RICHMOND, Va. -- Seventeen years after a Richmond man was found shot to death on the city’s northside, police are taking a new look and trying to turn up the heat on the cold case.
On December 22, 2001, just three days before Christmas, officers responded to a call of shots fired on Hanes Avenue in Richmond’s northside.
When they arrived, officers found the body of 50-year-old Thomas Winston Carter Jr.
It’s a crime that devastated his family so much, some of them no longer celebrate Christmas.
“They need to pay for what they did to him,” said Carter’s cousin, Gloria Piercy.
“Somebody knows something, somebody’s not talking,” she added.
Carter’s body was found in the rear of African Baptist Church, said to be the third oldest black Baptist church in the U.S.
The 50-year-old had been shot multiple times, his body lying face down next to an old stone shed in the back alleyway.
Some shell casings were found on the ground nearby, but investigators did not have a lot to work with.
Inside Richmond Police headquarters, Detective Joe Fultz thumbs through stacks of old photos, searching for any clues that may have gone unnoticed for the past 17 years.
“Pictures as they say are worth a thousand words,” said detective Fultz.
Fultz was one of the first officers to respond to the scene of the murder.
“When you have a homicide, the incident starts from the body and emanates out,” he said.
He can still remember gathering evidence and recalls a witness providing investigators their first big tip about the suspects.
“They took the victim’s vehicle and took it a few blocks over and what appears to be to get rid of evidence they set the vehicle on fire,” he recalls.
Never before seen pictures shows Thomas Carter’s Ford van after it was found burned to a crisp on Hawthorne Avenue. But the startling discovery seemed to raise more questions than answers, both for detectives, and the victim’s family.
“When I first heard about it I almost passed out myself because I could not believe, and I said he was just here! We was just talking,” said Piercy.
Gloria Piercy can still remember what it was like, hearing the news that her cousin was dead.
“It hurt me, it hurt all of us, especially this part of his family, cause all of us was like this,” she said while crossing her fingers.
She says everyone knew him as Tommy, a gentle giant who loved to be around family and friends.
“He went to church every Sunday, sang in the choir, a beautiful baritone voice,” she added.
He was like a big brother to her and many others. But first and foremost, he was a father.
“He had a son too that he was raising. So… Why? asked Piercy.
Tommy shared a home with his mother on Rosewood Avenue, near Byrd Park. That’s about 15 minutes away from where he was killed.
So how did he end up on the northside?
Piercy was one of the last people to see him alive.
“He was in good spirits,” Piercy recalled.
The night of December 21, Tommy stopped by her house. She says he told her he was going across town to buy drugs, something she tried to caution him against.
He left anyway and a short time later, Tommy’s worried mother Margaret called looking for him.
“I said he just left out the door, and she said I want him to come back home, but at that time we didn’t have cell phones, so you couldn’t call him on the phone,” said Piercy.
The next morning, his mother went to check his room, but he wasn’t there.
Later that day, the call came from police.
“If you can imagine being the family and you get a call and your loved one is killed, right before the holidays, it’s going to stick with you,” said detective Fultz.
Piercy says that’s exactly what happened.
“She doesn’t do Christmas no more. Margaret does not like doing Christmas anymore, because of what happened,” explained Piercy.
No arrests have ever been made in this case, despite the fact that at least one witness got a glimpse of the suspects, who appeared to be just a few years old than Tommy Carter’s own son.
“Somewhere between the ages of 18 and 20 years old, this was confirmed by some of the people who saw the young men leaving the area and get into the van and drive off with it,” said Fultz.
That would mean the killers would now be in their late 30’s.
Detective Fultz says it’s possible they’ve been responsible for more violent crimes in this area over the years. He also believes there are still people living in the neighborhood who have information that can help solve the case.
“Usually when a shooting or something happens outside someone’s house and someone’s found, that’s not something the people quickly forget,” said Fultz.
Family members like Gloria Piercy hope someone comes forward, so they can set some closure.
“Get it off your chest because I know it’s burning a hole in your heart,” she pleaded.
“We want justice for our cousin. Margaret wants justice for her son,” she added.
Gloria Piercy says that Tommy’s mother is now 91 and her health has been deteriorating.
But she says there’s a reason she’s hanging on.
“I believe in my heart she is still lingering because of the fact that she doesn’t know what happened to her baby boy,” said Piercy.
Detective Fultz says Richmond Police have an idea who the killers are, but they need a little more information to solve this case. If you have you have any information in this case, call 646-3929.