After sharing drinks with neighbors on a cool November evening in 1991, Leroy Davis surrendered his seat and headed to the store to buy a few things before turning in for the night.
To offer tips
Charleston police are asking for the public’s help in drumming up new leads in the 1991 killing of Leroy Eugene Davis. Anyone with information on the crime can call police at 577-7434 or Crime Stoppers at 554-1111. Crime Stoppers offers a reward of up to $1,000 to anyone providing information that leads to an arrest for a crime.
The clock read 11 p.m. when Davis left the home on Kennedy Street and sauntered down the block to a nearby store.
That was the last time his friends saw him alive.
Davis’ body turned up two days later in a vacant Line Street house where vagrants sometimes squatted and needle-junkies took cover to shoot dope. The 48-year-old hospital worker had been strangled and beaten, his pants pockets turned out as if someone had rifled through them.
More than two decades have passed since that day, and Davis’ death remains unsolved; his killer, a faceless mystery. But time has done little to dull the grief for Davis’ family, who still thirst for answers and justice to be done.
“It still hurts,” his sister, Priscilla Jones, said. “My mother only had two kids. He was the oldest, and I was the baby. I cannot forget this. I just want to know who did it and why.
“It would take the heaviness off my chest.”
Mike Gordon, the Charleston Police Department’s cold case investigator, would like nothing more than to solve Davis’ slaying and bring peace to his family. Gordon has been on the case since the day Davis was found, and he’s stuck with it through the years, looking for some clue to emerge that would lead to an arrest.
So far, that hasn’t happened. But Gordon is taking another crack at generating leads in Davis’ slaying, hoping the passage of time will make potential witnesses more willing to come forward with information.
“We followed up on every tip that came in at the time, but there was just never anything solid,” Gordon said. “We want to make one more attempt because the passage of time really hasn’t lessened the suffering of his family.”
‘A decent, passive fellow’
Davis grew up in Charleston and returned to his hometown after spending much of his early adulthood in New York City. A graduate of Rice University in Texas, he worked in the admitting department at the old county hospital, played piano at church and kept a part-time job washing dishes at the Carolina Yacht Club.
In his spare time, he helped care for his mother, who was hospitalized with cancer and diabetes.
Davis enjoyed a drink or two at the end of his day, but he was hardly a rabble-rouser, his sister said. Gordon agreed.
“Everyone in the neighborhood knew him as a decent, passive fellow,” Gordon said. “He was not the kind of person to go out looking for a fight.”
When Davis didn’t return home on a Thursday night — Nov. 21, 1991 — his family knew almost instantly something was wrong. It wasn’t like him to stay away from home and not call.
Jones’ fears were confirmed when her supervisor and a police officer approached her the following Saturday at the yacht club, where she worked as head of housekeeping. The officer told her police believed they had found her brother. But when he showed her a photograph of a man with a bruised and swollen face, she initially thought they had the wrong guy.
“It didn’t look anything like him,” Jones said.
After determining the body was indeed that of her brother, Jones had to break the news to her ailing mother, who had just had her legs amputated.
“I had to tell my mom that her son was dead,” she said. “She lasted another four months after that, and then she died, too.”
Robbery gone bad?
Police found Davis inside a vacant house on the other side of the busy Septima P. Clark Parkway, also known as the Crosstown Expressway. It was just a couple of blocks from his home, but no one knew any reason why he would have gone there, Gordon said.
Hypodermic needles littered the floor of the house and there were signs that vagrants holed up there for shelter. But Davis had no history or indications of drug use, leading his family to suspect the killer hauled him into the house to rob him.
There are indications that robbery was the motive, Gordon said. Davis, who had reportedly just picked up his paycheck at the yacht club, was found with his pockets pulled out and his money gone, he said.
The bruising on his face indicated Davis likely struggled with his attacker and put up a fight, Gordon said.
It still makes no sense that someone would kill her brother over money, because he was such a generous man, Jones said.
“If he had a dime and you needed it, you would get it,” she said. “He was a real outgoing, free-handed person.”
Her daughter, LaGea Johnson, still recalls her uncle waving goodbye to her from the window of a bus he caught to get his paycheck on the day he disappeared. Like that image, the pain of losing her uncle never seems to go away.
“We try to put it to rest,” she said, “but we just can’t.”
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.