Victims in 2000 quadruple homicide aren't forgotten

A vigil tonight will unveil a marker for teens killed

12/07/2010 12:00 AM

08/13/2014 10:49 AM

"I love you, I love you." Those were Raeshawnda Wheaton's last words, according to the man who killed her. Cornelius Oliver shot his girlfriend as she cowered in the bedroom of her house, clutching a pillow. Three of her friends already were dead in the next room.

Her roommate, Dessa Ford, had tried to run. Oliver shot her before she could get to the door. Jermaine Levy and Quincy Williams were shot in the back of the head as they sat on the couch playing a video game.

But Wheaton could see her killer coming toward her, and she begged for her life.

Ten years ago today, relatives found the bodies of the four people in a house in the 1100 block of North Erie. The city of Wichita recoiled in horror over the worst killing the city had seen in nearly 27 years.

Despite the shocking scene at the house on North Erie, some friends and family felt the city would soon turn its back on the young people who died.

They were nicknamed the "Forgotten Four," and some in the community have persisted in keeping their memories alive. A candlelight vigil is set for tonight to unveil a marker for two of the teens' graves — placed just two months ago.

Candice Reed spent four years asking people if they remembered as she tried to raise money to buy a headstone for her cousins, Ford and Williams.

"You'd be surprised how many people don't remember," Reed said.

Eight days after the city's worst crime in nearly 27 years, four more people died at gunpoint. Their killers, Jonathan and Reginald Carr, made national headlines.

"I talked to one member of City Council who had lived in Wichita for 33 years and didn't know what I was talking about," Reed said. "But the minute I mentioned the Carr brothers, he knew about that."

Two quadruple murders in little more than a week shook the city.

Some questioned why the killings of four young black people were eclipsed by the media coverage surrounding the subsequent slayings of four young white people.

Reed said she still hears people ask the question.

"How could one be any worse than the other, if the results were the same?" said Reed, now 29. "That's what angered me."

Arrest, confession

Oliver, 19, had been seeing Wheaton, 18. They had a volatile, violent relationship.

Detective Robert Chisholm, lead investigator on the case for the Wichita police, remembered the scene at the house. Wheaton's body seemed to be singled out in the corner of the other room.

Almost immediately, police wanted to find her boyfriend.

Chisholm can remember numerous cases where people who had information didn't want to talk. But he said this case was different.

"We did have people from the community coming forward and talking to us," he said. "We had people giving us information without being involved, but it was useful information."

That helped when Chisholm talked to Oliver, who told several different stories before providing a confession so detailed it matched the crime scene down to the location of errant bullets.

Oliver was arrested at his brother's house the afternoon of Dec. 7, 2000, with blood still on his shoes.

"Anytime you can get to somebody that fast, it helps," Chisholm said. "They don't have time to create very good alibis, or create good stories."

Another man, Earl Bell II, was also charged with four counts of murder but found not guilty at his trial. There was no evidence that he fired a gun.

Oliver admitted emptying his pistol on Levy, Williams and Ford.

Williams was visiting his cousin with his friend, Levy.

Oliver said he took Bell's gun to shoot Wheaton.

"He knew details you could only know if you were there," prosecutor Marc Bennett said.

Bennett said the killings of the four young people convinced him he wanted to spend his career as a prosecutor.

"There was just a lot of sadness for a lot of families," Bennett said. "When you stand up there and look over and there are all these families, you feel a real sense of obligation to seek justice for them. It gives you a real sense of what it means to say 'I appear for the state.' "

'A big deal'

The four aren't forgotten by Bennett.

"I know there's been some talk that this was given second fiddle, but it never was to me," Bennett said. "It never was to the cops who worked the case. It was a big deal then, it's a big deal now."

Oliver, now 28, did not respond to a letter sent to the Lansing Correctional Facility, where he's serving a life sentence with no chance of parole until 2140.

Reed said at Oliver's trial in 2001 that she had hoped for a death sentence. But she's changed her mind.

"Before, I just hated him — now I pray for him," Reed said. "I'm glad he isn't on death row.

"Now, I have kids who are asking questions, and how do I teach them forgiveness, if I myself cannot forgive? I have forgiven him."

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