Homicides haunt neighbors Slayings: Two double-murders this summer in Reservoir Hill have left residents with a sense of loss and feelings of apprehension.

August 31, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Their silence was atypical.

So, Mary K. Edmondson went to the Reservoir Hill home to seek out the daughter and granddaughter she had not heard from for days. She climbed the brick rowhouse's steps to their apartment and used the landlord's key to let herself in.

She found what she dreaded she might: her daughter and grandchild bound and stabbed to death.

They were the second pair of women slain in the neighborhood in five weeks this summer, leaving residents -- especially women -- wary.

Some consider the four killings an unfortunate fluke, but others wonder if the deaths are a sign that the battle their community is waging against violent crime is being lost. Some speak of moving.

"It's so close to home," said Tawanna Taylor, 35. "I double-lock my doors now. You don't know if it's a maniac on the loose."

Edmondson and her granddaughter's former boyfriend found her daughter Nina Johnson, 43, and granddaughter, Juaria "Lynette" Leverette, 23, on Aug. 15 in their apartment on the 700 block of Newington Ave. where they had lived for nearly two decades.

"The place was like an oven," said Edmondson, 67. "You know I'm going to remember that forever. I'll never forget And I'll pray for whoever done this."

The killings unnerved neighbors because of another double homicide last month, two blocks away in a rowhouse apartment. Kelly Bunn, 21, and LaShawn Jordan, 22, were found shot to death inside Jordan's home on the 700 block of Lennox St.

There was no sign of forced entry, detectives said, and no arrests have been made in either case, which has contributed to the neighbors' apprehensive mood.

Police said they have found no link between the double homicides, at least one of which police suspect was domestic in nature. In the Bunn-Jordan case, Bunn was staying overnight with her friend to help take care of Jordan's two small children, who were left alive inside the apartment. "At this point, there is no evidence that they're related in any way," said Major Kathleen Patek, commander of the homicide unit.

The director of Reservoir Hill Improvement Association, Paulette Bowman, said that because the homicides happened indoors and may involve suspects who knew the victims personally, "We don't view them as something that would create hysteria."

Central District Sgt. Charles B. Hess said police are working closely with 66 volunteer block representatives in the approximately 155-acre community, and that he has noticed "community spirit being rekindled" even in the face of the killings.

However, police statistics indicate a 32 percent rise in violent crime -- reported rapes, robberies, assaults and homicides -- this year in Reservoir Hill. There were 151 reported incidents in the first seven months of 1998, compared to 114 during the same period in 1997. There were three murders committed in the community during the period in both years. The Johnson and Leverette slayings were not included in the count.

To halt the increase, police initiated increased patrols and presence in the first week of August, resulting in several arrests and a reduction in robberies and other major crimes. Just a week after the initiative was launched, Johnson and Leverette were killed.

Across the street from that crime scene, Dorothea Johnson (no relation to the murder victims) watched for hours as relatives of the latest victims carried furniture and other belongings out of their apartment.

"It's a sad job, a sad situation," said Johnson, 68, a witness to another tragedy on the block 10 years ago. For her, the killings brought back memories of Latonya Wallace, an 11-year-old girl found strangled and stabbed in 1988. Johnson said she saw the child's body in her next-door neighbor's back yard and called police.

The child's murder has never been solved and haunts some homicide detectives. One veteran detective, Donald Steinhice, keeps a picture of the girl in his desk. As part of a team investigating the mother-daughter homicide, Steinhice walked through the alley and showed a colleague the yard where Wallace was found.

As they worked their investigation, a group of women sat nearby on marble stairs and talked about the homicides and kept a close watch on children playing on Newington Avenue. They agreed that the once-pleasant and well-tended community shows signs of succumbing to decay: an active drug trade on nearby Callow Avenue and a number of vacant houses.

Melissa Brown, 16, said she was going to sleep at her grandmother's house until the homicides are solved. "I couldn't even sleep last night. I'm not comfortable laying my head down," she said. "It terrifies me."

Nina Johnson's neighbor Taylor, a mother of two, said relatives came to take her 10-year-old daughter to stay with them.

"It's really a tragedy," she said. She said she saw the mother and daughter coming and going.

Nina Johnson, a factory assembly-line worker at Diamond Distributors, was a taciturn and hard-working woman who kept to herself, neighbors said. Her daughter, nicknamed "Pinkie" by the family, often drove her to work for her early morning shift. The mother and daughter were thinking about moving out of the neighborhood, family members said.

Jerry Robinson, the mail carrier who serves the neighborhood, said one of its biggest shortcomings is that it lacks a nucleus of working adults in their 30s and 40s. "If we got rid of drugs, and these mothers got jobs," Robinson said, "then it'd be a good block. But it's not a bad block."

The neighborhood was not always like this.

Louise Armstead, a homeowner who has lived on the street 48 years, said, "We didn't have to worry. People don't care anymore. The scary part is, you don't know why."

Pub Date: 8/31/98

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