Heartland Unsolved: Wall of Silence
CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - “This is it. We can’t bury the fact that we’re living in a town where murderers are running free.”
Felice Patton is a grieving mother, but she’s also a woman on a mission. She wants all of Cape Girardeau to know and care about the unsolved murders of 9 men from the city’s south side.
“It’s like I’m on assignment to talk about a city that I love,” Patton said shortly after holding a candlelight vigil remembering the third anniversary of her son’s murder.
“My son Quinton Combs, who was murdered November 15, 2015 right here on Frederick Street,” she told the small crowd gathered around her. “And he was murdered with 60 people hanging out. He was hanging out with 60 people and no one would talk.”
Her son’s case went unsolved for two and a half years. In April, authorities identified Combs' killer and sentenced him to federal prison.
“I kind of got a burden lifted off me in April when this was solved, she said. "So, I’m thankful for that. But I must go on because of the others.”
The others, the other nine men from Ward 2, Cape Girardeau’s south side, who have been killed in the past 10 years and whose cases all remain unsolved:
- 42-year-old George Robinson died following an arson at his home at 203 S. Pacific St, April 29, 2008
- 34-year-old Joshua Diebert was shot to death in a vehicle at 1121 Good Hope St, June 20, 2014
- 28-year-old Zatrun Twiggs and 20-year-old Detavian Richardson were both shot to death in a vehicle at 236 S. Middle St, August 3, 2014
- 42-year-old Howard Smith, Jr. was shot to death near his home at 911 S. Ranney St, October 6, 2015
- 35-year-old Travis Scales lived in Cape, was killed in St. Louis February 9, 2017
- 41-year-old Demetric Atchison was shot to death in the street midday near 41 Henderson May 11, 2017
- 49-year-old Lavell Durden was stabbed to death in his own home at 203 S. Lorimier July 19, 2017
- 22-year-old Jimmy Walker was shot and killed at 546 S. Sprigg Street August 26, 2017
“You can’t bury that,” Felice Patton said. “You can’t put that aside and say oh well, it’s only on the south side. Oh well, it’s only those people. Or oh well, it’s not where I’m at. We’ve got to look at the bigger picture here.”
Patton focuses on the bigger picture through her group “Stop Needless Acts of Violence Please.”
At the SNAP office on Sprigg Street, Patton showed us a painting by a local pastor and artist. Forty-six names on tombstones. Forty-six people killed in Cape Girardeau since 2000. Twenty-eight of them lived in Ward 2.
"And this is what he wanted, his vision, what he wanted people to see how this has affected our community,” she said.
When I first saw the paint splotches I thought, oh those are beautiful, I tell her of the painting. And then I thought no, those are representations of gunshots.
"We find that these families will never be the same. It’s changed their lives forever. They need closure. They need help. They need to rest in peace. And they’re not.”
Solving these 9 murders won’t be easy.
Witnesses refuse to talk.
Some victims' families don't want to get involved.
And the police are often seen as the enemy.
“These nine unsolved murders," she said. "We’re not going to forget about them because they’re somebody’s uncle, somebody’s cousin, somebody’s dad, somebody’s brother. Everybody’s hurting.”
And Felice Patton is uniquely in tune with that pain. It took two and half years to bring her son’s killer to justice; even though he was shot to death surrounded by dozens of friends.
“I was angry about that in the community because I didn’t know what was going on," she said. "And when I found out, that made sense to me that they wouldn’t talk.”
Patton found a level of fear and mistrust that left residents calling police the enemy, even more so than the killers still walking among them.
We asked Lieutenant Brad Smith what they needed to crack any or all of these unsolved murder cases.
“Information from the public,' he said. "There are a lot of people are afraid to come talk to us for many different reasons. Could be for retaliation for talking to us. Some don’t like us.”
So Smith works directly with Patton, knowing she can often bridge the gap between her community and his department.
“A lot of people, like I said, don’t like to talk to us. But, they may want to talk to her. Or they may want to talk to someone she knows,” Smith said.
“It’s a trust issue,” Patton said. “So, the community don’t trust the police. The families don’t trust the police. There’s no relationship. So that’s what we do. We’re building a relationship here.”
From block parties to neighborhood roll calls, SNAP and Cape Police have joined forces to try and break through that wall of silence.
“People don’t understand that the police can’t make an arrest without witnesses to talk,” Patton pointed out. “They feel like, you know, they say a name then you should go get him. But, it’s more to it than that.”
“Everything is baby steps, you know,” Smith added. “Some people think if we come in gung ho. Let’s be friends. Let’s be pals. No. It takes a while to build that bridge. And that bridge may not be fully completed. But it’s getting there.”
One noticeable change has been the increased use of Cape Girardeau’s anonymous tip line. Patton gives the number to anyone who’ll take it.
So, if I send you a tip, you don’t have my cell number? We asked Smith.
“We don’t have anything,” he answered. “I.P. address. Cell phone number. GPS. We have nothing.”
“This is how we need to come together,” Patton said. “And it takes a lot of care. It takes a lot of talking. It takes a lot of explaining to get an understanding. And sometimes, that’s hard to get.”
Do you ever feel like sometimes this is too much for you? We ask her.
“Sometimes, she said. "Sometimes. It can be overwhelming. I always said it. I love Cape. I love Cape. And then this happened to me. It was like this was a test. Do you love Cape now? And truly I do.”
That love drives Felice Patton to gather each week at a murder scene like her son’s. She prays. She hands out cards with the police department’s tip lines. She quietly speaks about communication and change. And it’s hard not to listen.
“I’m here to let the community know we have to do better. We have to talk more to law enforcement. We have to be able to communicate the truth. And it’s not snitching when you’re telling the truth.”
And it’s not impossible for one mother to believe she can change the culture of her community.
“And the future of Cape Girardeau will be so alive, people will be talking about us all over the world. Amen? Amen.”
Since one of the homicides featured in this report happened in St. Louis, Cape Girardeau police are still investigating eight unsolved murders that happened in the past 10 years.
If you know anything about any of these cases, here’s how you can share that information anonymously with Cape Girardeau investigators. You can click here or:
- Downloading the free mobile apps for Andriod or iPhone
- Texting "CAPEPD" to 847411 with any message or tip
- Calling 573-339-6313 to reach our anonymous tip line
When you call the 339-6313 you will reach the station commander, they will not ask for any information on the caller, they just get the tip information and forward it to the appropriate officer.
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