Category Archives: Tacoma Crime

Seventh Tacoma Homicide of 2014 Renee Brooks

reneebrooksIt was between five and six in the morning on Thursday July 3rd. A man walked into his apartment in the 1100 block of Highlands Parkway just off of Pearl Street. Witnesses heard two or three shots. And then he left.

The next day on the Fourth of July, a friend and coworker of 28-year-old Renee Brooks’ stopped by that apartment. They had become concerned about her whereabouts and came to check on her.  The friend found Renee’s body and called the police.

Renee’s death had been caused by multiple gun shots. Renee’s husband would be found and arrested on Tacoma’s South Side near South 49th Street on Saturday.

Renee worked at Subway and had previously worked at the Tacoma Rescue Mission. Renee, her husband and 3-year-old daughter had only moved into that apartment a few weeks ago. Neighbors say there were frequent fights.

Renee has become the seventh Tacoma homicide this year and the sixth Tacoma homicide this year that involved domestic violence. When the person responsible for the murder is a romantic partner, a parent, or child of the victim a homicide becomes an even worse tragedy for the family. Love ones are shocked and torn up by such a stunning event. Often it’s nearly impossible to reconcile the violent actions with the loved ones they once knew.

If you or someone you know is involved in a situation or relationship that is abusive or violent, I urge you to look into some of the resources at the link below. I’d rather not have to write an article like this about you.
http://www.cityoftacoma.org/cms/one.aspx?objectId=20334

As always, the comments section is reserved for friends and family of Renee Brooks. Please share your thoughts and memories of Renee with us. Tell us about her life and what Tacoma has lost with her death.

-          Jack Cameron

Tacoma Homicide FAQ

policelineI’ve been writing about homicides in Tacoma since 2006. Over the years I’ve received dozens of emails from the families and friends of victims. These emails are what I look at whenever I feel like I should stop. They remind me that what I write sometimes is exactly the thing a grieving person wants to see. If I can be even a small amount of comfort, then I don’t see how I can morally stop writing about these times when people are taken from our city.

I also receive emails and am asked questions in person about how I go about writing these things and why I write about one thing and not another. I’m going to try to tackle all of these frequently asked questions in this post. Here goes:

How Do You Get The Information About Tacoma Homicides?

Almost every piece of information I post about Tacoma homicides is found online through a combination of news reports, my own research, and a handful of local contacts.

Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to get information on how homicide victims died than it is to get information on how they lived. I do my best to include details about the person who was killed whenever possible, but I more than anything I rely on the friends and family of the victims to help share who we’ve lost from our cities. In some circumstances, I’ve welcomed friends and families to do guest posts about their loved ones.

Why Don’t You Write About Vehicular Homicides?

Most police departments treat these differently than regular homicides. In fact up until recently you perpetrators of vehicular homicide only received a third of the sentence they might have received if they’d shot the victim. But the reason I don’t cover them is simply that they’re difficult to cover. Often charges aren’t brought until long after the incident and if I covered every vehicular death then I might as well start covering every unnatural death and that’s beyond the scope of what I want to accomplish here.

Why Don’t You Write About Suicides?

I want to write about suicides. There are far more suicides in Tacoma than homicides. But they’re rarely reported to the media and so getting any relevant information is difficult. Some suicides make the news and others don’t and I’d rather cover no suicides than just some of them.

Why Didn’t You Cover That Homicide in University Place/Fife/Parkland/Lakewood/Spanaway/Etc?

When I started TacomaStories.com I decided that as much as possible I’d confine my posts to things about the City of Tacoma because if I included surrounding areas I’m not sure where I’d stop. Do I include Federal Way? If so, do I also include SeaTac? Where does it end?  I would more than welcome someone else picking up the torch for Lakewood or other local cities and starting LakewoodStories.com or something.

What’s The Worst Thing That’s Come Out of Writing About Tacoma Homicides?

There have been a couple of death threats and an incident that I had to report to the police before it became something violent, but thankfully nothing ever came of any of it. It was also difficult to write about a former classmate of mine who was shot and killed.

So…Why Do You Do It?

I’d started out writing about Tacoma’s homicides to prove a point about the city and its reputation. It’s a far safer city than it was in the 1990s. In fact it’s so safe that I can write about every Tacoma homicide and still do other things. Not a possibility in a place like Chicago. In fact even Seattle has 3-4 homicides a month vs. Tacoma’s one homicide a month sometimes.

However, as I stated at the beginning of this, the reason I keep writing about Tacoma homicides is that the families and friends of the victims appreciate it. I’ve heard from people sometimes years after their loved one’s death. In some cases my article is the only online evidence of what happened.

That’s about it for now. If you have any other questions for me, let me know.

-          Jack Cameron

Fifth Tacoma Homicide of 2014 Richard Salzman

ME_arrivesLast Friday night 49-year-old Richard Salzman had an argument with his wife over the phone. His wife chose to stay at a family member’s house. The next morning his wife returned home in the 1900 Block of S. Mason Ave. and found no sign of her husband. Their 16-year-old-son said he’d left the night before on his bike. At some point on Saturday when there was still no sign of him, his wife reported him missing to the Tacoma Police Department. On Tuesday when Richard’s wife started talking about organizing a search party her son told her what happened after her phone call on Friday.  He told her that heard their argument and confronted his father. He said that his father shoved him. His son then hit him in the head with a cane killing him. He then put Richard’s body along with a cut up bicycle into the compost bin behind the house. His mother had him call the police and tell them what happened. We’ll likely never know for certain what exactly happened in Richard Salzman’s final moments. What’s clear is that a domestic dispute got physical and now a husband and father is dead. This is Tacoma’s fifth homicide this year. Neighbors say they’re shocked by what happened as well they should be. Unfortunately domestic disputes can become deadly all too quickly. As always, the comments section is reserved for those friends and family who knew Richard and want to share anything about him or just share your condolences. –          Jack Cameron

Third and Fourth Tacoma Homicides of 2014 Denyse Marshall and AJ Geissler

tacoma_houseLast Thursday at a house on South 19th and L Street in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood there was a loud argument that had turned violent. A 37-year-old man was convinced that a coworker and roommate was romantically involved with his live-in girlfriend. He beat the roommate with his fists and a chair and also assaulted his girlfriend. Police arrived and found a 25-year-old man named AJ Geissler bloodied and injured. They arrested the 37-year-old and took him to jail.

The man they arrested was no stranger to the law. In the last two years alone he’d been arrested four times for domestic violence though only charged in one of those cases. Before that, his ex-wife had gotten two restraining orders on him in 2008 and 2010. In 2012 another roommate got a restraining order against him after an assault.

The Tacoma Municipal Court had not finished reviewing the case and since he had not been charged, he was released from jail on Friday.

Hours after being released from jail, the man returned to the house on Friday and assaulted three individuals at the house. He killed AJ Geissler, the man he’d assaulted the night before. He also killed 59-year-old Denyse Marshall, his girlfriend’s aunt who was staying at the house while she went through a divorce. He also wounded a third person.

Denyse and Joseph are the third and fourth homicides Tacoma has had this year. This is as low as the homicide rate has been at this point in the year since I started writing about Tacoma’s homicides. Of course this does not lessen the impact by family and friends devastated by the loss of these two individuals.

Their killer has been arrested. Unfortunately no amount of justice is going to bring any real solace to the grieving friends and family of the victims. Sudden losses like this are catastrophic. Denyse Marshall and AJ Geissler were citizens of Tacoma deserving of a full life that was cut short. What we can do now is remember Denyse and Joseph and share any memories we have of them.

The comments section is reserved for friends and families of the victims.  I moderate and approve all comments before they appear. I am sorry for your loss.
– Jack Cameron

A Robbery In Tacoma

pistolYesterday morning at around 6:30am, a stepfather went to the Chevron station on South 11th and Sprague. His stepson was working the counter there and soon to get off shift. Unfortunately, his shift ended with a black male in his 20s wearing a black bandanna over his face pointing a pistol at him and robbing the gas station. The robber took off on foot.

You didn’t read about this in The News Tribune. It wasn’t covered by any of the local news stations. I wouldn’t even know about it except that the stepfather contacted me about it. I asked Tacoma Police Spokesperson Loretta Cool about it. She said that there had not been any similar robberies in the area.

No one ever forgets having a gun pointed at them. During those moments you are acutely aware that your life is in immediate danger. It can be a life altering or life ending experience. And so I’m entirely sympathetic with the stepfather’s pleas that someone takes notice of this case. If someone had pointed a gun at my son, I’d want the person found immediately and non-stop police and media coverage until the person was found. I understand.

Years ago I worked for the Law Enforcement Support Agency (L.E.S.A.). I was one of a handful of people whose job was to take the hand written reports from police officers and transcribe them into the computer. In a lot of ways it was a dream job for an aspiring writer with an interest in his hometown of Tacoma. I got to read 50 new real crime stories a day.

The first thing I noticed was that the vast majority of the crime reports I transcribed were never mentioned in the media at all. Some of them were major events that I would have thought would garner all sorts of media attention. And yet, if you weren’t a part of the crime or a part of the police department you might never know they even happened.

At one point I asked how the media decides what goes in their reports. I was told that every morning the police beat person would call in and the desk sergeant would give them a group of incidents that had happened the previous night. Of course there were things that managed to get the attention of the media without the phone call, but in the two years I worked there, I encountered hundreds of reports that I felt were things the public should know about that were never mentioned anywhere in the media.

Initially, it may seem that the media and/or authorities don’t care about certain crimes. However, when you take a look at the numbers, it starts to make more sense. In 2012 there were 486 robberies in Tacoma. That works out to about nine robberies a week or more than one a day. (There were over 1,400 in Seattle. Per capita, our rate of robbery is only slightly higher than Seattle’s.) Even if the police or the media wanted to publicly post about every single robbery that occurred in Tacoma, the truth is almost no one would read it.

This brings me to this weekend’s robbery at the Chevron. A black male robbed a gas station on Hilltop over the weekend with a gun. The facts of the case are sadly so typical that it’s entirely understandable why it never made the news. Despite vast improvements from the crime filled days of the 1990s, Hilltop is still a neighborhood where crime is not uncommon. More to the point, Hilltop’s reputation from the 1990s has yet to fade. No one got physically hurt. (There’s a lot of truth to ‘if it bleeds it leads’.) There wasn’t a beautiful young woman involved. From a public interest standpoint, there’s nothing remarkable about a Hilltop gas station getting robbed over the weekend.

Having said all that, it’s important to point out that none of this justifies a criminal pointing a gun at an innocent person just doing his job and robbing him. Being the victim of a robbery is an extremely traumatic event. And it’s one that cries out for justice. I entirely understand the victim’s stepfather wanting to put a spotlight on this and find the perpetrator. And while it may not seem like it, the police department really does want to find this guy. But today they’re going to be responding to another robbery. And tomorrow another. Most of these you will never hear about. Some will be solved. Some will not. All of them will leave their mark on their victim.

The crime rate in Tacoma has gone down dramatically over the years. Unfortunately, it is not so low that the media or sites like this can cover all of the violent crime in Tacoma. Perhaps that’s not a possibility in a city of almost 300,000 people. I feel for the victims of any crime in Tacoma. I wish there were something more that I could do, but I don’t have the time or access to the information to write about it all.

-          Jack Cameron

First Tacoma Homicide of 2014 Charles (Chucky) Williams

chuckywillsIt was supposed to be a celebration of the life of a recent homicide victim. Unfortunately, it would also be the location of Tacoma’s first homicide of 2014. This Friday would have been Jalon Bea’s 18th birthday. Saturday night, friends of his had gathered at a nightclub in the 2600 block of 6th Ave. The party broke up around 1:30am on Sunday morning. What happened next was captured on video. Someone fired seven quick shots and ran as people scattered. Nineteen year old Charles Williams was killed in the gunfire. His friends called him Chucky.

Charles was Jalon Bea’s cousin. Police are still looking for Chucky’s murderer. They’re asking everyone who was there to contact the Tacoma Police Department immediately. I’ve posted a link to the video below. Anyone who was there or who recognizes anyone should contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS. There is currently a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer.

The killing of Charles Williams marks the first homicide in 126 days. Directly after Charles’ murder there was talk online of Tacoma’s old reputation of being a cesspool of gang violence. This reputation was well earned from the crime-filled days of the early 1990s, but it’s hardly an accurate account of present day Tacoma.

Unfortunately, violent deaths like that of Charles Williams is part of living in a city. It shouldn’t happen, but it does. We can only take comfort in the fact that it doesn’t happen often.

As always, the comments section is reserved for those who knew Chucky. Every comment is moderated.

-          Jack Cameron

Keeping Tacoma

The streets of Tacoma are safer than they've been in years.

The streets of Tacoma are safer than they’ve been in years.

It’s been 94 days since there was a homicide in the city of Tacoma. In 2013 we only had ten homicides. Tacoma earned its reputation as a dangerous city in the early 1990s when California gang members relocated to Tacoma’s Hilltop. In 1995 I was in Los Angeles and ran into some gang members there. I told them I was from Tacoma and they respected that. Now, a generation later, Tacoma has changed in a lot of big ways.

Downtown isn’t quite the ghost town it used to be. You’ll still find empty shops, but it’s a far cry from the mid-1980s when there were just blocks of empty buildings including Tacoma’s Union Station. Similarly, Hilltop isn’t nearly the crime magnet that it was years ago. You’ll still find gangs and street crime in Hilltop but it’s the exception rather than the rule.

One of the reasons I write about homicides in Tacoma is to simply show how rare they really are. I’ve seen bumper stickers and t-shirts that say, “Keep Tacoma Feared” and while I can relate to that sentiment, I don’t think that’s what Tacoma needs.

I’ve also seen people talking about Tacoma being a ‘second city’ with some sort of endless comparison to Seattle. We’re 30 miles away from a much bigger, much more-well-known city. This is true. Half the time when a movie is filmed in Tacoma, they call it Seattle. Recently when the mayor of Tacoma was interviewed on PBS after the State of the Union, they did it against a backdrop of Seattle’s skyline. There seems to be this idea that we are somehow the Randy Quaid to Seattle’s Dennis. I disagree with this idea.

Tacoma has never been interested in being Seattle. We’ve never tried to be. As a life-long Tacoman, I’ve spent almost no time comparing Tacoma to Seattle. We’re entirely different cities. Yes, Tacoma is smaller and less well known, but what most of us Tacomans know is that we don’t care. We’re too busy doing our own thing to worry about what Seattle’s doing.

Part of the issue as I see it is that Tacoma refuses to be identified by any one major thing. We aren’t just the Port. We aren’t just the Tide Flats. We’re not just our museums. We’re not just our poets. We’re not just our bars or our breweries. We’re just our incredible waterfront or our world class Pt. Defiance Park & Zoo. We’re all of these things and more. The one thing we can shed if we cared to is our reputation as a dangerous town. We simply aren’t anymore. I’m not saying bad things don’t happen here, but compared to a lot of places, it’s a rarity.

You can keep fearing Tacoma if you like. For the rest of us, we’re just going to keep Tacoma.

- Jack Cameron

Tenth Tacoma Homicide of 2013 Derek Wagner

darekwagnerLast Sunday afternoon near the 4500 block of Asotin Street a man went into his back yard and found the dead body of 27-year-old Derek Wagner. He’d been repeatedly stabbed. Derek was from Kalama, Washington. At this time there is no further information about what Derek was doing in Tacoma, who he may of been with, or how he ended up in a South Tacoma back yard.

Police are asking anyone with information about this case to contact them at 253-798-4721.

As always, the comments section is reserved for friends and family who might want to share their thoughts about Darek.

- Jack Cameron

5 Question Friday with Tacoma Police Department Public Information Officer Loretta Cool

tacoma-police-genericWhen I read about police spokespeople online or see them on television I always feel a little bad. It seems like they never sleep and are always talking to the press on a near endless schedule. They all seem to need a vacation. I’m sure Loretta Cool, the Public Information Officer of the Tacoma Police Department is the same way, but I couldn’t tell. Despite a workload I don’t even want to think about, she took the time to talk to me and participate in 5 Question Friday.

Given recent events in Tacoma, I felt it would be good to get to Tacoma to the TPD. I also wanted a bit of a historical perspective on the crime in Tacoma. I’ve probably introduced her enough. Here’s Loretta.

1. What is the most misunderstood part about Police Work?

I think there are many misunderstood areas of Police work. Lately, an issue that seems to keep popping up is about Police being able to arrest someone based on an identification by a victim or witness. Everyone seems to think if a victim points out someone they believe committed a crime, the Police can arrest them.  On the surface I guess that would be wonderful, as long as you were not the one wrongly pointed out. Police have to be able to link a suspect to a crime through many avenues, the identification is just one part. Police can have a victim swear up and down that this particular person committed the crime. Police then discover that the “identified person” was nowhere near the crime.  It seems I spend a lot of time explaining that identification of a possible suspect may not culminate in an arrest. If Police are able to tie the suspect to the crime, the identification helps tremendously.

2. Recently two people have been shot and others have been attacked on South 19th in Tacoma’s Hilltop area reminding long time residents of the early 1990s when Hilltop was genuinely dangerousWhat do you feel the police can do to help keep Hilltop safe?

I do appreciate the wording here about the Hilltop being genuinely dangerous. In the early 90’s Police responded to multiple gunshots being fired per shift and many people being robbed, shot or killed. Tacoma has come a long way since that time. Two incidents in near proximity to each other do not make the Hilltop like it was back then. The crime was not just limited to the Hilltop, we had rampant crime throughout the city. The Police took proactive measures to make the City a much safer place. With these two incidents and any others, the Police will continue to actively seek out those responsible and hopefully be able to arrest and convict them.

The things that we have been doing since that time. Being out in the community, getting to know the people who live, work and play here. Actively Patrolling so that the Police presence is felt and citizens feel good about going to Police for help.  Continue using all available resources and tools to apprehend the persons responsible for committing the crimes. And develop more connections to leverage what we have.

3. What do you feel the general public can do to help keep Hilltop safe?

Be out and about. The more good people are visible the bad people tend to go away.  Report the suspicious activity, gatherings and crimes when they occur. A lot of Police work is still reactionary, if nothing is reported, it is like nothing is happening. When things are reported the Police are aware of those areas that need the high visibility of Police.

4. What changes have you seen in Tacoma in the time you’ve been here?

I have already touched on a few of these. What amazes me is the cleanup of many areas.  On Pacific Ave from 7th to 25th Street there used to be something like 40 bars. Now there are businesses that promote growth, not to mention the UW. The same was true on MLK there used to be about 25 Bars between 6th Ave and 25th Street. Now there are businesses that attract more family activities. Even the expansion of St. Joseph’s hospital, Tacoma General and Mary Bridge. On the eastside of Tacoma, the Boys and Girls club, skate park, pool and a welcoming avenue with street improvements, instead of decrepit apartments and bars lining the streets. These are just a few changes that I think are for the better.  There are still improvements to be made all across the City but I think in the last 30 or so years the City of Tacoma has come a long way.

 

5. It’s lunch time. With the whole city available, where do you get a good bite to eat?

This one is not as easy as it sounds. I work with a group of about 15 people. We try to go to lunch somewhere every couple of months. One person will pick their favorite place to go. I have been out with them about 5 times so far, each time a different new spot for me. And each time it has been a great place to go. So, what I would offer here is Google Tacoma Restaurants and pick the type of food you like, my guess is the place will be a great place to eat since so far I like them all.

 

I’d like to thank Loretta Cool for joining me on 5 Question Friday. If you or someone you know would like to join me in a future installment, drop me a line at jackcameronis@gmail.com.

-          Jack Cameron

Ninth Tacoma Homicide of 2013 Santiago Sanchez Cortes

sanchez-cortesSantiago Sanchez Cortes’ employer was concerned. He had not called or shown up for work for several days. Before this, Santiago was known as a good worker who never missed a day. His employer reported him missing to the police. The last time anyone had seen the 59-year-old man was October 1st.

Police investigated his disappearance and found the last person who Santiago had talked to on the phone. Further investigation revealed that the woman had gambling debts, had used Santiago’s debit card and sold his truck. Soon they had witnesses who had heard her admit to killing Santiago. She had since been arrested along with an accomplice.

Unfortunately, there’s very little information right now as to what happened to Santiago. His body has yet to be recovered. He is the ninth Tacoma homicide this year.

As always, the comments section is reserved for friends and family of the victim who want to post remembrances of their lost loved one.

-          Jack Cameron