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Crime History

Richmond’s worst year?

Richmond bottomed out in 1994: one city councilman went off to rehab for his heroin problem and another was in hot water for not paying utilities and renting out condemned property, enrollment at VCU dropped, the city recorded the nation’s 19th largest population decline since 1980, Richmond made the wrong end of Money Magazine’s Best Places to Live list, and by the end of the year had tallied a record 161 homicides. With recent years showing the lowest body counts since 1961, the city’s population back up over 200,000, and VCU having greatly expanded, it is difficult to imagine that mid-1990s Richmond was ever real.

That year’s spike in killings did not arrive suddenly. Richmond’s body count had topped out over 100 for the previous 6 years and the city had already earned a dangerous reputation by the mid-1980s (if not earlier). The Briley Brothers’ 1979 killing spree and 1984 escape from death row were in recent enough history. Southside’s Johnson/Brown gang, estimated to be responsible for 30 lives over 3 years, were only recently off the streets. The leaders of the notorious Newtowne gang were locked up in 1992 after killing 13 people in “a furious month and a half”.

Curious about and fascinated by Richmond’s shockingly violent semi-recent history, I thought to look and see where all of this killing was taking place. It seems that to be able to say that certain areas once had these incidents but do not any longer would be a useful way of marking the changes in the city. Unfortunately, the Richmond Police are not able to easily provide data for the years before 1998, so to get a look at anything earlier I had to dig it up for myself. Given the time involved, I chose to pull the info only for 1994, which to get I had to dig through the year’s worth of the RTD at the Library of Virginia.

This work identified 158 homicides (PDF) – not a perfect data set, but close enough to have a sense of what was going on where in 1994. Because the information was pulled from news accounts, some of the dates and locations might be somewhat off, but are generally accurate.

Drive-by shooting wounds 2 (1994)

It was a hell of a year. Where we now have months with no killings, a Times-Dispatch article that year thought a 10-day span without a homicide was noteworthy. At one point during the year, the bodies were dropping fast enough to put the city on target for 182 killings by the end of December. August 1994 was the worst month in Richmond’s history for killings at 25, or almost one every day. Things got so bad that the U.S. Postal Service stopped mail delivery to Whitcomb Court until ordered back on the rounds by a Federal judge. Stories on Richmond murder made both America’s Most Wanted and got notice in December 5 piece in USA Today.

In addition to the homicides in the city, there was an amplified smear of of violence across the region that year, with multiple accounts of drive-by shootings and gunmen firing into crowds making the newspaper (including the article above, on shots fired into a crowd gathered around an ambulance). This was a level of violence virtually unimaginable today: 2 would-be robbers of a Henrico jewelry store were killed in a shoot-out with the police, 2 Chesterfield teens robbed and killed a car salesman, a man killed 2 elderly women in 2 different retirement homes, an infant was basically boiled to death, “two masked gunmen opened fire in the parking lot” at 5PM on a Sunday evening on Meadow Street, one single block of Afton Avenue recorded 5 separate killings over the course of the year, an entire family was slaughtered in Gilpin Court, and there was a triple killing in Sugar Bottom. By fall, the police were on Full Alert and were setting check points at hot spots across the city.

The vast majority of the victims that year were young black men, and they were shot to death. There were anomalies – a fatal stabbing in a the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant on Grace Street, the murders of 2 elderly women in retirement homes, a body found in the canal by Tredegar Street – but overwhelmingly the stories from 1994 are those of young black men found dead or dying on streets like Idlewood Avenue, Hull Street, and Afton Avenue. Violence in the black community was a recurring topic in the media, framed with anger and helplessness.

Five are killed in Gilpin Court (1994)

This year of murder brought Richmond a real boogie man. On October 14, 1994, 20-year-old Christopher Goins went to the Gilpin Court apartment of 14-year-old Tamika Jones, who was seven months pregnant with Goins’ child, and killed Tamika’s parents, her 9-year-old sister, Nicole, her 4-year-old brother, David, and her 3-year-old brother, Robert. Chilling accounts of the killing (PDF) say that Goins had previously discussed doing away with Tamika and her family, shot each of his victims in the head on that gruesome day, and that he shot the pregnant teen nine times.

Goins escaped the scene of the shooting and went on the run, leading to a manhunt by Richmond Police and the FBI that stretched from Virginia to New York. The search for Goins and Richmond made an appearance on America’s Most Wanted and a $15,000 reward was offered for his arrest. The search for Goins dominated the headlines in Richmond in the weeks before he was captured, seeming to take the focus of police and communities otherwise unable to stop the flood of violence around them. Goins was arrested in Brooklyn, entered death row on July 20, 1995, and was executed on December 6, 2000. 

Double homicide on Grayland Avenue (1994)

Looking at the map or list of incidents from 1994 in comparison to recent years and one thing really jumps out: Byrd Park/Randolph was apparently a very different place back in the bad ol’ days. There were 9 killings in the Byrd Park/Randolph/Maymount area in 1994, including an early evening double homicide in a store parking lot. The level of violence and the number of drug-related street killings really do not line up with that area in 2010, hands-down the most changed in Richmond over the past 16 years.

At least 3 hurt in shooting (1994)

Looking at the map for the East in 1994, the 13 killings in the Church Hill area south of Fairmount seem indicative of the changes between now and then. Any one or two of these incidents might happen in a given year, but that year seemed to see it all (including a triple killing on 31st Street in Sugar Bottom, and twin killings on 30th/O Street and 30th/P Streets less than 24 hours apart).

As the number of killings in the East End has dropped, the rate has dropped in some areas and killing has started to disappear from others. There is a growing area of the East End, encompassing Union Hill, St.John’s, the southern areas of Fairmount and Church Hill North, Fulton, and Montrose where this type of violence has receded since 200607 and is increasingly foreign. (I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see a body drop on Venable Street, though…)

The sheer number of killings on Southside in 1994 is shocking. With at least 70 murders mostly packed into a few dense areas, specific streets along the Jeff Davis corridor were awash with blood: Afton Avenue had 5 killings, Lynehaven Avenue had 7, the area around Minefee/Harwood/Southlawn had 6. The area within a 1/2 mile radius of Afton and Lynhaven saw 17 killings.

1994 Total Homicides by Area of Town

1994 Homicides by Month

1994 Homicides Map


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kaykay
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kaykay

Wow. Excellent reporting! I did not live in Richmond in the 90’s. When I stated I was moving here, and to Church Hill, Richmonders tried to warn me away from this area. People who are from Richmond and its suburbs can’t shake off these 10-20 year old images, reported above. “Newcomers”, such as myself, are under no preconceived notions. We are able to see an area with more realistic eyes.

Thanks to all the original “pioneers” for sticking through the horrific, scary times, and making this an awesome area in which to reside!

Alix B.
Guest

Extremely well done John. Thanks.

sean
Guest
sean

Awesome. I live at the corner of Mulberry/Parkwood and would have to agree that there has been insane improvements. Some of my neighbors have lived here for 35-45 years and tell about the crazy stuff that went down. I see a lot of drug activity still, but nothing too far off from normal city living.

jasonguard
Guest

Thanks for the superlative for Maymont/ByrdPark/Randolph. A lot of people around the neighborhood describe the streets as about as safe as the Wild West back in the days when drugs were the top priority for many in the community. They say it’s like night and day between then and now. I’ll be excerpting this story for a ByrdPark.net feature so people can reminisce and/or thank their lucky stars.

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[…] violent semi-recent history, I thought to look and see where all of this killing was taking place. chpn-staging.vu4m9e27-liquidwebsites.com Comments […]

julestools
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julestools

Great article though I wonder what exactly would make the author remark that they would not be surprised to see a body “drop” on Venable? Venable is a major Street in Union Hill that is in need of physical help but it is not a particulary dangerous Street . The lower Mosby housing development has great impact on this section of Church Hill even though that particular development is comparatively safe considering the other eastend housing developments in recent years. I would be very surprised to have a murder happen on Venable and completely disagree with your statement about Venable… Read more »

C. Wayne Taylor
Guest

Over the shorter term or in smaller areas, homicide numbers in the city tend to vary considerably from period to period. I found that assault numbers seem to be more representative in those instances: http://img237.imageshack.us/img237/4969/clipboard01le.jpg

christo
Guest
christo

Really good job John. Excellent work. I lived through the carnage of the early 90’s in Richmond, although not on the hill. You are soooo right about not being able to shake the images of those times from my head. So much of the violence seemed to be related to crack. IMO, things could EASILY get that bad again. No jobs, dispair, a broke government, easy drugs and a lack of hope and change could put us right back as the murder city. Lets hope it doesnt. Again, good work chpn!

CM
Guest
CM

If I was grading this as an undergraduate research paper, I’d give you an A. Really great job assembling all the data and making sense of it!

NewGuyOnTheHill
Guest
NewGuyOnTheHill

This article is an exhample of why CHPN was awarded the best community blog award this year. Well-done!!

Roy
Guest
Roy

Wow, amazing work! I have to admit, the story about the 14 year old and her family broke my heart. I wonder what happened to her and her little sister Kenya? I have to say I agree with Kaykay. When I told my uncle I was moving to Richmond 7 years ago, he was really concerned for my safety because of what he’d heard. I love being a Richmonder. I’ve lived in Church Hill and on the west end (which doesn’t count). Now, I own a house in Montrose. This city has so much potential. And this story is proof.

anonymous
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anonymous

I was around in the 90’s and remember many of these murders. Four points to consider: 1. The majority of crimes and shooting was black on black (and, sadly, that is likely still the case). I know that its not cool to always inject race into these discussions, but it is an important aspect of why a lot of white Richmonders might not recall 1994 as ‘Richmond’s worst year’. I know as a young white guy back then why I felt much safer in the Fan than East End. 2. While these murder are very tragic, it is street crime.… Read more »

C. Wayne Taylor
Guest

Assaults – City-wide
2000 through 2010:
http://cwaynetaylor.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/crime-assaults/

edg
Guest
edg

Most of the violence of the 90’s was tied to the drug trade. And, unfortunately, I remember several friends and acquaintances that got involved as users. Heroin use was popular, even among “good” college kids. Quite a few died. But business was good, and that’s why the drug trade and its attendent violence flourished here in Richmond. I moved here to Church Hill in 1992. At that time, the Fulton Hill Hustlers were active in the area as crack and heroin dealers. Many of the kids in this gang were 15 or 16 years old. There were reports of “drive-by”… Read more »

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edg
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edg

I just re-read my post, and I think the point I wanted to make is in regard to the comments about “black on black” crime. The drug dealers cannot operate if there is no market for their wares. And in the 90’s, at least, many, many of the consumers were white.

Cadeho
Guest
Cadeho

Man that was a depressing year…

s.kelly
Guest
s.kelly

Thanks as usual for great reporting. Interesting walk back in time.

myk
Guest
myk

Super article. I, for one, am glad those days are gone.

Phil Riggan
Guest

John, you’re too modest. A real reporter would have editors and plenty of guidance and help. You had an idea for a story and nailed exactly what media should be taking the time to do more often. You have great ammunition for the school year now…great summer project!

WhoDat!
Guest
WhoDat!

Crack and the early 90’s, ‘dems were tha’ days.

VCS
Guest
VCS

Great job! I didn’t move to R’mond until 1996. This explains ALOT about why my west end friends were so afraid for me moving to the Fan in 1997 and then when I told them I’d bought a house in Church Hill in 1998.

Daniel
Guest
Daniel

simply the best news article/reporting to come out of Richmond in a long time.

julestools
Guest
julestools

I think so and I hope we do not have a murder on that street.

Chris Martin
Guest

Legalized drugs mean that people don’t have to resort to violence to settle disputes. Walgreen’s and CVS aren’t shooting it out with each other over territorial disputes.

Erik Grotz
Guest
Erik Grotz

John — amazing job. It brought back a lot of cringes, but relief that those days are hopefully gone for good. I moved here in 1989, incidentally.

I befriended the chef at the Chinese Restaurant on Grace a few months before his untimely, and baffling, death. He showed me his technique for making ‘proper’ stirred fried rice — something I remember to this day.

wren
Guest
wren

Who was Carrie Davis, who was killed on Harrison Street? Was she a VCU student? Any details about what happened?

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[…] John M., a look at Richmond’s crime drop since the mid 90s: /2010/08/15/richmond-1994_14783/ This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← portland unable […]

TNL
Guest

John – do you know if this is true? Unfortunately, the FBI no longer publishes its rates in a manner by which you can easily see city comparisons.

http://transitionalneighborhoodlowdown.wordpress.com/2011/02/17/is-richmond-1-in-homicides/

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[…] least the last 40 years for the East End, there were 3 murders by now. By this point in April 1994, Richmond’s worst year, there were already 12 dead in the East End. Recommend on Facebook Tumblr it Tweet about it Tell a […]

book
Guest
book

Good work John thanks My great-grandmother is from Blackwell. She lived there before they tore it down and built the projects. She then move back there. That’s when I remember her. Those hot cinder blocks walls on the inside of her house. I’m 48 years old. To make a long story short I was born and raise on Southside. Oak Grove elementary is the school I started at. After my parents divorce we moved uptown. I was raise uptown South Side. I then went to Franklin elementary to Elkhart Middle then to George Wythe High. Graduating two years late. I’m… Read more »

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[…] the way to a devastating body count of 161, 1994 saw 2 months with over 20 killings, and only one month in the single digits. The violence peaked in August 1994 when 25 killings left […]

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[…] 1994, the city’s worst year for killings, there were 15 people killed in the East End through April 6 – more than we’ve seen in […]

adg
Guest
adg

Excellent reporting! These are the kind of statistics I enjoy reviewing, although unfortunate.

T. Twitty
Guest
T. Twitty

Wow, I never knew that this report existed. That was a terrible time for Richmond. My brother was the 47th homicide victim that year in April, on Lynnhaven Ave. It’s a totally different place now.

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[…] 1990's Richmond VA I saw this thread in the DC forum and decided to make a similar one relating to 1990's Richmond, VA. I am curious to know what Richmond was like during the 90's, compared to today. Obviously, the crime rate has improved drastically. An article I was reading reported that in 1994 Richmond recorded 164 murders for a city of 200,000 people, giving it the highest murder rate per capita for the year. I remember taking trips to Richmond as a child around the mall that used to be in the southside area of the city (Cloverleaf),… Read more »

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[…] the way to a devastating body count of 161, 1994 saw 2 months with over 20 killings, and only one month in the single digits. The violence peaked in August 1994 when 25 killings left […]

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[…] chart really drives home just how much murders have decreased in Richmond since the mid-90s. It’ll be interesting to see if 2013 continues 2012′s upward trend or if the murder […]

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[…] Two of the 4 killings have been in the East End, the other 2 were in Southside. 2009 and 2012 are the best two years on record for the East End of at least the last 50 or so, with each only seeing 9 killings. The East End saw 41 killings in 1993, and 34 in 1994. […]

anonymous
Guest
anonymous

I moved to Richmond in ’89 and trust me, from 1990-1999, violence and crime was like that here in VA! We knew what areas to stay away from (Gilpin Court, Whitcomb Court, Fairfield, etc.) and got used to hearing gun shots and running away. I’ve lost over twenty friends and acquaintances to gun violence during those long years. Over half of them were gunned down while the others were doing the shooting and are spending the rest of their lives behind bars. So many young lives lost over drugs and money. And I especially remember the case of Tamika Jones… Read more »

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[…] were 119 people killed in Richmond in 1995, and a whopping 161 the year before. In 2012, there were 43 homicides in the city; so far in 2013 there have been 22 (on pace for 34 […]

Danielle
Guest
Danielle

I really would like to know more info on the murder of Harold David Robertson Jr. He was killed Feb.5 1994 near Jeff Davis Hwy in Richmonds south side. .please..