On Oct. 1, 1984, Fuller, 48-year-old cleaning woman and mother of six, had set off to get a prescription with $50 in cash in a change purse tucked in her bra. She wound up, minus the cash, in an alley just off a busy Northeast street kicked and beaten to death. The horror of the crime was intensified when police said that this tiny woman who weighed less than 100 pounds was murdered by a swarm of gang members — as many as 30 people. Her liver was shattered, four ribs broken, a lung punctured. A pipe stuck up her rectum pierced her intestine and penetrated 11 inches into her abdominal cavity. All of this happened while she was alive and — according to police — screaming for help while her assailants held her down and cursed her.
A medical examiner said Fuller died between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m., and that any number of her wounds, taken alone, would have been fatal in and of themselves. The motive could only be inferred: the $50 and some jewelry, quickly sold on the street.
So many killers, so much brutality focused on such a small target, for so little reason. People sensed the city had passed into some new and terrible era, and a decade of subsequent headlines would prove them correct.
Fuller’s death and the resulting trial consumed the community, and it consumed me more than most. I had grown up visiting the neighborhood, knew it well still. Helping to report the story was one of my first assignments at The Post.
Ten defendants, from 16 to 25 years old, eventually stood trial in D.C. Superior Court. Eight were convicted, two acquitted. Three others made a plea bargain. The heart of the prosecution’s case was the testimony of some of the accused against the others. Most of the defendants presented alibis, but they were supported not by time cards or school records but the word of loved ones, and so were discounted.
I was in the courtroom on Dec. 17, 1985, when the jurors returned with the verdicts. The foreman said “Guilty” so many times I stopped counting. For me, almost 16 years later, each one of those “guilty” declarations still hits with the force of a hammer.
Perhaps that is the hardest to explain of all.
When I was in high school, my family shopped on the H Street corridor in Northeast, then a flourishing business district. For years, I transferred to a bus on the corner of Eighth and H to get to my grandmother’s house.
When I heard that this was where a gang savaged a middle-aged woman in broad daylight, I was stunned. True, the neighborhood had declined since the looting and arson following the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. But 16 years later, the street was still bustling.
Beating someone to death is by nature a noisy enterprise — especially when it is a group endeavor. Fuller was killed on the busiest day of the month, a day welfare and Social Security checks arrive and people dash to the bank and to the store to pay their bills. And yet, as I went door to door and corner to corner in the neighborhood, I couldn’t find anyone who had heard or seen anything.