Cops find slain grandmother's stolen car

Neighbors and friends light candles at a vigil for Regina Brunner Holmes in front of her home in Mount Airy. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

THE GRIEF WILL hang over Regina Brunner Holmes' friends and family like a heavy fog for God knows how long.

On Monday, they learned that the feisty, outgoing 85-year-old grandmother had been brutally murdered in her East Mount Airy home.

Last night, amid rain that fell in a downpour at times, about 30 of Holmes' neighbors gathered across the street from her home, sharing stories and laughing over warm memories of the woman, an avid painter who had lived on the block since the '80s.

They braved the rain to light candles next to Holmes' front door.

Holmes knew every face, neighbors said, and was quick to greet others as they walked through the winding, lush paths of their neighborhood.

Leon King and Randy Boucher, a couple whose porch hosted the rain-soaked vigil, spoke proudly of the richly hued Aztec-style painting that Holmes had given them a few weeks ago.

King enjoyed it so much, he decided to hang the circular, wooden piece in the kitchen after having Holmes sign it.

Holmes called the two often. "Every damn weekend," Boucher said. He said he knew on Sunday that something was wrong when Holmes didn't pick up her newspaper. He didn't see her or her car.

"It felt eerie: I knew something was up, but I didn't know what," said Boucher, who works in finance for the city government.

"Eerie" is a gross understatement for the barbaric murder that took place a few yards from where the mourners gathered.

The killer beat and stabbed Holmes in her bedroom and slashed her throat before making off with her car.

But yesterday, Holmes' loved ones could find a little solace in the fact that investigators were making progress in the hunt for the cold-blooded fiend.

Holmes' 2007 Toyota Corolla was found abandoned on Stillman Street near Clearfield in North Philadelphia.

A neighborhood resident had flagged down two police officers after she read a description of the car in the Daily News and recognized it on her block, a police source said.

The officers were rookies from Nicetown's 39th District who were walking their foot beat.

Detectives also discovered that Holmes' ATM card had been used in Northeast Philadelphia on Monday, the source said.

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who has long been a proponent of having cops walk foot beats, was pleased to hear that the rookie cops played a role in moving the probe forward.

"You're talking about an elderly person who, by all accounts, was a great individual and tried to help anybody that she could," he said.

"To have her brutally beaten and murdered like she was, it's terrible. There's no need for that kind of violence."

Ramsey noted that the city has a standing $20,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the killer, as it does in every open homicide case. Tipsters can call 215-686-TIPS.

At last night's vigil, Nina Ahmad, a committeewoman with the 2nd division of the 9th Ward, said she had gotten in touch with politicians including Councilwoman Cindy Bass and planned to reach out to legislators including state Sen. Art Haywood.

A community meeting to consider reviving the neighborhood's defunct town watch is in the works, she added.

After the vigil, as the candles across the street burned low, Leon King lamented the need for restarting the program.

"You read in the newspapers about these things happening in other neighborhoods, and you go, 'Oh, that's terrible,' " he said.

"But then when it happens in your neighborhood . . . you feel it."

- Staff writer Vinny Vella

contributed to this report.

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