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Boy's killing shocks city

Murphy moved to tears in calling for help in finding brutal killer

Wednesday, September 27, 2000

By Michael A. Fuoco, Jonathan D. Silver and Johnna A. Pro, Post-Gazette Staff Writers

By Monday night, the hopes of Pittsburgh police Lt. Michael Sippey and Sgt. Paul McComb had all but disappeared.

 
  City Councilwoman Barbara Burns talks about the slaying of Scott Drake, who lived in her neighborhood. (John Beale, Post-Gazette)

More than 24 hours had passed since 11-year-old Scott C. Drake, on his silver bicycle as usual, had last been reported seen -- about five blocks from his East Allegheny home. Every lead they followed had led nowhere.

Their search stymied, the detectives increasingly suspected they were not going to find Scott alive.

"We were hoping we'd find him with a friend," Sippey said, "but we had exhausted all leads looking for a live child."

They decided to check two remote areas not far from where Scott was last seen, areas they knew from their days working as uniformed officers at the North Side station.

The first site, near a railroad line by Pressley Street, was empty.

That wasn't true of the second, a grass and shrub-covered lot directly across East Ohio Street at Madison Avenue where Scott had last been seen.

"I saw the bike in the bushes," Sippey said softly. "I scanned my flashlight around and then I saw his legs."

The time was 9:45 p.m.

 
    Map of murder site

 
 

There, about 150 feet off East Ohio Street, near a chain link fence in a patch of ground bounded by ramps for Route 28, the Veteran's Bridge and Interstate 279, the missing person case ended. The investigation of one of the city's most brutal homicides began.

The victim was naked, face up with his hands behind his back. His genitalia had been cut off, and the body parts were missing. His trunk, from sternum to abdomen, had been sliced.

His clothes were stacked neatly next to the body. One shoe was found a few feet away.

Investigators, who are working overtime on the case, yesterday had little to report.

"We'll work this case as long as it takes to come to a successful conclusion," pledged Deputy Police Chief Charles Moffatt, who said the FBI and Allegheny County Police are assisting city officers.

In detailing for reporters the results of his autopsy -- Scott died of asphyxiation -- Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht repeatedly referred to the killing as "bizarre." He said that the boy was killed before his genitals were cut off.

He could not say whether Scott had been sexually assaulted but speculated the killing could have been sexual or ritualistic.

Because of the lack of blood at the scene, where rain had been falling, investigators could not say for certain whether Scott was killed and mutilated there or if the crime occurred elsewhere, Wecht added.

Two profilers from the FBI's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, formerly the behavioral sciences unit, arrived yesterday and were helping guide detectives by providing information about what has worked in similar cases in other parts of the country.

It is very unusual for the unit to send one specialist to join an investigation this early and highly unusual for them to send two.

Dr. Fred Berlin, founder of the Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic, said in an interview that the mutilation in the case suggested sexual sadism and the possibility that the attacker will repeat the violence.

"That's not the kind of thing that somebody would do as an isolated incident," Berlin said. "Anyone who does this is clearly a very disturbed person."

So horrified by the crime were fellow North Siders Mayor Tom Murphy and City Councilwoman Barbara Burns that both broke down during an afternoon news conference yesterday outside the North Side police station, during which they made an unusual and personal plea for help.

"Let me not mince words. This has been a brutal crime committed in the city of Pittsburgh. This city needs to be shocked about that," Murphy said, standing before top police officials and aides. "We need your help."

It didn't take much to guess at the dark thoughts flitting through the mayor's mind, the possibilities he envisioned along with every other young boy's parents.

"This comes close to home," Murphy said, his voice choked with emotion. He said his 10-year-old son, TJ, goes to school a block away from Scott's house. "I take this very personally, as I'm sure everybody does in the city who has young children."

Murphy's presence underscored the urgency of the case, as well as the desperate need police have for information.

Burns, her eyes red from crying, said she knew Scott from the neighborhood and had seen him Saturday night helping a woman with her groceries at the local Giant Eagle.

Together, Murphy and Burns pledged a reward of $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in the crime. Another $2,000 is being offered by Pittsburgh Crime Stoppers. Anyone with information is asked to call the Pittsburgh homicide squad at 412-665-4050.

"We need help to solve this crime," Murphy pleaded. "I encourage people to be vigilant because the brutality of this crime, against an 11-year-old boy, is something this community has not seen and we don't want to see again."

"Believe me, "Burns said, "the person who did this will do this to another child. We need to get this person and put them away."

Murphy said Scott came from a broken and troubled home. His father, Christopher Scott Drake, 33, is in the Allegheny County Jail awaiting trial on charges of criminal mischief and aggravated assault. His bond was set at $5,000 and detainers have been placed on him for parole violations on previous convictions.

Friends and neighborhood residents described Scott as a street-wise city kid whose playground consisted of the blocks surrounding his Deutschtown home. He knew everyone in his little corner of the world, and they knew him. He could annoy the neighbors as much as he could amuse them, ringing doorbells and running through shops like a prankster.

Some called him a ruffian. Others said he had a big heart and helped elderly people carry their groceries.

"He wanted to be liked and he wanted to like people. He was a good kid. I know people say that, but this is my heart talking to you," said John Robinson of Fineview, who identified himself as a cousin on the Drake side of the family.

Walter J. Sperling, owner of the nearby funeral home that is handling Scott's burial, said the boy was always outside.

"He was a neat kid. He was inquisitive about everything. He always wanted to know what you were doing," Sperling said.

On Sunday afternoon, in the hours before he disappeared, Scott helped a disabled woman who lives nearby plant some flowers.

He earned $6 for his efforts and was looking forward to helping the woman do other work, said neighbor Bette McDevitt, a free-lance writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who is believed to be one of the last people to have seen Scott alive.

McDevitt, who lived across from Scott and admitted she was charmed by him, said he had called her at 4 p.m. Sunday and wanted to go swimming after his afternoon of gardening.

McDevitt agreed to take him and by 4:30 p.m., she, Scott and his cousin Sheena, with whom he lived, were off to the Oliver Bath House on the South Side.

The children swam for a short time, got dressed and McDevitt drove them back to her home. She pulled her car into the garage and the children got out, she said. They were anxious to get back outside because they had seen firetrucks and ambulances a block away and wanted to see what was going on.

McDevitt said the threesome made their way into the house and Scott and Sheena walked out her front door.

It was around 5:30 p.m.

"I closed the door. I didn't watch them go into their house. It was light out," McDevitt said.

McDevitt said she assumed that the children walked across the street to their house to drop off their towels. She saw and spoke with Sheena later, but never saw Scott again and didn't know he was missing until reports that his body had been found were broadcast Monday night.

In fact, others in the neighborhood, including Dorothy Smith, who formerly was related to the Drake family by marriage, saw Scott on his bike later Sunday evening.

Smith, a bartender at the Promiscuous Lounge on East Ohio Street, said Scott stopped in the doorway, which was open, sometime around 7 p.m.

"He always called me Aunt Dorothy. He always hugged me. That was my boy," Smith said.

On Sunday night, Scott greeted her from the doorway on his bicycle.

She asked him if he wanted some potato chips.

"He said, 'I ain't got no money.' I said, 'That's not what I asked you' and I threw him a bag of chips and said, 'Be careful,' " Smith recalled.

Scott rode off with a smile and wave. That was the last she saw of him.

Murphy said police were first notified that Scott was missing at 11:40 p.m. Sunday. Officers at the North Side station informed the bureau's Night Felony squad at the investigations branch in East Liberty. Within 20 minutes, Scott's description was being broadcast on the police radio.

Officers began looking for Scott and by Monday morning had spoken with his friends and family -- he lived with his mother, grandmother, brother and cousin -- and were visiting his hangouts. When morning came without any word of the boy, police contacted Pittsburgh Public Schools, where Scott was a fifth- grader at Spring Hill Elementary School.

Based on his history, there was no indication that Scott had run away or was playing hooky. At one point, though, investigators thought he might have skipped school with a friend who also didn't show up for classes. But that lead didn't pan out when the friend was found at his home without any knowledge of Scott's whereabouts, Murphy said.

Early in the afternoon, McComb, of the sex assault/family crisis squad that investigates missing persons, distributed fliers to the media with Scott's picture and his description.

Hours later, McComb's and Sippey's intuition took over and they found Scott's body.

Pittsburgh schools Superintendent John W. Thompson visited the family yesterday morning to offer condolences along with Spring Hill Elementary Principal Thomas Nichols and a counselor from Mercy Behavioral Health.

"Scott was known and well-liked by the entire student body. It is impossible to describe the pain we feel about his tragic loss," Nichols said. "We want to do all that we can to help police find whoever is responsible for this monstrous act."

Late yesterday morning, officers gathered to comb the large, grassy lot where Scott's body was found. Yellow police tape was strung around the lot along Madison Avenue and down East Ohio Street past a bank of parked police cars.

About 18 uniformed officers, some wearing orange and yellow rain slickers, spread out in a horizontal line along East Ohio Street.

"OK, let's move out," shouted Pittsburgh police Cmdr. Ronald Freeman, the city's top homicide detective and the organizer of the band of officers.

Under a gray sky, they walked forward through mud and wet grass, heads bowed. Straining their eyes for clues, the officers probed in the grass with collapsible batons, peered into puddles and turned over pieces of garbage in gloved hands.

"All we're doing now is searching the scene in daylight," Freeman said.

They made their way toward the highway, toward two small, white tents that police erected the night before, one marking the spot where Scott's body was found.

A few hours later, a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter joined the search. It landed in a tight spot among the saplings and shrubs planted in the lot by the ARC House, an alcohol recovery center across the street, as part of a beautification project. Pittsburgh homicide Detective Dale Canofari hopped aboard with a camera to take pictures.

Police yesterday did not give a clear chronology of when Scott was last seen. But Smith said Scott was spotted near the ARC House shortly after she spoke with him.

ARC House Assistant Director Charles Kane Jr. said that police did not interview any staff members or residents of the home. He said ARC residents have a 6:30 p.m. curfew and all residents were accounted for on Sunday and Monday nights.

Freeman said police have fielded several phone calls and questioned a number of people, but no one is in custody.

James Knight, 48, said police questioned him for several hours late Monday night in connection with the killing. Knight lives in a tidy single room on the third floor of a boarding house next door to Scott's house on Lockhart Street. He said he knew Scott from the neighborhood but had not seen him for a week.

Knight said police asked him if he knew Scott, what route he takes to go home when he's out, and what time he leaves his room.

Scott is survived by his mother, Karen Louder; his father, Christopher Drake; a brother, Joseph Drake; and a maternal grandmother Arlene Louder, also of the North Side.

Visitation will be today from 7 to 9 p.m. and tomorrow from 2 to 9 p.m. at Sperling Funeral Home Inc., 408 Cedar Ave., North Side, where services will be held at 10 a.m. Friday. Burial will follow in Mount Royal Cemetery, Shaler.

Contributions to the family can be made in Scott's name to the North Side Leadership Conference, 430 East Ohio St., Suite 300, Pittsburgh 15212.


Staff writers Jan Ackerman and Anita Srikameswaran contributed to this report.



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