Girl, 11, found dead in rowhouse

March 06, 1995|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Sun Staff Writer

An 11-year-old girl was found dead early yesterday in the basement of her family's West Baltimore rowhouse, where she apparently was killed and her body set on fire.

Neighbors of the family in the 2800 block of Rayner Ave. said the other four children in the house and the girl's 18-year-old aunt discovered the body of Natishia Moore in the rear of the basement about 6:45 a.m. yesterday.

Police said Natishia's death resulted from "trauma to the upper part of the body," but declined to confirm that the body had been burned. They labeled the case a "suspicious death" rather than a homicide, pending autopsy results expected today.

But a Baltimore Fire Department dispatcher said paramedics at the scene told her the body had been burned and called for arson investigators. Other sources close to the investigation said the girl almost certainly was killed.

"It's sickening and sad, whoever did this," said Janice Godwin, who lives in the same block and whose daughter, Chastity Vanderburg, had played with the girl, a Calverton Middle School student.

"She was a jolly, happy little girl. I'd call her bouncy," said Ms. Godwin, who said she watched Natishia and her brother skip past Saturday afternoon on the way home from a corner store.

Chastity, 11, sat on her front steps and cried quietly. She said she often walked home from school with Natishia and that the two of them played with an electronic diary device and a makeup kit.

Officer Robert Weinhold, a Baltimore police spokesman, said detectives "are vigorously pursuing the evidence. We have not established a motive. We have not identified suspects."

Officer Weinhold said premature release of the details of a homicide can interfere with an investigation, because a suspect under questioning sometimes incriminates himself by revealing facts that only the killer could know.

"You're dealing with the death of an 11-year-old, which is a very sensitive matter," he said. "The last thing we want to do is to say anything that could hamper the investigation."

He said the autopsy would be conducted with particular care. "Obviously when you have a case like this you want to methodically examine any evidence that may be on the body," Officer Weinhold said.

Neighbors said the dead girl's mother, whom they identified as Annette Watson, moved in with her three children last autumn. They said that Saturday night, Natishia, her younger brother and sister, a young female cousin and a 7-year-old neighbor girl were left in the care of Ms. Watson's 18-year-old sister.

The family had a small, shaggy black dog that often slept in the basement, neighbors said. As viewed through the back door yesterday while police stood guard, the basement appeared unfinished, with a concrete floor, sparse furniture and a small pool table. No fire damage was visible and the basement door, like the front door, showed no sign of a break-in.

The two-story rowhouse, painted brick red, is across Dukeland Street from the old, vacant Lutheran Hospital building. Behind and beside the rowhouse is a large vacant lot, where an orange upholstered chair and a child's mattress decorated with spaceships sat amid other refuse in the tall grass.

The basement door inside which the girl's body was found is adjacent to the littered lot, which is crossed by a well-tramped dirt path used at all hours by people headed to shops on nearby Poplar Grove Street.

"If you had a playground on that lot or built a house, you wouldn't have all that foot traffic, and it would be safer around here," said Ivan Johnson, a next-door neighbor.

Mr. Johnson's wife, Sharon, called Natishia "a nice, quiet girl" who dressed nicely and went to church every Sunday.

The Johnsons said that though they can hear conversation through the walls from the next rowhouse, they heard nothing unusual Saturday night or early yesterday and smelled no smoke.

After 6:30 a.m. yesterday, Mr. Johnson said, he heard the 18-year-old aunt calling from the front porch, "Call 911," and saw the victim's 10-year-old brother run, crying, from the house.

Heavy drug trafficking occurs a few blocks from the crime scene in the area of Poplar Grove and Edmondson Avenue, which is designated as a "drug-free zone" by police. A young man was openly hawking cocaine yesterday morning on Poplar Grove, calling out "White tops, white tops," for the color of the caps on his cocaine vials.

Ms. Godwin, the neighbor, said there have been several break-ins in the 2800 block of Rayner since she moved in about a year ago, but no violence.

"It's just getting rough around here," she said.

Police asked that anyone with information about the girl's death call homicide detectives at 396-2100.

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