NYPD Inaction Over a Missing Black Woman Found Dead Sparks a Historic Racial-Bias Lawsuit

Police blew off the story of a young black woman who vanished. She was tortured and murdered. Now, a court ruling has reopened the case on bias grounds.

The family called the media, but—for reasons they wouldn't learn until later—no reporter showed interest in the story. In a group, the family went back to the 67th Precinct and pleaded with cops to reopen the case, becoming louder the more they were ignored. "We told them, 'Check her attendance at school, check her grades,' " her uncle Clifford Mann recalls. " 'She never missed a day of school. She got all A's. Her record is impeccable. She's not out running around with some boyfriend. Don't put her in that box!' "

When the police still failed to respond, the family contacted local politicians, who called the precinct demanding action. At 4 p.m. on Monday, April 28, some 93 hours after Romona disappeared, the police finally bowed to political pressure and officially opened an investigation. Detective Wayne Carey caught the case. By then, of course, it was too late.

Romona Moore's killers, Troy Hendrix and Kayson Pearson, were eventually caught. "Those guys aren't human beings," Carmichael says, shaking her head and giving out a humorless chuckle. "They're something other than human." But it's the police who still garner most of Carmichael's anger.

Elle Carmichael: She searched hard for her daughter. Police didn't.
Tina Zimmer
Elle Carmichael: She searched hard for her daughter. Police didn't.
The family’s homemade posters after Romona’s disappearance
Courtesy Elle Carmichael
The family’s homemade posters after Romona’s disappearance

"My daughter is dead. I know she endured physical torture," says Carmichael. "But the police—the police put us through mental torture. Dealing with the police was more of a nightmare than finding Romona's body." By then, she says, she had resigned herself to the fact that Romona was dead. But the police? "They were just nasty," she says.

Carmichael says that had the cops called a press conference asking for help in finding Romona, her abductors just might have gotten spooked and let her go. She may be right. Even the killers were upset by the lack of coverage by the press and TV. It turned out that Pearson and Hendrix were regularly following the news then. A 15-year-old girl who was eventually able to escape after being kidnapped by the duo after they tortured and killed Romona testified at their murder trials that she heard the two complaining about the absence of stories about them.

"They put people on the news for doing stupid shit like jumping off roofs," she heard one of the men tell the other. "After this, we better get on the news."

They made the news, all right, but not until two weeks after they killed Romona Moore.

It wasn't as if the killers were in deep hiding. They not only were into kidnapping, rape, and torture, but they even gave tours of their den of horrors.

Romando Jack, then 19, was the last known person, other than her killers, to see Romona Moore alive, though authorities now believe that the killers also showed her off to others.

On April 26, the second full day after Romona's disappearance, Jack, who was in the neighborhood because his sister was throwing a baby shower for his fiancée, ran into his old buddies Hendrix and Pearson. The three men walked inside 5807 Snyder Avenue, a dilapidated, partially burned-out, two-and-a-half-story brick building with boarded-up windows, where Hendrix and several family members lived. Jack exchanged small talk with Hendrix's aunt and uncle before the three men ducked into the basement to smoke pot.

As they sat on a couch passing a joint, Jack later recalled, Hendrix said out loud: "Say hi, bitch." Baffled, Jack asked: "Who y'all talking to?" Hendrix and Pearson pulled up a tarp on the floor, and under it was Romona Moore, lying on her side, dressed only in a hoodie and underwear. Romona's hands were tied behind her back, and she had a chain around her neck. There were bandages on a wrist and ankle, covering up wounds the pair had inflicted while trying to saw off her limbs. Romona was bleeding from a cut near her nose; her face was beaten and puffy. The men had cut the webbing between her fingers. Three cigarette burns formed a triangle under one eye.

"I was like, 'What's wrong with y'all? What's going on?' " Jack later testified at their trial. He said they told him, in effect: "It's already said and done. Ain't nothing nobody can do about it now."

Hendrix and Pearson continued to show that they had nothing to hide from their pal. They had scooped up Romona in the first place in front of the horror house while she was on her way from her friend's home to the Burger King. The killers then instructed Romona to fill in their pal Jack about how that happened. "They told her to talk to me," Jack said. "She told me she was outside when [Hendrix] grabbed her and dragged her inside, and I guess she tried to escape, and that's when they beat her up."

Romona was made to recite the details of her days of rape. She followed orders, in what Jack described as a low, "teary voice," while Pearson and Hendrix "both had a smirk on their face, like no cares."

Before Jack left, Pearson asked Romona to tell Jack what the difference was between him and them. "She said I seem more nicer," said Jack, who added that he awkwardly thanked her.

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