Death Trip

A joyride from Jefferson County to score some dope dead-ends with a murder on the city's streets

Not far from the site of Jason's murder are homes that present a neat, respectable façade, with religious statuary and children's playthings in the frontyards -- and mean-ass guard dogs fenced in the back. Here, and on adjacent streets, are the modest homes of longtime residents, who either complain outright about what has happened to their neighborhood or have come to grudgingly accept it.

Vera, 85, has lived on Wisconsin since 1970, moving in when her mother died. "Oh, I don't go out at night," she says, "not unless my daughter's with me. I'm scared, there's so much mugging. I keep my nose indoors. It used to be, if people went to the hospital and came back home, everyone would bring something. But I don't even know the neighbors up the street. You don't know nobody no more. I don't think it's ever gonna get better."

Rich Emmons, 67, a retired laborer who lives next to Scott's Tavern at Wisconsin and Broadway, a block south of Potomac, says, "Prostitutes and drug dealers are out in the open. I can see all the activity from here. It's like a three-ring circus practically every night. Every chance I get, I call the cops: "Hey, there's a deal goin' down across the street. I can see it.' Sometimes they come right away, and sometimes they flip you off and don't come at all."

Deon Kaub's neatly kept premises on Wisconsin, one block east of Illinois, was the scene of the killing. Now, months later, all the yellow crime-scene tape is gone, but the memory still remains. "As I understand it," says Kaub, "the shooting originated on the next street over, Illinois, and that gang came over here. My place is soundproof, so I didn't know it was at my house until it was over with and the police were out there." Kaub, 89, who has lived in the one-story brick home since 1972, says she is normally quick to report any suspicious activities. Clyde Shoemaker, who lives two doors down from Kaub, notes that the neighborhood is "a pretty rough area." A resident since 1982, Shoemaker was home the night Jason was shot. "I was watching TV," he says, "and I thought it was firecrackers, so I didn't go out." The eventual news didn't surprise him: "More shit happens around here than anywhere else in St. Louis, north or south."

Kaub and Shoemaker live across from Shepard Elementary, an anchor in the neighborhood for nearly a century. A scant 10 yards from the spot where Jason was killed, between the sidewalk and the curb, a sign proclaims the area a "Drug-Free Gun-Free School Zone." Shepard School principal Carol Hall-Whittier is determined to let folks know that sign means exactly what it says. She recalls the conflict the previous school year with a "drug house" across the street.

"It was terrible," says Hall-Whittier, "people sitting out front, cars driving up and down the street to get drugs in the middle of the day. It was a big disruption to the school. We informed the police, and they said they knew about it and were working on it. Then, one day, people from that house asked a student here if he wanted drugs. The assistant principal was there, and she immediately called police. I can say that isn't going on anymore."

An educator at Shepard School since 1984, Hall-Whittier has seen the neighborhood decline. "The stability is no longer here," she remarks. "The neighborhood is rather transient. I do know that crime is up in this general area, and when there's crime, it's hard to get people to stay and commit to the neighborhood."

Around 2:30 p.m. on a recent weekday, a group of parents wait on Wisconsin for their children to come out of Shepard School. A local man stepping out of a pickup says he hadn't heard about the shooting that took place just a few feet from his parking spot, but he takes it in stride: "That stuff happens around here so often, you may not ever know about it," he remarks. "I've had friends get killed around here. The street belongs to the dealers. They stand on the corner -- you know what they're doing, they know you know what they're doing, and they can do it all they want, because the cops never come around at night."

Lt. Col. Stephen Pollihan, deputy chief of the South Patrol Division, disputes that claim: "We consider drug cases to be a priority because oftentimes -- this case is a perfect example -- drug-dealing is a precursor to robbery, assault, murder. It's not just the drug crime -- it's what happens before or after." Pollihan acknowledges that the patrol officers may not be cruising the 'hoods as much, but he says that's because they're slammed with calls: "Usually from 6 p.m.-2 a.m. the patrols go from one call to the next because it is so busy and we are short on manpower." But that doesn't mean no one is watching, according to Pollihan: "We have a task force of detectives here at South Patrol that spend most of their time looking for people out on the streets selling [drugs] or following up on tips from the narcotics hotline. We also rely on the undercover SCAT [Street Corner Apprehension Team] downtown, as well as the Gang Unit."

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