A story for every victim

Postscript: When a search for an old friend leads to The Homicide Report

Jeff Little was searching for an ex-girlfriend.

But instead of finding her Facebook page, he came across her entry on the Homicide Report.

He couldn't believe what he was reading: Louise Savior, 31, had been beaten to death in a van in Historic South-Central L.A. in August 2011.

He called me on a Wednesday in March, and his voice shook as he asked me if the suspect was still in custody. He also wanted to know how he could get in touch with Savior's sister, who had left a comment on the Homicide Report. I wrote an email to her with Jeff's contact information while we were on the phone.

But the question lingered for Jeff: Where did the case stand?

I've been writing for the Homicide Report for about a year and have, sadly, seen many cases of people entering a name into Google and finding a loved one among the dead. We receive several requests a week from readers wanting to know more information about a person who was killed. A cousin, a friend from school, a mother. Sometimes, families don’t ever speak of the details of a homicide, and children grow up never knowing the circumstances.

In all too many cases -- our database goes back to 2007 -- inquiries like those don't go anywhere. Sometimes detectives don't respond to requests for information. Other times, the investigator has transferred to another department or retired, or the file is stored away somewhere, the case cold.

Jeff and I talked for about 45 minutes that Wednesday in March, and afterward, I e-mailed Kelle Baitx, a detective in the Los Angeles Police Department's Newton Division, where Louise was killed.

I told Baitx I was looking for the name of the person who was arrested in the case and for any updates. The next morning, Baitx sent me the suspect’s name: Johnnie Kemp.

Baitx said Kemp, now 54, was arrested, which became my cue to check with the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. Because police and prosecutor files on a case aren’t linked, a police “murder book,” as it’s called, sometimes won’t tell you the outcome of a case.

The district attorney’s office said the trial was set for April 17, and like many court proceedings, the trial was delayed.

At the downtown Los Angeles courthouse,  I was expecting to meet Louise’s family, but no one was there for the May 20 closing arguments.

We receive several requests a week from readers wanting to know more information about a person who was killed. A cousin, a friend from school, a mother."

When the prosecutor told the jury that her family didn’t attend, I wondered about justice for homicide victims who, for whatever reason, don’t have family members to keep up on the case with law enforcement and prosecutors.

How does the jury approach a case differently when a mother, father or husband isn’t crying in the audience? In those cases, the only person standing up for the victim is the system, the prosecutors, the detectives. 

The jury returned the verdict the same day. Kemp was found guilty.

A few days later, I called Jeff back. He breathed in deeply when he heard the news.

“Praise God,” he said.

Since he and I last spoke, Jeff had connected with Louise’s sister. She had called him immediately after she got my e-mail and they talked for hours. Then our conversation turned to Louise.

Jeff, a ship builder in Virginia Beach, Va., had dated her for three years, but it hadn’t worked out. Though the defense in the case had said Louise was aggressive, Jeff said she was never abusive.

“All she had to do is say come get me, and I would,” Jeff told me.

But he knew that Louise had had a problem with drugs.

The last time he spoke with her was in January 2011, he remembered, because it was around his birthday. She was in jail at the time. She said she missed him. He said he wanted to tell her to forget the past and that they could start over again.

But he didn’t.

“Sometimes, you think you’ve got time, but you don’t got time,” he said.

-- Nicole Santa Cruz

Photo: Louise Savior in fifth grade. Her family did not have more recent photos. Credit: LaVanna M. Arce 

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