Nobody quite remembers when folks started calling the handicapped old man the "Mayor of Morton Place." It just seemed to fit much better than his real name, John G. Glymph--a tag that many of his friends said they had never even heard until Sunday, when the homicide investigators came.
Each day at about noon, even when it was cold, the 73-year-old Glymph would step outside his apartment, open a gray metal folding chair and hold court, visiting with everyone who walked up and down Morton Place NE, a one-block-long stretch of brick row houses in a poor, trash-strewn neighborhood two blocks south of Gallaudet College.
"He was someone special," remembers Dorothy Saffell, who lives above Glymph's apartment and was the first person to find him dying late Sunday.
"There was a loud booming noise like something falling," Saffell recalled yesterday. Despite an injured foot, she said, she hobbled downstairs and discovered the front door of Glymph's apartment open. He was lying inside on the floor, holding his chest.
"He was bleeding really bad," Saffell said. "I can't sleep, thinking about it. Him lying there . . . with all that blood."
D.C. homicide detectives J.T. McCann and Joe Schwartz said yesterday that Glymph died seconds after Saffell found him. He probably was killed by a robber, they said. There were no signs of forced entry. Glymph was stabbed so many times that detective McCann called the murder "extremely and unusually vicious."
Residents of Morton Place say that through the years they have had to become somewhat accustomed to violent crime. Many taxi drivers refuse to take passengers to Morton Place at night because they are afraid they will get robbed, Saffell said. The day after Glymph's body was found, one of Saffell's teen-aged sons was hit on the head with a baseball bat by an assailant. Several Morton Place residents said yesterday that they are afraid to leave their homes unguarded for fear of burglary.
Despite that environment, many of Glymph's friends said they were shocked by his murder, in part because he was so well-liked and well-known. He had lived on Morton Place more than 30 years, they said. He had developed the habit of sitting outside in his front yard regularly about 10 years ago, after he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed.
He would swap fishing yarns with other old men in the neighborhood, friends remembered. He would lecture teen-agers about using drugs, chase children away from the burned-out town house next to his apartment, and occasionally give a few bucks to buddies who had fallen on hard times.
"He never loaned you money," explained his friend George Gorham. "He just give it to you. He was that type of guy."
"He used to load everybody up in that big green Chrysler of his and head off fishing. The mayor, he was an ace," said another neighbor who asked not to be named.
A handsome man, Glymph always was kind-hearted and friendly, says his cousin, Susie Clark Rhone. "Back in South Carolina, when we was growing up together, all the girls were after him. One time, I saw him with an ugly girl and I asked him why he was with that ugly girl and he said, 'Why, even ugly girls like to go on walks and have fun.' He just liked people."
Glymph worked as a laborer in Washington. "He was friendly, but he also kept to himself," a neighbor said. "He'd talk to you but he wasn't pushy or trying to get into your business. He just was nice. People, they're afraid anymore to say hello or even look at someone else, but he was different."
Besides fishing, driving his emerald green car, smoking his cigars and trying to grow green peppers in the little yard where he held court, Glymph also was a sports fan, friends said. He rarely missed a Washington Senators ballgame when that team still existed, and he loved to watch Redskins football games.
"He was just an okay guy," said Gorham. When Glymph met people, Gorham said he'd tell them to call him "Big John" because he was more than six feet tall and weighed more than 285 pounds.
Glymph's sister, Mary Henderson, who lives in Northwest Washington, talked with Glymph a few hours before he was murdered. He had not been feeling well and had stayed inside, alone, during the Christmas weekend, she said.
Henderson said she often worried about her brother's living alone, especially since his stroke, but she said he always told her he was safe. Saffell cooked all his meals and looked after him, Henderson said.
The street was filled with memories for him, she explained. Glymph and his wife, Mamie, had lived in a row house near his apartment until she died 20 years ago. He watched a lot of children grow up in that street, she said. He and his wife never had any of their own.
"He loved that neighborhood," said Henderson. "He loved the people there, too."