In the early morning hours of March 11, 2010, a Hazelwood couple noticed a strange figure from the back window of their apartment. It seemed to be perched on the jungle gym of Little White Birch Park. But at some point, it became clear they were looking at a body. A dead body, suspended several feet off the ground. They called 911.
That body belonged to eighteen-year-old Dominick Wilson, who lived in one of the homes nearby. One end of Wilson's jacket was wrapped tightly around his neck, while the other end was tied to a jungle-gym pole. The police and paramedics arrived on the scene, and at 7:08 a.m., Wilson was pronounced dead. The cause: suicide, by hanging.
No note was discovered, and the press was never notified about the death. But now, eighteen months later, one woman refuses to stop pleading her case to the Hazelwood Police Department in the hope that they open a homicide investigation.
"I know my son was murdered, and he was brutally murdered," says Wilson's mother, Jackie White. She has obtained a lawyer to push the case. She's also drawn the support of the NAACP, which questions whether Wilson, who is biracial, could have been the victim of a hate crime.
White suspects her son was beaten to near-death before being strung up. Her suspicions started when her sister visited the funeral home a few days after Wilson's death and noticed red marks on his shoulders and bruising around his right temple. An autopsy revealed hemorrhaging to the brain, which made White curious. She also wonders why the polo shirt Wilson was wearing when he left her house at 9 p.m. the night before was never found.
But White faces an uphill battle in proving her case. After conducting an autopsy, the St. Louis County Medical Examiner's Office classified the death as a suicide, confirming its original assessment. A representative from the medical examiner's office tells Daily RFT that it stands by its conclusion.
The office had ready answers for some of White's contentions. For example, while there was blood on Dominick's jacket, Dr. Mary Case, the medical examiner, says it can come from the nose during a hanging.
The Hazelwood Police Department considers the case closed. "We investigated the case thoroughly," says Captain Greg Hall. "If the circumstances led us to believe that this was a homicide, it would have been classified as such."
It doesn't help that Wilson had been struggling before his death. He'd recently been kicked out of school; he believed he was about to be arrested for participation in a robbery in Florissant. Two days before his death, he'd stolen prescription pills from his mother and was taken to the hospital. The autopsy revealed he had marijuana in his system the day he died.
The last night of his life, Wilson told his girlfriend's grandmother that he felt he might "do something stupid." (Later that night, the grandmother says, he assured her he didn't mean it.)
Such factors don't deter White.
"I am not going to stop fighting," she says. "My son was no angel, but I'm not crazy. I'm not in denial. Somebody knows something. And they've got to come forward and confess."
Other people are backing up Wilson's cause. Friends and family members have helped organize a Facebook page and fundraiser that took place last week in Little White Birch Park.
"Jackie's story has been consistent — there haven't been any holes," says the Rev. Elston McCowan, a first vice president with St. Louis branch of the NAACP. "We're concerned because there are racial components to getting hung, historically."
Wilson's lawyer, Jerald Hochsztein, adds: "It seems the police made a snap judgment about the suicide and are now putting up roadblocks. We just want to know why there's a reluctance to investigate it."
Whatever the outcome, it's clear that Wilson was a popular young man, and his many friends continue to mourn him.
"He had such a great personality," says his girlfriend, Ashanti Williams. "Everybody loved him."