Sacrificing the Helpless:
Fathers Who Kill Their Own
The assault of a pregnant woman with the intent of killing the fetus constitutes, in most states, first-degree murder. One common motive behind this type of murder-for-hire involves boyfriends and ex-boyfriends who don’t want to be fathers. It’s the refusal of the mother to get an abortion that triggers the violence. In some instances masterminds just want the unborn baby killed, in other cases they have the mother murdered as well. In three of the cases profiled in this section, the victims are pregnant women. The fourth case involves the murder of a three-year-old girl conceived in an adulterous affair.
The Erik Bullock Case
Erik Bullock, a twenty-year-old student at the University of Arkansas, was about to become a father. He had begged his girlfriend, Shiwona Pace, to get an abortion but she had refused. Although they had broken up, Erik asked Shiwona and her five-year-old son to join him for a night out on the day before the scheduled delivery. He said this was his way of showing he had no hard feelings regarding her decision to have the baby. She accepted his invitation.
Just before midnight on August 26, 1999, as Shiwona and her five-year-old boy entered Erik’s Little Rock apartment, they were accosted by three men wearing ski masks. One of the assailants took the little boy into a bedroom while the other two attacked Shiwona. They punched her in the face, and when she was down, kicked her in the stomach. As they were beating her one of them said, “Your baby is dying tonight.” The intruders left the apartment without laying a hand on Erik.
When Shiwona, still conscious, asked Erik to call 911, he said his cell phone wasn’t working. He stayed behind in his apartment as she stumbled to an apartment down the hall where she placed the emergency call. The ambulance came but it was too late for the baby. The next day surgeons removed Shiwon’s badly damaged spleen.
A few days later, detectives picked up fifteen-year-old Lonnie Beulah, who on the day of the attack, had been seen, along with his older brothers Eric and Derrick, conferring with Bullock. Eric Beulah was twenty and his brother Derrick, seventeen. Witnesses overheard the four men talk of sticking a gun into a person’s mouth then beating them up. Shortly after his arrest, Lonnie confessed to helping his brothers assault Shiwona Pace. Her former boyfriend, Erik Bullock, had let them into his apartment earlier in the day. The plan was to kill the unborn baby so that Bullock’s parents wouldn’t learn that he had impregnated this woman. They were supposed to make the assault look like an interrupted burglary that had turned violent. Problem was, in the excitement, they had forgotten to take anything of value from the scene. For their efforts, Erik had promised to pay the brothers $400.
A month before the assault on Shiwona Pace and her unborn baby, the Arkansas legislature enacted a law that gave fetuses over twelve weeks old the status of personhood under the state’s homicide laws. Erik Bullock, and the young men he had hired to end the pregnancy, were charged under the new Arkansas Fetal Protection Act. The brothers pleaded guilty and were sentenced to forty years in prison. In February 2001, a jury found Erik guilty of first degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life without parole.
The Paul Tarver Case
Two months after they had broken up, Keisha Lewis informed Paul Tarver that she was three months pregnant. He was the father. He told her he did not want a child, he would not support a child, and that she had to get an abortion. She said no, she was having the baby whether he liked it or not. If he didn’t want anything to do with his baby that was his business. She would raise the child without him. This wasn’t good enough for Tarver, he kept insisting that she abort the pregnancy. Two months later they were still fighting. Finally he threatened her. If she didn’t get an abortion, he’d kill her. He meant it, he’d kill them both. She threatened to call the police but didn’t. He was just bluffing. Then suddenly, after all of the yelling and the shouting, he was gone. He stopped coming around.
On March 7,2002, a week before the baby was due, Keisha heard from Paul. He apologized for the fighting and the threats and offered to make amends. He wanted to remain friends, for the sake of the baby. In the spirit of good will and his acceptance of the fact he was about to be a father, Paul offered to take her out to dinner. Relieved that her baby’s father was no longer an enemy, she accepted.
That evening, with Keisha sitting next to him in the cab of his Ford Ranger pickup, Paul pulled into the spacious parking lot surrounding Canton, Ohio’s Country Kitchen restaurant. Although he had a handicap parking permit, and Keisha was nine months pregnant and had trouble walking, Tarver parked the truck in a remote area of the lot as far away as he could get from the restaurant Keisha had just opened her door and was about to get out of the truck when a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt and gloves stuck a gun in her face and ordered her to slide across the seat so he could squeeze in. The gunman ordered Tarver to drive to a chicken hatchery a few miles from the restaurant. When they got there, he demanded Tarver’s wallet, his ring, and his watch then pointed the pistol at Keisha and fired three shots into her bulging abdomen. Before climbing out of the truck and disappearing into the woods, the hooded man shot Tarver in the foot. Using his cell phone, Tarver called 911.
Surgeons, in a desperate effort to save the fetus, took only one of the bullets out of Keisha’s body. Before being treated for his gunshot wound, Tarver told a police officer dispatched to the emergency room that he hoped the baby would survive the assault. He admitted that he had asked Keisha to get an abortion, but said he had since changed his mind. The next day Keisha lost the fetus. The shooting had also caused serious nerve damage which would leave her with a permanent limp.
Detectives with the Canton Police Department didn’t have much to go on. Keisha could only provide a general description of the assailant and Tarver wasn’t much help either. The police did recover three shell casings. They found one on the cab floor and two on the ground near the passenger door. But they did get a break. A firearms identification expert matched the crime scene firing pin impressions to a shell casing recovered from another Canton area shooting. In that case, the subject had fired a .380 Carpati pistol into a parked van he thought was owned by his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend. By the time the shooter in that case was identified, he had traded the gun for drugs. In tracing the history of the .380 Carpati, detectives learned that the man who had purchased it with drugs had sold it to a person who had in turn sold it to a man who worked with Paul Tarver. Although detectives did not possess this weapon, they had linked it to the man they suspected of having Keisha Lewis shot.
In an effort to identify the hooded triggerman, detectives questioned a man from Pittsburgh Tarver had called several times just prior to the assault. When questioned in Lorain, Ohio, the suspect broke down and cried before terminating the interrogation. At this point the investigation stalled.
Seven months after the Country Kitchen abduction and chicken hatchery shooting of Keisha Lewis, the Stark County prosecutor presented a weak, circumstantial murder-for-hire case against Paul Tarver. The grand jury, relying on Tarver’s initial threats to kill Keisha and the fetus, and his rather thin connection to the murder weapon, indicted him for complicity to felonious assault and the murder of a pre-born child. When put on trial in October, 2002, the prosecution had still not identified the triggerman. Although this gaping hole in the state’s case gave the defense a lot to work with, Tarver’s attorney had problems of his own. If he put his client on the stand to deny his guilt, the jury would learn of his extensive history of drug trafficking and robbery. Tarver did not testify on his own behalf, and the jury found him guilty.
The judge, in this non-death penalty state, sentenced Tarver to thirty-one years to life. To this day Tarver maintains his innocence. The man who shot Keisha Lewis and killed her unborn child has not been brought to justice. This is one of only a handful of murder-for-hire cases where the mastermind was found guilty without the testimony, indeed the identity, of the hitman.
The Michael Landrum Case
For Michael Landrum the glory days were gone, and they weren’t coming back. The best years of his life had unfolded during the late 1970s when he was the first black quarterback to play for the University of Alabama. In 1998, almost two decades after his football years, the thirty-eight-year-old ex-hero worked as a civilian employee at Fort James, an Army base located in rural Alabama. Unbeknownst to his wife, Landrum was having an affair with a member of the Alabama National Guard stationed at the base. That year his life got a lot more complicated when the woman he was seeing gave birth to a baby she claimed was his. The woman was also demanding child support money, and if he didn’t pay up, threatened to take him to court. Landrum refused to hand over any money on the grounds he wasn’t the father. This led to a paternity test that proved that he was, and a court order requiring him to pay $484 a month in support of the baby. The judge, in deference to Landrum’s delicate predicament, allowed him to make payments directly to the mother without going through the court. This way Landrum’s wife might not learn of his secret life. However, if he missed just one payment, all bets were off. This was all well and good, but how could he fork over this much cash without tipping off his wife? Just how long could he keep this up? He was not made of money.
In February 2002, when Landrum’s mistress was shipped to Iraq, their little girl and her six-year-old half-brother moved in with Ida Little, their maternal grandmother. For the next several months Landrum continued making his monthly support payments. He was now employed at a Georgia Pacific plant, working double shifts to stay afloat. In the summer of 2003, Michael Landrum came to a decision. He figured there was only one good way to resolve his predicament. He would find someone to murder his three-year-old daughter.
Just before dawn on Thursday, August 21, 2003, a man parked his car off County Road 44 outside Linden, Alabama and walked up to Ida Little’s mobile home wearing a pair of latex gloves. When she came to the door he said his car had broken down and needed to use her phone. Before Ida could decide if she wanted to let this man into her house, he pushed his way in and shot her above the right eye with a .9mm pistol, killing her instantly.
As the intruder arranged Ida Little’s body on the sofa, the dead woman’s nine-year-old grandson walked into the room. When asked where his little sister slept, the boy led the man to Landrum’s three-year-old daughter. The home invader carried the little girl into the living room, laid her on top of her grandmother, then, with the terrified boy looking on, shot her above the left ear. The killer walked out of the mobile home, got into his car, and drove off. He had done nothing to make the executions look like a home invasion robbery turned murderous, and left behind an eyewitness.
A week after the massacre, deputies with the Marengo County Sheriff’s Office arrested twenty-three-year-old Jeffrey Napier. On the day before the murders, several people had seen Napier and Michael Landrum, the suspected murder-for-hire mastermind, together in Landrum’s car. The nine-year-old boy who had witnessed the murders identified Napier as the home invasion killer. Following a short interrogation, Napier, an unemployed petty offender known to the police, confessed. He said Landrum had paid him $1,000 to kill Ida Little and his three-year-old daughter. The next day the police arrested Michael Landrum who, after denying any role in the murders, asked for a lawyer.
Put on trial in March 2005, Landrum pleaded not guilty. Jeffrey Napier, on the stand for the prosecution, testified that Landrum, unable to keep up the child custody payments, and worried that his wife would find out about his daughter, had paid him to kill the little girl and her grandmother. They had spent the previous day together planning the murders. The child who had watched Napier execute his grandmother and half-sister also testified for the state.
Landrum had no choice but to take the stand and call Jeffrey Napier a liar. He did not, however, come off as a credible witness. The jury found him guilty. Although Alabama is a death sentence state, the judge sentenced him to life without parole. The judge gave Napier, who had pleaded guilty, the same sentence.
The Charles D. Young Case
In May 2005, high school senior Charles D. Young met seventeen-year-old Wendy Smith (not her real name) at a military ball in Spokane. He asked her out, and after a month of dating, they began to fight. After an arguement, Charles would stand all night beneath her window, or, the next day, follow her around after school. When she tried to end the relationship, he threatened to kill himself. After ten months of enduring his weird and obsessive behavior, Wendy told Charles she had found someone else. This was not true but she wanted him out of her life. Refusing to take no for an answer, he stalked her.
Three months after the break-up, Charles suddenly lost interest in Wendy and slipped out of her life. A few weeks later, in July 2006, Wendy’s parents got in touch with him bearing news he didn’t like. Wendy was pregnant with his baby. Charles insisted that it couldn’t be his, and that a paternity test would prove it. He was angry. Then he changed his tone. Following a series of meetings with Wendy and her parents, Charles expressed a desire to help raise the child. But when he stopped communicating with them, Wendy and her folks figured they had seen the last of Charles Young. They were wrong.
Back home in Colville, Washington, Charles asked a friend if he knew how much it would cost to have someone killed. A few days later he offered this person $3,000 to either murder or seriously injure his former girlfriend. The main idea, Charles said, was to kill the fetus. It was okay if the girl survived. The friend, convinced that Charles Young was not fooling around, contacted the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office.
On October 11, 2006, a few days before Wendy’s due date, Charles met an undercover officer in the town of Suncrest a few miles north of Spokane. With the tape recorder running in the officer’s car, Charles said he would pay $3,250 to have the problem with his ex-girlfriend “disappear.” He didn’t care if she died or not as long as the fetus was destroyed. He handed the officer a photograph of Wendy and a handmade street map showing where she lived. Charles took out $1,620 in twenty-dollar bills, promising to pay the balance when the job was done. The officer pocketed the money and placed the eighteen-year-old mastermind under arrest. That evening he was in the Stevens County jail under $1million bond.
The Stevens County prosecutor charged Young with solicitation to commit first-degree murder of Wendy Smith and solicitation to commit first-degree murder of the fetus. A conviction on either charge qualified him for life behind bars. In April 2007, Young pleaded guilty to the solicitation of manslaughter. His lawyer described Charles as an intelligent young man who had received bad advice regarding taking responsibility as a father. The attorney said his client had apologized to Wendy and her parents. The judge sentenced Young to six years in prison. The judge had been lenient because Charles had only intended to kill the fetus.
The Albert Jackson Sterling II Case
Life had been good to Roxanne Sterling, or so it seemed. She lived in a $400,000 house, was married to an ambitious man who made good money, and was eight months pregnant. Early in the afternoon of November 21, 2006, before leaving the house to go shopping, Roxanne said good by to her husband, Albert Jackson Sterling II. In an hour or so Albert would be driving from their home in Allen, Texas to nearby Dallas to catch a flight to his parents’ home in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
At four o’clock that afternoon, with her husband on the plane to New Mexico, Roxanne pulled her car into the garage and entered the house. She lumbered into the master bedroom and nearly fainted when she came face-to-face with a man wearing gloves and holding a black leather belt. He rose from the edge of the bed and said, “Your husband wants you dead.” In a calm voice he asked the terrified woman not to worry. He had changed his mind, he said, and instead of killing her, was there to warn her. She was free to call the police. Roxanne, moving as fast as she could, ran out of the house. Her neighbor had to alert the authorities. The 911 operator who took the call heard a woman sobbing in the background.
Officers from the Allen Police Department found the intruder, Jeffrey Boden Thompson, waiting for them at the Sterling house. He turned over the belt he said Albert had given him to use on Roxanne. Following the strangulation, Thompson had instructions to haul the corpse, in the victim’s car, to a predetermined site in Dallas. After dumping the body, Thompson was to abandon the vehicle at another spot in the city. Albert had designed this plan to fool the police into thinking Roxanne had been carjacked and murdered in Dallas. For his efforts, Thompson would have earned $2,500.
Thompson’s willingness to cooperate with the police resulted in the Collin County prosecutor’s decision not to press charges against him. To show his willingness to help, Thompson played detectives a message Albert Sterling had left on his cell phone shortly before flying to New Mexico. “The chicken has flown the coop,” Albert said, referring to his wife’s leaving the house. “She will be there in an hour. Just have patience.” With detectives listening in, Thompson called Sterling in New Mexico with the message he had been told to leave upon completion of the hit: “The chariot (victim’s car) is in southern Dallas and the trash (the body) is in west Dallas.”
The next day, in Alamogordo, police arrested Sterling on the Texas charges of soliciting the murder of his wife and unborn child. They put Albert in the Otero County Jail where he’d await extradition to Texas. Through his attorney, Sterling denied having arranged his wife’s murder, stating she had interrupted a house burglar in the act.
Albert Sterling’s family, friends, and neighbors were shocked that he had been accused of murder-for-hire. From all appearances he was happily married and looking forward to the birth of the baby. People who knew him refused to believe that a well-educated man with a good job would hire someone to murder his pregnant wife. He not only possessed a good job in the computer industry, the thirty-eight-year-old worked as a trainer/instructor at a 24-hour fitness club in Dallas. There were rumors of a girlfriend, one of his boxing students in his other business, Al’s Punch Time. Still, no one believed he would go to such lengths for another woman.
On December 7, 2006, Albert Sterling was brought back to Texas and placed in the Collin County Jail under $500,000 bond. Two weeks later a Collin County grand jury indicted him on two counts of murder solicitation, one pertaining to his wife and the other for the fetus. Late in January 2007 he was released on bail on the conditions of wearing an electric monitoring device and reporting once a week to the court bailiff. He had also had to relinquish his passport.