Mother looks to God after daughter, son die in Baltimore violence

Thirty-one years after daughter killed, woman's son becomes a victim

January 10, 2014|By Justin George, The Baltimore Sun

Margaret Pearson doesn't ask the Almighty why violence stole two of her children.

"I never ask God that," she said. "Never."

She relied on her faith to endure the murder of her daughter, who was strangled in a hospital room in 1982 while she was being treated for a rare illness that had stolen her basic motor skills.

And when her son died last October from injuries he suffered during a robbery in West Baltimore, Pearson turned to God again.

Thirty-one years separate the crimes. Both remain unsolved.

Pearson believes God must have his reasons. She says she is satisfied with the serenity and strength he has given her. She recites the 23rd Psalm over and over: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. … He leadeth me beside the still waters."

Answers can be elusive in a city where hundreds of people are murdered each year. Baltimore police have made arrests in only half of the 235 homicides recorded in 2013. If the past is any guide, many of the killers will never be found.

Lt. Richard Gibson, who oversees detectives in the police homicide unit, has seen a handful of cases in which parents have lost more than one child. He says he understands how heavy the toll is for Pearson.

"It's kind of harder to get closure when you have multiple victims," Gibson said.

While police say the majority of murders in the city are related to the drug trade, investigators have found nothing in the lives Pearson's son or daughter that might have contributed to their murders.

Gibson said Steven Pearson was a "legitimate victim," a fact he said must make his killing all the more unfathomable for his mother. At 86, Pearson never thought she would outlast two children.

Pearson has wondered what her familyher remaining six children, 28 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren — had done to invite such an ordeal.

"All my families are nice families," she said. She has wondered whether she has been a good mother, as if she were being punished. "I don't think I was hard on them."

She continues to drive from her home in Parkville to Southwest Baltimore to volunteer weekly at her church's food pantry and soup kitchen — continuing to give even when so much has been taken away.

"She's always here," said Theodore Bonds, an elder at Mount Moriah Baptist Church. "Never missed."

A family

An only child, Pearson says she treated her children as if they were the siblings she had always wanted. She'd dump a box of puzzle pieces on the dining room table and the family would sit around locking pieces together.

The children followed her like ducklings as she led them to Druid Hill Park, carrying charcoal grills and toys for picnics. She'd gather them around her before bedtime next to the warm stove and dance the cha-cha to entertain them.

Her oldest, Fannie Pearson, began having mysterious seizures when she was in school. In time, they grew more violent. She had difficulty walking and talking and was mostly confined to a wheelchair.

Eventually, she was diagnosed with Kufs disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that mimics mental illness.

When she was 33, the family moved her into the John L. Deaton Medical Center, a private chronic-care facility near the Inner Harbor.

Early on Oct. 22, 1982, Pearson's roommate alerted nurses that she was on the floor suffering from an apparent seizure. It looked as if she had thrown her body over her bed's guardrails.

Nurses strapped Pearson back in using a cloth restraint that went around her chest and under her arms like a vest. Some time after 4 a.m., she was found dangling from her bed, partly held by the chest restraint. Nurses again put her back to bed.

At 4:30 a.m., a hospital worker found Pearson dead, her body once again dangling from her bed.

The medical center called the Medical Examiner's Office to determine if the restraints were to blame. The autopsy report came back with a different conclusion: She had been killed.

Baltimore police homicide detectives told The Baltimore Sun in 1982 that neck marks and tracheal hemorrhaging indicated Pearson had been strangled. They said the evidence showed that she was killed with a thin cord that didn't match anything in the hospital room.

Detectives spent more than 12 hours interviewing hospital staff but arrested no suspects. The Deaton center's internal investigation turned up no leads, either.

Julia Briggs, Fannie's sister, could never recall another time seeing her father, Ninmark Pearson, cry so openly. The murder was "overwhelming" for her mother, too, Briggs said. But Margaret Pearson continued to lean on Mount Moriah Baptist Church, serving as a church usher, even as a detective told her the case would always be open.

It remains that way today, years after Ninmark Pearson died. It is currently being reviewed for possible re-investigation, Baltimore police spokesman Lt. Eric Kowalczyk said.

'Dr. Jesus'

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