The two-story rowhouse blended nicely into the leafy neighborhood, with its white facade, well-tended shrub and black wrought-iron fence. The three quiet roommates who lived there also melded into the block in gentrifying Shaw, hardly ever raising any concern from longtime neighbors.
But the house on Eighth Street, between S and T streets in Northwest, has caused an uncomfortable stir on the street after two occupants were found dead there this month while the third is in police custody, charged with murder in connection with one of the deaths.
Far from clarifying what happened, the arrest has only complicated a story line that might never be fully understood. Police cut through the roof of the house to reach a decaying body hidden under an air mattress in the attic crawl space. Later, the authorities found a second corpse partially buried in the backyard. A confession that one of the victims made just before he was killed, according to a statement the accused man gave police, has only added to the macabre intrigue.
“It’s bizarre,” said D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who represents the area where the slayings occurred.
The victim of the first attack, found June 12, has been identified as Leon Young, 22. Police said he had suffered two blows to the head with a hammer. The second victim, exhumed from the makeshift grave on June 16, was Delano DeWhitt Wingfield, 23, whose grandmother had reported him missing June 3. Police said he had been beaten, and it took 10 days to identify his body.
The third roommate — Jeffrey Bernard Neal, 21, who grew up in the house and whose family still owns it — is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Young. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in D.C. Superior Court on July 8. Court documents say that after Neal was arrested, he told detectives he hit Young with the hammer moments after Young threatened him with a ninja-style weapon and told him he had killed Wingfield. To add to the mystery, all three men were friends and classmates at McKinley Technology High School in the District.
D.C. police said they are sorting through several possible scenarios — including whether one person killed both men or two men conspired to kill one, and then turned on each other — as well as Neal’s claim about the confession, which may be impossible to corroborate.
Inside the house, police said they found a collection of hammers, knives and martial arts-style weapons, including swords. Young was interested in the martial arts, two people who knew him said, and neighbors described the residents playing ninja-style “war games” in the alley. Otherwise, residents described the house and its occupants as quiet and said the men were most often seen when they skateboarded along the street.
“I just don’t understand what happened there,” said Bertha Dudley, 72, who has lived on Eighth Street for more than 30 years and knew Neal while he was growing up and playing with her grandchildren.
Dudley said Neal and his two roommates, Young and Wingfield, were for the most part quiet and respectful. Neal, she said, “was a nice young boy and nice young man.”
Relatives of Young could not be located, although a former co-worker and a teacher offered some details about his life. Wingfield’s grandmother, Bernadette White, 66, declined to talk about her grandson or the house in Shaw. Neal’s grandmother refused to comment. His attorney with the Public Defender Service did not return calls.
John Seelke, who taught Young algebra and pre-calculus at McKinley, said his student had a hard life, losing his mother early and being raised by his grandmother, who also has died.
“He was a quiet kid, a smart kid,” Seelke said. “But I worried about him, that he would get caught up on the wrong side of things. He was polite in school, but you could tell he could be easily influenced.”
Seelke said Young was admitted to a community college but didn’t have enough money to enroll.
Steven Lewis, 26, said he worked with Young at Nando’s restaurant at its Navy Yard location. Young was a cook and started with the chain when the Portuguese eatery first opened on Tingey Street SE in August.
“Leon was a hard worker,” said Lewis, who now lives in Arizona. “He was not violent at all. The only thing he was worried about was saving his own money and getting a place on his own.”
Lewis said that in January, Young complained to him about his roommates and their petty jealousies over his success — he was named employee of the month and saved enough money to buy a new Acura.
“Leon came to me and stated he wanted to move due to a lot of harassment and bullying going on in the house,” Lewis said, citing a small fire for which Young said he was blamed. The D.C. fire department confirmed responding to a kitchen fire at the house on March 29.
Nando’s marketing director, Sepanta Bagherpour, described Young’s co-workers as “in shock” over his death. “We are obviously working with the police to help out where we can,” Bagherpour said. “He was a reliable employee of ours who was with us from the beginning.”
Whatever was going on inside the house on Eighth Street quickly deteriorated in June.
Wingfield went missing June 3. Four days later, D.C. police said Neal later told them, he encountered Young standing naked in the bathroom, shaking and staring out a window while holding a kunai knife, a ninja-style weapon.
The account in court records comes from Neal’s statement to police: Young allegedly told Neal he had killed Wingfield and then swung the knife at Neal, cutting his hand. Neal then said he hit Young twice on the head with a hammer and dragged his body to the attic. He used Young’s car and credit cards to drive to Florida, but then ran out of money. His mother paid for him to take bus back to the District, and police said they found Young’s car abandoned in a McDonald’s parking lot in Florida.
On June 12, Neal’s uncles came to the Shaw house to complete some repair work and found the body in the attic while investigating a foul odor. Neal was arrested that night. Police then intensified their search for the missing Wingfield after listening to Neal’s statement. Authorities found his body four days later.