Violent deaths of couple stun city neighborhood South Baltimore pair bludgeoned at home

son, 32, arrested

August 03, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Harold and Essie Wainright grew corn and beans for their South Baltimore neighbors. They helped a local immigrant learn American customs. They ran a tavern near their home when the owners were busy.

News of their violent deaths -- police believe they were bludgeoned with an ax -- and the arrest of Mrs. Wainright's 32-year-old son reverberated through the community yesterday as residents and store owners reacted in dismay.

"They were real nice people," said LaToya Carr, 21, who has lived down the street from the Wainrights since she was 6. "They would just sit in the back yard and talk to my kids. This is shocking."

Police found the bodies of Mr. Wainright, 69, and Mrs. Wainright, 62, about 5: 30 p.m. Thursday in separate rooms of their small, two-story rowhouse in the 1100 block of S. Hanover St. Investigators said they had been dead for more than 24 hours.

Police said the ax, or possibly another type of blunt weapon used in the attack, has not been found. The son, identified as Dwain Harris, 32, who let officers into the house, was arrested shortly after the bodies were discovered.

Early yesterday, police charged Harris with two counts of first-degree murder. He was being held without bail yesterday at the Central Booking and Intake Center. He has no adult criminal record.

Police said Harris told investigators that he had returned home about 10 a.m. Wednesday and argued with his mother in her bedroom. Harris told investigators his stepfather soon returned home and was confronted by Harris in an upstairs bedroom, police said

A police source close to the investigation said Harris had been out the previous night using drugs and that his mother had confronted him about it when he returned home. Investigators said there were signs of a disturbance inside the house.

Police went to the Wainrights' home after one owner of Mum's Bar called officers when he learned that Mr. Wainright had not gone to work at the bar Wednesday.

Nita Damon, 38, a longtime family friend, said yesterday that Harris had overcome a crack cocaine addiction and bragged about it to friends. "He did it on his own," said Damon, whose mother baby-sat for the suspect when he was a child. "I was telling him how proud I was of him."

According to Damon the Wainrights told her that Harris recently came into a substantial amount of money, either from an inheritance or insurance, and once again turned to drugs. Because of that, Damon said, the Wainrights wouldn't give him the money.

Beatrice Nowlin, 66, who went to school with Mrs. Wainright, said they talked daily over the backyard fence. "We would be out there hanging laundry, and I would say, 'Essie, what are you cooking today?'

"I came out this morning and looked up the street and thought, 'Shoot, by now Essie should be coming out.' But she isn't coming."

Mr. Wainright, a retired truck driver, was known to sit on his steps and read into the early morning hours. His wife grew a garden in a wide alley between two rowhouses. "As soon as the beans came up, you would get some," Nowlin said, shaking her head as she stared at the empty rowhouse. "I was supposed to be getting some string beans."

Across the street at Mum's Bar, Rebecca Bright, one of the owners, can't imagine the tavern without the Wainrights. She and her partners bought the bar two years ago, but it has been called Mum's for two decades, and the Wainrights had always been there.

"If no one could get in to open up in the morning, Harold would do it," Bright said. "If the electric man needed to get in, Harold would do it. He didn't just work here. He was a part of what Mum's is."

Two blocks away at Smitty's Discount Liquors, owner Sunny Chung, 36, remembered Mr. Wainright as part-time worker who stocked shelves, swept floors and quickly became a friend.

"He taught me about America, what to do and what not to do," Chung said. "He helped me a lot. What happened to him is a terrible story. I do not see things like this in movies."

The friends and neighbors did not know much about Harris, though they described him as quiet and polite. They were shocked that someone they knew had been charged in the brutal deaths of their beloved neighbors.

"You know what I would tell Essie?" Nowlin recalled yesterday. "I would tell her that I wish I had a son like you have."

Pub Date: 8/03/96

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