HOLMBERG: Richmond man sentenced in fatal crash; victim’s family has known murder before

Posted at 12:39 AM, May 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-21 12:25:01-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Ikieem Rakim Kilpatrick, 26, of Richmond agreed to a plea deal Thursday for fatally injuring a Chesterfield breast cancer survivor last year while fleeing from Richmond police.

Kilpatrick pled to 2nd-degree murder and agreed to a 40-year sentence, with 20 suspended.

Mary E. Smith, 46, suffered a broken neck and later died when Kilpatrick, a convicted violent felon, ran a red light in the SUV he was driving and slammed into her car at the intersection of Midlothian Turnpike and Broad Rock Road.

Ikieem Rakim Kilpatrick

Ikieem Rakim Kilpatrick

Her two children said Smith had bravely fought - and beat - stage-4 breast cancer, including a double mastectomy.

"It still hurts every day," said her daughter, Jamie Abel after court. "Especially living here in her house. I've been going through a lot."

She said Kilpatrick didn't say anything at the sentencing, although his mother was very apologetic.

"I still feel like he deserves more time," she said. "But what I've been through with my dad, I know 20 years is a long time."

In 1994, her father, Harry Harmey Walls Jr., was arrested and eventually convicted of murdering a gay West Point man and leaving his naked body in a canal off Tredegar Street.

Abel was just a baby at the time.

Mary Smith and Jamie Abel

Mary Smith and Jamie Abel

A few months earlier, in January 1994, Harry Walls' brother, David (Abel's uncle), was  beaten and shot in the head at point-blank range with a shotgun, coincidentally just a mile or so where Mary Smith was fatally injured 21 years later.

I was there shortly after that shooting happened. It was a mess.

Looking into both of those murders back then, I learned the Walls brothers grew up wild in a very abusive home. It was no surprise things ended for them as they did. (See background story below.)

But Jamie said she and her mom were the one bright spot in Harry Walls' life. They visited him in prison regularly since she was a little girl.

Mary Smith, Jamie Abel, Harry Harmey Walls Jr.

Mary Smith, Jamie Abel, Harry Harmey Walls Jr.

"I love him," she said, her somber face breaking into a smile. Her mother planned to marry him when he was paroled. (He's serving a life sentence, but is eligible for parole.)

I asked her how she felt about her mother being killed by a violent criminal after her father was convicted of murder.

"It blows my mind," she said. "It's crazy."

Abel said the judge who sentenced Kilpatrick "was the judge that sentenced dad."

She feels it's her mother talking to her, giving her some kind of message.

"A lot's been going on in my life," Abel said. "Even though I did have my dad, she was my mom and my dad. She was both."

Abel said she's grateful for the support of the Richmond police officers involved in the case.

And she's hoping the family's luck is going to change for the better.

Here is the story I wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1994 about Jamie Abel's father, uncle and other relatives:


Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA) (Published as Richmond Times-Dispatch) - July 11, 1994

Author/Byline: MARK HOLMBERG; Times-Dispatch Staff Writer

It was a bizarre, ugly scene that a homeless man stumbled upon May 14.

But the discovery of the naked and bludgeoned body of Joseph L. Vandevaarst floating in the Tredegar Street canal on that Saturday morning was only part of a twisted saga that surrounds the life of Harry Harmey Walls Jr., the Richmond man accused of murdering him.

Vandevaarst, 31, was a tall gay man from West Point who was doted on by his sister and well-loved by his many friends in the Richmond gay community. A graduate of Bridgewater College, Vandevaarst worked as a night clerk in a Williamsburg hotel and recently had been accepted to nursing school.

Walls, who on Thursday was charged with murdering Vandevaarst and could face the death penalty if convicted, is a suicidal high school dropout with drug and alcohol problems. His own brother was brutally murdered Jan. 7.

Walls, 26, was arrested for stealing Vandevaarst's Toyota two weeks ago. Police arrested him in West Virginia, where he went to be with his 7-month-old daughter and his girlfriend, family members said. He told authorities that he "hasn't been the same" since his brother was slain.

His family has been touched, in one way or another, by arrests, jail, drugs, booze and homicide.

In a telephone interview from the City Jail on Friday night, Walls summarized his childhood: "I had a disgusting life. . . . I've never had any kind of life," Walls said. "I've committed a lot of suicides. . . . "

A product of a stormy and dysfunctional Oregon Hill marriage and divorce, Walls grew up ping-ponging between street hustling and relatives who tried to guide the nervous young man whose fingernails always were chewed to the quick.He spent some of his teen years as a denizen of "The Block" -- an area surrounding the Franklin Street library that was once a nationally known pickup spot for cruising gays. He also, from time to time, figured in Richmond vice squad investigations.

"I know those boys were practically raised on the streets," said an uncle, who has a sheet metal business and who had employed several of the Walls brothers, including Harry. "We helped them all we could, but they went kind of wild. But they're really good people. It's not their fault. It's the way they were raised.

"He would hurt himself, but he wouldn't hurt anybody else, never," the uncle said. "I'd put my life on that. The boy didn't have a violent temper, not ever."

But police allege that the slightly built Walls killed Vandevaarst in the pre-dawn hours of May 7 and then stole his car. Vandevaarst died from "drowning associated with a blunt head trauma," police have said. Walls, who is charged with capital murder and robbery, is being held in the City Jail and is next due in court on Aug. 1.

Records show Harry Walls Jr. was arrested in October 1988 for robbing a 35-year-old gay Richmond man of his clothes and car in the 2900 block of Park Avenue. On Jan. 10, 1989, Walls was convicted of auto theft in that case and sentenced to 12 months, according to records. He also was convicted of robbery in the case, but imposition of that sentence was suspended.

His father, Harry Walls Sr., said he knew his four older sons had been street hustling. They did it, he said, to survive. "I don't care what they are," Walls said. "I love them.

"I feel right bad about it," Walls said as he smoked a Winston in his Richmond mobile home that has pictures of his sons on the paneled walls. "But there's nothing I could do about it."

"I tried to be a good mother to them," added Walls' mother, who did not want to be identified by name. "I don't know if I can take any more."

The oldest of her five boys, 29-year-old Danny Walls, is in prison serving his latest sentence, a 10-year stretch for a parole violation.

A brother of his, 27-year-old David Walls, was beaten, kicked and then shot in the head at point blank range with a shotgunon Jan. 7 in one of the city's most savage slayings. No one has been arrested in that case.

And younger brother Richard Eugene "Ricky" Walls, 24, also was arrested two weeks ago and charged with grand larceny for stealing Vandevaarst's car. That charge was dropped Friday.

Another brother, the youngest, has stayed out of trouble, his mother said."They were good boys when I had them in my hands and raising them," she said. "Maybe I didn't do it right. But they're grown men. They should know better."

The Walls brothers spent much of their childhood on Cherry Street in the Oregon Hill area, a white, blue-collar section of town that once was home to many police officers and firefighters.

Harry Walls Sr. was a welder by trade and a hard-core drinker, said the mother, who grew up in the Richmond area as the daughter of a Church of God minister.

The drinking "was a lot of the problem" with their relationship, she said.

During an interview, Harry Jr. said his father physically abused him and his brothers, as well as their mother.

"Let me say this: I love my Dad . . . but Dad beat the holy (expletive) out of me because he was mad at Mom or work or he's drunk."

He recalled going to school, his head shaved and welts on his face.

Harry Sr. admits he had an alcohol problem that was not tamed until 1988. "I had a drinking problem, I admit it. But she drove me to it," Walls said of his ex-wife. "I'd come home and the kids would be running around in diapers and she'd be passed out on drugs."

As for disciplining his children, he said, "I spanked them good if they needed it, I did that. They minded me. But I never beat them, no. I would never do that because I was beaten as a child."

But Mrs. Walls, who admits to having had a prescription-drug problem, also contends her ex-husband was abusive to her and the boys. "I don't think he meant to do what he did. He was drunk."

She recalled an incident when the family was living in Highland Springs in the mid-1970s. "He lined us all up on the couch and then shot at us over our heads."

Walls Sr. denied that happened, but he said a court hearing about the incident led to him being committed to a detoxification program.

As for her drug problems, Mrs. Walls said she got tangled up with prescription drugs after an operation and subsequent nerve problems.

"I admit it," she said. "It takes a lot to admit it. But I did try to make a home for my kids. The boys had a rough life, but it's not just the kids. Nobody knows my part."

Reflecting on her stormy marriage, she said, "I don't blame one of us more than the other."

Said her ex-husband: "It just didn't work out."

An aunt recalled the boys being dropped off at her house for an evening visit that stretched inexplicably into two weeks.

"I had them sleeping in laundry baskets and dresser drawers," the aunt said. "We didn't have any room. I did the best I could."

The mother said that incident occurred during one of the times when she and her family didn't have a place to stay.

The aunt recalled acting as Harry Jr.'s mother when he was a baby.

"Harry almost died when he was 6 months old," the aunt said. "He had a digestive tract problem and spent three months in MCV."

After he got out of the hospital, "I brought him home," the aunt said. "He stayed with me for three years. I got him back on his feet."

In 1980, the troubled marriage ended. Walls Sr. wanted his children to go into foster care, the mother said, but a judge awarded her custody. Her ex- husband did not dispute that account.

Hard years followed, she said. She worked part time when she could, and welfare filled in the gaps. She remarried, and her new husband has tried to help her sons and has steered the youngest boy on the right path, she said.

"After me and my wife separated," Harry Sr. said, "they (his sons) went completely out of control."

Later, the elder Walls said, he tried several times to get his sons into trade school. He also welcomed them into his home, he said, but his intolerance of their drug problems drove a wedge between them. "They wouldn't come around here because I didn't believe in the dope."

The uncle, two aunts and a cousin interviewed for this story did not want to be identified because their Lakeside home, which housed several of the Walls brothers from time to time, has been targeted by people leaving gay newspapers and other literature since Harry Jr.'s arrest.

The uncle said he has known Harry Jr. ever since his nephew was a boy and worked side by side with him right up to the Vandevaarst slaying.

"He has some mental problems," the uncle said.

Shortly before the Vandevaarst slaying, he said, Harry Jr. "tried to get a mental health center to put him away for a while to straighten his nerves out, but they wouldn't take him and he couldn't afford to go into the hospital

himself." Harry Jr. said, "I . . . asked my counselor. . . . . I said, 'Please, put me away before I get hurt or before someone else gets hurt.' "

The mother said Harry Jr. often became suicidal when intoxicated, and she had him committed to a mental health treatment facility last year.

An aunt said Harry Jr.'s scarred body is a testament to his self- destructive nature.

"I don't believe he murdered that man," the aunt said. She, too, did not want to be identified by name.

"They had a hard life, these boys did. It's not like they had the love and attention we had when we were coming up. They just had to make the best of what life gave them. I love all of them, and there's not a hate bone in any of their bodies."

But the slaying of David Walls shifted reality for the Walls family.

"Whatever thin pathological web served to connect and enable their family to function was shattered with the murder of David Walls," said a source who is familiar with the gay street scene as well as the Walls brothers.

Harry Jr. was among the family members who identified David Walls' mutilated body after the January slaying.

"The only way they could identify him was by his tattoos," said another family member. Among those tattoos was one honoring his baby daughter, along with "HATE" tattooed on one hand and "LOVE" on another.

"That just upset Harry real bad," the relative said. "He's been having nightmares since then."

Members of the Richmond gay community who knew Harry Jr. -- including one longtime street hustler -- said he was known to take advantage of gay men, but murder was not in his makeup.

Meanwhile, the upcoming trial has Walls' mother wondering when this year's series of shocks will end.

"I'm afraid I'm going to lose (Harry), too," she said.

And she's praying for answers to why her son was slain.

"I would give anything in this world if I could find out something about David," she said.

When Vandevaarst's sister in West Point, Katie Slavey, heard of the Walls brothers' saga, she said, "It's horrible. My heart goes out" to their mother.

But, Slavey said, "if he did it . . . he needs to pay for that. I hope I can put as much faith in the judicial system as I have in the Richmond Police Department."