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For Homicide Investigators, The Streets Yield Few Allies

The detective went to Shiloh Baptist Church in Northwest Washington to let the family know he cared and to get a feel for the victim's friends and life.

The funeral took place in the church's gym, and a handful of family members and friends sat in rows of plastic chairs facing Baskin's open casket, placed directly under a basketball hoop. As the detective scanned the funeral program and a short biography of Baskin, he halted at a line that delicately described his victim's problems:

D.C. homicide detective Tony Patterson, left, investigates the scene at Rhode Island Avenue and Fourth Street NE, where Larry Baskin was killed in a downpour on the Fourth of July. (Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)

"Although Larry fell victim to some of the vices prevalent in many cities today, he remained a caring person and shared a deep love for his family."

Patterson was hoping to talk again with Baskin's girlfriend at the funeral, figuring she probably had more information. But he didn't get the chance -- he said he learned that she slipped out after someone told her he was there.

The woman was getting on Patterson's nerves. She wasn't returning his calls, and he could not understand what he viewed as her half-hearted cooperation.

The day after the funeral, Patterson had another chance to catch up with the woman. He and Carlson saw her on Fourth Street NE, sitting on a newspaper box. Instead of simply getting out of his unmarked car and approaching her, Patterson came up with a strategy that backfired. He believed she was wanted on a minor warrant, a violation that could keep her locked up while detectives questioned her.

He radioed for help from patrol officers to apprehend the woman; if someone else arrested her, he reasoned, she might still be willing to talk to him. But before police could act, the girlfriend spotted the detectives and vanished into a maze of alleys and back yards.

"This is unbelievable," Patterson said, slightly out of breath after trying to chase her. "It's her boyfriend, her friend, and she is running from the police."

When he wasn't on the streets trying to gather new leads, Patterson was in his office, trying to match the first names or nicknames of the people who supposedly had seen the killing, with police mug shots from databases of criminal suspects. He had enough matches to fill a small folder, which he carried with him to the neighborhood, and it wasn't long before he spotted a woman in one of the photographs.

She denied seeing the killing but said she had heard that Baskin was slain in retaliation for an earlier act of violence. She provided a nickname of the possible killer -- another tip that proved unfounded.

Over the next few weeks, Patterson ruled out several potential suspects and found more avenues to explore. The man who was shot by Baskin in 1998 did not match the description of his killer. People who knew Baskin said he was known to assault people, often while on heroin. Patterson believed that Baskin was killed by someone avenging an act of violence.

But nothing fell into place.

A Final Bad Break

It was inevitable. On July 25 -- three weeks after Baskin was killed -- Patterson picked up another homicide case. The victim this time was a 22-year-old Greenbelt man, Terron Corum, shot as he sat behind the wheel of a car parked at a gas station in Northeast Washington.

The routine was familiar. Patterson discovered a surveillance camera near the scene, but it had no tape. He had just one witness -- a prostitute who only glimpsed the gunman's car. He knew of no suspects and had no physical evidence. The motive appeared to be carjacking.

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