Homicide numbers peaked in '90s

Vigil against violence
News-Sentinel photo by Leisa Thompson

Vigil against violence
Fort Wayne resident Gail Cheffy lowers her head during a prayer at a 1995 vigil in memory of homicide victims. Her son, Christopher, had been shot and killed two months earlier.

The Summit City has had more killings per 100,000 residents in one year then Los Angeles and New York.

By Darnell J. Compton, of The News-Sentinel

In a decade with more homicides than any other, none stunned the community more than the death of Allen County Sheriff's Deputy Eryk Heck, gunned down by a burglary suspect two years ago.

Heck, 27, was the first officer to die in the line of duty in the county. He was shot in the leg, neck and jaw after a shootout with burglary suspect Timothy Stoffer, who also died in the exchange of gunfire.

As a fellow officer and friend, Officer Guy Griffith, county police spokesman, said that shooting stands out in his mind.

"His death hit home," Griffith said.

Homicides increased dramatically in the 1990s. Allen County had 60 more homicides this decade than in the 1980s, with at least 280 killings.

Indeed, the 90s have been a deadly decade.

Consider some of the other high profile cases:

* David Carter was found with a gunshot wound to the chest Jan. 21, buried underneath freshly poured concrete in the basement of a home at 2016 Shadybrook Drive. Police have since arrested two on murder charges.

* Community leader Prince Chapman was killed Nov. 30, and Jamone Williams, charged with the killing, was just 12 years old when, according to police, he shot Chapman, then shot him again, fatally, after he fell.

* Alfreda Bledsoe, mother of Fort Wayne Police Officer Calvin Dubose, was beaten to death with a hammer and her body was hidden in the basement of the homeless shelter she operated. Two people charged with her killing in the summer of 1998 were found only after authorities in Escambia County, Fla., arrested them Nov. 2, 1998, on another killing.

* Joseph Corcoran, 24, charged with killing his parents but acquitted in 1992, later took four lives in his home on July 26, 1997, when he took a rifle loaded with a 30-round clip and killed his brother, James Corcoran, 30; Robert Scott Turner, 32; Douglas A. Stillwell, 30; and Timothy G. Bricker, 30, in the living room of his Bayer Avenue home because he heard them talking about him and became upset. He was sentenced to death this year.

Simply looking at the number of homicides, the city twice had more than 40 such killings in a year, first in 1994 and then peaking at 42 in 1997. In the past nine years, only one year has had fewer than 20 homicides -- 1996, when there were 17.

The Summit City has had more killings per 100,000 residents in one year than Los Angeles and New York. Fort Wayne had 18.8 rate per 100,000, while L.A. had 15.3 per 100,000. New York had homicide rate of 10.2 in 1997.

Heading into the final months of the decade, Fort Wayne is already on course to break 20 homicides this year.

Seventeen people have been killed in the county this year. One man's death is under investigation by the Allen County Coroner's Office.

"We used to catch kids with a .32 revolver. Now they are out with Tech 9's," said Capt. P.J. Smith. "This generation is different. It's fun, exciting to them because of what they see on TV and hear in music."

One catalyst for the increase in crime was crack cocaine, police say.

Fort Wayne became a hub for crack cocaine distribution, with dealers trafficking to and from large cities, police speculate. Major drug dealers fought for street corners to sell their drugs.

Homicides increased in the 90s, police say, as drug dealers battled for turf.

To combat the drive-by shootings and drugs, city police fought back, enlisting residents' help.

The Community Oriented Policing concept is designed to pay attention to smaller crimes, such as thefts and break-ins, which the department believes lead to bigger crimes, such as homicide.

"One of the things the management team has done is targeted high-risk individuals and taken them off the street," said Ron Buskirk, deputy chief of investigations.

Some of the area's higher profile cases

Eryk Heck: Killed in gunfight with burglary suspect, 1997.

Lakia Dixie: 13-year-old molested, then stabbed to death, 1996.

Alfreda Bledsoe: Beaten to death, 1998.

Prince Chapman: Shot to death, allegedly by a 12-year-old killer, 1998.

Angela Sanders: Found behind the wheel of her car, shot twice in the head, 1994.

John Pressler: Churubusco man shot dead in central Fort Wayne, 1994.

Sarah Bowker: 7-year-old molested and suffocated, 1990.

Maurice Lam: IPFW professor beaten to death by acquaintances in a robbery, 1991.

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