Slaying of 'Miss Ma' leaves Pimlico neighborhood in grief Family, friends decry killing as 'senseless'

September 16, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

In her Pimlico neighborhood, Helen M. Whitehead was known as "Ma" -- "Miss Ma" to children.

The 59-year-old woman reared six children, was a grandmother, great-grandmother and community matriarch. Her house in the 5200 block of Wilton Heights Ave. anchors a city block in an area that was prosperous when she moved there 25 years ago but now spirals into decay. Family members say she kept to herself and had a gentle, quiet demeanor.

On Monday, Mrs. Whitehead was killed when at least one intruder -- and possibly more -- beat her and shot her on the right side of the face. Homicide investigators say her assailant or assailants were seeking her 17-year-old grandson to harm him because of a dispute over drugs.

But family members insist that drugs were not a motive.

Brenda Whitehead, 37, a daughter, was talking to her mother on the telephone when a man came to her mother's house. She said he heard her mother telling him to leave. Before that, the man had asked for Mrs. Whitehead's grandson and inquired about a "key," said Brenda Whitehead.

"She said, 'I told you he's not here,' " Brenda Whitehead recalled yesterday during an interview at her mother's home. "She said she didn't know where the key was at. She asked, 'What is your name anyway?' That was the last thing I heard," the woman said, adding that a click of the phone followed.

"I tried calling back, but got no answer. I came straight here, and that's where I found her," she said, nodding toward a spot in the living room.

The victim's oldest son, Undray Whitehead, 39, was somber yesterday as he talked about his futile efforts to persuade her to move from the crime-ridden neighborhood.

"The one thing that stands out in my mind about her, I guess, is her determination to stay here after I tried to get her to leave this area," said Mr. Whitehead, a Lutherville resident.

He said his mother's life revolved around her family -- especially her grandchildren -- and a few close friends who belonged to a small group of card players who called themselves the "Christmas Club."

Sunday was a day she would consider perfect, family members say.

She was host of a birthday party for one of her grandchildren. Nine of her 10 grandchildren and her great-granddaughter were in her back yard; food cooked on the grill.

"She sat back there and laughed all day," Brenda Whitehead said.

Helen Whitehead also enjoyed trips. She'd visit relatives in her native Boykins, Va., or travel to Atlantic City to take a shot at fortune.

A daughter said family members have pooled their resources a )) number of times to send her to Hawaii.

Thomas Lee Whitehead, her husband of 36 years, died in 1986.

Her main hobby was collecting salt-and-pepper shakers -- four shelves in the dining room are filled with a variety of shakers.

She also enjoyed going to neighborhood gardens where she could harvest her own vegetables.

As the family mourned inside the home yesterday, 25 people from East Baltimore gathered outside to condemn another "senseless" killing and to offer comfort to the family.

Carrying signs with bold red letters saying "Get High on Jesus, Not Drugs," "Nope to Dope," and "We're Taking Back Our Streets," the Sanctuary Without Walls, a church group from East Baltimore, converged on the sidewalk.

"It's time for the church to make a statement," said Rev. Harlie Wilson of Israel Baptist Church, as he preached through a faulty megaphone.

"It's time for the church to say we're sick and tired of being sick and tired of the senseless violence taking place," he said.

Members of the group invited people on the street to pray with them.

Before she left her front steps for prayer, neighbor Joan Holland, 29, shook her head as she talked about the murder.

"She never did anything to anybody for someone to do that to her," Ms. Holland said. "She was very sweet, everybody loved her. She was always smiling. She was just a nice person."

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