By: Steven C. Anderson
July 6, 1974 - 6 years before I was born, my uncle Cedric was murdered. The details of his death, almost 40 years ago are still unclear. All I recall being told is where he was found. His body was found in Allen Park near the old Veterans Administration Hospital. He was shot in the head and left to die. At the time, the news reported it as a John Doe. The fact that his name was never mentioned always bothered my mother. Even today, when a death is reported as unidentified or “John Doe” it strikes a nerve because as she puts it; “that’s someone’s son, daughter, mother, or father.” Growing up we were always told, “someone needs to know where you’re at.” Back then, it seemed extreme but as an adult it makes all the sense in the world. How do you not have a little PTSD after losing your brother? A brother that was a few months away from fatherhood being taken away so violently before his baby girl was born. A daughter who would now grow up never knowing her father. Living this experience through stories and a few photos has always been “different” but it’s especially close to my heart because his name “Cedric” is my middle name. Most people don’t use their middle name often, but I’ve always made it a point to use mine as a connection.
Late March 1997, I lost another uncle. This time it wasn’t violence but lung cancer. My uncle Sonny was one of the coolest dudes around. Everyone in the neighborhood loved and admired him. He loved sports, loved people, but above all, loved his family. He was a big baseball fan and would always take us down to the old Tiger Stadium to sit in the bleachers. He was diagnosed with lung cancer around 1994 or 1995. This was a shock to everyone because he wasn’t a smoker. He went through a few rounds of chemo therapy but seemed to be coming out on the other side of it.
I was only 16 at the time and I knew something was going on with his health but didn’t really know it was cancer. I knew it was serious when he showed up with a bald head. He always had fairly long dreadlocks so that was a reality shock to everyone. His brother (my uncle) decided to shave his head in support… “more on him later.” Back in ’97, we didn’t have google so I kind of had to piece the seriousness of his illness together on my own. In early ’97 his health started to fade, he was hospitalized a lot. I had just got my full driver’s license and the first time my parents allowed me to drive a car alone without an adult was to visit him in the hospital. Although I knew he was sick seeing him in a hospital bed withering away made it real. But through it all he always wanted to talk about sports and particularly how I was doing in baseball. His first question to me was always “have you been wearing those ankle weights on your wrists?” And “are you playing in your glasses?” I didn’t even think my glasses did anything for me back then but looking back I really couldn’t see. Who knows how much better I’d have been if I did wear those glasses.
Easter was approaching and he was still fighting. Our high school baseball team was scheduled to travel to Florida for Spring Training over Easter vacation. It was a trip I’d really been looking forward to taking. We were going for training but there was a lot of fun planned too. We were staying and playing at the Disney Wide World of Sports. It wasn’t even open yet, we were going to be a part of the inaugural training season. About three weeks before we were set to leave my uncle was placed in hospice. I learned this from overhearing adult conversation. Again, 1997 - no smart phone, no google, I had no idea what hospice was but I knew it couldn’t be good because he was leaving the hospital. Why would someone so sick leave the hospital? He still fought until he couldn’t. Two days before we were set to travel he passed. I was hurt. I really looked forward to talking to him about playing at Disney in the Atlanta Braves spring training stadium. The next few days were a fog so I don’t even remember when or how the decision was made that I would go to Florida and miss the funeral. I remember my parents sitting me down and explaining that the funeral would be during the time I would be gone. I did travel with the team and for the most part had a really good time. This was pre-social media and back when long distance calls were expensive so I didn’t have a lot of contact with anyone back home. I did call home from a pay phone at Disney the day of the funeral. Everyone seemed to be doing fine but it was strange not being there with my family. Looking back I don’t regret not being at the funeral. He was so sick for so long that I had time to say my goodbyes and reflect on our relationship. It’s just one of those things… when we think of a loved one that has passed away typically the memories of the funeral come to mind. Again, it was “different” not having that memory.
Labor Day 2007 was approaching and no one had heard from my uncle Carlton. That was strange because he always popped up on holidays. He would always swing by and drop off a gift or a dish. We were kind of worried but figured maybe he went on vacation. After a few days without contact a missing persons report was filed. We were in contact with the police department and they didn’t suspect any foul play. On Labor Day evening a detective came over and told us that they found a body but couldn’t make a positive ID. They needed my family to come down to the medical examiner to see if an ID could be made. My mom, uncle and aunts went but couldn’t make a decision. It wasn’t like on TV, where they pull a sheet back and you say “yes” or “no.” They put you in a room with a small crappy black and white monitor. Out of five people none could definitively say that was him. The next day the detectives were able to make appositive ID using his clothes and a tattoo that could still be made out. He had been stabbed multiple times and found dead in a vacant field. The temperature was so hot that his body had started to decompose.
There were no leads, no suspects and no motive. Even now, 12 years later we are no closer to getting justice. He had no enemies, no beefs, and no ill will toward anyone. His car was found a block away from the crime with his blood in it. He was in the area because he had purchased a home and was in the process of renovating it. He wasn’t robbed, just stabbed in his car and left to die. To us this was the definition of senseless. He was the type of person that would give you the clothes off of his back. He was honorably discharged from the US Marines, lived in San Diego for a few years, but ultimately returned home to be closer to his family. He had started a career at Chrysler and kept a low profile. He took pride in his home and neighborhood. He was the type of person that would cut his neighbors grass if he saw that it needed to be done. This was the same uncle that shaved his head in support of his brother Cedric that was going through chemo. The circumstances of his death caused us to have a closed casket funeral. At the time I didn’t think anything of that, but as I look back - that along with the losses of my other uncles has had an effect on me.
Looking back, losing three uncles, “all brothers” left me with a ton of “what ifs” and questions. I always felt as though I didn’t get true closure in one way or another with any of the three deaths. As I grow older my outlook on that has changed. We often use birthdays as a way to celebrate the beginning and we use funerals to celebrate at the end. I’m learning to celebrate the journey. I’m determined to live my life to the fullest while I’m here because memories truly last a lifetime.