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Feature

St. Louis Homicide Cases Often Go Unsolved. Victims’ Families Want Justice.

These St. Louis families have waited years for answers. They say police seem to have forgotten their loved ones.

A Black woman with curly hair is washed in red light.
Monthane Miller-Jones poses for a portrait on March 6, 2024, in Florissant, Missouri. Her son, Mario Fox, was shot and killed in 2018.

There were more than 1,900 people killed in St. Louis between 2014 and 2023.

Homicide detectives from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department managed to solve about 47% of those cases. For Black victims, who make up about 90% of those killed, the solve rate was lower, according to an analysis of police data.

This article was published in partnership with St. Louis Public Radio and APM Reports.

That leaves thousands of family members and friends without answers. Some have been waiting decades for a semblance of justice, growing more frustrated with each passing year.

St. Louis Public Radio, as part of an investigation with APM Reports and The Marshall Project, spoke with the families of some of those killed in St. Louis — loved ones whom they say the police seem to have forgotten.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

A woman wearing a yellow top and holding a drawing of her son playing basketball.
Ronda Williams

Ronda Williams’ son, Tyrin, was a basketball star at Riverview Gardens High School who went on to play at Lake Land College (pictured below) in Mattoon, Illinois. He was shot and killed in St. Louis in 2016 when he was 21.

Tyrin just had a style of his own. He would cut off pants and make capris. He just made his own style, always tried to match up everything. He always had to be dressed nice if he was going somewhere.

A Black man playing college basketball.

Tyrin Williams

We had no idea that he would be so good at basketball. But he wasn’t necessarily a student-athlete, so school was a struggle. Basketball helped him graduate because otherwise he probably wouldn’t have. As a mother, you always hype your kids up, so I always told him, ‘You can go to the NBA! You can do this, you can do that.’ He used to be like, ‘Mama, calm down.’

The streets don’t show you any love, and our community is not like it used to be. You see this young man, this athlete, ‘We gonna keep him away from the bad.’ Instead, they welcome you, so when you fall off, they’re gonna come and scoop you up and introduce you to all the stuff that your parents tried to keep you from. And that’s what happened with him.

I was taking my grandson to Chuck E. Cheese and my phone clicked, and it was a detective. He asked me when was the last time I talked to Tyrin, and my mind is rolling, like: ‘Is he locked up? What did he do?’ And so he says real fast, ‘I need you to come down to Clark [the City of St. Louis’ morgue].’ I was on the highway in St. Charles, so I had to drive all the way from St. Charles down to Tucker. I don’t know how I made it.

It’s like you almost as a parent say, if my child has to get killed, I hope it happens in the county, because they solve more cases than the city. After a certain time, you have to accept that you may not get justice. You just have to wait on God to give them their karma.

A woman wearing a headscarf is silhouetted against a sunset.
Angel Mays

Angel Mays’ sons, Kelvin and Kelvon Phillips, were shot and killed six months apart when they were both 19. Kelvin was gunned down in 2018 in St. Louis. His case remains unsolved. His younger brother Kelvon died of a gunshot wound in 2019 in Spanish Lake, which is outside the city, in the northeast corner of St. Louis County. St. Louis County investigators arrested a suspect who later pleaded guilty and is in prison.

A black man with short hair and a gray hoodie looks at the camera.

Kelvin Phillips

They were always together, inseparable. I remember when I had to go back to work, and they had to go to daycare. If Kelvin heard Kelvon crying, he would go to his room, which was the 1-year-old room, and get him. So whenever I would go pick them up in the evening, they were both in the same room.

I was very proud of them, and I still am. Even though they were tall and goofy, they were really, really good kids. They were my everything. I had them when I was 18 and 19, so we basically grew up together.

Whenever they walked out the door, I was scared. We all was always on them, telling them to be mindful of who they be around, that not everybody is your friend. But you can’t make them, you can only guide them. Ultimately, the choice is theirs. And unfortunately, in both their cases, that choice that they made, they can’t come back from.

A Black woman looks away from the camera while sitting and wearing a khaki hat and a camo dress.
Monthane Miller-Jones

Monthane Miller-Jones’ son, Mario Fox, died of a gunshot wound in St. Louis in 2018 at age 26. She is raising his son, 'Little Mario,' in the wake of his death.

The strongest memory that I have of him is that he told me: ‘You don’t have to worry about me. I can take care of myself, and I’m not afraid to die.’

A young Black man with tattoos and without a shirt holds his little son in shorts and a button-down shirt.

Mario Fox

I think when Mario hit 24 is when he really just wanted more. He was seeing the other kids in the city with things that he didn’t have. I guess a cousin told him, ‘Man, what you making at McDonald’s, waiting to get in two weeks, I got it right here.’ He believed that this is what most Black men are doing. ‘This is what is left for us, Mom.’

I saw him that Sunday evening, got me a kiss and a hug. He shared his Chinese food with me. I was happy to get that last ‘I love you, son’ and get to wrap my arms around him for the last time. I didn’t know that was going to be the last time.

When my son was murdered, he was thrown out on the streets in the cold rain. I don’t know how long his body laid out there, because they didn’t contact me until 8:30, 9 o’clock the next morning. They didn’t show me any pictures, but they did let me go down and identify the body. I just didn’t get enough information. I asked for the information. But it’s like, it wasn’t given to me.

I don’t think [the police] are doing enough. I don’t think they care. I call, I leave messages. I’ve given him over 20 witnesses that could corroborate that Mario was with these people after midnight, 1 o’clock, 1:30 in the morning. And still, after all of that, it’s not enough.

When I did call [the detective] he was angry with me for still being interested. I felt like he was saying to me, ‘Lady, you’re not gone yet?’ And that’s how I felt. You should never get angry, because I’m calling because we haven’t solved it yet. Let’s solve it. But, you know, I just feel like, every time I’m dialing the number, I get this weird feeling like, Oh, my God, he’s gonna be pissed, because I’m calling about my son.

A Black man with a red shirt looks away while standing outside his brick house painted purple and white.
Carlos Amos

Carlos Amos’ son, Cartrell, was 19 when he was shot and killed in a St. Louis home on Shulte Avenue in 2019. The case remains open.

He was a good kid, everybody liked to be around. He was a pretty fun, funny guy. He was just a good person to be around, his whole demeanor. Yeah, miss him.

[Cartrell’s mom] still had a house over there [on Shulte Avenue]. That neighborhood was bad. He pretty much had to know it. He was staying over there for that summer, so he knew.

They say he went to visit someone, somebody kicked in the basement door and robbed him, or something like that — and killed him. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know if they came in with their guns and then my son fought back, and they had to kill him. It’s something only the people in that house know about.

There’s so many murders happening over there. And it is just a never-ending situation.

My expectation was for them to tell me some information. I didn’t get no real information.

I don’t know why they don’t have more homicide detectives to stop these murders. Caseloads are overbearing.

And when I saw that the police didn’t want to do the job, I kind of quit. You know, I have a life, too. I have to keep going, too.

A Black woman with short blonde hair looks away while wearing a purple shirt with a polar bear on it and the words “cuddle monster.”
Erica Jones

Erica Jones’ daughter, Whitney Brown, was killed in a drive-by shooting on Shulte Avenue in St. Louis in 2015 when she was 24. Jones later founded Voice of the Voiceless, a St. Louis support group for families who have lost children to gun violence.

Whitney was a young lady that was full of life. It didn’t matter who you were, where you came from. She was just a genuine, lovable kid who would help anybody out. She was my ray of sun.

A Black woman with a high bun and glasses looks towards the camera, smiling.

Whitney Brown

She was going to Vatterott College to be a nurse. So when I didn’t feel well, Whitney was always like, ‘Mama, I’ll be over there to check on you.’ Checking my temperature, checking my blood pressure. She had her very first apartment, had her very first vehicle, working two jobs, going to school. I was so proud of her, where she was going in life. And then it felt like I was hit by a truck. Everything just basically halted. Like, boom out of nowhere.

I got a knock on the door. Well, banging on the door. My daughter’s friend came and said, ‘You need to come, Whitney’s been shot.’ We get to the site, but the police will not let me pass the barrier. I hear my other daughter screaming, ‘Mama, Mama, Mama.’ I felt like I was Herschel Walker, doing a football move, because I finally got past the tape. Blood everywhere, white sheets everywhere, but I didn’t see Whitney. When I get to the edge of the block, I see a ton of kids. It had to be at least 10 or 12 kids that had semiautomatic weapons. And they was like, ‘What you want us to do?’ I said, ‘Baby, I just want you to go home.’ They were armed, like ready to go to war. It took everything in me to be like, ‘This is not what I want. This is not going to solve anything.’

I didn’t get a visit from the police until almost a week later. The detective was very empathetic to what had happened. He didn’t come off overbearing, consistently giving his apologies.

The detective, to this day, I still contact him. I understand that he does have other murders, but with the information that’s been given to him, there’s no way you should not have a suspect. I call every two weeks like clockwork, same story, nothing. The detective’s not in, he’s on vacation, his family member’s sick, he’s in the field, we’ll call you back. Just excuse after excuse.

How can we fight back? We’re not going to be defeated, we’re not going to let you take our joy, even though you took a part of us. We’re standing together. I’m here because we have real live mothers who are hurting. Some of those women have cases from the 1990s or the beginning of 2000. What voice do they have?

A Black man wearing a gray hoodie looks away from the camera.
Calvin Fletcher

Calvin Fletcher’s brother, Devon, was killed on Shulte Avenue in St. Louis in 2015 in a drive-by double homicide that also killed Whitney Brown. Both cases remain unsolved.

Devon got along with everybody. He was a good dude, just an easygoing guy. Nobody ever said anything bad about him.

My son really, really, really, looked up to Devon, and it hit him really hard. … A lot of the younger people in our family — our cousins — they really liked to hang with him, so it hit a lot of them hard, and they still remember the day.

My mom would call the police, but after a while, probably like a month or so, we didn’t hear from the detective. My mom would call every now and then and try to get something, but we wouldn’t get any information.

A young Black man wears a suit with a flower on it.

Devon Fletcher

It’s unfortunate and kind of upsetting, the fact that nobody seems to really care about putting the emphasis on trying to solve it.

To not have any type of communication for going on nine years, after a couple months, it’s not a way to do anything. I’m wondering how many homicides have they actually solved?

That’s part of why the Black community, why they don’t have a lot of faith in the police department. Because they don’t feel that the effort is being put forward enough to solve these types of cases.

But you have to place some of the blame also on the community and them not coming forward to say anything.

So that’s really the gist of it, you know, it works hand in hand.

I could probably call them tomorrow, and they’d probably be like, ‘Somebody will call you back.’ But I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting on that callback.

A Black woman with a long dark dress and short curly hair looks out a window while sitting in a purple church pew.
Mary Ann Johnson

Mary Ann Johnson’s son, Jerome Williams, died in St. Louis of a gunshot wound in 1993 at age 19.

We used to call him Smiley, because even if he was angry, he had a smile on his face. He was just a sweet child. Jerome tried to go to school, but he said he had enemies at school. So he stopped going … and he went to the streets.

He chose the wrong people to be his friends. He said, ‘I wish I could just leave, Mama.’ He wanted to get away, but I didn’t want to let him go. I used to stay stuck on that, wishing that I had let him go. Sometimes I used to think it was my fault he was dead because I held on to him too tight. But I tried to do what I could for my kids.

A side-by-side image of both a young Black boy with curly hair smiling and a Black teen wearing a black durag and a dark jacket looking at the camera.

Jerome Williams

When I lost him, I’ll never forget it. I had talked to my son, and he said, ‘Mama, I got you a Mother’s Day present, and I’ll bring it to you tomorrow.’ That’s the last time I spoke to him.

I had just started this job at the Ritz-Carlton, and I was in training. That Friday, when I got home, my phone rang. It was an ex telling me that my son got killed. I said, ‘What you're doing, calling my phone, telling me my son’s dead?’ and I threw the phone on the floor. I lived around the corner from my brother, so I called him to take me down to the central police station.

I just took off running. I was mad at God. I didn’t know why God took my son away from me.

[The detective] told me that Jerome was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I called him a couple times, but he didn’t have any news. He didn’t have nothing. So I never called back. I don’t have anything against the police, but the police did not handle it right.

I didn’t really cry at his funeral. I didn’t do that until years later. I held it in. I grieved for a long time. I still grieve today. What helps me is to know that God got me.

This article, the fifth in a series, was published as a collaboration among St. Louis Public Radio, The Marshall Project and APM Reports, as part of the Public Media Accountability Initiative, which supports investigative reporting at local media outlets around the country.