by Paul Fecteau
This article originally appeared in the December 4, 2008, issue of tmiWeekly.
In the summer of 2001, an eruption of violence on the streets west of the Topeka Cemetery caused residents to flee and left a string of unsolved murders in its wake. The fear peaked on Tuesday, March 20, when news broke of a triple homicide.
That afternoon, an anonymous call sent Topeka Police officers to 1313 S.E. 10th where the caller said they would find three people dead. The run-down two-story home, surrounded by overgrown shrubbery, flanked by boarded-up houses and vacant lots, sat across from Jackson Park. The officers who responded found the front door open. Inside were a man and two women. All three had been shot to death. The caller who alerted police to the murders has never been identified.
|Stephanie Mendez, Willie Thrower, Marilyn Zelen Monroe|
It took a day for police to identify the victims. They were 48-year-old Willie Thrower, 39-year-old Marilyn Zelen Monroe, and 39-year-old Stephanie Mendez. All three resided in the home. Thrower and Monroe were married, and Mendez lived upstairs.
On its own, a triple murder would be shocking, but this one came on the heels of two other shootings, one fatal, that had taken place a stone’s throw away. Just before midnight on Sunday, March 18, 2001, police discovered the body of 18-year-old Emilio Esquibel in the front seat of a car that had crashed at the corner of Lime and 10th Street--a half block west of 1313 S.E. 10th. Esquibel had been shot. Later that night, 18-year-old Andre Baker, suffering from a gunshot wound, appeared in an emergency room. He reported that the shooting had taken place at 10th and Locust--a block east of 1313 S.E. 10th. Ultimately, Baker, who had survived his wounds, was charged with the murder of Esquibel and went to trial in December of 2003 but was acquitted.
Though police felt they understood that Baker and Esquibel had shot one another, an account of the slaying of Mendez, Monroe, and Thrower proved more elusive. The three were not involved in the drug trade which was what linked Baker and Esquibel. Detectives theorized that one of the men who had been involved in Sunday night’s shooting had killed the three residents of 1313 S.E. 10th, but no evidence turned up to bolster that idea.
An unrelated 1993 murder-suicide serves as a woeful footnote to the killing of Mendez, Monroe, and Thrower. On September 5 of that year, Senovia Hernandez shot his wife, Barbara Hernandez, and then shot himself. Their bodies were found in their home at 1313 S.E. 10th.
Following the 2001 triple homicide, the house at 1313 S.E. 10th was torn down but not because anyone thought the structure cursed. Its demolition had, in fact, already been slated when its three occupants lost their lives in 2001. Topeka Habitat for Humanity had purchased the house and others nearby and planned to replace them.
James McClinton, the future mayor and then city councilman, worked with Habitat for Humanity and visited the neighborhood shortly after the police discovered the triple homicide. The Topeka Capital Journal quoted him the next day, lamenting that a neighborhood that had made progress suffered such a setback. Now, he notes that the violent summer did not stop the area’s revitalization. The new homes got built and still stand today.
There is no more 1313 S.E. 10th, however. None of the new properties were assigned that house number. It is unclear whether the renumbering was done in hopes of lifting the spell of tragedy that had hung over the home where five people had lost their lives.If you have any information that could help bring to justice the man who took the life of Stephanie Mendez, Marilyn Zelen Monroe, and Willie Thrower, please contact the detectives at the Topeka Police Department at 368-9400.