At 9 a.m. on July 7, over 100 law enforcement officers and agents gathered at Union Baptist Church, 1200 N. Trade St. in Winston-Salem, looking for leads relating to the murder of Ella Lorine Crawley, 50, a homeless, mentally-ill woman, who was brutally assaulted on May 23 and succumbed to her injuries on May 24.
The task force response consisted of door-to-door canvassing in the neighborhoods surrounding Gateway Commons, where Crawley was found with visible head injuries near a walking path.
Winston-Salem Police Department’s Lt. Gregory Dorn said there was a “very good turnout” Tuesday morning that included officers from multiple WSPD units, the Greensboro Police Department, and agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigations, United States Marshal Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the State Bureau of Investigations.
“We have done this over the years, especially in a case like this where no leads are coming in—no tips, no Crimestoppers,” Dorn said. “Other murders, you have a bunch of witnesses around or cell phone/social media technology, or video—we don’t have a lot of that. It is going to take boots on the ground to get some leads in this one, and that is why we are here.”
Activists behind the “Black Ops: Rebellion of Black Women” movement held in Aster Park on May 31—Arnita Miles, Miranda Jones, Ikulture Chandler, Jenn Oliver—have criticized the WSPD for its alleged lack of response and haste concerning this case. They were just as critical of the task force response on Tuesday, calling it a “publicity stunt” and a “good photo-op.”
The activists also question the effectiveness of Tuesday’s canvass, and why it took almost three months since Crawley’s death to have this task force response.
“We have consistently been pursuing WSPD regarding Ella’s case,” Chandler wrote in a Facebook message. “Countless calls, emails, and the family is unable to get any information. What is frustrating to me is that I felt like there was no pressure to even find out what happened to her before we came along, and if we had not happened, Ella would just be a homeless woman who was killed. I think it is absolutely sad that they are just now making any attempt to find information. We were told they would put any additional information out to the public, but they haven’t put out any information to begin with. And now, they’re going door to door with the nearby church to prove what? This is just to shut us up, but we won’t be satisfied until an arrest has been made! And they’re not acknowledging the attempts we have made at all.”
Jones believes that more needs to be done by police to solve the crime.
“We had hoped for more in a city with a Black woman police chief,” Jones wrote in a Facebook message. “After all, so many Blacks in power often talk about how they are Black first. Social location shouldn’t matter.”
Jones thinks that a cash reward should be offered to anyone with helpful information.
“We still need to remain vigilant,” Jones wrote. “We must press until the case is solved.”
In an email, Captain Steven Tollie of WSPD Criminal Investigations wrote that Tuesday’s canvass was the third one conducted in this investigation—the first one was done the morning Crawley was discovered “and a second, larger canvass, occurred a few days later.”
“As is evident by the fact that this investigation remains unsolved, detectives have yet to develop a lead that will bring this investigation to a successful conclusion,” Tollie wrote. “The purpose in [Tuesday’s] canvass is yet another effort to reach out to members of the community where this occurred; in hopes that someone with information may come forward.”
Tollie responded to the criticism the WSPD received that the canvass might be ineffective given how much time had passed since Crawley was found.
“While it is true that this effort may fail, I would rather make the effort and fail; than to miss a potential opportunity to develop a new lead in the investigation,” Tollie wrote.
Dorn said Crawley’s death was “near to our hearts,” as two of her relatives are retired law enforcement from the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.
“I know people have been asking why it has taken so long, but we have been out here—the people who complain about us not being here haven’t been here, so they don’t see us what we do every day,” Dorn said. “This case, it hurts us.”
Crawley died a day before George Floyd was killed by a police officer, which sparked a nationwide movement protesting police brutality.
“She was the first of five murders that week—we had a horrible week,” Dorn said. “It was downright brutal, and [the killer] is a person we need to get off the streets, that is why we are out here. We have had success in these before, and a lot of times, the initial deployment is not when we get the tip, it is weeks later.”
Dorn said he hoped that the WSPD would get a helpful tip from Tuesday’s canvass.
“What I’d like to tell the suspect is, this is not going to go away, he or she is going to talk about it—it is going to come back to us.”
Dorn said the WSPD would not stop investigating and canvassing; he said investigators plan to follow every lead they get on this case.
“Say, if we got some information that 7 o’clock the day prior she was over on Thurmond Street, we might develop a plan to deploy on Thurmond Street and then pass out the flyers and try to get information in that area. We can canvass for video, try to track her from where she came from,” he said. “It’s like a tree—you follow every branch, every limb, every twig until you run out of twigs. And if another twig grows, we jump on that twig and investigate it, and it never stops.”
Anyone with information can contact detectives at the Winston-Salem Police Department, (336) 773-7000, or CrimeStoppers at (336) 727-2800, and on Facebook via “Crime Stoppers of Winston-Salem Forsyth County.”