Missing and murdered indigenous people submitted by
If you have spent any time reading about true crime, you probably know that American Indian/ Native American women go missing from the United States and Canada at alarming rates. On some reservations, women experience violence and are victims of homicide at 10x the rate of women in other communities.
But what about men and boys? Missing and murdered Indigenous boys and men are the forgotten group of this epidemic of violence on tribal land and many families are aching to see the cases of their missing/murdered male loved ones solved. Just like with the missing women, men and boys are going missing at an alarming rate on tribal land, but race is not the only factor. Men (and women) of all ethnicities who live on the Yakama reservation are missing and murdered at disturbing rates.
Missing and murdered indigenous people is a complex issue with prejudice and jurisdictional issues playing major roles. If you want to know more about the root of these issues, I suggest “Missing and Murdered” podcast by Indigenous Canadian journalist Connie Walker, who explains the issues much better than I ever could; that podcast is linked below.
Today, I want to highlight the stories of some of these men and boys, specifically those missing from the Yakama community. Because there are so many missing people who are practically unknown, I have decided to profile the cases of ALL the men and boys missing from the reservation, regardless of race.
This is a companion piece to another write up I completed about missing women and girls from the Yakama reservation. That write up can be found here. If some sections sound similar that is probably why. https://www.reddit.com/UnresolvedMysteries/comments/htvnv6/extensive_write_up_on_missing_and_murdered/ Background
Washington state is home to the fifth largest Indian reservation in the United States, the Yakama reservation, which is home to the Klickitat, Palus, Wallawalla, Wenatchi, Whishram, Wanapum, and Yakama people. According to the US Census Bureau, only the Osage, Puyallup (also in Washington state), Navajo, and Choctaw reservations are more populous. The Yakama reservation is located in South Central Washington state, just south of the city of Yakima. Of the 31,000 people who lived on the reservation, 11,000 are enrolled tribal members. Most people who live on the reservation claim Hispanic/Latino, white, or mixed-race descent, but Hispanic is by far the most common ethnic group. There are also small Filipino, Japanese, and Korean communities nearby. The Yakama reservation is located just south of the town of Yakima, Washington, a large farming community of 100,000 people. Apples, cherries, peaches, pears, grapes, and hops are all grown in the dry surrounding region. Harvest time brings thousands of migrant workers to the area, so the population is always in flux.
Outside of Yakima is the town of Union Gap (Pop. 8000), which is partially on the reservation, and partially off it. There are two other proper towns on reservation, Toppenish (pop. 8000) and Wapato (pop. 5000). Other small communities such as Satus, Harrah, White Swan, and Granger all boast several hundred residents each. All in all, the Yakama nation consists of 2,200 square miles of sprawling, rural land stretching from south central Washington nearly to the Oregon border. But from this unassuming patch of high desert and grassland, more than 30 Native
women have gone missing/were murdered. If we add Native men to the equation, the number jumps to nearly 40 unsolved disappearances, deaths, and murders. If we add the deaths and disappearances of non-native people missing from the reservation, the number grows yet again.
Although the land is vast, the tribal population is small. From my estimates over .5% of native people on the reservation are missing or murdered. Like many tribal communities, unemployment and poverty is common, appropriate housing is scare, and according to the tribal council "disregard for the rule of law and general civil unrest" as well as gun violence and substance abuse is common. In 2019 a curfew was instated after a particularly bad shooting.
According to the Washington State Patrol, the Yakama nation has the highest percentage of missing people of any Native community in the state, even though they are not the most populous. The FBI created a task force in 2009 to investigate the possibility of serial killer among the Yakama, but the investigation determined that a serial killer was unlikely, but not impossible. This was because the causes of death were so different from victim to victim. The investigation did close 2 cases on the reservation after DNA on both women linked them to a man serving life in an Oregon prison, but the man is not believed to be responsible for any other crimes in the inquiry.
Whether a serial killer is loose on tribal land or not, this issue is complex and long standing and demonstrates how much substance abuse, domestic violence, accidents, and random crime affect the native communities in this county at 10x the rate of other communities. Some progress has been made such as state bill 2951 which allows Washington state authorities to track cases and help investigate and search for missing individuals on tribal land. Because tribal lands are usually under federal jurisdiction, state authorities previously were not able to help, despite being more familiar with the area than the FBI. This is only one small step in the right direction and although awareness is growing, the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous people will not simply go away.
Many people have heard of this epidemic, but few know the names of the victims; today it is time to change that. Below are the profiles of 20
men and boys who are missing, murdered, or who have suffered mysterious deaths. For some of the individuals very little information is available. The list below is not necessarily complete. If you know of other unsolved cases let me know in the comments below.
Quick guide: Yakima-
large town near, but not on, the reservation Yakama-
the tribe and people group
NOTE: all cases organized most to least recent. In order to be profiled the cases in this piece must have some connection to the Yakama Indian reservation. This could mean those who lived on the reservation, were last seen on the reservation, are believed to be missing within the confines of reservation, or are of Yakama heritage by birth.
Hope that makes sense. Missing Bernard Schieber
, 86, of Yakima has not been seen since Aug. 8, 2019, when he left his home in the 2500 block of South 84th Avenue in Yakima. His black, full-size Chevrolet pickup was found a few weeks later in a closed portion of the Yakama Nation reservation. It appears to have been parked normally and not crashed or damaged. When he left his home in the city of Yakima, Bernard had only ¼ tank of gas and no money. He suffers from dementia. Bernard is described as a white male with blue eyes and gray hair. He weighs 190 lbs. and stands 5’ 11” tall. Anyone with any information about Schieber is asked to call the Yakima County Sheriff's Office at 509-574-2500. He is still missing. Josiah “Jo” Michael Hilderbrand
aged 25 and his friend 47-year-old Jon Joseph Cleary
left southern California in early June 2020 to travel to a Grateful Dead concert at The Gorge a venue in Washington state. Both men were traveling together in a light blue 2004 Honda Civic hybrid when they were last heard from on June 7th, 2019. On June 8th their abandoned burned out car was found 8 miles west of Toppenish in a deserted, rural area of the reservation. The FBI has stated they believe the men are dead but they are officially listed as missing.
Josiah Hilderbrand is described as white male, age 25, with light brown wavy hair and blue eyes. He is 5’8” and 165 lbs. He has a neck tattoo. Jon Cleary is a white male, 47 years old, and 6’3” in height weighing 230 lbs. He has brown/gray hair and beard and brown eyes. He usually wears a baseball cap.
Remains found August 5th, 2020 near Toppenish may belong to the men. The FBI is handling the case as the men were found on tribal land. The families are offering $35,000 for information that can solve the murders. Even if the remains are those of the “Dead Heads” the crimes of their deaths remain unsolved.
Strangely enough Hilderbrand and Cleary died on the same day that a mass shooting occurred in White Swan where two men, Donovan Quinn Carter Cloud and James Dean Cloud, killed five people. The shooters have been convicted in that crime and some have speculated that both crimes are related. This mass shooting was the crime that inspired that reservation-wide curfew to be put into effect. Elias Chief Culps
, 25, was last seen in White Swan on Dec. 27, 2018 and has not been heard from since. In 2015 Elias was a witness in a court case about unreasonable searches and seizures and whose jurisdiction should be involved when fugitives are found on tribal land- the outcome of that case is unknown. There is little information available about Elias’ disappearance. Those with information are asked to call the Yakama Nation Police Department at 509-865-2933, case number 19-009167. He is described as a Native American male, 5’6”-5’7” in height and 150-170 lbs. He has brown hair and eyes and a tattoo on his neck. Jose Francisco Canales
a 43-year-old father of 7 children was last heard from on July 7, 2018 in Harrah, Washington where he resided with his wife of nineteen years. He was last seen at La Guadalupana (a store in Harrah) on July 6, 2018 where he cashed his paycheck. The next day, July 7th, he called his boss to report that he would not be coming into work that day. This was the last time anyone saw or heard from Canales. He is described as a Hispanic male, 5’7” or 5’8” in height and 145 lbs. with brown hair and eyes. He has a scar on his left hand about 1” in length and a tattoo of a heart on his right arm/shoulder area. He was last seen wearing along-sleeved t-shirt (possibly green), blue jeans, brown sneakers and a blue baseball cap. He has a receding hairline and some gray hairs in his beard. Canales may be driving a gray 1994 Ford Ranger single cab pickup truck with the Washington license plate number B53351T. There may be a green 2018 Polaris 450HO four-wheeler in the bed of the truck; it has the vehicle identification number (VIN) 4XASEA509JA252860. Canales's case remains unsolved. Rolando Gabriel "Gabby" Gutierrez
, of Mabton has been missing since Sept. 16, 2017. The 44-year-old was the oldest of six siblings and was close to his family. When his family last heard from him, Gutierrez was in Puerto Peñasco, also known as Rocky Point, a Mexican fishing and resort city on the Gulf of California. He was staying in the area and had weekly phone contact with his family. Gabby was planning to come home for his niece’s birthday in October, but he never made it. One of his sisters worried that Gabby was “wrapped up” in the drug trade. In November 2019, forensic scientists in the Mexican state of Sonora announced that they had recovered 52 bodies and skeletons from a mass grave near Puerto Peñasco. Gabby’s family told an Associated Press reporter that they thought there might be a chance his body was among them, but this is not known for certain. Rolando “Gabby” Gutierrez is described as either a Hispanic or a mixed race (Caucasian/ Hispanic) male who is 5’10” in height and weights 180-260 lbs. He has black hair and brown eyes but he shaves his head. He also has a zodiac cancer symbol tattooed on his arm and has pierced nipples. There is currently a go fund me for Gabby’s family so one of his siblings can travel to Mexico to give their DNA for comparison. Mexican authorities are investigating this case. Kristopher Fowler,
34, was last seen Oct. 12, 2016. Fowler, affectionately known as "Sherpa" and “Kris” was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and had started at the border with Mexico with a goal of completing the 2,800-mile trek to the Canadian border. He was last seen in the White Pass area only a few hundred miles from his destination. Kris was last seen at a convenience store in very rural Yakima county. Kris is described as a white male, 6’2” and 165 lbs. He has blonde hair and beard and blue eyes. He is believed to be lost in the wilderness. His step mother still hopes the body can be recovered some day. Those with information should call the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office at 509-574-2500. Joseph Eric Miranda Jr.
, 24, has been missing from Granger since May 26, 2016. Reports say Joseph went to his bedroom on May 26, 2016 around 10:30 pm after talking with his father. His mother went to check on him in the morning but he was nowhere to be found. She last saw him late on the evening of May 25, 2016 and initially thought he had gone on a walk never returned. It is unclear if Miranda and his wife also lived at the house with his parents or if he was only staying there. According to one source, Miranda left his wife a note that said he “wouldn’t be seeing her for a while.” Miranda had a bank card and a cellphone with him when he disappeared, but because the cellphone was a government issued phone (a burner phone maybe?) it cannot be pinged. His bank card was last used on May 25th to buy a soda at a gas station and it has never been used again. He left his keys and his car at his parent’s home. There has been some activity on Miranda’s social security card but it is unknown if the user is Miranda or an identity thief. Joseph’s favorite movie is a 2014 film called Wild, about a girl who hikes through the wilderness of the Pacific Crest trail. His family worries he embarked on a similar journey and either got lost of met with foul play. They ask that if Joseph is out there to please contact them so that they know he is alive and well.
Joseph is described as a Hispanic male, 5’7” or 5”8 and 180-195 lbs. He has black hair and brown eyes. Miranda had long hair and a beard at the time of his disappearance and usually wore his hair long but occasionally cut it very short. He wears prescription eyeglasses with silver frames. He has a strawberry birthmark on his chest and a small mole on his upper lip. When last seen he was wearing multi colored swim trunks, a green long-sleeved shirt and superman flip flops. He often wears flip flops, his Rx glasses, and bandanas or hats on his head. If you have seen Miranda or have information please called the Granger PD at 509-854-2656. Chad Nathan Stotz-Gomez
, 36 of Union Gap, drifted between homeless camps at the time of his disappearance, but talked to his mother and other family members regularly. He was last seen on July 10th 2015. He has not been seen or heard from since. Some believe that this case is connected to the case of Cody Turner (details below). The same day Stotz-Gomez disappeared, there was shooting at a homeless camp between Yakima and Selah, Washington. The victim, a 36-year-old woman, was injured but the victim has not cooperated with law enforcement and no arrests have been made. Police found Stotz-Gomez's DNA at the shooting scene. Some have speculated that the shooting is connected to the November 2015 murder of Norma Emmerson, who was shot in the head outside East Selah, Washington. Some reports say Norma had information about a homicide committed by her ex-boyfriend, Raven Cutler. Cutler ultimately pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Cutler told Cody Turner's mother he'd seen Cody Turner (case below) and Stotz-Gomez together in downtown Yakima, but his information has not been verified. Other witnesses believe that the two men, Turner and Stotz-Gomez, knew each other casually and believe that their disappearances must be related.
In the past Stotz-Gomez has lived in New York and Montana and he may have traveled there. At the time of his disappearance, was required to check in weekly with the police. Stotz-Gomez is described as a Hispanic or mixed-race Hispanic/Caucasian male, 5’9” and 180-190 lbs. He has black hair and brown eyes and usually wears a beard. He has the following tattoos: barbed wire on his upper left arm, a skull with wings on his right arm, the letters "SUR" on one hand, the number 13 on the other hand, and a small cholo face on his chest. If you have any information please contact the Yakima County Sheriff's Office 509-574-2550. Cody Turner,
24, was last seen July 26, 2015, in Yakima leaving the home he shared with his father and grandparents. Cody had been gone that day with his dog Ariel but arrived at the home in the evening where he ate, showered, and picked up some cigarettes before leaving the house again. He had his cellphone on him but since July 28th, 2015 the phone has gone straight to voicemail. According to some sources Cody was homeless at the time of his disappearance but according to others he lived at his grandparent’s house with his father. Cody has a history of meth usage and his family believes he was using at the time of his disappearance. Despite his drug use, Cody’s family said he usually returned home every evening and talked to his family daily. He does not have a history of dropping out of sight or being out of touch with his family.
Cody is described as a white male 5'5 - 5'7, 150 - 170 pounds. He has sandy colored hair and green eyes. He keeps his hair very short and tidy. He sometimes wears facial hair (a goatee and mustache) which he keeps short. Turner's nickname is Cooter. He has two scars, one on his left wrist and one on his abdomen. His ears and tongue are pierced, but he had stopped wearing his earrings and tongue ring prior to his disappearance. Turner has the following tattoos: the name "Natilie" with flames and barbed wire on his right bicep, three skulls with swords going through them on his left bicep, and a tribal stamp on the inside of his upper left arm. Turner has previously fractured his left foot and he smokes cigarettes. His case may be connected to Chad- Stotz Gomez’s case which is why it is included in this piece, even though he has no connection to the reservation. Justin Lee McConville
has been missing from Toppenish since sometime in January 2015. He was 24 years old at the time and was last seen on the Yakama reservation, but often travels to Oregon and fishes along the Columbia River. Some sources say he is nomadic and had no permanent address but others say he lives in Toppenish. Justin is described as a Native American male with long brown hair which he wears in a pony tail and brown eyes. McConville has a half-sleeve tattoo of a Native American man, Chief Joseph, on his upper right arm. He also has a tattoo of a tribal fishing design on his left arm and a tattoo of a Native American design on his back. He is 6’0”-6’2” and weights 165 lbs. Yakama Tribal Police are investigating. They can be reached at 509-865-2933. Anthony “Tony” Peters
, also known as Anthony Colfax Peters, 56, was last seen in October 2014 at Legends Casino in Toppenish. According to his sister, Peters was homeless at the time, living with relatives or friends or elsewhere when necessary, but he regularly talked to his family and friends. According to his sister, Alfrieda, Tony like many homeless individuals had a complicated life. His temper sometimes got him into trouble, but eventually he always came around. His sister remembers him as a natural born artist who did powwow dancing, beadwork, and drawing for fun. He was also a good singer. In the past, he has been known to travel to other nearby reservations such as the Umatilla or Warm Springs. He has also been known to travel to Seattle. He would drop out of sight from time to time, but never for more than a few weeks.
Tony is described as a Native American male with black hair and brown eyes. Peter’s nickname is Tony, and he may use the name Anthony Colfax Peters. He has an overlapped front tooth and one front tooth is missing. He is 5’6” and his weight fluctuates regularly. His missing person case remains open with the Yakama Nation Police Department, number 15-006132. Roland Elton Woodall Sconawah
a Yakama by birth was last seen in either Lyle or Dallesport Washington in November, 2013. Both communities lie on the Columbia river in Klickitat county in what was once the land of the Yakama people. Tribal members have fishing rights in the area even though it is not technically on the reservation. This is where Roland was last seen. The 23-year-old was somewhat transient. He went missing under unclear circumstances. Roland is described as a Native American male with brown eyes and black hair. He stands at 5'6 - 5'8, and weighs 140 - 160 pounds. He is sometimes referred to as Roland Sconawah Sam. Klickitat county sheriff’s office 509-773-4545, is investigating. Ira Kennedy Yallup Sr.
was last seen at the Lone Pine fishing site near The Dalles, OR. in May 2010. His family has offered a $1,000 reward for information about his whereabouts. He is a Native male in his 50s with black hair. No other vital statistics are available and he does not even have a Charley Project page. Yakama tribal police are investigating. Francisco Javier Mendoza
was 27 years old when he was last seen in the early morning hours of June 8th 1994 leaving a 7-11 convenience store in Toppenish. Francisco was with two friends at the time. Later that morning, the three friends were outside of Toppenish when their car broke down. Francisco apparently went walking in the direction of town in order to get help and vanished into the night. He has never been seen again. Few details are available and his friends’ story is considered suspicious. Francisco is described as a Hispanic male, 5’5” in height weighing 160 lbs. He has black hair and brown eyes. Mendoza may have a mustache, beard or a goatee. Some agencies may spell his first name "Franciso." He was wearing a white tank top, shorts and sneakers when he was last seen. Toppenish police are investigating, 509-865-4355.
Lawrence Jay "Larry" Riegel, 57 of Yakima worked as a carpenter and contract pilot before breaking four vertebrae, and injury that left him disabled. Right before going missing Larry had a surgery on his neck and some sources claim he was in a neck brace. Unable to work, Riegel was collecting disability. The last contact anyone had with Larry took place on Christmas day, 2009. He contacted several relatives and friends including a call to his mother to thank her for some clothes she bought him for the holiday. He was supposed to join his family in Yakima for a belated Christmas dinner on Dec. 26, 2009, but he never showed up or called. Riegel’s family described him as a “chatty Cathy” who talked to just about anyone and had daily phone contact with his friends and family. Riegel’s last phone call took place at approximately 5:30 pm on Christmas day. It is believed that the call was made to Riegel’s tenants who rented a farm from him in Union Gap, a town on the reservation. His tenants owed him $3000 in back rent.
Riegel lived with his girlfriend, Ladena Mann before he went missing. Mann claimed that the couple argued on Christmas day and Riegel left the home presumably to go see his tenants. She also claimed that Riegel assaulted her either on Christmas day or on January 4th before disappearing. When Mann tried to report this assault weeks later, she was unable because she had no injuries or proof of violence. Mann used Riegel’s money and EBT card after he disappeared as well as applied for her own EBT card claiming she still lived with Larry. Mann was charged with welfare fraud and perjury, but charges were dropped when she paid back the money and entered a diversion program. In one media interview she claimed that Larry is still alive and that he has “contacted several people” since going missing. She thinks Larry is residing in Idaho or Montana and has accused his family of knowing where he is. Ladena Mann is a person of interest in Larry’s disappearance as are his tenants, the last known people to have spoken to him. Riegel’s family is offering a $25,000 for information in the homicide investigation that leads to his remains. They have billboards all over the Yakima valley asking for information. Larry’s mother, aged 90, still drives around rural areas searching for his body.
Riegel is described as a white male with gray hair, a gray mustache, and hazel eyes. He is 6’2” and weights 200 lbs. He has surgical scars on his left knee and a prominent vertical scar on his neck from recent surgery to fix four broken vertebrae. He often wears eyeglasses and he has a limp in his left leg. He is also an alcoholic who frequented neighborhood bars. Yakima Police Department Yakima Police Department (509-576-6573) is investigating. Donnie Sampson
, 71, a well-known religious leader, had been serving for eight years on the Tribal Council’s Code of Ethics Committee when he disappeared in the fall of 1994 while hunting elk about 45 miles west of White Swan, near Mt. Adams. Donnie had a heart problem and had been prescribed nitroglycerin as a result. Right before his disappearance, he told his daughter that he (and the ethics committee) “was getting into something that’s going to make everybody mad.” He even went so far to tell her that he would be “making enemies” and that she and the community would hear about his findings soon enough. He had been investigating rumors of corruption in the tribal council and the housing authority before he went missing, but other committee members refused to elaborate on the matter.
Donnie’s truck was found Oct. 30, 1994, in the foothills of Mount Adams by volunteer searchers, but searchers found no trace of Sampson. His nitroglycerin, lunch, clothing and three rifles were found in his truck. A fourth rifle he left home with disappeared with him. Donnie’s children say tribal police has done little to investigate the disappearance, which they believe is a result of foul play. For example, his children were never interviewed and his truck was found by volunteers, not official search and rescue. Tribal authorities believe that the elderly Sampson simply got lost while hunting. There are no photos or description of Donnie Sampson available. He does not even have a Charley Project page. Tribal police are investigating. Roland Jack Spencer III
disappeared in late May 1984. He was 3 years old when last seen in the area of Knight Lane and Campbell Road in Wapato, although some sources say he was last seen in Toppenish. Roland is presumed to have been abducted by a non-family member, when he was in the yard. Curiously, Roland’s mother died under suspicious circumstances several years earlier (her case is featured in my previous write up). After her death Roland moved in with his great-aunt. Roland is described as a 3-year-old Native American male, with black hair and brown eyes. Roland has a scar on his abdomen. His nickname is Do-Boy and he may go by his middle name, Jack. Roland has some severe medical issues and disabilities. One website explains that Roland experienced brain damage in the womb which lead to his medical issues. Despite his hardships, he was a happy child who loved playing with cars. He is classified as mentally disabled, hard of hearing, and suffers from epilepsy. He takes medication to control his condition and may fall into a coma without it. He can only walk a few steps at a time and has very limited vocabulary and speaking skills. He was last seen wearing corduroy pants, a long sleeved red and white shirt, and tan boots. His was declared legally dead in 2000. Yakama tribal police are investigating, (509) 865-2933. Murdered Darryl Keith Celestine
of Zillah, was murdered Sept. 25, 1988, in Wapato. He was found strangled outside his home. Darryl, a Yakama, was only 22 years old at the time. His murder is unsolved. Very little information is available.
What happened to these men? Why are so many people missing from such a sparsely populated area? Sources
These sources are a good place to start. https://www.yakimaherald.com/news/local/loved-ones-of-missing-and-murdered-men-and-boys-also-wait-for-answers/article_99d6a596-befe-5860-aa5d-a8fef822725f.html https://www.yakimaherald.com/news/lower_valley/one-year-later-white-swan-quintuple-homicide-suspects-awaiting-trial-law-enforcement-targeting-crime-in/article_4ed98a29-a273-573c-8af1-031fdec6d248.html https://www.yakimaherald.com/news/local/they-need-closure-families-of-men-who-went-missing-in-yakima-county-ask-for-publics/article_11358e29-b133-5458-9f13-acf4face7abe.html
The Charley Project and NAMUS
If you are interested in this issue as a whole, I suggest this podcast by Canadian journalist Connie Walker who explains and dives deeply into the issues discussed in the piece. You can listen to the podcast Missing and Murdered here: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/findingcleo/missing-murdered-who-killed-alberta-williams-1.4556030#:~:text=Sparked%20by%20a%20chilling%20tip,in%20British%20Columbia%20in%201989.
If you are interested in the cases of other missing Native Americans, my write ups on the Teekah Lewis and Bryce Herda cases can be found here on my reddit profile. https://www.reddit.com/useQuirky-Motor
The execution-style murder of former MOVE member, 34 year old John Gilbride Jr., in Maple Shade, New Jersey on September 27, 2002 remains unsolved. MOVE is a black liberation group founded in 1972 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by John Africa (born Vincent Leaphart) and Donald Glassey, a social worker student from the University of Pennsylvania. In a 2018 Guardian
article about the group, MOVE's political views were described as "a strange fusion of black power and flower power which melded the revolutionary ideology of the Black Panthers with the nature- and animal-loving communalism of 1960s hippies.” John’s father, Jack, believes the organization has “blood on its hands” and had his son followed after he fled the movement. Alberta Africa (now Wonderlin), John’s ex-wife and the ex-wife of MOVE founder John Africa, claims that John is alive and “forgoing any contact with the son he was fighting for in court for a life of seclusion, courtesy of the U.S. government” surmising “maybe he went off the deep end or something and is hiding somewhere….he seemed like he was deeply involved in the government.” Jack stated that it is hurtful Alberta still makes those kinds of statements since he identified his son's body, attended his funeral, and buried his cremated remains saying he “could only wish…she knows more than anyone else that it isn't true." According to the Burlington County Prosecutor’s office, the case is still an open investigation.
John, a baggage supervisor for U.S. Airways, was found dead inside his Ford Crown Victoria at 12:08 a.m. outside the Ryan's Run apartment complex in Maple Shade, New Jersey. The killer fired multiple bullets into John’s head and chest at close range from an automatic weapon after which the individual then disappeared into the highways adjacent to the apartment complex leaving behind John’s personal belongings. Police believe the killer knew his schedule because “they were there at the perfect time” noting they shot him just as he was coming home from work late at night and “the purpose was to take his life, nothing else.” John was scheduled to have his first unsupervised visit with his 6- year old son Zackary later the next day-a visit that Jack claims Alberta and other MOVE members had threatened to stop. After a Philadelphia judge decided that John should have unsupervised time with Zackary, MOVE vowed to fight the order and boarded up windows at its Philadelphia headquarters. They also held a rally at the Cherry Hill municipal building protesting the custody order saying the judge’s order was “an attempt to persecute the group and that Cherry Hill police were helping.” John had mentioned to his father that he felt his life was at risk and he knew “he was taking a big gamble.” Before Alberta married John, she was the widow of John Africa, founder and leader of the controversial radical group MOVE. John Africa and 5 other adults and 5 children died in May 1985 when Philadelphia police dropped a bomb on MOVE’s Osage Avenue rowhouse headquarters after a day-long standoff. Given the group's turbulent history, Alberta said police would have arrested MOVE members by now for John’s death if they had evidence saying “we are not murderers.”
John first learned about MOVE as a student at Temple University in the late 1980s and later joined the organization. During one of John's visits from college, Jack suspected John was under a "new influence" as during a drive around the neighborhood, John mused "this is nothing...these big houses, this money, it doesn't mean anything; this surprised Jack as John's "goal in life had always been to become a millionaire and drive a Cadillac." In 1991, John announced he was going to live in MOVE's headquarters and seeing that they could nothing to dissuade him, Jack decided to "keep communication open and maintain whatever relationship John would allow them" using an 800 number to keep in contact. In the fall of 1992, John married Alberta, who was twice his age, against his family's wishes; the family, nonetheless, felt the wedding should be celebrated so they all went to dinner at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Philadelphia. Jack noted that "at no time did we sympathize with MOVE but in order to have a relationship with John, we did what we had to do."
The name of the group (MOVE) is not an acronym and was chosen by John Africa “to say what they intended to do” as in "everything that's alive moves…if it didn't, it would be stagnant, dead"; as an example, when members greet each other they say "on the MOVE.". The group combined revolutionary ideology with animal rights and “advocated a return to a hunter-gatherer society” based on vegetarianism while remaining “opposed to science, medicine, and technology.” John’s followers changed their surnames to Africa to “show reverence to what they regarded as their mother continent.” John Africa and MOVE members lived in a communal house in the Powelton Village section of West Philadelphia. As activists, they staged bullhorn-amplified, profanity-laced demonstrations outside their homes against institutions that they opposed, such as zoos, circuses, “Three Mile Island”, “puppy mills” and police brutality. MOVE made compost piles of garbage and human waste in their yards which attracted rats and cockroaches that they refused to kill as they "considered it morally wrong to kill the vermin with pest control.” MOVE activities were scrutinized by law enforcement particularly under the administration of Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, a former police commissioner known for hard stance against activist groups. Mayor Rizzo threatened in 1978 to dispatch his Police Department to MOVE's Powelton Village headquarters "to drag 'em out by the back of their necks."
In 1978, complaints from neighbors about "profanity-laced tirades, arms stockpiling, garbage piled in the yard, and naked children" led to a standoff with members of the group who had not vacated their rowhouse headquarters; a resulting shootout took the life of a police officer and put nine MOVE members in prison for life. In 1981, MOVE relocated to a row house at 6221 Osage Avenue in the Cobbs Creek area of West Philadelphia. Neighbors again complained to the city about trash around their building, confrontations, and the obscene political messages by bullhorn. In 1985, the police obtained arrest warrants in 1985 charging four MOVE occupants with crimes including parole violations, contempt of court, illegal possession of firearms, and making terrorist threats; by now, Mayor Wilson Goode and police commissioner Gregore J. Sambor had classified the group as a terrorist organization. Residents of the area were evacuated from the neighborhood and told to return after 24 hours.
On Monday, May 13, 1985, nearly five hundred police officers attempted to clear the building and execute the arrest warrants. Water and electricity were shut off in order to force MOVE members out of the house and Commissioner Sambor exhorted them to come out stating "Attention MOVE: This is America. You have to abide by the laws of the United States." When the MOVE members did not respond, the police decided to forcibly remove the members from the house. There was an armed standoff with police who lobbed tear gas canisters at the building. The MOVE members fired at them, and a gunfight with semi-automatic and automatic firearms ensued. Police went through over ten thousand rounds of ammunition when Commissioner Sambor decided the rowhouse could be bombed. From a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter, Philadelphia Police Department Lt. Frank Powell dropped two one-pound bombs made of FBI-supplied Tovex, a dynamite substitute, which targeted a fortified, bunker-like cubicle on the roof of the house. The resulting explosions ignited a fire from fuel for a gasoline-powered generator stored in the rooftop bunker. The fire spread and eventually destroyed 61 nearby houses. Officials said they feared that MOVE would shoot at the firefighters so they were held back. John Africa and 5 other adults and 5 children died. There were only two survivors; a child, Birdie Africa and an adult woman, Ramona Africa.
John Gilbride eventually left the movement and filed for divorce from Alberta in 1999 which led to years of heated court battles over custody of Zackary; John also filed for bankruptcy. John had gone deep into debt paying for in-vitro fertility treatments as they were desperately trying to have a child. John had also grown frustrated with "MOVE's meddling in his marriage" which "staged hours-long interventions" whenever the couple argued. According to Jack, the timing of the murder and the custody dispute is “more than a coincidence.” Philadelphia Police Captain William Fisher, the head of the department’s civil rights division who knows the MOVE leaders well, stated that John’s murder “seemed like a textbook mob hit” and John had a gambling problem and other enemies as well; Jack dismisses Captain Fisher’s claims saying he did a "disservice to the investigation" and “was simply trying to ease the department’s relationship with MOVE”. Captain Fisher continues to doubt that MOVE was involved saying Jack wants to think that “MOVE did it because it solves his problem…I’m a parent too, and it’s an emotional thing.” He believes a professional gunman could have known of John’s problems with MOVE and could have timed the murder accordingly saying if MOVE was involved, they would not have “outsourced the job to someone outside their organization.” He acknowledges “there was a lot of rhetoric and everything else, but keep it in perspective, it's a child custody thing” saying MOVE's members "defend themselves when needed but do not go out and kill people." Captain Fisher suggested a trip to Las Vegas a few days before his death needed to be looked into further; Jack avers John went to Las Vegas for an Earth, Wind, and Fire concert. John also had a "secret..and brief" second marriage to Rosario Bienvenida Arias-a 24-year-old casino dealer from the Dominican Republic. They married in Maryland on April 25, 2002, but, according to the annulment initiated by John May 19,2002, "she used him and then fled the country." The marriage had not been "nullified by the time John died, so as his widow, Rosario-not Zack-collected death benefits."
Others disagree such as former MOVE supporter Tony Allen who runs an anti-MOVE blog; he believes MOVE would never have put someone in their closest family circles at risk by killing John and would have given that task to a supporter saying “my hope is that there's people in and about MOVE whose consciences will eat away at them." Burlington County Prosecutor Robert Bernardi mentioned that MOVE members had been questioned in the investigation but did not comment further. In 2012 the Philadelphia Inquirer
reported that John had told friends and family that he had recorded incriminating evidence in a notebook as "security against a hit" by MOVE. John said he had placed the notebook inside a locker for safekeeping. Jack confirmed one of John’s coworkers had contacted him and he tried to get police to search the locker but to no avail. At the time, Prosecutor Bernardi had no comment when pressed on the topic. It is unclear if the locker was ever searched.
In a 2009 news article, Jack mentioned that he continues to speak with investigators every three weeks but acknowledged "they get tired of telling me there's nothing new." Zackary, at the time 13 years old, was “a happy home-schooled teen, active in swimming and fencing.” In the interview, Alberta admitted that her son continues to miss his father recalling how they “found a picture of his dad, and he just fell into me..he's a big boy, but he was in tears. She also says "the tears she cried for John were real in 2002" and she continues to feels his absence noting that she remarried after John’s death, “not out of love, but to give her son a stable home.”
Jack said “his life has been anything but stable” since his son's death. His wife, Fran, died of cancer two years after his son was killed, and he speaks to Zack only once every three to six months. He knows that “wishing his son were still alive is pointless” so he focuses on resolving the case so Zack can come back into his life saying “he's been raised by MOVE his whole life. I hope when he gets older, he'll ask questions. I want him to know that his father fought for him."
Anyone with information about John’s murder can contact the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office at 609-265- 7113.
Do we know more about John's gambling debts and other enemies he supposedly had? There is much discussion on the MOVE angle but I really couldn't find much information on any other theories besides the statement made by Captain Fisher.
Was John's locker ever searched?
Links: https://www.inquirer.com/philly/news/20090926_Slaying_of_ex-MOVEr_still_roils_feelings_7_years_later.html https://www.theintelligencer.com/news/article/Man-in-Custody-Battle-Shot-to-Death-10572580.php https://www.inquirer.com/philly/blogs/inq-blinq/A-clue-hidden-in-a-lost-locker.html https://www.inquirer.com/philly/hp/news_update/20140928_A_slain_man__a_lost_son_and_a_grandfather_s_quest.html https://culteducation.com/group/1060-move/14601-breaking-silence-over-a-sons-slaying.html https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MOVE#2002_murder_of_John_Gilbride http://antimove.blogspot.com/2012/09/?m=1 https://www.religionnewsblog.com/4623/unsolved-death-angers-move-grieves-parents https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2019/8/8/20747198/philadelphia-bombing-1985-move https://www.inquirer.com/philly/entertainment/20131020_A_haunting_look_at_when_Phila__burned.html https://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/02/movies/let-the-fire-burn-relives-1985-siege-of-the-move-group.html https://www.phillymag.com/news/2014/02/27/birdie-africa-lost-boy/ http://kalamu.com/neogriot/2015/05/13/history-lest-we-forget-today-is-the-30th-anniversary-of-the-bombing-of-move/
MOVE has been “an anomaly in Philadelphia ever since it was founded, in the mid-1970s, by a white graduate student who became enthralled with the musings of a local black handyman who took the name John Africa and held beliefs ranging from vegetarianism to odd bathing rituals to preparation for worldwide racial conflict.” Several city officials were reprimanded in an investigation which called “dropping a bomb on an occupied row house…unconscionable” but none were criminally charged for the bombing. The 61 destroyed homes were rebuilt with government funds ($35 milion) but the houses were eventually condemned since a potential carbon monoxide leak was found in the heating systems. In 2000, the city paid again to buy out the residents and move them.
Ramona Africa, the only adult who came out of the house fire alive (along with 13-year old Birdie Africa), served seven years in prison for her role in the confrontation. As she stood outside MOVE's current house in 2013, she dismissed the notion that the home had code violations stating “they say it is a fire hazard but the only fire MOVE has ever been involved with is the one the city of Philadelphia set on May 13, 1985."
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