The Murder of Helen Thomas, My Grandmother

To preface this post, you may or may not have noticed, but I rarely blog about my own family’s history. My research primarily focuses on the Flowers and at times I do post about my maternal grandparents particularly my grandfather. Despite the absence of my family from my blog, I do conduct research on my own family’s history; however, I have a journal dedicated to their stories as oppose to publishing their histories on such a public forum. This is mainly to honor my maternal grandmother’s wishes, although she only read one post from my blog. As to my paternal side, I have conducted no research on these relatives. Growing up, I only knew my aunt, cousins, and a few relatives I met here and there. In regards to my grandparents, I kept some contact with my grandfather in high school over e-mail, but never knew much about my grandmother. All I knew was that she was murdered when my father was young in New York. Well, my mind was broadened a few weeks ago when I was sent a link to this above reference Ebony article from my father.

In August 1979, Ebony, a popular black magazine, released a special issue that focused on black on black crimes. Little did I know that a story featured within this magazine spoke of my paternal grandmother’s death.

You can find the complete August 1979 magazine here.

And it reads,

Such is the cases of Bennie Bates. Bates, the son of a minister and a “decent, hard working” mother, grew up in Esplanade Gardens, a middle-class enclave in the midst of New York’s most wicked zone–the 32nd Precinct. In 1973, he and his brother witnessed the shooting of a 14-year-old youth in their apartment. “After that, Bennie just started going downhill,” a friend says. Numerous arrests on petty charges followed as Bates became more and more involved in street activity. “We knew him,” says New York homicide Det. Jeddy Gates. He was just one of a hundred kids out here on the streets hustling the best way they know how.”

On June 18, 1975, Bates, 19, moved up to bigger things. He and two friends invaded the home of a small-time jewelry dealer named Ian Richardson. The motive: robbery. In the process, Richardson was murdered. His pregnant girlfriend, Helen Thomas, 30, was also killed, shot in the head and stomach. A visitor at the time of the robbery, Ethylene Carne, 64, was stabbed in the back with an 18 inch knife and later shot to death. Ms. Thomas’ 7 year old son was shot, and another visitor, Myrtle Green, 30, was stabbed. Both survived…

Helen’s seven year old son was my father. My father was shot in the hand I believe. I can recall being shown the bullet wound when I was a child. My grandmother died shortly after, I am unsure of whether or not it was June 18th, her Social Security Death Index file provides little details. Interestingly enough, June 18th is my birthday. I was born seventeen years after her murder.

 As I sought more details surrounding this event, I encountered multiple dead ends. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a single news article or source that provided more information. As I stated before, the SSDI provided no information and because her death occurred in 1975, I must order a death certificate through VitalChek.

To focus on her life…

From photos, I am given a glimpse of my grandmother. Even though I do most of my research on the maternal side of my family, my looks come from my paternal side.

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My father was unsure of her age in this image, but said her nickname was ‘Goodie’. In this image, my little sister resembles her.

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This image is of her senior high school photo. She graduated from R.B. Dean which is now an elementary school.

11641930_985946741429995_1017374368_oHere my grandmother is pictured in the front. It was this picture where I started to think, ‘I look just like her’. The almond shaped eyes, petite figure (but I still have hips), perfectly naturally arched eyebrows, and a broad, yet fitting, nose. I cannot hold any memories of my grandmother, still, I know that she was a beautiful woman. I know that she was educated and worked as a registered nurse. Perhaps, this was where my interested in medicine came from. Simultaneously, there are many characteristics of my grandmother I will never know. What she loved? Hated? Was she a reader? Did she enjoy dancing? I will  never know because Bennie Bates took that opportunity away from my family. As a curious historian, I also wondered what happened to Bates.

The article continues,

Bates was convicted of second degree murder in August, 1976, and the youth is presently serving a 15 year to life sentence in a New York state prison.

No worries, I had the same question. How much time did he actually serve? 

With further research, Bates was released June 9, 2008 from Riverview Correctional Facility. In 2013, he returned to prison for possession of a controlled substance.

After learning about this, I feel closer to my grandmother’s spirit and have started a new branch to my family’s tree.

Until the next post,

Christina

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4 responses to “The Murder of Helen Thomas, My Grandmother

  1. That was very interesting. I’m glad you deviated from your norm and did a little history on your own family. I can only imagine how it feels to learn about your family–to be able to get answers to some of your questions. I have lots of questions for my maternal side of the family, who for some reason, no one ever talks about. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Thank you for commenting. I am realizing the importance of doing my own family’s history especially as more and more of the elders are getting older. I do see the same sense of silence as well. No one wants to share anything that happened back in the day.

  2. This could not have been easy to write about and I think that’s one of the factors in your writing that made it insightful. I’m glad I discovered your blog because I really like the way you’re investigating history for yourself and for others. I’m going to try using some of your resources to research the history of the Indian diaspora in the US. Thanks!

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