Who Killed Mama Edna?
“Nobody owns life, but anyone who picks up a frying pan owns death.”
William S. Burroughs
Belief in the spirit world can be powerful. Whether it’s the power of faith, the power of evil, or the power of suggestion, it’s a matter for endless discussion and debate. But one night in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, that belief took a sudden, frightening and fatal turn between two friends who had happily known each other for years.
February 27th, 2017 10 pm
Sixteen-year-old Brianna Jean Baptiste ran up the stairs to the front door of her grandparents' house in East Flatbush Brooklyn. She was in a hurry because her mother was waiting outside in the car. She’d asked Brianna to quickly run in and pick up a gift her grandmother had for her.
Brianna expected her grandmother, lovingly called Mama Edna by the neighborhood, to be in the living room. A lamp was on but Edna wasn’t in the room. Brianna thought that was strange since her grandmother always turned her lights off to save money. She yelled up the stairs and finally went up to Edna’s bedroom when she got no answer.
Brianna opened the bedroom door and saw her grandmother lying on the floor. It didn’t register at first. She thought her grandmother might have fallen or fainted but then she saw the blood on the floor. She immediately turned around and ran out of the house to get her mother.
Brianna’s mother, Marjorie, ran up the stairs, saw her mother on the floor and told Brianna to call 911. She touched her mother's neck and thought she felt a faint pulse. Marjorie then went to her father Frederick’s bedroom and banged on the door to see if he was ok. Not only was he ok, but he also had his television on loudly and didn’t even know his daughter and granddaughter were in the house. He was shocked at all the commotion.
Desperately, Majorie and her father performed CPR on Mama Edna until EMTs arrived on the scene and asked them to stop. There was nothing anyone could do for Edna. She was dead. Other first responders arrived shortly after and noticed cables and a bloody hammer on the floor with its head broken off. They noticed what looked like ligature marks on Edna’s neck. They asked everyone to wait outside the house and called in homicide detectives. The well-loved, matriarch of East Flatbush Brooklyn had not only died, she’d been murdered and this was a crime scene.
Loved By Everyone
Seventy-eight-year-old Edna had moved to New York from Haiti in 1968. She built a life for herself and her family and successfully raised four children with her husband Frederick while working as a seamstress. Edna was the life of Troy Avenue. She loved to dance and make people laugh and she was a sought-after cook for her Haitian dishes. She was proud of her Haitian culture and heritage which included the religious practice of Voodoo. Her loved ones described her as “the glue” that held their family together. She was known as a spiritual healer in the community but obviously, not everyone liked her. Someone wanted her dead.
While the family waited outside with the rest of the neighborhood crowd that had gathered, the police did their initial crime scene walkthrough. Detectives checked all the windows and doors for forced entry but they found nothing. They inspected the bedroom where Mama Edna was still lying on the floor in a pool of blood. They took note of her head wounds, the bloody hammer, the long cables on the floor and her neck bruising. She looked like she had been beaten and several of her fingernails were broken off. She was struggling with her attacker before she was murdered.
Detectives questioned each family member to see if they could point to anyone who would want to harm Edna. Each family member claimed that she was loved by the community and her family. She had lived in the community for almost fifty years and had no enemies. Everyone, well almost everyone, loved Mama Edna.
Police turned their focus to 76-year-old Frederick Pierre-Jacques, Mama Edna’s husband. Questioning the spouse is standard procedure in a homicide case but they were keen to find out how Edna’s murderer killed her with Frederick in the next bedroom. How long had they been estranged and in separate bedrooms? Did they fight? Why didn’t he hear Edna yelling for help?
Neighbors that were interviewed about Edna and Frederick’s relationship claimed Frederick put a padlock on his door to keep Edna out. They said that Edna loved to cook but her husband refused to eat her cooking and would eat take out instead. Frederick also had a problem with Edna’s work as a Voodoo, spiritual healer in the community. They said when she would do Haitian dancing, Frederick would mock her and call her a “crazy woman and a disgraced human.” Police needed to find out if Frederick was the one who wielded the hammer and strangled his estranged wife.
When directly questioned by investigators at the scene, Frederick said he must have been in his room when Edna was murdered. He claimed he heard a noise sometime between 7 pm and 10 pm but he didn’t come out of his bedroom.
Detectives searched his room and found an old book on a side table open to a page with a startling title. The title was, How To Get Rid Of A Witch. The page explained the process of getting rid of a witch in your life. You write the witch’s name on several pieces of paper and burn the papers. A ceramic dish next to the book had several spent matches and burned pieces of paper in it. Detectives were shocked to find Edna’s name written on the papers. Was Frederick doing Voodoo rituals to get rid of Edna? How far was he willing to go to accomplish the task? Detectives identified him as a person of interest and decided to question Frederick further at the police station.
A Friendly Game?
The next lead for investigators popped up when they discovered that the Pierre-Jacques’s home had a gambling room operating out of its basement. It was fully furnished with fax machines, cash registers, cell phones, and calculators. Later at the police station, Frederick explained that Edna rented out the basement as a way to make extra income and he had nothing to do with it or the gambling operation itself. Police located the woman who managed the illegal gambling room and found out that no games were scheduled there the night Edna was killed.
Authorities initially thought Edna had been beaten to death. The autopsy result revealed that she might have been struck with the hammer but also could have hit her head in her fall to the floor, but the cause of death was listed as strangulation.
Even with the questionable evidence in his bedroom, Frederick was cleared as a person of interest after it was found that he had no fingerprints on the bloody hammer. They believed that Frederick was upset or embarrassed that his wife was a spiritual healer and he just wanted to stop her from doing spells. Frederick was supported by his family who stated that he felt bad for not being able to stop Edna’s murder. Frederick claimed that even though they weren’t living as a married couple she was still the mother of his children and he wouldn’t physically harm her.
Where is Tamisha?
Police were back at square one and leaned on family members again in hopes of finding a new lead. One of Edna’s daughters brought up Tamisha Harper, a close friend of Edna’s. She saw Tamisha and her boyfriend outside her house in a car a few hours after Edna was murdered. She knocked on the car window to ask Tamisha if she had any information about her mother’s death but the two of them just sped off in the car. At the time, Edna’s daughter thought Tamisha was in shock after losing such a close friend and didn’t want to talk.
Tamisha had been with Edna that day according to one of Edna’s granddaughters who stopped by to pick something up from her grandmother’s house. She said hello to Tamisha.
Forty-three-year-old Tamisha Harper was a daily fixture in the Pierre-Jacques household and had been for years according to the family. Family and friends also recalled seeing Tamisha in the crowd hugging people and crying shortly after Edna’s body was found, but she left before the homicide detectives arrived so Tamisha wasn’t questioned. Edna’s daughter went to Tamisha’s house the day after the murder, knocked on the door and got no response.
Two days had passed since Edna’s death and investigators now wanted to interview Tamisha to see if she’d seen anything on the night of the murder. They thought it was odd that such a good friend of Edna’s would just disappear after she died. They tried her house but she still wasn’t home. She also didn’t return their phone calls. Detectives called her workplace and found out she had missed two days of work. Her work colleagues said Tamisha never missed work. Police started to suspect that she saw something related to the murder or that she was being threatened and was in hiding. Tamisha’s boyfriend was also not at his address, not answering his phone and hadn’t been seen for two days.
Police tracked down an address for Tamisha’s mother and finally located Tamisha at her mother’s home in New Jersey. Tamisha’s mother opened the door to the detectives. She was visibly upset and said her daughter was in the living room.
When they found Tamisha she was curled up in a fetal position on the sofa and looked as if she hadn’t slept for days. Her hair was wild and unbrushed and she didn’t look at the detectives. After they identified themselves and explained why they were there, she sat up and began rocking back and forth.
Tamisha cooperated with police after she was brought in for questioning and told them exactly what had happened that night. As she explained it to the detectives, two weeks before the murder, a neighborhood woman became worried that her boyfriend was interested in Tamisha. This jealous woman also supposedly also practiced Voodoo just like Edna.
Tamisha explained that this neighborhood woman had cursed Tamisha so she turned to her friend Edna for help to remove the hex. Edna happily agreed to do so but things didn’t go as planned. Edna asked Tamisha to return later in the evening on February 27th and she would do the healing then. But when Tamisha returned she couldn’t stop coughing and Edna told her that she had been touched. According to Tamisha, this meant that she had spirits in her as a result of the curse.
Tamisha said that Edna looked over at her and said, “You’re here to harm me.”
Tamisha replied that of course, she wasn’t and was confused but when Edna left the living room to go upstairs, Tamisha followed her. Now they were both in Edna’s bedroom and Edna turned to her and said, “You’re here to kill me!”
Tamisha said the spirits took over and she started to strangle Edna. She said Edna yelled for Frederick and Tamisha was worried Frederick would come into the room but he didn’t. Tamisha denies hitting Edna with the hammer but did say she grabbed it. She said she pushed Edna to the ground and strangled her with the cables to make her be quiet.
After Edna stopped screaming, Tamisha said she got up, walked across the street to her house, showered and called her boyfriend. She told him she killed Edna and he suggested that she go to her mother’s house and offered to drive her.
Tamisha was arrested for murder on March 2nd, 2017 and agreed to plead guilty to first-degree manslaughter to spare the family a painful, lengthy trial. Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said, “This defendant strangled to death a neighbor she once considered a close friend. My sincerest condolences to the family of this victim, a 78-year-old woman who suffered such a violent and sudden death at the hands of someone she trusted.”
Tamisha Harper was sentenced to 17 years in prison. To this day the family and friends of Edna Pierre-Jacques still don’t understand the motive for the senseless and violent murder of Mama Edna.