D.C. homicide victims’ kin say they’ve been left in dark for years by police

October 14, 2012

The call crackled over the police radio at 5:55 p.m. on the last day of 2004. A shooting in the parking lot of the Giant at 1050 Brentwood Road NE.

When police arrived, they found Jade Hodge, 41, lying on the ground. Paramedics were too late.

Nearly eight years later, the memories of that day came rushing back to Jade Foster as soon as she entered that parking lot for a newspaper photograph. Foster does not go there often. She does not like to imagine her father’s final thoughts before a gunman walked up and shot him at close range as he stood at the back of his red Chevy Tahoe sport-utility vehicle, where he had been chatting with a female acquaintance and her young daughter.

“It’s not my favorite place to be,” said Foster, 26. “A dull thud is always there. It’s just louder at this moment.”

Hodge’s slaying is one of more than 1,000 unsolved homicides in the District since 2000, according to a Washington Post analysis of the police department’s homicide records. There are more than 2,300 others dating as far back as 1960, according to police officials.

Find killings in your neighborhood, follow the trends over time, and learn how the victims died and what happened to their cases.

The deaths of Hodge and the thousands of others whose slayings remain unsolved have attracted little attention outside the neighborhoods in which they occurred.

It is a truism in law enforcement that the chances of solving a killing are cut in half after 48 hours, and that cold homicides can be notoriously hard to close. D.C. police have mounted several cold-case initiatives in recent years, but some family members contacted by The Post say they do not know what has happened to their cases.

Foster, a poet and graduate of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Northwest and Sarah Lawrence College in New York, said she does not understand why police have not found her father’s killer. At least two people witnessed it, Foster said: Hodge’s friend and her child.

“I think they just don’t care,” she said. “It’s as simple as that.”

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier promised to “reach out to the family” after being told by The Post that Foster said that detectives have not kept in touch with her.

“My experience has been that providing answers to loved ones in open homicide cases is critically important regardless of how long it takes,” she said. “I personally think the fact that we are making an effort to bring closure to cases that have remained unsolved for so many years is very important to our community.”

In the Hodge case, police listed the motive as “unknown” in their records.

D.C. police's 94 percent homicide closure rate explained.

Foster, then 19, was home from college on winter break. She was driving down Southern Avenue when her cellphone rang. It was one of her dad’s female friends. The woman’s voice quivered.

“Someone killed your father today.”

Foster pulled off the road.

“Everything was a blur,” she recalled.

Foster then drove to her grandmother’s house in Largo, went into the kitchen and cried. The man who spoiled her rotten in her teenage years, to make up for the 10 years he was away in prison on a drug conviction, was gone. The grief was unbearable. She had lost her mother to AIDS three years earlier.

It was Foster who mustered the courage to identify her father — who had stood 6-foot-3 and dyed his beard whenever it got the slightest gray — in the morgue. He had been shot in the head.

“I just remember being grateful that his face was still there,” she said.

She said she still hopes police will one day find his killer. But she no longer dwells on it.

“I called the detective a couple of times,” she said. “I always got a voice mail.”

Taffy Blackwell

Mary Blackwell-Kennedy thinks about her daughter daily. Taffy was 23 when her uncle found her unconscious on the floor of her one-bedroom apartment in Northeast. A bullet to the head killed her.

Blackwell-Kennedy had just arrived at her job at the farmers market on Florida Avenue in Northeast when her brother called with the news. He was barely able to speak. Black­well-Kennedy was so shaken that her boss drove her back to Taffy’s apartment building, where she also lived. Police, who had cordoned off the crime scene, forbade her to go inside.

“That’s my daughter,” she told them.

Forty-five minutes later, they allowed her in. Blackwell-Kennedy hurried up three flights of stairs and into her daughter’s apartment, which was directly across from hers. The door was ajar and the shades were drawn. A white sheet covered her eldest child’s lifeless body.

Nearly 15 years have passed since that crime in Apartment 31 at 221 51st St. in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood.

“I ask God to bring to justice the person who killed my daughter,” said Black­well-Kennedy, a security guard. “But it doesn’t seem like nobody’s going to ever call me about her.”

She said police have not contacted her in 15 years.

“The last time I heard from them was, believe it or not, when she got killed,” Blackwell-Kennedy said.

One of the detectives who worked the case said he does not know why they failed to update her over the years.

“I don’t know why nobody contacted her,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to discuss open cases. “We normally talk to them.”

Ellis Payne

John Payne remembers the frosty January morning in 1992 when his aunt called. Something terrible had happened to his father, Ellis.

Payne, a Catholic priest, dashed over to his father’s apartment where he lived alone in the Trinidad neighborhood in Northeast. The block was filled with police, photographers and neighbors. His father was dead, someone told him. Stabbed to death.

“It felt like a really strange scene in a really awful movie playing out in really slow motion,” he recalled.

Payne ran across the street to call his brother, Anthony, on a pay phone.

“Daddy’s dead,” he said.

The elder Payne was 66. A cancer diagnosis about a year earlier led to the removal of his tongue and larynx, leaving him unable to speak.

“My father was dying,” Anthony Payne recalled. “He couldn’t even cry out.”

He said the investigation into his father’s death has gone nowhere.

“I was trying to get them to follow up on leads that I had, but they wouldn’t do it,” said Anthony Payne, who works for the Prince George’s County government. “They didn’t stay in touch. They didn’t follow up with me or any members of my family.”

Alfonzo Terrell, the detective who handled the case, said he does not remember it. Detectives carried a caseload of seven to 10 murder cases back then. But he was stunned to learn that police have not contacted the family in nearly 20 years.

“You always talk to the family because you want to give them updates, and you try to do it as long as you can,” said Terrell, who retired in 1993 after 24 years on the force. “Most people I kept in touch with.”

John Payne watched in disbelief as a crew from the medical examiner’s office carried his father out in a black plastic body bag.

“It seemed so tiny and flat, like there was nothing in it,” he said.

There was no forced entry into the apartment, the brothers said police told them. Their father’s wallet and television set were missing. His pants pockets were turned inside out and the sofa cushions were tossed aside. A pair of slippers rested in the bathroom doorway along with a scarf. And a pool of blood.

“I will never forget the scene,” Anthony Payne said.

Ellis Payne knew the cancer was slowly robbing him of life. The disease that began with a tumor on his tongue had spread to his lungs. His meals consisted of Enfamil, or anything liquid that he could ingest through his feeding tube.

He started preparing for the end. He told Anthony that he wanted his funeral at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Northwest, where John served as associate pastor. John was to deliver the eulogy, he instructed. And there was to be jazz — Coltrane, Nancy Wilson, even a little Sinatra.

He got his wish. And the church was packed.

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