Working tirelessly to find who killed W. Philly's Winnie Harris

Saundra Fulwood, right, hands out fliers of the two people of interest police are seeking in the death of West Philly community activist Winnie Harris at the Lancaster Avenue Arts and Jazz Festival in Powelton on July 15, 2017.

It’s been 10 years since Saundra Fulwood retired from the Philadelphia Police Department. But for the last five months, she’s been on a mission to help find a killer — whoever shot her close friend Winnie Harris, a beloved West Philadelphia community activist, in her Powelton home in February.

On July 15, Fulwood went to the Lancaster Avenue Jazz and Arts Festival at Saunders Park in Powelton with one goal in mind: to keep Harris’ unsolved homicide case alive. She passed out fliers, to festival attendees and vendors, showing the two men wanted by police for questioning in Harris’ death. She also handed them to people she passed on the street.

In all, she distributed 400 fliers. That’s at least 400 more people who might know something or someone.

“Oh, they didn’t find them yet?” people said to her when they saw the images of the two men on the fliers, Fulwood recalled Saturday. Or, “Oh, I remember her,” when they saw Harris’ photo on the “Justice for Winnie” fliers.

“They felt bad, had read about her,” Fulwood said. “They were refamiliarized with what happened.”

Camera icon Jessica Griffin/Staff Photographer
The “Justice for Winnie” flier.

Police said Saturday they now have leads in the case but are still looking for tips and the public’s help. They did not elaborate.

Harris, 65, the acting executive director and longtime volunteer coordinator at UC Green, a West Philadelphia-based group that plants and tends trees, was found shot to death Feb. 3 in her home, where she lived alone, on the 300 block of North Holly Street.

She is one of 22 females killed in homicides in the city so far this year, as of the end of the day Friday, according to police statistics. That’s a 37 percent increase from the number of female homicide victims (16) for the same period last year.

 

Camera icon Courtesy of family
Winnie Harris, with vegetables she grew in the Holly Street Neighbors Community Garden, which she founded in 2005.

 

Homicides overall are up this year compared with last, with 152 males slain as of Friday, up 16 percent from a year ago.

It’s been an unusually deadly spate for women over the last couple of weeks. Since July 12, five have been killed and four others critically wounded in the city, where 85 percent to 90 percent of homicide victims are typically men.

Four of the women who were killed or critically wounded were victims of domestic violence, police said. They were Michelle Saint Aude, 25, who was shot to death outside her Frankford home Tuesday by her ex-boyfriend, who hours later shot himself dead in an East Germantown home; a 48-year-old woman who was critically shot, allegedly by her husband, in a Kensington house Wednesday; and a 48-year-old woman who was stabbed to death and her daughter, 21, who was critically stabbed, both allegedly by the daughter’s ex-boyfriend in South Philadelphia on Thursday.

In the other cases, on July 12, Aslemarie Torres, 19, and her stepmother, Lylliana Mendoza, 35, were shot to death in the first minutes of the day as they sat in a truck parked in Fairhill; later that morning, Rosalind Wicks, 57, was fatally stabbed and beaten with a hammer in her Crescentville home. On July 16, a 42-year-old woman and a 45-year-old man were shot in the head by a 69-year-old homeowner who thought they were trying to get onto his Frankford property, police said. The man was killed; the woman was critically wounded. And on Tuesday, a 42-year-old woman was critically wounded when she was shot by a stray bullet while driving a car in Logan.

Kathy Stanchi, a professor at Temple University’s law school who teaches about law and feminism, said Saturday that “women have always been serious targets of violence.” But, she said, the violence has “become more open” – both in domestic violence and other cases.

“We are CEOs, we are factory workers, we are out there in your face more than we used to be,” she said. “That itself is going to make us targets. … The increased opportunities for women to be out in public life have made it more likely that we have been more open targets of violence.”

In Harris’ case, she was shot behind the closed doors of her tidy rowhouse. Her neighbors didn’t initially know anything was wrong. The two people sought by police in connection with the case were caught on surveillance video in an alleyway near Harris’ home in the overnight hours into Feb. 2.

One man is seen running in the alley with a gun, then hiding it in his clothing. He has been described as black, with a muscular build, bushy hair, and a receding hairline. The other man, seen walking separately in the alley, is described as black, with possible facial hair on his chin.

It wasn’t until later when a neighbor noticed something amiss – a second-floor front window of Harris’ home was open on that cold winter day. The neighbor called Harris’ nephew, who went to her home on Feb. 3 and couldn’t get in. Police were then alerted.

About 8:20 p.m., officers found Harris fatally shot in her second-floor front bedroom. But why? Nothing of value appeared to have been taken from her house.

Over the years, Harris was involved in the planting of hundreds, if not thousands, of trees in the city as part of her work with UC Green, friends of hers have said.

She was also known for having created the Holly Street Neighbors Community Garden on the block where she lived. Her daughter, Neche Harris, has set up a website, justiceforwinnie.com, dedicated to remembering her mother.

Fulwood, her mother’s friend, had worked as a narcotics officer in the Police Department. Her husband, Tony, who died in June 2015, was also a police officer. He had served as bodyguard for Frank Rizzo when Rizzo was police commissioner and mayor; for Lynne Abraham when she was district attorney; and for Ronald Castille when he was state Supreme Court chief justice.

Fulwood won’t stop handing out fliers until Harris’ killer or killers are caught. Once the weather cools a little from the brutal string of 90-degree days, she said, she plans to get out again and put the fliers on people’s cars and to stand outside supermarkets and big-box stores to pass them out.

“I think that’s very powerful,” Fulwood said. And, she hopes, effective.

Police ask that anyone with information call the Police Department’s Homicide Unit, 215-686-3334. There is a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.