The murder squashed the court-side gambling and scared away many long-time players. The story told around the courts today is that the two teen suspects met a terrible fate after being convicted as adults for Gordon's murder.

"Rumors are they didn't last long in prison," says Nelson. "They killed the wrong guy."

Faille never abandoned the courts. Instead, he named a Caesar salad after Gordon (the "King Julio") and continued to play. As he opened, closed and sold restaurants, he remained a fixture at the park with his Shih Tzus and his wagering. When the prison guys began to filter into the players' midst, Faille offered them jobs in his restaurants. When the Shih Tzus — Ari and Mia — died, he buried them under a tree next to the courts.

Jerry Jones, a.k.a. Junior, dreams of a career as a pro handballer.
Jennifer Silverberg
Jerry Jones, a.k.a. Junior, dreams of a career as a pro handballer.
"Not any of us would know each other if it wasn't for this blue ball," says Sandy Daniels, a car-dealership owner and the only regular female player.
Jennifer Silverberg
"Not any of us would know each other if it wasn't for this blue ball," says Sandy Daniels, a car-dealership owner and the only regular female player.

Faille's death of a heart attack in 2011 ended the era of open gambling at the handball courts, though since the departure of the high rollers in the late 1970s, the bets had long ago come down to earth.

"They'd play for a pizza or a salad or a dollar," recalls Tony of his dad. "He was always working on an angle."

Slideshow: Handball Brings Together Players of All Stripes in Forest Park


Contrary to the version of the story told courtside, only one of the men involved in Jule Gordon's murder died in prison. The other, the gunman, is at the Forest Park handball courts almost every day. None of the other handballers know this.

"Please understand, I don't want to be looked down upon," he says, the first time he discusses the incident openly with Riverfront Times. "There's a lot of people out here that don't know that I'm that guy."

L.D., his former street name and the name he asks to be identified by, is a tall, broad-shouldered man with heavy-lidded eyes. Seated on a bench, a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes, he is just a stone's throw from where he shot Gordon. He looks too young to have spent 28 years in prison; it's likely one of the reasons he's been able to keep a low profile.

L.D. does not dispute his guilt. On that day in 1979, he and his best friend, James Bausley, cruised the streets of the Central West End looking for someone to rob. L.D. states unequivocally that he was the leader of the operation.

They spotted Gordon in the park walking to his car, just a few yards away from an active handball match. L.D. got out of the car, approached Gordon and pointed a gun at his chest, demanding cash. When Gordon refused to give up his wallet, the two struggled. L.D. shot him.

"I kind of, like, pulled the trigger more out of fear," he recalls. "As far as the man's face, I remember like he's right here today. I remember his face."

A woman screamed. Plainclothes cops opened fire on the car as L.D. jumped into the vehicle and Bausley hit the gas. L.D. made it home with just enough time to run into his father — a recent widower working multiple jobs to keep the family afloat.

"He said, 'I don' t know what you done done, but if you need to leave, I got some money.' He had three cars. He said, 'Take one of those cars and go. Go deal with yourself,'" recalls L.D. "I was coming out the house, and they swooped down. They came from everywhere. Swooped down and locked me up."

L.D. was sentenced to life but spared lethal injection by pleading guilty. In 1983 he got word that Bausley — who'd been given a ten-year sentence in exchange for his testimony against L.D. — was dead. Another inmate stabbed him to death in the prison yard after they argued over a portable television.

"Had it not been for my choice, then he wouldn't been there to die then," says L.D.

He says Bausley's mother died without forgiving him.

"She stayed angry," he adds. "One time she told me, 'Make sure my son comes home all right.' Sometimes when I bash myself I feel like I let her down."

He initially avoided the handball courts in prison because it reminded him of the man he'd murdered. But eventually he started participating when older inmates took him under their wing and started to teach him the game.

"Whenever I was playing sports, I wasn't in prison," he says.

L.D. was paroled in 2008, and he found himself drawn to the park.

"When I came out I was acting like I was John Doe," he recalls. "I was asking a lot of questions about Jule, and I never heard a bad thing. Never heard a bad thing. He was an awesome friend, awesome father, just awesome person all the way around. Awesome handball player."

(Gordon's 1979 obituary mentions only a wife and two siblings.)

L.D.'s life after prison has been a struggle. Estranged from his family (his father died long ago), he has been homeless at times. Currently he is out of work. But through the quiet, ask-no-questions handball community, he says he's been offered jobs, even clothes and food when things were dire. He surmises that some of the handballers may have figured out who he is, though they have never said anything. He sticks to a very clinical description of his crime: "In the commission of a robbery, a man lost his life." He fears if the others know, he won't be welcome anymore.

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11 comments
Katherine Annemarie
Katherine Annemarie

I love seeing the dudes in the handball courts when I run in the park. They always look like they are having so much fun. I will definitely read this.

JenCraze
JenCraze

Must read article for Handball players...murder, redemption and Handball community coming together has been my experience being a Handball groupie for 15+ years now. 

JenCraze
JenCraze

Must read article for Handball players...murder, redemption and Handball community coming together has been my experience being a Handball groupie for 15+ years now. 

cdmccrea_
cdmccrea_

HORRIBLE TITLE!!!

Makes folks think that only ex-con's are playing and then they show a skinny guy with a tattoo and a black woman.   OUCH!

And the MAJORITY of handball courts are in South City and of course the main one in Forest Park.

Again, OUCH......bad title(s)   Ex-Con  and Misfits.....come on!!!

Craig Richason
Craig Richason

Great article. I miss playing handball down there, myself.

egolterman
egolterman topcommenter

Nothing wrong with this 're-definition' of Forest Park.   The vicious choking of the MUNY to 7 lousy weeks, denying METRO express to the residents of St. Louis County, and fraudulent use of the peoples' money and resources by those who control  the institutions of the Zoo-Museums district are not good re-definitions of Forest Park.  An obsessive number of festivals-killing the restaurants.

 
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