The murder of Baltimore entrepreneur Pava LaPere rocked the city. But the suspect eventually arrested for the brutal murder was not only well-known by police, but had actually committed another violent crime just a week before her murder. The Land of the Unsolved team Jayne MiIller, Taya Graham, and Stephen Janis break down the series of events that lead to her death, and investigate how Baltimore’s questionable approach of not working with the community to solve crime could have contributed to LaPere’s death.
Studio Production: David Hebden
Post-Production: Stephen Janis
Stephen Janis: Anyone who watches crime dramas could reasonably conclude that when someone is murdered, barring bizarre and extenuating circumstances, the case is solved. That is, through high-tech forensics, moral resolve, or simply the near-mythic competence of American law enforcement, killers are ultimately sent to jail.
But as an investigative reporter who has worked in one of the most violent cities in the country for nearly 15 years, I can tell you this is not true.
Taya Graham: That is the point of this podcast, because unsolved killings represent more than just statistics. It’s a psychic toll of stories untold that infects an entire community, the final violent moments of a victim’s life that remain shrouded in mystery.
Stephen Janis: I’m Stephen Janis.
Taya Graham: I’m Taya Graham.
Stephen Janis: We are investigative reporters who live in Baltimore City.
Taya Graham: Welcome to The Land of the Unsolved.
Hello, my name is Taya Graham, and welcome back to The Land of the Unsolved, the podcast that explores both the evidence and politics of unsolved murders in Baltimore and beyond. Today, we’re going to be talking about two cases: one that is at least partially solved and one that is not. But we’re going to do more than just recount the evidence. We’ll be looking at the past case through the prism of what has just happened in the present, breaking down how police investigated a recent murder and what their handling of it says about the growing tally of unsolved murders across the city.
To do so, we will be reporting on breaking news about a horrifying act of violence that has rocked the city: The murder of 26-year-old Baltimore tech CEO Pava LaPere.
Reporter 1: Our top story tonight is out of Baltimore. We’re hearing from the family of a Baltimore tech CEO fatally attacked at her apartment complex.
Reporter 2: Police confirmed to NBC News the 26-year-old, who served as CEO of EcoMap Technologies and was featured on this year’s Forbes “30 Under 30” list, was found dead in her Baltimore apartment on Sept. 25 with signs of blunt force trauma.
Taya Graham: LaPere’s body was found in her apartment building last week after friends reported her missing. Police said she died of blunt force trauma. Shortly after her body was found, police made a stunning announcement. There was, indeed, a suspect.
Police Officer: We’re here to announce that we have a warrant issued for the killing of Ms. LaPere. Today, in consultation with the state’s attorney’s office, 32-year-old Jason Dean Billingsley of Baltimore was wanted for first-degree murder, assault, reckless endangerment, as well as additional charges. Our special investigation section and homicide unit have been working aggressively to identify the suspect responsible for this tragic incident.
Taya Graham: However, the history of the suspect, what the police knew about him before the murder, and how they chose to handle that information, is not just shocking, but worth examining in detail. To do so, I will be joined by my Land of the Unsolved colleagues, legendary investigative reporter Jayne Miller, and my reporting partner, Stephen Janis. We will analyze how police handled LaPere’s murder, and discuss some key decisions they made that are raising serious questions about what more could have been done to prevent it.
Ultimately, we will consider how all this evidence bears on a case from the past that has haunted all of us for some time. In fact, the way police handled LaPere’s murder is so revealing, it speaks volumes about why this podcast exists at all. That is why we’ll be breaking it down in all of its appalling details. All of that coming up on The Land of the Unsolved.
Hey, this is Taya Graham from The Land of the Unsolved. If you enjoy our podcast and would like us to investigate even more cases, consider supporting our work by either subscribing on our anchor page, or you can also buy one of the books Stephen and I wrote that are available on Amazon and a variety of other websites: Why Do We Kill?: The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore, written with former homicide detective Kelvin Sewell; and You Can’t Stop Murder: Truths About Policing in Baltimore and Beyond, also in collaboration with a former detective and guest on our show, Stephen Tabeling.
Or if you’re in the mood for a fictive take on how Baltimore’s struggle with violence and aggressive policing has affected the psyche of the city, I recommend you pick up This Dream Called Death, a book Stephen wrote while he was covering the city’s failed attempt to implement zero-tolerance policing, and how he reveals the truly corrosive power of that policy by casting it into an alternate reality where the mind and our dreams become the new frontier for government surveillance.
Welcome back to The Land of the Unsolved. As always, I’m joined by my colleagues, legendary reporter Jayne Miller, and my colleague Stephen Janis. Thank you both for joining me today.
Stephen Janis: Thanks for having us here, Taya.
Taya Graham: Just two weeks ago, the residents of Baltimore woke up to a tragedy: news that yet another life had just been snuffed out. Authorities revealed that a local tech entrepreneur named Pava LaPere had been found dead in her Mount Vernon apartment. Police found her after friends called to report her missing over the weekend. Authorities said she had died of blunt force trauma.
Shortly after police announced her death, the city began to mourn. LaPere was an up-and-coming tech CEO. A former Johns Hopkins graduate who had founded an ecomapping firm that had gained her national recognition. Recently, she had secured $8 million in venture capital financing for her company. Forbes magazine had listed her as part of their 30 people under 30 to watch. She was active in the local tech community. Put simply, her future was not just bright, it was blazing. Stephen, what did the people who knew her say about her, and how did the city react?
Stephen Janis: Well, Baltimore has a very tight-knit tech, entrepreneurial, VC capital community, and everyone who I listened to or what I read, or what they were saying, was basically that she was like this bright light that brought this community together. She had literally founded this company in her Hopkins dorm room, and had decided to stay in Baltimore. This was a person who had options to go pretty much anywhere, and decided to stay in Baltimore and build this firm.
She was a person that was able to move between different companies and bring people together on a larger purpose of not just tech, but tech in Baltimore. And had become, I guess, the public face of tech entrepreneurs in Baltimore, and someone who was just critical to that community. There was a massive amount of grieving in terms of her loss, and certainly people said it would leave a hole in that community because people know each other. It’s tight-knit, and it’s not large like Silicon Valley. Everyone knows everyone, and I think people were feeling her loss in that way.
Jayne Miller: It’s also what gave this case national attention. This was on the evening news a couple of different times because of her stature in the tech world, et cetera. It’s also the fact that she decided to remain in Baltimore was discussed at length, because it’s not Seattle, it’s not the West Coast, it’s not New York, but she really decided to stay here and to grow this business. She was very committed, also, to equity issues, which the whole tech industry is short on diversity. She was very committed to that as well.
Stephen Janis: Yeah. That was the whole basis of her company, the ecomapping maps ecosystem so people can understand where resources and assets are in a community. Yes, and I think critical to that was her commitment to Baltimore, which people said was fierce. That added a note of extra sadness to this case.
Taya Graham: Almost immediately, police had a suspect. A serial rapist who was well-known to law enforcement: Jason Billingsley. They released a mugshot and used social media to let the public know that this man was armed and dangerous.
But Jayne, they knew quite a bit about this man even before they announced his identity, because he was tied to a previous case. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Jayne Miller: On Sept. 19, three days before the murder of Pava LaPere, there was an incident in a West Baltimore apartment, in which Billingsley was accused of kicking down the door, tying up the man and woman, a young couple that lived in the apartment. He allegedly raped the woman, cut her, cut her throat. Then before leaving, doused them with some kind of accelerant and set them on fire.
Both were hospitalized. Within hours, police developed him as a suspect. But they chose not to release his name or picture to the public at that time. This became a huge issue and lots of questions later when, in fact, what we learned, obviously, is that three days later, he now is accused of killing Pava LaPere in her apartment building in Mount Vernon.
Taya Graham: That’s right. Billingsley had a long history of sexual assault, rape, and violence. He had previously been sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2015 for forcing a woman at gunpoint to perform oral sex on him. That victim he had also strangled, though she fortunately survived. But the sentence included a catch: All but 16 years were suspended, which meant Billingsley was released in fall of 2022 for good behavior. Jayne, can you walk us through how that release occurred?
Jayne Miller: This is an interesting case that brings up this issue of suspended sentences, number one, and also the issue of what are called diminution credits, good time credits. This is not new, neither of these issues is new. They come up many times when we have cases like this of violent, repeat offenders that allegedly offend again. Then everybody looks back and sees this history and it’s like, well, why wasn’t he in jail? Why was he out?
This 2015 sentence actually relates to a 2013 incident in which he sexually assaulted a woman, and it gets time for trial. It had gone to court a number of times, postponed, postponed, et cetera. Now we get to February of 2015 and he enters a guilty plea to first-degree sex assault, which is a very serious crime. One of the newspapers in town actually went and pulled the transcript of the hearing and shed light on exactly what had happened.
What happened was that they reached this agreement for a 30-year sentence, but suspend all but 14 years. The prosecutor said that the woman, the victim, was very satisfied with that deal, that she had been through enough.
Let’s just stop right there. I’ve done many stories in my career about the way sex assault cases are handled in the courts. The way they have to be handled sometimes. It is a terrible crime. It’s a frightening crime. The victim goes through the crime, and then has to go through the trial. Sometimes going through a trial in testimony can be brutal, obviously. And this case raises that specter, is that she didn’t want to testify, clearly. The judge didn’t like the deal, but said because of the trauma to the victim, he accepted it.
He ended up with a 14-year sentence backdated to start date in 2013, because that was the date he had been locked up originally for the incident. Then a combination of good time credits and what’s called mandatory release. So most offenders in Maryland serve about 66% of their sentence. When you add some good time credits in there, he ended up serving about nine years.
When he came out in October of 2022, he was under the supervision of probation, and he was on the sex offender registry as a Level 3 offender. That means that he has even more supervision and has to check in more, et cetera, et cetera. Apparently, no violations until the time of these most recent crimes.
Taya Graham: Just out of curiosity, I noticed that Billingsley had several previous convictions. I think in 2009, there was a first-degree assault. In 2011, a second-degree assault. 2015, a first-degree sex offense. Are you surprised by how he was able to get such a minimized sentence considering his record?
Stephen Janis: Well, I don’t think the sentence was really that unusual based on what Jayne was saying. I looked at the crime, the assault case was he stole $10 from someone who he physically assaulted on the street. They were petty crimes in the parlance of Baltimore until the first-degree sex offense.
The first-degree sex offense was a woman had been kicked out of her apartment by her boyfriend. She had wandered down the street and sat next to an abandoned house. He said, do you want to spend? She was approached by Billingsley, who convinced her to crawl in through the window of another house, and she could stay there for the night. Then he said, I have a gun, you have to perform oral sex on me. And strangled her to the point that she almost died.
But up until that point, the stuff he was doing I looked at was pretty petty. In the scope of a city that has 300 murders a year, I’m not surprised. But I don’t think in the parlance of sentencing that I’ve watched that nine years is really a short sentence. Jayne, I don’t know how you feel?
Jayne Miller: No, I agree. In covering these kinds of cases, first of all, suspended sentences are very common. Why do we have suspended sentences? It’s like the carrot and the stick. You have an offender and, okay, we’re going to give you a 30-year sentence, but we’re only going to make you serve 14 unless you screw up. Now you screw up, you’re going to come back, and I’m going to put you in jail for the rest of it. It’s like that whole, it’s an incentive for people to try to reform themselves.
Taya Graham: Right.
Stephen Janis: Just like good behavior, that’s supposed to incentivize good behavior in prison, to give you some reason to behave well and try to be productive.
Jayne Miller: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I agree with Stephen, actually. If you look at the whole specter of sentences in cases that might involve these particular circumstances and this particular offender. Plus, you have the element that the victim may not want to testify, that it’s not a short sentence. It looks like, well, holy cow, he only served half the sentence, or he was only sentenced to half, but that’s exactly how suspended sentences work. I think the state’s attorney said it was a tad under the guideline, but you have to look at the circumstances. As he said, you have to look at the circumstances of the case.
Taya Graham: Shortly after his arrest, police held a press conference, and Stephen, something really stood out. Police revealed again that they made a fateful decision. Let’s listen, and then we can talk about it after the break.
[AUDIO CLIP BEGINS]
Police Officer: We delayed that press conference because we were within about 88 meters of capturing the suspect, but he was able to elude our capture. We knew early on that the risk was when we went public that the suspect would go underground, which is exactly what he did. We are still processing all evidence to determine exactly what occurred. We do know that there was no forced entry into the apartment building, as this was a secured building.
[AUDIO CLIP ENDS]
Stephen Janis: Well, Jayne and I were watching the press conference, and Jayne can weigh in after I do, but the Commissioner Worley, who was just –
Jayne Miller: Stephen was actually texting, are you watching this?
Stephen Janis: He makes this admission because the question came up, you had him as a suspect. He had already been charged. He had been charged with this crime allegedly before he murdered LaPere – Allegedly, excuse me, sorry. The question came up in the press conference, why didn’t you tell the public, why didn’t you release this information? Worley makes this offhand comment how it was, “a targeted attack.”
Jayne Miller: Not random.
Stephen Janis: Not random, that was one thing. Then he said, I don’t want to speak badly about the victims. Now, Jayne, I don’t know how you interpret that, but I was stunned when he said that. Because he was saying one thing is that we just didn’t want to release this information because we didn’t feel that this guy was a danger to the public, is what they were saying in some ways. That he had just picked out this couple but wasn’t going to do this again. Then he made this victim-blaming statement that also, I think, created a firestorm of criticism.
Jayne Miller: Absolutely. Lots of criticism of this statement about victim blaming in a case that involved absolutely horrific allegations.
Stephen Janis: Horrific.
Jayne Miller: Torturous allegations.
Stephen Janis: Yeah.
Jayne Miller: This idea that it wasn’t random. He knew the victims. He was the maintenance man in the apartment building. He may have had knowledge of these folks who lived in the building. I would not call that as… And this idea of, I don’t know, oh, it’s not random. Then we don’t have to worry people. When did that become some kind of standard for notifying the public? I’ve not been able to understand the thinking in this case, considering the Baltimore Police Department, as many police departments do, they put out pictures and video all the time.
Stephen Janis: All the time.
Jayne Miller: About different incidents, whether or not they’re random, whether or not people know one another, et cetera. We just had this shooting on the campus of Morgan State University, and they put some video out of some folks. It’s a very common practice.
For whatever reason, in this case on Sept. 19, when you have this really nasty incident that was covered in the media. No, it got coverage that day. I do know that from talking to the reporters that covered it that the police department was very tight-lipped, wouldn’t give a lot of information the day it happened, on Sept. 19.
We haven’t talked about the first news conference, when they identified Billingsley as the suspect in the LaPere murder. That was the first news conference.
Stephen Janis: Right. In fact, that was the one where I think the comment was made that once they identified him that he was a suspect in the other case. I think that’s when Worley actually made the disparaging comment.
Jayne Miller: Well, the questions, though, that got raised, the commissioner was asked at that news conference, when Billingsley was identified as the LaPere suspect, is he a suspect in the other crimes? I think they said yes, but there was no information. They did not say which incident, what happened, et cetera, et cetera.
When they had a warrant for him, it was like, why are you keeping this from the public? Why is this such a secret? Then obviously, and it really emerges that it was, okay, it was that incident. That it had already gotten media coverage, and then just this flood of questions about the failure to warn the public.
Stephen Janis: I think what we see here is how Baltimore manages crime and what sometimes the misplaced priorities of the police department is. Because people I’ve talked to have said this is not uncommon for the police department to try to, if it can… I’m not going to use the word publicize, but make this information widely available, because the fear is it will scare people, and they won’t want to come downtown, and they won’t want to go to the Inner Harbor.
I’ve seen this over and over again. Years ago, I covered a serial killer case in Baltimore, and police were just adamant that they didn’t want to connect cases or call someone a serial killer. It was much more important, not the safety of the individuals, but much more important to make sure that there wasn’t a serial killer in Baltimore. That is why, I think, this got so much attention, because it illustrated the real risk of this kind of idea. Because as Jayne pointed out, they had this guy’s identity. They could have released it to the public and made people aware, and they did not. I think that’s where the criticism has come from.
Jayne Miller: There’s this whole idea, too, of the use of the word “targeted.” This is like a code word. Police departments do this everywhere, oh no, it was a targeted killing. In other words, you don’t need to worry about this. It was a targeted killing. Okay. Well, I don’t know what was targeted about that Sept. 19 incident except that maybe an opportunity presented itself. What could have been targeted about the LaPere murder? It just seems that it is an excuse in some ways to, first of all, we don’t have to warn you about it. You shouldn’t be alarmed. That’s really what’s code for, you shouldn’t be alarmed. When in fact, you had every reason to be alarmed about Jason Billingsley, it now appears, after that incident in West Baltimore.
Taya Graham: Just to get a quick update, because this was such a vicious crime. It was a man, a woman, and a five-year-old child that were injured.
Jayne Miller: There was a child present, right.
Taya Graham: There was a child present. Do we have any update on the status, the health of the people involved?
Stephen Janis: Well, they survived. We know that. But no, they have not released information. We do know that Billingsley forced the door open. Obviously, if this was targeted, the people didn’t want to let him in the apartment. So that he had forced his way in and then duct taped both the man and the woman, and then raped the woman. Then, as Jayne said, poured an accelerant on them. But we do know they survived. One was still in the hospital and one had been released at the time of the last press conference, but they haven’t given any update on what kind of injuries that I have heard in terms of long-term prognosis, no.
Jayne Miller: Billingsley is also accused of going to an acquaintance’s house in Baltimore County and stealing a gun. This was three days after they believe LaPere was killed. Now he’s also accused of that. I think that’s where the idea of being armed came from, is that they had known that he had gone to that house in Baltimore County and stolen a gun.
Taya Graham: This decision by police would seem even more misguided when they released the charging documents that outlined, for the first time, the evidence against Jason Billingsley.
Jayne, what did the documents say, and what did we learn about the last moments of LaPere’s life?
Jayne Miller: It’s interesting. The charging documents indicate that there is video of the lobby of the apartment building that shows on that Friday night – This would’ve been the 22nd of September – That you see her come in and sit down on the sofa in the lobby of the apartment building, which obviously indicates that she was waiting for somebody. Waiting for somebody she knew was coming behind her. Then the video shows this man that police have identified as Billingsley, and being charged that it is Billingsley, comes through the door. She lets him in, they talk for a moment in the lobby, and then they get on the elevator together.
About 20 minutes later – Although I got to tell you in that charging document, the times are all screwed up and hand-scratched out and corrected – But it appears that it was about 20 minutes later that this man, Billingsley, can be seen scrambling to get out of the building, wiping his hands on his shorts.
This raises a number of questions. First of all, was there a relationship of some kind, either some knowledge, friendship, et cetera, between the two? Did they have some prior knowledge? But to me, this all the more underlines the importance of why that picture should have been in the public. Because if that picture’s in the public and on social media, et cetera, maybe she doesn’t go to the door.
Taya Graham: Stephen, I had read that one media organization suggested that he was standing at the door as if he was signaling that he didn’t have his key. That he needed help getting into the lobby. What did you think of that assertion?
Stephen Janis: Okay. Well, that’s, to me, purely speculative because the charging documents, at this point, are all we have. But of course, that’s not unusual when you live in an apartment building and you don’t know everyone who lives there, and someone seems like they want to get in or they have somewhere to go, or they know somebody. For all we know, she could come to the door and he said, I know so-and-so and I just need to get up to their apartment, and the next thing you know, he’s attacking her. That’s totally possible.
Jayne, you had said you’d read some posts on Instagram that women in that neighborhood were familiar with him?
Jayne Miller: [Inaudible]. Well, first of all, in the charging document related to the gun allegation, his address is a block away from LaPere’s apartment. If that’s his most recent address, then that would put him in the neighborhood. I don’t know. But there were posts on social media, once he was identified as the murder suspect, that there were women that commented that they had seen him hanging around some of the apartments. That he had approached some of the women, had given them stories that his mother had died, et cetera, which was not true. He was apparently known in the community.
And that is very possible that she had met him at some point too and struck up a conversation with him or whatever. I don’t know that we’ll ever know what really transpired and what brought him to that apartment, why she let him in, et cetera, and got on the elevator with him. She was found on a roof of the apartment building. There was a brick that apparently had been used in the crime, and she suffered from strangulation and blunt force trauma.
Taya Graham: All of this, of course, raises the primary question at the heart of this podcast. How do the politics of crime affect and influence the occurrence of crime?
In this case, that question can be best answered by pointing to the defense Baltimore Police Commissioner Worley used to defend his decision not to release the information about Billingsley.
Stephen, he said he did not release the information about the arson and the rape because police believed it was targeted. What does that mean?
Stephen Janis: Well, as we discussed before, and Jayne can weigh in on this too, I remember there was a famous quote by a former health commissioner, Peter Beilenson, it was very controversial, where he said, Baltimore is safe as long as you’re not a drug dealer, because all these crimes are “targeted.” If you’re just a random white person – And I got to use the word, it’s got to be described as that a white person living in the L –
Taya Graham: Or a good, law-abiding citizen.
Stephen Janis: Or a good, law-abiding citizen, all this chaos and mayhem is never going to touch you. I think underlying that idea of “targeted” is that idea of what Baltimore’s always tried to do. And that is corral crime into low-income neighborhoods and make it seem like something that won’t touch the Inner Harbor, or won’t touch Homeland, or won’t touch even Mount Vernon. That we don’t have to feel responsible or in any way think about it. We can just go on with our business and be Baltimore City, and all the ideas about crime and how crime hampers the city. It’s just unfounded because it only happens among poor African American people in poor African American neighborhoods.
I think this case exemplifies how dangerous that idea is. Not only from a social justice perspective, which is really, to me, incomprehensible, because you’re literally saying that the lives of the people in West Baltimore are not worth what the lives of the people are in Mount Vernon. But from just a practical sense, that you are literally making decisions about withholding information from the public based primarily on the fact that you don’t want to scare white people. Am I wrong on this, Jayne?
Jayne Miller: Well, no, you’re making a decision based on your perception of that crime, whatever that is. God knows there are biased perceptions all over the place, but it gets back to this word “targeted.” It’s a code word to everybody that, don’t worry about it. You don’t have to worry about that. That has nothing to do with you. You’re not going to be a victim like this. It is used all the time. Police departments are loath to use the word “random,” because random suggests the worst nightmare of a violent offender.
But this case, look at what this case, the questions it has raised. You have a very vicious crime involving Black victims on Sept. 19. You don’t tell the public about it. You don’t tell the public you have a suspect. You don’t tell the public, here he is, you don’t look out for him, et cetera. Then you have a crime involving a well-known, white tech entrepreneur, and now you have a news conference the next day to announce the suspect, et cetera, et cetera. It just raises that same specter of Black victims get treated this way, and white victims get treated this way.
It’s most unfortunate, and it could have been avoided in many ways if they had simply treated that case in West Baltimore with much more urgency. When I say urgency, I’m not saying, oh, you didn’t do anything about it. I’m saying we used to have in Baltimore Public Enemy No. 1. Now, I’m not saying that case on the 19th of September would’ve risen to that level. But when you put a picture out and you put a video out, that means, we need your help. We want to find this guy. We need your help. They had a warrant for him. They had a lot of information about where you had lived, where you hung out, et cetera, et cetera. It does raise the question, well, what were you doing? Et cetera.
Stephen Janis: At the press conference, the commissioner made this weird comment about being within 88 meters of him at some point prior to the murder of LaPere. He makes this comment, and you just sat there scratching your head and saying, well, if you were that close, if you’d put out his picture, you probably could have easily caught him if he was hanging around Baltimore City. It makes this even more frustrating in many ways.
Jayne Miller: Well, and especially with those comments that I read on social media. They were making those comments after his name and photo had been put out after the murder. But the question is if those folks had seen his picture after that – I think it would’ve gotten a lot of circulation because the incident, the Sept. 19 incident got a lot of attention.
Taya Graham: It was so vicious. We have social media, we have alerts that can be sent to our phone. There are so many ways that the public could have been informed. Like you said, these women reached out afterwards and said, I’ve seen this man. I know this man. He lives in my neighborhood. If they had received that information ahead of time, it might’ve saved LaPere’s life.
Jayne, how does this calculus figure into how crime itself is handled in Baltimore? Why wouldn’t the commissioner want the public to have this information about a serial rapist?
Jayne Miller: That’s the question that everybody has raised is, what was it? We hear what he said. Now, of course, he has said since that it was a mistake not to put it out, and that now they’re going to have some internal procedure. He didn’t know that it hadn’t been put out or whatever. I think it gets to that whole conversation about…
We had this incident on July 2 in Baltimore that again made national news, which was 30 people shot during a party in the Brooklyn Homes community in South Baltimore. And two people died, and 28 people were injured in that incident. There was an internal report done, I guess it was really by the police department, about the failures to respond in time or beforehand. Or to try to respond beforehand when they were getting calls from people saying, hey, there are a lot of people here and they have guns. There’s fighting going on. This was earlier that night, it was on a Saturday night. There was a radio transmission of a police officer dismissing it, saying, maybe we should just call the National Guard. Those kinds of comments really convey an attitude.
There is a finding in that report that police indifference was a major factor in the lack of police response to those earlier calls in the evening, to the response when it happened, et cetera. Not having police officers there when it was very evident that they had a big crowd of people.
I think that is such an important word, because indifference means, we don’t care. Means, so what? It means, you’re not important. It means whatever. I think we saw that again in this incident involving this repeat, violent offender, Jason Billingsley. I hope that’s not true, but it feels like it’s the same thing. That there was just an indifferent feeling to this very serious incident in West Baltimore allegedly involving this man and the decision not to make that public.
Are there politics involved in this? Sure, there are politics involved in it. That kind of crime is frightening, it’s scary. It’s been another reason for people to say, oh God, look at Baltimore again. But I think that a police department has a long way to go if it has a culture of indifference.
Stephen Janis: It also shows that some of the priorities for police are managing the perception of crime rather than the reality of crime as we’ve spoken to it. It also, I think, to a certain extent, represents the idea of Baltimore being a city of boundaries. A city that tries to instead of taking on certain things like poverty and economic inequity, head on through other types of programs, really just wants to isolate those problems.
We’re the warehouse of the state’s poorest residents, and our job in the city is to hem them in. That becomes really where a police department, like Jayne said, becomes indifferent, because the primary task of the police department is to manage the perception of crime and the perception that we’re keeping people hemmed in, not that we’re really going into communities and trying to come up with solutions.
Taya Graham: Now, as we alluded to at the top of the show, the questions about how and when, and of course, why Baltimore Police release information brings us to another case we are currently investigating that has some similarities to the one we just discussed. It involved a woman who had achieved prominence. Actually, that’s an understatement.
It was a woman who had pioneered the field which she literally invented. A world-renowned scientist who had literally changed the way we think about and study space exploration. Her name was Molly Macauley, and her case was also marked by a sudden and unexpected burst of violence. On July 8 in 2016, police were called to Roland Park, a neighborhood just north of Johns Hopkins University. There they found a woman who had been brutally stabbed. She was transported to the hospital, but soon died of her injuries. From the onset, the case was a complete mystery. I know police have released very few details about the case, but what do we know?
Jayne Miller: Well, that’s a good question. What do we know? We know she was walking her dog. It was like 11:00 at night. It’s on a street. Actually, it’s a street that would’ve been quiet at that hour, dark, probably. The houses – These are not row houses in that particular neighborhood, so they’re a little separated. You could easily walk on that street and not be seen at that hour of the night. It has been a mystery. They did some coverage of it a year later, I think, trying to drum up some leads in the case, et cetera, but nothing. This is now seven years and it’s just nothing on the case.
Stephen Janis: Yeah. We know police are reluctant to release any information. We reached out to them. We actually called the homicide detective who was working the case, and he would not talk to us without permission from the police department. The police department obviously told us, well, they haven’t said anything really, Jayne, at this point.
The one thing that really strikes me about this case in some ways besides the lack of any suspects is the fact that she was walking her dogs, and I think she had German Shepherds, someone told me. We’re working on those details, but really that someone could be attacked while walking their dogs. Jayne has some very protective dogs, and I’m sure her dogs would intervene. But really, so it’s one of those cases in Baltimore where a person just basically disappears and then we hear nothing. We have been trying to get information from the police department, and we will continue to try, but we have gotten nothing.
Jayne Miller: We have a request that’s been pending now for three months. We’re really pushing on trying… It’s an unsolved case. We have many unsolved cases in this city. There is no question about it.
Stephen Janis: But I think the reason we wanted to explore her case, and the reason I wanted to bring it up in this particular podcast, in this particular episode, is because it was another life just snuffed out.
Then, as Jayne talked about police indifference, there’s implicit indifference in this in the sense that they won’t even work with us to try to bring attention to the case again so that maybe something would happen. I think we need to highlight that, and I think we need to reclaim these lives that are just snuffed out and then forgotten.
Jayne Miller: Stephen, can you talk a little bit about the woman that Molly Macauley was? She has an amazing resume. It’s absolutely exceptional.
Stephen Janis: Yeah. Her resume would put anybody, make them feel that their lives, they’ve done very little. She was an economist. She got her PhD at Johns Hopkins in economics. But over time, she evolved into a person who would apply economics to space exploration in a way that people never really thought of.
Just an example, I read one of her papers. She had come up with a way – Because there’s a big problem of detritus and space junk because so many satellites have been launched and people don’t really take care of their satellites. She had proposed an idea where you charge a tax to these satellites before they go up, and you rebate it if you take care of the subsequent fallout from the satellite.
This was entirely something that she had invented, and a way of approaching a problem that is really important, because we use satellites for everything: our cellphones, our geotracking. It could be a big problem if this space debris is not handled because it can literally destroy another satellite. She had come up with this really smart, very logical, and seemingly effective solution.
That’s why she was revered by her colleagues as being a pioneer, but also a really excellent critical thinker. Many people said she had mentored them as they got into this world of space economy. She worked for a think tank that focuses on the future and the use of resources. So many critical, elemental things about our world that it affects our lives.
Just like LaPere in a way, she was working on something very vital to the future of civilization. It’s really an extraordinary life, and we’re going to break it more down because we have reached out to her friends and we’re going to try to put together the story of her life, not just her case.
Taya Graham: Jayne, I know you reached out to the police department for just basic information. What’s happened?
Jayne Miller: Well, look, it’s an open case, and that makes it hard because they’re not going to release a lot of information in an open investigation. But generally, you can get the initial incident information, just the who, what, when, and where. We are trying to access that information now.
The case got a lot of attention when it happened. It got some attention a year later when they actually put the detective forward, and were trying to generate some information about it. But it’s difficult when the folks who hold the information don’t want to share it, and really don’t want to say anything about it. It can be very difficult. So we are working on other people, et cetera, that might have some information.
Taya Graham: Well, I would imagine there’s a difference between an open investigation and an active investigation.
Jayne Miller: That’s a really good question, Taya. That is a really good question. Yeah, that’s why you have cold case squads. You have cases that sit around and maybe something happens down the road that you get information about, but for the most part, they’re pretty inactive.
Stephen Janis: Yeah. When we were working on the Rey Rivera case, which is the young man who supposedly jumped off the Belvedere and became a big topic of the Netflix Unsolved Mysteries. When we finally got the homicide files, this case is technically open and none of the information is supposed to be released, but it was, I think, because of Netflix. You look through the case files, and they hadn’t done anything since June of 2006.
All that time they had been saying it’s an open investigation, ongoing investigation. Well, according to the homicide files, I can’t say with complete certainty, but according to the homicide files, they hadn’t done a thing. There is, I think, a lack of balance between we have to keep it secret because it’s an open investigation, or we have to share information with the public. I think that balance needs to be rethought, in my opinion.
Taya Graham: I think it’s interesting how Baltimore and its addiction to violence can simply swallow up victims and seem so content to just let the case languish. For all we know, Molly’s killer could have killed again. As we know, police have no incentive or legal obligation to release any information whatsoever. Jayne, in light of these recent cases, does that need to change?
Jayne Miller: Well, I think that there’s some discussion about that going on because of what happened in the Pava LaPere case and the lack of public warning about this individual. I think there’s some discussion going on about it. But I got to tell you, so the commissioner, Richard Worley, was confirmed by the Baltimore City Council.
He was confirmed without, he sailed through. There was one no vote, happened to come from the city council representative that represents Brooklyn Homes where 30 people were shot on July 2. Only no vote. And there was very little discussion, frankly.
There is a public safety committee on the Baltimore City Council. This would certainly, to me, be something that a legislative committee like that might really take on, a real discussion of public information and when it should be public, and how do you get it to the public, et cetera? I hope that happens, because we do have a violent crime problem. And there’s always a problem of people don’t want to cooperate with police, et cetera. All of those things weave together in terms of your communication with the public and your relationship with the public in order to help reduce crime and to get to a better level of public safety. But the idea of informing the public is certainly something that should get a lot of discussion.
Taya Graham: So as Stephen said, in our next episode, we will be delving into Molly’s case, not just about her death, but her life as well. All that will be coming up on the next episode of The Land of the Unsolved. Jayne and Stephen, thank you so much for joining me.
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