Police: Couple killed in robbery by someone they knew

Whatever money Terry Ballard and his boyfriend, Justen Smith, had when they arrived in Philadelphia this month had been blown on Fourth of July celebrations, weed, and a trip to Atlantic City, police and friends say.

Now, wanting to catch a bus back to Western Pennsylvania - where Ballard, 26, lied to his family about attending college - the pair needed money.

So, Wednesday afternoon, Ballard knocked on the door of Rufus and Gladys Perry, who lived two blocks away from his childhood home in Strawberry Mansion.

The retired couple - Rufus, or "Preacher," as he was known around the 2500 block of Spangler Street, was 79; Gladys, 66 - were so close with Ballard's grandmother that in recent years, as Rufus Perry grew infirm, she often sent over plates of food or family members to help with chores or errands.

On Wednesday, Gladys Perry thought Ballard was there to help with some "odds and ends" - to take some trash out of the yard and move some things into the basement. Instead, he had come to steal the money he thought she kept in an envelope in the kitchen, Homicide Capt. James Clark said Monday at a news conference announcing that Ballard and Smith had been charged with two counts of murder.

Once inside, Ballard unlocked the back door for Smith, police said. When Gladys Perry spotted Ballard rooting through the kitchen, he attacked the woman who had known him from childhood, punching her and dragging her into the living room, where he choked her to death.

When Rufus Perry went to his wife's aid, Smith attacked him, punching him and holding a pillow to his face, Clark said.

But Smith was unable to kill him, so Ballard took the pillow and asphyxiated him, Clark said. Perry fell on the stairs, close to his wife.

Unable to find any envelope with cash, Ballard and Smith ran off with a change jar that held about $120 in coins, police said. They also snatched Rufus Perry's gold chain from his neck.

Worried when her parents did not answer the phone, the couple's daughter, Keya, discovered her parents early Thursday.

Ballard and Smith did not run far, though - never catching that bus back to Western Pennsylvania.

On Friday, homicide detectives canvassing Spangler for witnesses received a tip from one of the Perrys' neighbors, who said she saw a white man in their backyard Wednesday afternoon. The man looked to be handing something into the basement door, the neighbor said. The Perrys never let strangers into their home, she added.

Then, another neighbor said the same man was now around the corner, arguing with Ballard.

When police approached, Ballard and Smith ran, but were quickly caught.

"They snatched them up and brought them to the Homicide Unit," Clark said, "and after questioning them for a little bit, they both admitted to their involvement in this brutal and senseless murder."

The two were being held Monday evening, awaiting arraignment. There is no bail in murder cases.

On Spangler, the Perrys' front door lay shattered on the front porch. Firefighters broke it down after someone called them when the daughter screamed Thursday morning. A police patrol car idled, holding the house as a crime scene.

Neighbors recalled the Perrys as a quiet and polite couple who did not come outside as much after Rufus grew ill.

For years, the couple worked together at Hahnemann University Hospital; Gladys as a nurse, Rufus in the dietary department.

They had met at the hospital in the 1970s and were married in the house on Spangler, Renee Ross, Rufus' Perry's daughter from a previous marriage, said last week.

Before he fell ill, Rufus Perry loved to dance to Motown and jazz records he kept in the basement, and he took Gladys out on dinner dates and to the movies.

No one on Spangler could exactly recall how he earned the nickname "Preacher," but some said they suspected it was because of his formal manner and dignified dress.

"They were beautiful people," a neighbor named Doris said.

Rufus Perry also had worked a job with the city Streets Department, where their nephew Donald Carlton is deputy commissioner for sanitation, his family said.

Visiting Spangler on Monday, Carlton said his grief was compounded by the knowledge that his loved ones were killed by "someone they had trusted."

This was not the first time Ballard allegedly burglarized a neighbor's home.

In 2008, he and another man broke into the home of a woman who lived on nearby Harold Street. The woman was not home at time of the burglary, but a neighbor who knew Ballard spotted him leaving the house, according to court records.

The homeowner reported to police that her television, microwave, air conditioner, and pocketbook had been stolen, and that her mirrors and furniture had been slashed and broken.

That case was dropped after a witness failed several times to appear in court.

Neighbors sitting in the parking lot outside Ballard's family's home in the Cecil B. Moore public housing complex said Ballard had returned to Philadelphia in early July with Smith and other friends from Indiana, Pa., where he has lived for the last couple of years.

Ballard told police that he and Smith had come to Philadelphia to celebrate the Fourth. His neighbors said they mostly sat in the parking lot smoking marijuana, occasionally talking about a trip they made to Atlantic City.

Ballard told neighbors that he had been lying to his family about being a student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and stayed upstate doing odd jobs, neighbors said.

One man who did not want his name used said Ballard was known in the neighborhood for petty crimes, "nickel-and-dime stuff."

But a woman sitting with a friend in folding chairs near the Ballard home, who also did not want her name published, said Ballard sometimes turned angry.

"If he didn't get his way, he threw tantrums, where you could see the rage come out," the woman said.

The other friends had left, the neighbors said, leaving just Ballard and Smith.

Inside the Ballard home, Ballard's sister, Helena, and his grandmother, Helen Brown, sat with the shades lowered and watched the afternoon news report on what Terry Ballard had done.

"I am so sorry," said Helen Brown, sitting in a chair by the television. "They were close friends of mine. I cared a lot for both of them."

Helena Ballard said the Perrys had "watched" her and her brother grow up.

"They were at every holiday," she said, "they were here for every event my grandmother ever held."

When Rufus Perry fell ill, Brown sent food every Sunday and sent Helena Ballard or someone else to run to the store for groceries and cigarettes.

She said she hoped the Perry family wouldn't judge her grandmother for "a decision that Terry made."

"We just want to express our condolences to the Perry family," Helena Ballard said. "We are so sorry."



215-854-2759 @MikeNewall

Inquirer staff writers Joseph A. Slobodzian and Susan Snyder contributed to this article.