Effie Gillard has been awakened by frightening dreams many times since her youngest daughter, Samantha, was killed. But one dream is particularly disturbing.
"She's standing there looking at me, and I say, Samantha, Samantha, talk to me,' " Gillard said. "She's just standing there. Then she says, Mama, they took everything.' They took her life. That's what she's talking about. They took her life."
Seven years ago today, Samantha Simone Gillard, 23, and two men were found dead in a small stand of trees on a grassy slope in a park at 18th and Franklin streets NE, in the Langdon neighborhood.
Gillard, Curtis Kelvin Pixley, 29, and Keith Edwin Simmons, 26, all had been shot in the head, execution style. Neighbors later told police that they had heard gunfire about 10 p.m. and again at 1:30 a.m. But it was after 10 a.m. when passersby found the bodies and police were called.
Apparently, nobody saw anything. If somebody did, they didn't tell police. Seven years later, the case's lead detective, Loren Leadmon, says police remain stymied.
Samantha Gillard's death is just one of hundreds of unsolved killings in D.C. police files. Although detectives now consider hers a "cold case," meaning they have no more leads, it is anything but to Effie Gillard, who continues to chafe with unanswered questions and unresolved grief.
Samantha "Sam" Gillard, the "baby" of four children, grew up in the District and graduated from Ballou High School, then worked at George Washington Hospital in customer service. At the time of her death, she was employed at a nursing home on Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue NE. Effie Gillard said that her daughter was "kind and trusting," but that she suspected Samantha "dabbled" in drugs because of the kind of people she associated with.
For years, Gillard has replayed the weeks and days leading up to her daughter's death. Shortly before she was killed, Samantha Gillard moved out of her mother's Capitol Heights home and in with a man she had been dating.
"I didn't approve, but what can you do?" Gillard asked. "I told her I was against that and that she should stay home, but she wanted to go."
Effie Gillard said she made every effort to persuade her daughter to continue living at her house. When Samantha was staying there, Effie Gillard said, she would give her daughter a $50 allowance every two weeks, buy her clothing and even give her extra spending money.
"I did everything I could, because I had a dreaded feeling that something would happen to her," Gillard said. "I hugged her and kissed her every chance I got, because I knew she was going to die. When I told her I loved her, she would say: I know, Mom. I know you do.' "
For Gillard, the pain of her daughter's death has been compounded by a lack of information about the case. She said she was not notified that her daughter had been slain for four days. She said that her contact with the homicide detective who initially handled the case was infrequent and that her recent efforts to get information from police have been unsuccessful.
Shortly after the slayings, Gillard said, officers told her that her daughter was simply "at the wrong place at the wrong time." She bristles at that suggestion.
"I don't like people saying that she was at the wrong place at the wrong time, because people have the right to be anywhere they want to be," said Gillard, a government program analyst. "That implies she did something wrong because of where she was, and she didn't. She was a victim."
But the worst pain comes, Gillard said, because of the unanswered questions about Samantha's last few minutes. Gillard doesn't know what her daughter was thinking or if she was afraid as she walked into the park. She doesn't know if she suffered or if death was mercifully swift.
What she does know is this: Without answers, there will be no closure. She has gone on -- she has three other children who depend on her -- but she cannot let it go. She needs to know.
In an effort to get answers, Gillard recently sought out a psychic. A few weeks ago, he flew out from Texas and visited the park where Samantha died.
The psychic, who provided his services free of charge, told her "there was a person on the corner looking down at the park" as the slayings occurred, Gillard said. He told her that there was more than one killer and that "there had to have been a witness," Gillard said. He told her one of the killers might be in jail and another one dead by now.
Gillard considers the psychic's findings clues, but Leadmon said the information could have been gleaned from reading newspaper accounts of the slayings and from the physical evidence in the case.
Leadmon, who took over the case after it was reassigned from the regular homicide staff to the division's cold case unit, said the three victims shared a single link: Curtis Pixley's sister Shirley. Keith Simmons was Shirley's boyfriend, and Samantha Gillard was her good friend, Leadmon said.
On the day they died, the three had met near the Southeast Washington home of a relative of Pixley's. Simmons offered to drive them to Northeast. But no one knows why they went to the park.
Effie Gillard isn't the only one left pained and searching for answers; the other victims' families, too, still hold out hope that they will learn what happened.
Sandra Pixley, 44, said her family believes that her brother was lured to the park by a man who was supposed to be his friend and that he was killed by a second man.
"We have given police the name of the man we believe killed my brother," Sandra Pixley said. "They told us at first that they thought they had a lead, but then that it fell through. Then they tell us they know who did it but that they need a witness to make the case against him."
Pixley emerged as the target of the attack after relatives told police that his family had been visited two days before the slayings by a man who warned that "people from The Avenue" were looking for him. "The Avenue" was the nickname for nearby Montana Avenue, then a thriving open-air drug market and the scene of several drug-related homicides in the early 1990s. The year that Pixley, Simmons and Gillard were killed was the District's bloodiest ever: 482 people were killed. Much of the violence related to crack cocaine trafficking.
Other circumstances may have led people to target Pixley. At the time of his death, he was charged with second-degree murder while armed in the slaying of a man who was fatally beaten with a baseball bat. Pixley was not believed to have struck the victim but was accused of aiding another man in the attack, court records show.
Police said Pixley also was a suspect in the theft of a car that -- apparently unbeknown to him -- contained a large amount of cocaine. Rumors circulated that the owner of the car killed him for taking the drugs, but police have been unable to substantiate that theory.
So, seven years later, the families hope for a break in the case, and Gillard clings to what the psychic said.
"It's all the information that I have," Gillard said. "I need to know what happened to my daughter, and so far, I just don't have any answers. I never would have thought this would have gone on for so long." CAPTION: UNSOLVED HOMICIDES
The following cases are among the hundreds of unsolved homicides in the files of the D.C. police department's homicide division: - Kevin Jackson, 23, of Northeast Washington, was fatally shot about 11 p.m. Dec. 2, 1997, in the 1800 block of M Street NE. Fifth District officers who responded to calls of shots fired found Jackson dead. A $5,000 reward is offered by his mother for information leading to the arrest of the killer. - Terry Taylor, 32, of North Carolina, was fatally stabbed at 10 p.m. Sept. 9, 1996, in the 2200 block Rhode Island Avenue NE. Taylor, who was a musician, was carrying sheet music when he was attacked. He was jumped by three men who attempted to rob him as he walked to his mother's house during a visit to the District. - Geneva Hall, 48, of Northwest Washington, and John McKinney, 33, of Southeast Washington, were fatally shot about 7:15 p.m. Oct. 6, 1997, in the 1700 block of North Capitol Street. Police said that McKinney and at least two other people had argued and that the argument led to the shooting. Hall was on the way to buy cigarettes at the store when she apparently was hit by a bullet intended for McKinney. - Benjamin Hillman, 47, of Laurel, was fatally shot about midnight April 19, 1997, as he attempted to take money out of an ATM at Farragut Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW. - Sharon Moskowitz, 25, of Northwest Washington, was strangled about 3:30 p.m. Jan. 21, 1997, in her home in the 1900 block of Biltmore Street NW, possibly during a burglary. Police are looking for a man who used her ATM card after her death. - Shaquita Yolanda Bell, 23, was last seen June 27, 1996, after leaving a relative's house in Southeast Washington. Police say that they have a suspect who now is serving a prison sentence in Maryland but that they do not have enough evidence to prosecute him. Her body has never been found.
Anyone with information about these or other unsolved cases can call the D.C. police homicide division at 202-727-4347. CAPTION: Effie Gillard, at left, walks in the Northeast Washington park where her 23-year-old daughter, Samantha Simone Gillard, above, and two men were found slain seven years ago. CAPTION: Gillard is tormented by unanswered questions about her daughter's death.