Two gunmen shot and killed John R. Turner, 57, one morning seven years ago as he was shaving; he was preparing to go downstairs and open his self-service laundromat in far Northeast.
That tragedy closed the business at 4709 Sheriff Rd. NE until last year when his younger brother, Herbert, 57, reopened the store.
On the surface, Herbert Turner seems an easy-going, soft-spoken neighborhood businessman, but his brown eyes move constandly behind his steel-rimmed glasses as they search the street for unfamiliar faces.
Bullet-proof glass shields his office window. After dark, he locks the front door, the only entrance to the business. He refused to talk about other security measures, calling that "a delicate subject."
"I must be crazy," said Turner, a short, plump man whose work uniform is a dark green sweater, yellow shirt and brown trousers.
"My son is very concerned about my safety, very concerned," he adds softly.
Then he recalled his brother. "He had been in the community so long. People knew him and liked him. He sold money orders and cashed checks.I don't do that. I think that's one of the reasons they thought he was easy prey. The liquor store (on the corner) does that now," explained Turner.
Even though those memories are never far away, Turner single-handedly runs the small laundromat 12 hours a day, seven days a week, in a black, working-class neighborhood that resembles a small, close-knit, Southern town. He does it, he said, because he believes his neighbors need a cheap laundromat.
"I was anxious to get it back because of my brother. I knew what his intentions were-to serve the needs of the people. He wasn't trying to get rich but to serve the community," said Turner, who retired from the government last year after 36 years.
Turner's family has lived in this section of Northeast, called Deanwood,since his father settled there in 1904. Turner, his four brothers and one sister grew up there. He is a past president of the civic association.
His neighbors still remember the murder.
"It shocked the neighborhood," said James Best, manager of Dave Brown's liquor store, 4721 Sheriff Rd. NE. "It made people aware this can happen" even in their community, an almost rural setting of mostly frame and brick homes.
Now, said Best, "We sort of look out for each other. We keep our eyes open for each other and maintain surveillance. It's just normal procedure for everybody. It's just a natural instinct because of being in business." "I think the whole neighborhood is concerned about him," said Robert Hancock, who lives in the next block from Turner. "They are very decent people. We hope this brother will not have the tragedy of the other brother."
John Turner's violent death continued to haunt his family. His blind wife, who was terrorized by the gunmen, groped her way through the house searching for her husband after the gunmen left. Her bare feet slipped in his blood.
"She never readjusted after that," Herbert Turner recalled quietly. She died four months after her husband. A diabetic, she refused to stay on her diet after her husband's death, he explained.
Their son Louis, 23, died three years later of a brain tumor.
John Turner's two sons by an earlier marriage closed the business. It appeared that Deanwood, which has watched its once flourishing business district along Sheriff Road slowly die, had lost yet another one.
But last August, normal business resumed at the laundromat and it has become a small community center.
Turner greets each customer by name. By mid-day, the single aisle is congested with mothers. In the afternoon, when school closes, the teenagers come.
"You just feel like home here," said Edna M. Hawkins, who lives nearby, knows the Turner family and came to the laudnromat when John ran it.
"Sometimes he does the clothes for you if you have to leave and he folds them," said Kim Bennett, 16, whose mother and grandmother also use the laundromat.
Turner installed all new washers, 13 of them, and two new dry cleaning machines before reopening. He cuts overhead by repairing the machines himself as he did for his brother.
The other attraction is the portable black and white TV set beside the front door.
In many ways, it's an easy life, sitting with the customers, offering advice, when asked, on philandering husbands and problem children.
But it's also a business that keeps him cooped up from dawn to dusk every day but Sunday, when he's open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Turner finds it difficult to hire help because "you feel when you run a business it's your baby. If somebody is running it and you are away, you wonder if they are protecting the equipment and treating the people right and taking your money.
"I have a friend who runs a gasoline station who's suffering the same way. You're really babysitting the noises. You think every little noise could be a repair job. Every little noise is keyed to your ears. It bothers you when people overload the machines, because that can be a larger repair bill," he said.
Joseph M. Joyner, 33, and Calvin F. Smith, 32, were sentenced in January 1973 to life imprisonment and concurrent 5-to 15-year terms for first degree burglary and armed robbery in Turner's murder. Joyner is at Lorton, the city prison, while Smith is at the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pa., according the D.C. corrections department.Both will be eligible for parole in the early 1990s.