The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Would the Freeway Phantom case already be solved if the victims weren’t black?

Clockwise from top left: Carol Spinks, Darlenia Johnson, Brenda Faye Crockett, Diane Williams, Brenda Woodard and Nenomoshia Yates.

CAROL SPINKS. Darlenia Johnson. Brenda Faye Crockett. Nenomoshia Yates. Brenda Woodard. Diane Williams.

They were all young. Six females ages 10 to 18. All lived in Washington when, over the span of a 17-month period that started in the spring of 1971, they were murdered. Their bodies had been dumped on or near busy roads and highways in the District and in Maryland. Their killer — the Freeway Phantom, as he came to be known — was never found. One of the nagging questions that emerges from the powerful retelling of their story in The Post by Cheryl W. Thompson is whether it would have made a difference if they had not been black.

“If those girls had been white, they would have put more manpower on it, there’s no doubt about it,” said Tommy Musgrove, who joined D.C. police in 1972 and later headed homicide. He contrasted the case with that of the Lyon sisters, Montgomery County girls who went missing from the Wheaton Plaza mall in 1975 amid massive publicity, and whose murders were eventually solved in 2017 with the guilty plea of an imprisoned sex offender.

It is clear from Ms. Thompson’s reporting that the case continues to haunt D.C. residents who still remember the fear they felt, families of the victims who agonize over the what - ifs , and the detectives who retired from the police force with a sense of failure over their inability to close the case. No doubt police have their hands full in dealing with a spike of recent homicides — including the eerie discovery of three sets of bones in a Southeast neighborhood — but it’s important not to forget the cases of these girls. We hope police take another look and that the renewed attention prompts anyone who might know something about what happened to these girls to come forward.

Read more:

Colbert I. King: Getting away with murder in the District

The Post’s View: A breakthrough in the tragic cold case of the missing Lyon sisters

Letters to the Editor: May the Lyon sisters rest in peace

The Post’s View: Homicides are down in D.C. But one teen’s murder is a sobering reminder.

Colbert I. King: A D.C. student wanted to be the first black FBI director. He was stabbed to death instead.

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