Man's shooting death leaves neighbors bereft Slain grandfather was the spiritual center of block in Waverly

November 09, 1995|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

When John Wesley Charles was shot to death in an apparent robbery Oct. 22, his neighbor of 20 years, Annie Ervin, lost her ride to the grocery market. Up the street, John Brown lost a reliable auto mechanic.

Next door, the Galloways lost the man who gave them extra money to help support their five boys.

"There ain't nothing in this world I miss more than that man," says Mrs. Ervin, 72. "They didn't make them any better than him."

"Mr. John," as the neighbors called him, was the spiritual center for the 700 block of E. 30th St. in Waverly. He lived alone, and looked out for neighbors from the stretch of street outside his home of 20 years, where he often fixed cars in a mechanic's dirty jumpsuit.

Without the 70-year-old man at No. 744, residents say the mostly middle-class neighborhood has lost some of its confidence.

"We've been here only about three months," says Cherelle Galloway, 25, the next-door neighbor, "and we're already thinking about moving."

Police say their investigation is continuing, and no arrests have been made. They believe Mr. Charles was shot to death about 2:45 p.m. during what may have been a robbery attempt. His son Alonzo, one of Mr. Charles' children, says he found his father's body a short time later when he dropped by the house to see why his father wasn't answering the phone.

About 300 people attended the funeral at Greater New Hope Baptist Church on Oct. 27. In further tribute, 100 more crowded the sidewalk in front of his house later that night for an hourlong vigil. They carried candles in a hard, cold rain.

"Whenever people needed something, he would help out with food or money," says Mrs. Galloway, when asked to explain the outpouring. "When we didn't have a phone when we first moved in, he let us use his for more than a month."

Daisy Matthews, a 75-year-old retired nurse, moved to the 700 block 20 years ago, when the area was quiet and crime was scarce, she says. But about 10 years ago, thieves began using an alley to dump cars they had stolen from the Memorial Stadium parking lot, she says.

In recent years, young men -- residents believe they are drug dealers -- have begun to hang out on street corners and outside the Waverly Apartments, across the street from Mr. Charles' house. The apartments' resident manager, Tony Davis, claims he has been able to reduce the loitering with signs and frequent calls to police.

Debra Evans, who lived up the block from "Mr. John," has begun signing up volunteers for an aggressive neighborhood watch effort. Mrs. Evans says she wants neighbors to burn their porch lights and call authorities at the first sign of suspicious behavior.

"This has grown out of Mr. John's murder," says Ms. Evans, 39. "He was a senior citizen, bothering no one."

Born to farmers in small-town South Carolina, Mr. Charles moved to Baltimore as a teen-ager and eventually went to work for Bethlehem Steel Corp., where he was a union shop steward. His children say he often would take them to union meetings and elections to teach them about workers' rights. He retired in 1983.

The family lived at different locations in East Baltimore, with Mr. Charles and his former wife, Dorothy, briefly opening a grocery store on Pratt Street, their children said. He helped keep the family close after the couple divorced, relatives said, and often visited with his 28 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Many of them gathered in North Carolina last year for a reunion honoring Mr. Charles. Relatives wore white T-shirts with black lettering: "JWC Troop '94."

His sensibilities were decidedly old-fashioned: He indulged his taste for the country food he'd grown up on -- especially red beans and rice. And he took those he helped at their word.

"He had all these little pieces of paper, with people's handwriting saying, 'I owe you' this amount of money," says his youngest child, Deborah Charles, 29. "I told him, 'People don't honor those no more.' But that is how he worked."

Sometimes, Mr. Charles' generosity so consumed him that he neglected his own needs. This man who fixed cars drove an old, black Ford. "There were times he would be driving it with three or four flat tires," says Mrs. Ervin.

He didn't require much thanks for his generosity. After his death, some relatives couldn't believe what they found in his closets: years of Christmas presents he had received but never opened.

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