Toledo's murder total jumped to 19 Thursday — just one death shy of what it was for all of last year — with the discovery of a man shot in central Toledo and a woman's body that was found in an abandoned warehouse.
Toledo police first located 34-year-old Victor Johnson's bullet-riddled body in the backyard of an Old West End residence at 2413 Hollywood Ave.
He was yet another person gunned down in darkness for reasons that aren't clear, someone who was presumed to have been shot hours earlier. His body was found at 10:17 a.m.
A little more than an hour later, police discovered a second body.
This time, it was that of a badly decomposed female, discovered at 11:30 a.m. in a dank, musty basement of an abandoned North Toledo warehouse at 1510 Elm St. The body was discovered in about two feet of water.
Authorities expect to learn today if the body was that of Cindy Sumner, a 21-year-old with muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and learning disabilities who was reported missing on Aug. 6. Dental records are being used to help make an identification.
The two events, stunning as they are on their own, seemed to take on extra meaning and raise more questions for the community at large.
Some may be trying to make sense of two homicide investigations beginning the same day — a rare occurrence in Toledo. With less than three-quarters of 2009 gone, the two slayings documented yesterday brought the city's homicide total close to what it was for 2008.
Still, records show that is 16 fewer than the 35 homicides Toledo had in 2006, a figure well behind what Cleveland, Columbus, andCincinnati experience in a typical year.
So what are people to make of the two latest homicides, given the economic downturn that led to massive police layoffs earlier this year? Are times getting worse or better?
“I think our officers have done an admirable job since May 1, when we first got hit with these layoffs,” Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre said.
Seventy-five officers were laid off. Sixty have since returned to work as a result of state and federal grants.
“But that does take its toll on the morale of the officers,” Chief Navarre said. “The fact that crime is down and that our response time has not suffered, I think speaks volumes to the quality of the men and women of the police department and the job they have done.”
In North Toledo, three detectives were led to the body yesterday that may be Miss Sumner.
Police went to the Elm Street address yesterday after Detective Vince Mauro, who had been leading the investigation into Miss Sumner's disappearance, was tipped off by a woman who claimed to know
Miss Sumner. The tipster is not considered a suspect, Chief Navarre said.
The police chief said the condition of the body led authorities to believe she had been slain, but he would not elaborate.
He declined to talk about any weapons that might have been found at the scene.
“The body was badly decomposed and probably had been there for several weeks,” Chief Navarre said.
The tip came from a woman who said she knew someone named “Sissy” who liked to congregate with her and others inside the warehouse. She told police she believed that woman was Miss Sumner.
An autopsy is scheduled for this morning to help determine the cause of death.
Ms. Sumner has been the focus of an extensive search since she disappeared.
Friends and family have canvassed the places she frequented and passed out flyers.
Her family offered a $1,000 reward for any information about her.
Toledo detectives, Chief Navarre, and Mayor Carty Finkbeiner visited her family members after the body was found.
“We emphasized that we have not identified the body. At this point we can't tell you it is Cindy or it is not Cindy,” Chief Navarre told reporters at an afternoon news conference.
Chief Navarre said the detectives found an easy access in the rear of the tan, six-story brick building at Elm and Utica streets. “It appears there have been homeless people living in the building,” he said.
The detective also found a smoldering fire on the second floor and called for firefighters. The chief said the fire was not believed to be related to the body.
A sign on the warehouse reads Premier Bedding, and the multistory building's windows are smashed.
Devin Bennett, 23, said the warehouse has been abandoned for as long as he could remember. He used to live in the neighborhood and returned yesterday to visit his grandmother. He said he knew Miss Sumner from Salem Lutheran Church, where they were both active.
“I'm hoping she's living somewhere and doing well,” he said.
Later in the day, family members gathered around the front porch of the North Erie Street home that Miss Sumner shared with her parents.
THE BLADE/LISA DUTTON Enlarge | Buy This Photo
An aunt, Tina Rutkowski, said they had hoped she was still alive but were now braced for the worst as they waited for the coroner to identify the body.
“My brother is not doing so well. He has muscular dystrophy, too, and she was his only child,” Ms. Rutkowski said, fighting back tears. “As long as they find out who did it.”
A neighbor, Demeshia Walker, 27, claimed to have seen drug addicts and scavengers in the building. Sometimes she hears breaking glass and screaming inside, she said. She said the police tell her it's only kids, but she knows better.
“This building, we've been seeing nothing but grown-ups coming out of the building through a steel gate,” she said. “You mostly see men going in there. You rarely see a woman.”
Another neighbor, Dave Bethany, 24, said that graffiti artists from outside the neighborhood also sneak inside the warehouse to paint, sticking around for two or three hours at a time.
“At least once or twice a week they come and park there and go in,” Mr. Bethany said. “No one from the neighborhood ever goes in there.”
The other homicide victim, Johnson, lived at 2030 Ashland Ave. He has had minor run-ins with law enforcement on charges such as loitering, public indecency, and gambling.
He was scheduled to appear in Toledo Municipal Court next month on charges of drug possession and trafficking.
He pleaded guilty to third-degree felony possession of crack cocaine in 2002.
NOT BLADE PHOTO Enlarge
Dominique Clark of Toledo, who identified herself as the victim's ex-girlfriend, described him as a “good guy” who often lent a helping hand to people.
She and others figured he was gunned down in the darkness late Wednesday night or early yesterday.
Johnson's friends and relatives began looking for him after they heard he had been shot, said his cousin, Elizabeth Hicks of Toledo.
“He must have been shot and I guess this is where he ran and this is where they found him in a backyard,” she said.
She said she was upset because police were unable to locate him after shots were fired along Hollywood Wednesday night.
Toledo police Sgt. Mike Gilmore said crews were out looking for Mr. Johnson after receiving reports he had been shot.
“We couldn't find anybody,” Sergeant Gilmore said. Police, he said, also checked at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center for a shooting victim, but found none.
Dozens of people mingled on a nearby sidewalk yesterday as police gathered evidence from the scene.
Johnson's father, Danny Witcher of Toledo, said his son was a handyman who did painting and yard work, and that he had a young son of his own.
Staff writers Carl Ryan, JC Reindl, Janet Romaker, and Jennifer Feehan contributed to this report.
Contact Tom Henry at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6079.