Killing of man, 72, another setback for Waverly area

Despite development boom, crime persists, merchants say they feel ignored

April 09, 2010|By Peter Hermann and Jessica Anderson | Baltimore Sun reporters

Charles Bowman lost his life in a robbery that netted his attackers just $13.

He was 72 years old, a veteran of the Vietnam War, a retired truck driver for a moving company and an overnight security guard at the Afro American newspaper in Charles Village.

Nearly every working day, he left his corner rowhouse on East 33rd Street in Northeast Baltimore and ordered dinner at the Yau Bros. carryout on Greenmount Avenue. Relatives said he was such a fixture there that he simply ordered "the usual" - pork ya ka mein - though he shoved the pork aside and ate only the egg and noodles.

Bowman was inside the carryout in Better Waverly about 12:30 a.m. Thursday, waiting at the counter for his food, when two gunmen whose faces were covered with bandannas burst inside, police said.

There was a scuffle, police said. In the end, Bowman was left sprawled on the floor of the carryout with a single bullet in his chest.

The gunmen escaped with $13 taken from another patron, police said.

Bowman died about an hour later at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"Everybody is just in total shock," said Bowman's stepdaughter, Sandra Van Wright. She described Bowman as a cook generous with portions, as a stubborn man with a booming personality "and a great sense of humor" who "never stayed angry with anyone."

Talibah Chikwendu, the executive editor of the Afro, recalled Bowman cracking jokes that made her laugh as they passed at work, she on her way into the office, he on his way home.

"Everybody lost," she said of the guard's death. "Not just us and not just his family. The whole city."

It was the third killing at the carryout in the past 13 months and another setback for store owners along a troubled stretch of Greenmount Avenue near 33rd Street.

Greenmount Avenue is in the midst of a development mini-boom that includes a gourmet deli planned just a half-block from where Bowman was shot. It's also home to the Darker Than Blue Cafe, which has made Baltimore Magazine's top 50 restaurant list and features blackened Louisiana tilapia and slow-roasted baby back ribs on the menu.

But business owners say they have struggled to revitalize the community and erase the stigma of Greenmount Avenue as a street riddled with crime and grime, a street they feel has been ignored by the city. The neighborhood, near the off-campus area of the Johns Hopkins University, is perhaps best known for its popular Saturday farmers' market just four blocks from where Bowman was shot.

"We do believe that the Police Department is trying," said Casey Jenkins, who owns Darker Than Blue Cafe and is president of the merchants association. "But the police need more help. The city has budget cuts, and we understand and support them, but we've got to find a way to increase the police presence on Greenmount."

Jenkins said "there is a lot of progress" in the community, including a $1.5 million upgrade to a health clinic.

He complained that Greenmount Avenue "gets a bad rap." He said the city "has totally forgotten" the street. "We as merchants are doing all the work, with no city support."

Ryan O'Doherty, the spokesman for the mayor's office, said neighborhood liaisons met after the killing and will start a new program in the next several weeks called Community Response to quickly identify problems in parts of the city after a crime or other problem occurs.

Waverly has not been forgotten, he said, but he did note "that there's a number of neighborhoods that are in need of additional resources and assistance from the city, and we have a group of people in the mayor's office committed to deliver as many services as we can. But there are limited resources."

Jenkins and Bonnie Bessor, president of a companion business promotion group called Waverly Main Street, said they had met the owner of Yau Bros., who lives on Putty Hill Avenue in Baltimore County and opens the carryout starting about 8 or 9 each night. A man reached at the home said, "I don't know what happened," and declined to comment.

In March 2009, a gunman shot three people inside the carryout, hitting two in the head and killing them, and wounding a third. One man collapsed and died inside; the other succumbed on the sidewalk. Police arrested a suspect a month later and said the gunman had targeted one of the dead victims.

Hours after Thursday's slaying at Yau Bros., homicide detectives gathered at the carryout, its doors padlocked shut, a wrought-iron protective frame covering the windows and red facade.

The detectives fanned out over a five square-block area and handed out fliers offering a $2,000 reward for anyone with information that leads to an arrest and conviction in the shooting.

"Here we have a 72-year-old man who is an innocent victim, who got gunned down on his way to work," said Sgt. William Simmons of the homicide unit. "We're trying to get help and information any way that we can."

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