Memories are conjured up when we recall both past pleasant events and those that have been painful. During my childhood, in which I was a semi-permanent resident of two Connecticut hospitals, subliminally there was ever present piped in music. Many of the Broadway musicals, Oklahoma, My Fair Lady, South Pacific etc. of the late 50s and early 60’s were played to cheer the sick with a “zippy tune,” essentially elevator music. It worked! They always lifted my spirits as a child.
I was recently re-acquainted with the song, “On the Street Where you Live,” a Vic Damone ballad of the early 60s. The title of this song recreated the most unsettling memories during December 2019 when I was a frequent passenger of Connecticut’s ADA Paratransit Service for work, errands, and medical appointments while recovering from an unfortunate injury.
The service was a lifeline for resuming employment, however, it presented many inconveniences. I never knew from day to day what areas I was travelling on this shared ride service. One morning, the van driver drove to Evergreen Avenue in the West End of Hartford. It was the street where my Dad was gunned down on April 17, 1981. I hadn’t been there in years and I was not prepared for it.
I wanted the passenger, a young girl, to hurry up so that we could get out of there quickly. I was shaken, and curious at the same time, because I never knew the exact location, the specific apartment building on the street where my Dad’s murder occurred.
I had to endure the same ride two more times that month. Although I shared my story with the driver, the company didn’t care, and wasn’t willing to make changes.
And then it occurred to me in the recesses of my mind…
There was another heinous crime on the same street, Evergreen Ave., six years later. It was a case that I helped provide family support when I was involved with Survivors of Homicide, Inc. of Connecticut. The robbery gone wrong, strangulation and murder of Kara Laczynski, a young, bright, newly hired reporter of the Journal Inquirer Newspaper happened right there on Evergreen Ave.
Coincidence or Karma?
As I researched the details of the Kara Laczynnski case, I was truly struck by the significance of several coincidences.
Not only was my Dad and Kara killed on the same exact street, but Kara and I share the birthdate of December 24th. In addition, she was murdered on Christmas Eve which would have been her 25th birthday.
Kara was intending to report to work at the newspaper that morning.
My Dad was in the area to collect funds from those he sold second hand cars as a means of transportation, a side business that evolved from his main business of auto body repair.
Of the two perpetrators in Kara’s murder, the second murderer involved, Willie Askew, was arrested and charged with her murder on April 17, 1989 the same date as my Dad’s murder, April 17th, 8 years later.
Robbery was the motive in both Kara’s and my Dad’s murders and both murder trials were considered unprecedented in their own right.
In my Dad’s case the prosecutor used the rarely used legal concept of joinder:
“Whenever two or more cases are pending at the same time against the same party in the same court for offenses of the same character, counts for such offenses may be joined in one information unless the court orders otherwise.” (CT Gen Stat § 54-57 (2015)
Because there were two defendents, two murder trials were held simulateously with one jury in 1981. In some circles, this legal maneuver was viewed as helping to secure conviction of the murderer of Donald Gore since the second case, accessory to murder, was weaker.
In the Kara Laczynski case, defendants Joseph Lomax and Willie Askew were tried three times. Results spoke clearly despite the State’s Attorney’s belief that Lomax killed Kara during a bungled burglary ….“thirty six different men and women have examined the evidence and have been unable to say we have proven the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” said State’s Attorney John M. Bailey, Jr. A fourth trial would have been unprecedented and raised legal issues about how many times a suspect may be tried on the same charges. (See Part two for the reasons that truly contributed to the mistrials.)
The Mystery of Evergreen Avenue and My Dad’s Murder
In the early 1980’s the West End of Hartford, CT was a hub of activity. With a mix of culture, history, businesses, including the Mark Twain House, the multicultural bookstore/eatery known as Reader’s Feast, a huge movie theater on Sisson Ave. bordering Evergreen, and Elizabeth Park which was created in 1895 when Charles N. Pond gave his estate to the Evergreen Hartford Parks Commission.The park includes the oldest and one of the largest municipal rose gardens in the United States as well as a number of recreational facilities.
The area also included banks, bars, insurance companies, fast food places, apartment buildings and stately homes within the Sisson-South Whitney Historic District built between 1890 and 1939 as a streetcar suburb converted from farmland. Many of the homes on Evergreen are now a mixture of Revivalist style wood framed homes with big porches and small brick apartment buildings. In fact, 34 Evergreen Ave. was one such revivalist home built in 1900 by architect William H. Scoville in the Queen Anne style with robin egg blue shingles and became the 100th entry for Connecticut’s Historic Buildings.
History and nostalgia often give us warm and fuzzy feelings, but not when one street is associated with two murders in one decade.
Background of My Dad’s Murder
On the night of April 17, 1981, my Dad left home after dinner as he often did to conduct more business; he collected money from customers to whom he sold reliable transportation after managing his auto repair business during the day. This particular night was no different than any other, however, it would be a heartbreaking night for my mother.
My Dad, a savvy man with street smarts, was about to be duped by a female with the intention to rob him on behalf of her boyfriend, Perry Lee Herring who had drug charges pending in New Jersey and also had relatives in the area where he could lay low. He was looking for quick cash.
The woman did her part by engaging my Dad in conversation while they sat in his van. Suddenly, rather than just rob him, Herring appeared at the driver’s side window and pointed a gun at him, shot 5 times, and hit several vital organs.
Herring and the woman ran while my Dad, fatally wounded, desperately tried to drive to the hospital. Although my Dad was also a landlord of a few Hartford properties, and often collected money from various people, he did not carry much money on that particular night. In fact, he lost his life for just $35.00.
While enroute to the hospital, it was rumored that his van rolled to a stop and into a building and the motor was running for half an hour. They said there were occupants in the building, but no one came to his aid. As far as I know, this rumor was never proven. In the final analysis, the medical examiner determined that had my Dad lived he would have remained in a vegetative state and certainly with a very poor quality of life.
The woman claimed she didn’t know that a murder was planned. She was offered a deal to turn state’s evidence and agreed to give evidence in court against the shooter, her accomplice, in exchange for immunity from prosecution. She also had an infant whose father was Herring.
The nightmare got even worse because my Dad’s wallet was taken just before this incident, therefore his driver’s license wasn’t on his person, making him unable to be immediately identified. Even though his van had dealer plates, and he was well known in the Hartford-West Hartford Community, police failed to contact my family via those channels. Rather, a newspaper headline the next morning read, “Missing Man Found Dead in Green Van” for my mother’s eyes to read.
My mother made calls to everyone she could think of, including hospitals.
I was just starting a new job after graduate school at a center for persons with developmental disabilities and was to commute about an hour to Massachusetts. Instead, I paced the floor and tried to comfort my mother.
Incredulously, we actually had to call the Hartford Police and inquire if, in truth, it was him even though we knew in our hearts it was. My mother reported that the detective covered the phone receiver and said to a colleague, “She’s just Identified him.”
With my cousin driving us, my mother and I went to the Medical Examiner’s Office in Farmington. My sister was working locally, while my brother, then 18 years old, was informed at his job at a power plant in Phoenix, necessitating he fly home alone after receiving the news.
We waited in the waiting room when I saw a detective walk past with my Dad’s raincoat in plastic and my heart sank and I now knew for sure.
He had also gone out that night to get motor oil for the former family car, now my car for commuting to work. I wondered, if I only had a different car, would this not have happened?
Although I was a bright, inquisitive 26 year old with a brand new Master’s degree to my credit, in the initial days and weeks of the investigation, until Chuck Lexius was assigned to our case as the Victim Advocate, I was not privy to any details as I was only the daughter, not the wife. I wasn’t witness to my Dad’s body and I don’t remember that they did any formal interview with me.
There was no doubt that Perry Lee Herring was involved in the murder. I heard he was hiding out at a relative’s home and fairly easily apprehended.
The legal maze was complicated because Herring had also been involved in another murder, an accomplice in a bank robbery who was killed, as he could be identified, much like my Dad, and whose body was dumped in a cemetary.
Adding to the nightmare for my family was the fact that we had to wait 6 1/2 years for concurrent trials, as Perry Lee Herring was serving time in prison in New Jersey on drug charges.
Herring applied for a speedy trial as was his Constitutional right, but was denied by Judge Thomas Corragan because he had not completed his prison term in New Jersey, as well as the fact that the Connecticut judicial system is notoriously slow.
Back to the Present
Travelling on Evergreen Avenue I never knew the exact address where my Dad’s murder occurred, nor did my mother when I asked. I guess it doesn’t matter.
For me there will always be an aura of murder on Evergreen Avenue, especially when you learn of the amazing facts of Kara Laczynski’s case juxtaposed against my Dad’s case.
It was a visceral feeling riding in that van last December. Rather than feeling nothing after 39 years, perhaps it is a measure of caring that stands the test of time, no matter how many years have passed.
The second part of this tribute will acquaint you with a bright young woman, Kara Laczynski, who moved to Connecticut from New Jersey to begin her career as a reporter and barely got started. Fate intervened on October 4, 1987 on Evergreen Avenue that could not be foreseen.
Her family had to endure three trials. They were left with only the illusion of justice. What is the price to be paid for strangulation, rape and murder?
Victims already experience the loss of their loved one and more loss is inconceivable.
I am trying to make contact with Kara’s co-worker and friend who discovered her murdered body. She was another Journal Inquirer staff member who still resides in Connecticut and writes about the challenges she has overcome. I would like to add another dimension that we as survivors of violent crime try to hold onto.
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