Why Do We Kill? The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore (3/3)
In part three, retired Baltimore Homicide Detective Kelvin Sewell and investigative journalist Stephen Janis discuss the killing of a former Baltimore police commissioner’s daughter that shook the entire city
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
We’re continuing our discussion of the very important book Why Do We Kill? The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore. We’re joined again by the book’s two authors.
We’re joined by Kelvin Sewell. He’s a Baltimore born and raised, 22-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department. He won many awards and recognitions during his career. He currently serves as the chief of police for Pocomoke on the eastern shore of Maryland.
He’s also joined by his co-author, Stephen Janis, long-time award-winning investigative journalist, currently investigative producer with FOX45.
Thanks so much for joining us again.
STEPHEN JANIS, INVESTIGATIVE PRODUCER, FOX45: Thanks for having us.
KELVIN SEWELL, POCOMOKE CHIEF OF POLICE: Nice to be here.
NOOR: So I wanted to talk about the two cases in the book that personally touched you. Talk about when you discovered the body of Nicole Sesker.
SEWELL: Well, I recall that it was around ten o’clock in the morning we got the call to respond up to–.
SEWELL: Garrison, Garrison Avenue, with a body underneath of a porch. And normally, you know, everybody’s jump in a car to respond up there from headquarters, you know, trying to get up there before any evidence is lost or whatever. And once we got there, we found the lady, Nicole Sesker, under the porch of a house in the rear of Garrison Avenue.
And at first we didn’t know who she was. We didn’t know anything about this young lady. And so what I did was we sectioned off the crowd thing, like we do with the CAUTION tape, police tape, to make sure nobody entered the area where the investigation’s taking place.
Once I did that, I wanted to try to identify the body on the scene, prior to the body going to the morgue to conduct the autopsy. So what I did was I brought one young lady to the scene who might have known this individual underneath the porch. And when the young lady I brought to the scene, I said, can you recognize this individual that’s deceased here, the first thing: she backed up, put her hand over her mouth, and said, that’s Commissioner Hamm’s daughter. And the first thing I said was, Commissioner Hamm, the police commissioner, a former police commissioner? Yes.
At that point what I did was I expanded the crime scene, because I know once they get out, people are going to be coming from everywhere. So expanded the crime scene, make sure there was no entry into that alley at all, especially underneath porch. We began our investigation. And we were–the hardest thing I had to do was to respond over after we got–the body left the scene, respond over to my mentor, Commissioner Hamm’s house and let him know that we just found his daughter, she was deceased.
I call him my mentor because Commissioner Hamm taught me in the academy. When I first joined the Police Department in 1988, he was my instructor in the academy. And I learned a lot from Commissioner Hamm. Even I took up some of his ways of his patrolling the streets of Baltimore. I still remember some of the things he told me today. So he was my mentor and I learned a lot from him.
But this, leaving that scene, going to mentor’s house to tell him that we just found his deceased daughter and what had occurred to her, that was one of the most hardest things in my career, because I didn’t know how to tell Commissioner Hamm, who was my mentor, that his daughter’s never coming home again. And I remember going to the house, and we walked into the door. He sits down at the table. And by him knowing where I worked in the Police Department, homicide, he knew it was bad from the beginning. And after I explained it to him, he got upset. He was upset about it. Of course, it was his daughter. And afterwards we discussed the plans of investing the case with him. And that led to an arrest in that case.
NOOR: And so Nicole lived a troubled life. She battled with addiction. Talk a little bit about not only her story, Stephen, but in your investigations, other stories you’ve uncovered similar to Nicole’s and how difficult it is for people similar to Nicole to get justice in our system.
JANIS: Yeah, well it, it’s interesting. Nicole, first of all, was featured in The New York Times.
NOOR: Front page.
JANIS: Front page of The New York Times, because a New York Times reporter encountered her and figured out that she was the commissioner’s daughter and with this very compelling piece about her struggles. She had been, I think, on the streets for, like, ten or 12 years, and living a life that’s very–not unusual for that part of Northwest Baltimore, which is turning tricks for $20, $30, then buying your drugs, and then ending up sleeping somewhere in an abandoned house or under a porch or somewhere. And what happened at that time that really made this case even bigger was that there had actually been three other women who had been strangled in very similar situations. And we did a very extensive investigation of that, and we found there were 29 cases going back a decade of women who were strangled, who had sort of a similar situation to Nicole, and only nine of those cases were solved.
So I think what you see here with Nicole’s type of case is Nicole eventually made an arrest, but not for murder, for assault. So really they never charged anyone with her murder specifically. What you see with the cases with women in these circumstances is that their cases don’t get a lot of attention. It’s sort of, I guess, a phenomenon that Kelvin would describe as, like, a red ball case versus a case where if a woman has a record of prostitution or any sort of criminality, the case, I don’t think, is a big priority, just evidenced by the few numbers of convictions they get.
And I end up talking to a lot of women who were very similar situations. They lead incredibly desperate lives. They’re drug addicted and they’re basically forgotten, and they live on the streets by their wits, and they pick up $20, $30, and they’re extremely vulnerable. And during that period of time, shortly after Nicole’s death, there were five cases, actually, total of women who were strangled, four of which there’ve never been arrests made in any of them. So I think it speaks to this dysfunction we’re talking about, where people can commit violence against people who are vulnerable and are never caught.
NOOR: And so you promised Commissioner Hamm or you told him that you would do your best to get justice for his daughter.
NOOR: And you felt–you wrote in your book you felt you were prevented from doing that because of politics in the police department. Talk about what happened, because they launched this big task force to help find the killer. But do you feel that justice was ever accomplished? And talk about why you feel that was prevented from happening.
SEWELL: Well, I feel that a lot more could’ve been done with the detectives that were on the case. I was the supervisor on that case, and I was taken off because of the task force, and the task force took over that investigation. I think that more could have been done. I don’t know of Nicole Sesker’s case, but other women, cases as well. I didn’t think that the detectives gave their 100 percent in these cases right here. I think if they were to put more effort to that investigation, I think it would have been a situation where the individual who was charged would have been murder instead of simple assault.
JANIS: And there’s one thing I want to add, too, that during that period of time, after this came out and they formed the task force and they had five cases, and then I went back, we did the stories about the cases in the past, they arrested a man named William Vincent Brown, who they found, who had killed two women and almost killed another back in 2003 and ’04–very similar circumstances. The reason that they arrested him is ’cause they finally got around to testing DNA that they had found on two of the bodies and the woman who had been injured. They had not done anything with that DNA for five years. And they were aware that the DNA from the women had matched, but they never they’d never run it through the CODIS system or whatever it’s called and found him.
So, shortly after the task force was formed, Kelvin was taken off the case, they make this arrest going back five years of a person who probably, I would think–it’s perfectly possible that he could have killed other people. So it just the fact that that DNA was sitting around for five years, that it could’ve been tested–and I still think there’s a possibility it could be tied to other cases in the future just shows how the system sometimes doesn’t work to the safety of the people.
SEWELL: I agree.
NOOR: Well, we’re going to have to wrap up this discussion for today, but we’re definitely looking forward to having you both back in the studio, ’cause we’ve only scratched the surface of your book and we want to keep sharing these stories.
JANIS: Absolutely. We’d love to come back.
NOOR: Thank you both for joining us.
JANIS: Thank you.
SEWELL: Thank you.
JANIS: Thank you.
NOOR: And thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.
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