes real all over again,” she says. “I’ve had family members slump over because it becomes so emotional for them.”
The justice system in Baltimore City may seem slow, with murder suspects routinely not getting tried until a year after the murder, but street justice can be very swift. At least six homicide suspects were killed this year, including one by police and one by his own hand. The other four became homicides themselves. Jamel St. Clair, 17, was murdered April 1, three months after police believe he shot and killed Charles Thomas Jr. On April 11, back in Sandtown-Winchester, police believe 27-year-old Jamie Bull Parker pulled up to the block where Calvin Squirrell was hanging out and started shooting at Squirrell, chasing him to the rear of the block and hitting him in the head, back, and legs. On July 7, Parker was found lying in the middle of the street in the 1500 block of Poplar Grove Avenue shot dead.
Damon Aldridge, 22, lived just two weeks after May 1, the date he is suspected of shooting Kenneth Andre Morris in the head while Morris was behind the wheel of his car in the 1900 block of West Lombard Street in Carrollton Ridge. Aldridge was shot to death in Irvington on May 15. Police believe Gary McFadden blew a hole through 19-year-old Gerard Chase’s head while Chase was having a night out on the Block on March 30. Four days later, McFadden was at a welcome-home-from-jail party for a friend at the 5 Seasons nightclub when a shootout erupted in the parking lot. McFadden was killed and the autopsy revealed that he was shot once behind the ear at very close range.
Jamel St. Clair, Charles Thomas Jr., Calvin Squirrell, Jamie Bull Parker, Damon Aldridge, Kenneth Andre Morris, Gerard Chase, and Gary McFadden have more in common than just being homicide victims. They were all African-American men, all but two of them were in their 20s, and all of them were shot to death. They are the who and the how.
When we look at the big picture, the story of homicide in Baltimore is not about the 14 juveniles or the 27 women who were killed. It is not the story of the four Hispanic people or the 26 white people or the two Asians. It is a story about black men. Of the 269 homicide victims in 2005, 216 of them were African-American men. One hundred and sixteen were black men between the ages of 18 and 29, and all but nine of them were shot to death.
According to a Justice Policy Institute study, more than half of African-American men between the ages of 20 and 30 in Baltimore City are in jail or on probation. Those who remain free are being killed off at an alarming rate. Week after week we see them in the Murder Ink column, a string of 21-, 22-, and 23-year-old African-American men found shot on the sidewalk, in the street. As we finish examining 2005’s homicides, the murders that will make up the ’06 toll are already piling up. There have been 16 murders so far this year in Baltimore City, with 349 days left to go.
Holmes and the Family Bereavement Center are likely to have another busy year dealing with the pain and frustration of so many mothers burying their sons. But Holmes takes it one family at a time. “It’s not about curing them of their grief, because I don’t believe you cure somebody of their grief, but it’s about healing,” she says. “It’s about getting through this and recognizing that because your loved one has died that you don’t have to also lay down and die. You just have to get through the next day and the next day and the next month and the next year.”
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