From the gruesome beheading of a man by his brother to the caning death of a senior citizen at the hands of his nursing home neighbor, Nashville’s 60 homicides in 2012 took many forms. Overall, the final number of slayings reflected a slight uptick from last year’s total of 51 — the lowest figure since 1966.
“In a civilized society, in a vibrant and growing city, 10 homicides would be too many. One homicide is very regrettable,” Metro Nashville Police Department spokesman Don Aaron said. “But I think the partnerships established not only by the police department, but through clergy and social groups. The outright distaste for violence in neighborhoods is actually having an impact, a positive impact on Nashville’s safety.”
The number of homicides provides little in the way of noticeable trends, especially compared to last year’s figures. Also, given the relatively low numbers it’s difficult to deduce major trends given that one or two incidents — like the back-to-back triple homicides in West Nashville — can significantly influence the numbers.
Nonetheless, here’s a breakdown on Nashville’s murders in 2012:
In a majority of the killings in Nashville, both the victim and suspect knew each other. According to information gathered in police records, at least 32 of the year’s homicides involved acquaintances. For instance, an unusual love triangle resulted in the shooting and subsequent beheading of Erman Thompson in South Nashville. Henry Baxter, 37, was charged with murder, while Thompson’s wife, Ashly, is charged with being an accessory to the murder.
Aside from domestic-related cases, acquaintance homicides also stemmed from drug deals. Lorenzo Jenkins was arrested for a triple murder in West Nashville after an extensive investigation found a DNA match for him on the scene. Police believe that Deborah, Patrick and Wendy Sullivan sold drugs from their Maxon Avenue home.
As of press time, there are still 18 open cases in which no homicide suspect has been identified. All of the precincts except Central have unsolved cases. The killing of Chijoke Ike, whose body was found in a vacant lot off 33rd Avenue North (West Precinct), was moved to the Cold Case Unit.
The only known random slaying appears to be the case involving Robert Mitchell, a 41-year-old homeless man. Mitchell was sitting on a park bench in downtown Nashville, when Christopher Crowley, 29, allegedly got out of a car and shot him. Police are still investigating the motive and whether Crowley might be connected to other random shootings in the area.
“It is that type case that strikes fear in a community, and thankfully, a case like that is very, very rare for the city,” Aaron said. “And thankfully, that person was taken into custody within hours of shooting.”
More than two-thirds of the homicides in 2012 were caused by guns. Other methods included using a cutting instrument, strangulation and blunt force trauma.
Female homicides increased from seven in 2011 to 13 last year. In all of the closed cases against females, men were charged in the killings. One of the more shocking crimes of the year occurred in June when Gilbert Pearsall shot and killed his wife, Vickie, at a Green Hills dentist office where she worked. Gilbert Pearsall was later found in his car on the side of Interstate 24 in Kentucky, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The couple was involved in divorce proceedings prior to the incident.
In 2012, the homicide rate for African-Americans — based on the overall population — was three times higher than the same calculation for white citizens. Aaron said the disproportionate number of African-Americans slain “continues to be a cause of concern” for the police department and community. There was one homicide victim for every 14,716 white citizens, while the number was one victim for every 4,614 African-Americans.
“Mayor Dean is absolutely correct when he says that murder in the city is not evenly distributed,” Aaron said. “There are certain areas of the city that see more of this crime than others, and the total is not proportionate to the [racial breakdown of the] population.”
The age demographic with the largest homicide percentage in 2012 was the 12 people who were killed between the ages of 16 and 20. That age bracket constituted 20 percent of the year’s homicides. Last year, only eight people between the ages of 16 and 20 were killed. The next highest number was 11 — the number of 26- to 30-year-olds that were killed. The previous year’s total for that age bracket was 5.