Heaven's Gain - PhMuseum

Heaven's Gain

Justin Maxon

2013 - Ongoing

United States

July 5th, 2013. “Hey Bro, well its 7 months today since you was taken away from us . . . I know you don’t want to see us down & heart broken. It is going to get harder b4 it get easy but we trying.”

Since the murder of her twin brother on December 5, 2012, Elena Jo McElwee, writes to him on the 5th day of every month. She fills the blank space on her bedroom walls with notes to her brother. She must maintain this connection with him. She must never forget.

In Chester, PA, families are seeking justice and yearning for ways to heal. With 300 unsolved murders in the last two decades, Chester is known as a place where you can get away with murder. The City is a microcosm of the structural and racial inequalities that pervade American society. Donald Newton, activist and lifetime resident, observed "Night now in Chester is night now in many places—night now in Philadelphia, in Camden and every other place you can think of...

Over the last 3 years, I’ve collected stories of families where justice was not served after the murder of a loved one. This project is a deep investigation into the emotional, physical and spiritual landscape that transpires from unresolved trauma. The photographic representation is a series of triptychs showcasing a particular families struggle for justice. Each one contains an illustration made from a piece of ephemeral material from the family, along with a family portrait, and an image from the murder scene captured around the time of day the crime was committed. Both photographs are captured with a 4x5 camera. Imperatively, to give the families’ a vehicle in their own depiction, I’ve collected ephemeral material (letters, love songs, drawings, diary entries and other objects), which are interwoven into the presentation.

My ultimate assumption of this work will be to forge pathways towards justice, healing and restitution by serving as an archeological index for investigating, [dis]assembling and [re]framing each murder as a living memory that simultaneously traverses and molds the landscape, psyche and soma of Chester.

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  • LOVED ONE LOST:
    NAME: Terrance Webster
    AGE: 2
    SEX: Male
    DOD: 6/14/10
    TIME: 2:30am
    LOCATION: Chester Apartments, 9th St and Lamokin St.

    CIRCUMSTANCES LEADING UP TO MURDER:
    Webster, age 2, son of Tisheta Green. He was killed on June 14, 2010 at 2:30 am. The incident occurred as the family was returning to their home in the Chester Apartments, after spending the evening at a family member’s house. Word on the street was the father of the children had a conflict with men from the area and they had threatened to kill him. As they were entering their apartment door in the early morning, 4 shots were fired from the darkness beyond directed at the father of the children who was carrying Terrance in his arms. The child was struck in the head and died shortly after in the hospital. . The father of the children had information about who committed the crime and would not say anything to the police. Unbeknownst to the mother (Tisheta Green), the grandmother of the children, had a life insurance policy on the kids and after receiving a large sum of money left town with her son, the father of the children. They have not been in contact with Tisheta since. She had to live in the apartment for another year after the shooting occurred because public housing would not relocate her. Thomas witnessed his brother being shot and won’t sleep alone, preferring to sleep with his older brother Tyrese. Tisheta now lives with her two remaining children in The Ruth L. Bennett Homes public housing.

    IN PHOTOGRAPH:

    NAME OF FAMILY MEMBERS:
    Mother: Tisheta Green, 27
    Brother: Tyrese Green, 11
    Brother: Thomas Webster, 6

  • LOVED ONE LOST:
    NAME: Gary Brightwell
    AGE: 30
    SEX: Male
    DOB: 4/16/68
    DOD: 10/6/98
    TIME: 6pm
    LOCATION: Sunoco Gas Station, 9th St and Kerlin St. Pump number 5.

    CIRCUMSTANCES LEADING UP TO MURDER:
    Brightwell’s wife at the time, Carla Young-Brightwell, went to the grocery story and left her husband at home because he wasn’t feeling well. Brightwell got a phone call and went to get gas in his car and was shot once and killed at pump number 5 in front of a lot of people. No witness statements were taken.

    Young-Brightwell, tells an intricate story with a long history that lead up to his murder. She claims that his family were directly involved in his murder. According to Young-Brightwell, his family set him up because was he abandoning them to become a family man instead of continuing the lifestyle he was living in streets, selling drugs and gambling. “He wasn’t down, and went against the grain.” A month prior to his murder, she recalls an argument he had with somebody who wanted him to be involved in a drug deal and he said no.

    The story really begins back when Young-Brightwell’s mother died of cancer when she was 17 after a being in a chemical spill while working as a chemist at Scott Paper in Chester. She received a settlement and then invested in property. Carla then marries her former husband. Brightwell then develops brain cancer and was 5 year in remission when he was killed; so his family had a life insurance policy on him. Before Brightwell’s murder, his mother convinced the family put all of their property in her name. When he was killed, his mother refused to give up the insurance policy, took all of the property that Carla once owned, and put her and her kids on the street. After Brightwell’s death, Carla was so broke she had to take a loan out to burry him. She went from having college funds for her kids set up at 24 to $6.25 in her pocket. Shortly before being murdered, the grandmother asked the couple if she could have one of their kids. The trade off, according to Young-Brightwell, was that if she wanted to get anything back that was taken, she had to give Brightwell’s mother her kids. So she walked away with nothing but a trash bag and her three kids.

    IN PHOTOGRAPH:

    NAME OF FAMILY MEMBERS:

    Daughter: Shanell Brightwell, 26
    Grandson: Jabrae Davis, 4
    Granddaughter: Brezhae Davis, 4

  • LOVED ONE LOST:
    NAME: Arthur “Art” McElwee
    AGE: 23
    SEX: Male
    DOB: 10/8/89
    DOD: 12/5/12
    TIME: 7pm
    LOCATION: Alleyway off 9th St, between Booth St and Clover St.

    CIRCUMSTANCES LEADING UP TO MURDER:
    According to accounts by Arthur McElwee’s family and local residents, McElwee was murdered out of jealousy. He was a white man in a black community, but had a Muslim beard, which is common in the region for young black men. According to his twin sister, he was a ladies’ man and would often have a black girlfriend. Local young men from his block, near the McCaffery Village, an area known for its high frequency of violent crime, would often harassed him. McElwee was even jumped on his front steps not long before he was killed. The day he was murdered, McElwee walked down to the store with two of his friends. Along the way he saw a man he knew and shook hands with him, “gave him daps.” Returning home, McElwee and his friends walked down an alleyway close to his house, and the same man who gave him daps moments before opened fire. He was shot and died on the scene. The two young men would not reveal who the shooter was, and even denied they were there when he shook the man’s hand.

    IN PHOTOGRAPH:

    NAME OF FAMILY MEMBERS:

    Mother: Elena McElwee, 56
    Twin Sister: Elena Jo McElwee, 23
    Sisters: Dawn McElwee, 31
    Aisha McElwee, 38

  • Collage of material memorializing the murder of Karim “K-Dog” Muhammad Alexander.

  • LOVED ONE LOST:
    NAME: Linda Rose Brown
    SEX: Female
    AGE: 44
    DOD: Approximate- Late March 1998
    TIME: Unknown
    LOCATION: Edwards St, corner of highway 291

    CIRCUMSTANCES LEADING UP TO MURDER:
    In late March of 1998, Brown went missing. Her body was found two weeks later in an abandoned building hidden under 10 old mattresses. A homeless man, who was sleeping on top of the beds, said he smelled something and pulled each one off until he saw the body. The day Brown’s body was found, her son, Tyrone King was called by a police officer at the scene and was told to come identify the body at the abandoned house. Based on physical evidence, the police told King she was strangled to death by a wire hanger, then shot in the head, and later dumped. King’s stepfather was a suspect and left town a week after Brown was found. There was not enough evidence to charge the stepfather, though King still believes he was involved because the abandoned building was located right next to the house where he lived. The building was torn down in 2006. The murder still remains unsolved.

    IN PHOTOGRAPH:

    NAME OF FAMILY MEMBERS:
    Son: Tyrone King, “TK,” 36
    Daughter: Hammenah Rollie, 28
    Son: Amin Rollie, 28

  • LOVED ONE LOST:
    NAME: Rasheer Wootson
    AGE: 16
    SEX: Male
    DOB: 7/4/1975
    DOD: 1993
    TIME: Evening
    LOCATION: Carla's Lane @ 9th street. Close to the entrance of the Ruth L. Bennett Homes.

    CIRCUMSTANCES LEADING UP TO MURDER:
    Wootson was seeing a girl in the Ruth L. Bennett Homes and went to meet her. As he waited for her, he finds himself sitting on some man’s car. The guy comes out of the house yelling at him to get off his car. After an altercation Wootson is then shot with a shotgun in the stomach and dies at the scene. Earlier in the evening, his mother told him not to go up there, that she had a bad feeling. Before he left, she also told him to leave behind what he had in his back pocket. She took it out. A .22 pistol. She stuck it under his bed.

    IN PHOTOGRAPH:

    NAME OF FAMILY MEMBERS:
    Neice: Dinah Bacon

  • LOVED ONE LOST:
    NAME: Jabril Bradley
    AGE: 20
    DOB: 10/6/1990
    SEX: Male
    DATE OF DEATH: 9/1/2011
    TIME: After Midnight
    LOCATION: 9th St and Ave of the States.

    CIRCUMSTANCES LEADING UP TO MURDER: Bradley was riding his bike home from a friend’s house on the east side of Chester, when an unknown gunman opened fire. He was struck in the back once, and continued to ride his bike home. A number of blocks later he collapsed to the ground from blood loss. He bled to death on the street. The police pronounced him dead upon arrival. Bradley’s family claim that he was shot because of mistaken identity and the bullet wasn’t meant for him. According to his mother, Bradley was supposed to still be in prison. He was serving a sentence for possession of a controlled substance and was allegedly released before his time was up. Within weeks of his murder the FBI came looking for Bradley around his mothers house, claiming that he got released because of a mistake.

    IN PHOTOGRAPH:

    NAME OF FAMILY MEMBERS:
    Sister to Jabril Bradley: Danita Harris, 30.
    Son to Danita Harris: Jah’lil Harris, 3.

  • Collage of material memorializing the murder of James Hamler III.

  • LOVED ONE LOST:
    NAME: Emill Smith
    AGE: 22
    SEX: Male
    DOB: 1/30/86
    DOD: 3/11/2008
    TIME: 6:45pm
    LOCATION: Green Bar. On E 7th St, Between Caldwell St, and Mcllvain St.

    CIRCUMSTANCES LEADING UP TO MURDER:
    In the early evening of March 11th 2008, 6:45pm, Emill Smith, 22, was leaving the Green Bar. According to accounts by witnesses at the scene, he kissed a friend on the forehead and was getting into a car when he was shot 7 times in the head. He wore a chain that was worth upwards of 10,000 dollars, that was stolen from him the night he was killed. The story that came out shortly after is that Smith was good friends with a young married women named Shante and was murdered by her husband who thought they were having an affair. Her husband had suspected an affair for a period of time and one night, according to Shante, the couple was fighting and she told him in anger that in fact Smith and her were sleeping together. The husband then told Shante that he was going to kill Smith. Shante did not say any of this to the police but later revealed the information to Smith’s mother, Valerie. She insisted during this meeting, that her and Smith were never intimate. Around 2 to 3 months after Emill was shot, Shante’s husband was shot and grievously wounded, but survived. According to Valerie, one year after her son was murdered she called the detective who was on the case to inquire about raising charges against the husband and he told her that the judge wont charge Smith’s killer because of his health condition. The murder still remains unsolved.

    IN PHOTOGRAPH:

    NAME OF FAMILY MEMBERS:
    Mother: Valerie Maxwell, 43
    Daughter: Janiyah Van, 8
    Brother: Khaneef Taylor, 18,
    Brother: Ka’Marion Taylor, 8
    Brother: Ka’Tavion Taylor 8

  • LOVED ONE LOST:
    NAME: MacMatherson Miller
    AGE: 25
    SEX: Male
    DOB: 6/12/83
    DOD: 10/7/2009
    TIME: 12:10am
    LOCATION: W 7th St, between Booth St and Harwick St.
    CIRCUMSTANCES LEADING UP TO MURDER:
    Miller received a phone call from a friend and was told to meet on the corner of 7th and Booth. As he waited in his car, his killer opened fire killing him instantly.

    IN PHOTOGRAPH:

    NAME OF FAMILY MEMBERS:
    Girlfriend: Tareeah Garrett, 31
    Girl friend’s son: Asir Hudson, 8

    MEMORIES:

    Miller had great promise in High School, where he was the star QB for Chester High School. He was inducted into the Chester High School Hall of fame. He was 1st Team All Del Val 1999 & 2000, 1st Team All Delco 2000, 1st Team All Area 2000, and Player of the week numerous times during the 2000 season. Upwards of 33 colleges had expressed in interest in having him attend school to play football. He was raised by his grandmother and didn’t have any male role models in his life. The streets pulled him away from his dream and he made his livelihood in the drug game. In August of the same year, Miller survived being shot 10 times and had recently begun walking again shortly before he was killed

  • Collage of material memorializing the murder of Arthur “Art” McElwee.

  • LOVED ONE LOST:
    NAME: Eddie “Fast Eddie” Swain-Lane
    AGE: 29
    SEX: Male
    DOB: 4/4/79
    DOD: 7/6/08
    TIME: 8-9pm
    LOCATION: 3rd St and Palmer St.

    CIRCUMSTANCES LEADING UP TO MURDER:
    Swain-Lane died after tying to save his girlfriend, Shanae Bailey, 23, and her 3-year-old daughter, Anaija Bailey, as a fire ripped through their home. The young man was down the street when he realized his home was on fire. He ran to the house and made the decision to go inside the burning home. Swain-Lane’s and Bailey’s bodies were both found wrapped in each other’s arms in the staircase. The death was rule suspicious but no investigation was completed. Baron Lane, the young man’s older brother claimed that a cigarate on the couch is what potentially could have caused the fire. He also said that the last person who was at the house was Bailey’s mother, whom had gotten into an argument with her daughter the night before over money. Her mother was a drug addict and wanted money from the family. Lane suspects that Bailey’s mother had something to do with the fire.

    ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
    Baron Lane got a phone call from a friend while he was at work, who told him that his brother had been in a house fire. He didn’t think much about it because he knew that Eddie could handle himself and get out. Ten minutes later, he received another call saying that his brother went into a burning building and didn’t come out. He asked to get off work early but wasn’t able to leave for another 2 hours. He raced to the scene from work driving 100 mph and found a crowd of people, including media, around the house.

    IN PHOTOGRAPH:

    NAME OF FAMILY MEMBERS:
    Brother: Baron Lane, 38
    Nephew: Tylee Lane, 12
    Nephew: Baron Lane, 9

  • LOVED ONE LOST:
    NAME: James Hamler III
    AGE: 31
    SEX: Male
    DOB: 8/14/76
    DOD: 6/17/2007
    TIME: Late night
    LOCATION: Near American Legion Bar. West 7th St and Lloyd St.

    CIRCUMSTANCES LEADING UP TO MURDER:
    Hamler III was outside of the American Legion bar late night talking with friends when a car drove by and opened fire on the crowd. He was hit and died on the scene. He had just celebrated his first father’s day the same day he was killed.

    IN PHOTOGRAPH:

    NAME OF FAMILY MEMBERS:
    Mother: “Ernestine Hamler, 57
    Tiana Hamler, 14
    Tyra Hamler, 11
    Taquan Hamler, 16
    Antoni Hamler, 22
    Carter Moore, 2
    Jade Hamler, 6

  • LOVED ONE LOST:
    NAME: Karim “K-Dog” Muhammad Alexander
    AGE: 29
    SEX: Male
    DOB: 1/15/79
    DOD: 8/5/08
    TIME: 7pm
    LOCATION: On Patterson St close to Penn St.

    CIRCUMSTANCES LEADING UP TO MURDER:

    Karim, “K-Dog,” Alexander walked around the corner from his house and was talking to a friend on the open street, when he was shot at least 7 times by an unknown gunman. According to a local resident, he saw a young man pacing back and forth on the street just before Alexander was killed. His mother said that people from the area claimed Alexander was responsible for the death of another young man and the killing was retaliation, though she does not believe the rumors. In the months prior to Alexander’s murdered, a war had been waging between two adjacent neighborhoods over territory, 5th Street and the William Penn Housing Projects. The street the Alexander family lived on was right in the middle. They claimed to have constantly heard gunshots for over a year. A family car was even shot up. The most violent period of 2008 in Chester was the week 8 people were killed, Alexander being one of them. The Police have found one suspect believed to be involved in Alexander’s death but not enough evidence to prosecute anyone.

    IN PHOTOGRAPH:

    NAME OF FAMILY MEMBERS:
    Mother: Sherrice Alexander Hill, 59
    Father: Robert Hill, 64
    Son: Karim Alexander, 7
    Sister: Tara Watts, 41
    Sister: Ayla Muhammad, 20
    Sister: Sharifah Muhammad, 17


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