Three Murders, Three Questions On March 21, Joseph Randolph Mays was arrested and charged with murdering his live-in girlfriend and her two sons. The police believe the case is all but closed. There are three questions city officials need to answer.

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From the moment they entered Erika Peters’ apartment on the afternoon of March 21, police and fire officials realized this was no routine call.

“We have a male child on the floor by the door bleeding!” a firefighter screamed, according to a police account of the incident. The firefighter had just forced his way through the apartment door. The victim would later be identified as 10-year-old Dakota Peters.

Medical personnel were called to the scene, located at 2000 Maryland Ave. NE, Apt. 104, in the Carver Terrace complex.

Two officers proceeded to “clear” the apartment. They walked to the rear and found Erika Peters, 37, lying unresponsive in the hallway, with stab wounds to her chest and head. A small piece of metal, possibly the tip of a knife blade, was embedded in the back of her skull.

Farther back, an officer encountered a locked door and kicked it open. Inside, he found Peters’ live-in boyfriend, Joseph Randolph Mays, lying facedown on the floor “attempting to appear unconscious,” the document states. There were superficial—allegedly self-inflicted—knife wounds on his chest. The officer seized on a large hunting knife atop a small dresser nearby. Also in the room was Ashleigh—Mays’ and Peters’ 2-year-old daughter—crying. There wasn’t a scratch on her.

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Then the officer went to the next room, the bathroom. Erik Harper, 11, was found dead against the back wall, next to the toilet. He had multiple stab wounds to the chest and “one large laceration to the right side” of his head, the police document states.

Both Erika and Erik, her son, were pronounced dead at the scene. Peters’ other son, Dakota, would be rushed to Children’s Hospital; official time of death: 2:40 p.m.

Detectives followed Mays to the hospital, where they interrogated him. When they asked him what happened, he replied: “My girlfriend and her son [Erik] has been fucking with me for the past three days. I was fixing my little girl’s hair.…I told them to stop fucking with me, they would not leave me.”

Mays, 44, would go on to claim that he had “blacked out.” But detectives had recovered the hunting knife. There was blood on the knife. The tip was broken. And the knife rested on top of a handwritten note. “Only parts of the note were legible, including the phrases, ‘I’m sorry…I tried to make it work,’” according to the police account.

Within hours, police detectives had arrested Mays for the murders. “I think in this case, you know everybody did everything they could do,” D.C. Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier told News Channel 8. “By the time we got the call, it was late.”

Lanier may be right. After all, this killing frenzy was nothing if not private—committed behind closed doors, without a gun, in a family setting. According to reports, too, the 911 call was vague.

Yet if “everybody did everything they could do,” the city isn’t too eager to talk about all the good work. A wide swath of the D.C. government is refusing to comment on any aspect of the case. The police won’t release records showing whether officers had made previous visits to Apt. 104. The mayor’s office is also in information-shutdown mode.

Meanwhile, three pressing questions about the case remain unanswered.

No. 1: How long did it take police to get inside the apartment?

Among the few documents released by the city on the murders is a press release from the Police Department. It states that officers responded to the call for Apt. 104 shortly after 1 p.m. The upstairs neighbor tells a different version of events.

The night before the murders, the neighbor heard a series of loud bangs. She could hear the ruckus through her bedroom floor. The thumps were coming from Peters’ home. The walls are thin enough that you can hear the neighbor’s television set or a baby’s shriek.

Eventually, the neighbor stomped on the floor to express her frustration. When the message wasn’t returned with peace and quiet, she decided to go down and knock on the door, she says.

Mays answered the door and listened to the neighbor’s complaints. Then Erika Peters appeared in the doorway and offered an explanation for the racket. In a low rasp, Peters said that she was sick and had been trying to get Mays’ attention.

“Why the fuck you didn’t see what was wrong with her?” the neighbor remembers asking Mays.

Mays, she says, replied that he hadn’t noticed his girlfriend’s banging.

Randy Kittrell, a neighbor who resides across from Peters’ residence, says he happened by the scene that night. He says he was walking out of his apartment to pick up a pizza and caught part of the conversation between Peters and the neighbor. He says he heard Peters say she was sorry.

“The neighbor asked her if everything was OK. [Erika’s] eyes were wide open,” says Kittrell, 27, noting that she looked as if she’d “seen a ghost or something like that. She said, ‘I’m OK.’”

The neighbor says she went back upstairs and left a complaint about the incident with the rental office.

The next morning, the banging from Apt. 104 resumed. The neighbor called 911. She said the time was “like 12.”

The dispatcher told her that police were already on the scene. She said it was 12:10 when she opened her door to check out the situation. She remembered the time because it’s the time her daughter goes to see her mentor.

As she looked down through her stairwell, she could see an officer, Sgt. Tyshena Wallace, knocking on Peters’ door. Wallace then stopped her knocking and went upstairs to the neighbor. The neighbor explained what had happened the night before and how she heard the same banging that morning.

“I gave her the rental office number,” the neighbor says.

Wallace asked her where the banging was coming from. The neighbor took her to her bedroom. This time Wallace joined her and pounded on the floor.

Wallace screamed into the floor: “Police! Police!”

It was 12:30. Wallace left.

Kittrell, who had gotten up early and was watching TV in his apartment’s front room—the room closest to the front door and hallway—insists Wallace had arrived on the scene even before noon. “I opened the door,” Kittrell says. “The officer…asked me, ‘You seen the people next door?’”

The accounts of the neighbor and Kittrell raise questions about the police department’s own timeline. Instead of taking roughly an hour to open the door to Apt. 104, the police may have taken at least two hours.

What isn’t in dispute is that Wallace was the first to arrive. According to the police record, she walked up the stairs and knocked on Peters’ door.: “Sgt. Wallace heard a voice from within the apartment saying, ‘no, stop,’”

The record does not say whether the scream came from one of the boys. Dakota would be found later by the front door, suffering from stab wounds to the neck, head, and right ear.

According to the initial incident report, “Officers heard noises but no one answered.”

Wallace called the dispatcher. The dispatcher, the record states, tried calling the apartment but could not get through. Wallace asked what the call was for. The dispatcher gave an off-the-cuff assessment: “A child screaming on the phone, possibly playing.”

Officer Atubakr Karim eventually arrived and tried knocking on the door while Wallace called the apartment’s phone number on her cell phone.

Wallace could hear the phone ringing and ringing inside Apt. 104. At some point, the officers retreated down the stairs. Even though he was not the first officer on the scene, Karim would later write up the initial report. He listed the time of the incident as 1:11 p.m.

Jean Mason, 50, a resident in the building, remembers seeing the two officers. She says she saw them standing at the entrance to the building. Mason, who was leaving the building to visit a friend across town, says it was 1:10 p.m.

The two officers were waiting for Capt. Lamar West. The timing was anything but perfect. West was just coming on his shift and when he arrived, he approved calling the Fire Department to have its personnel force their way inside the Peters apartment, the police document states.

In the months leading up to the murders, Joseph Randolph Mays struggled with mounting debt. He turned to the Internet for support, business opportunities, and as a way to remake himself. It became an apparent obsession.

Personal Sites

Read Mays' "Message to the World"

Joseph Mays' Wordpress Weblog

Another one of Joseph Randolph Mays' personal blogs

Joseph Randolph Mays' calendar for sale

Joseph Randolph Mays' MySpace page

Follow Joseph Randolph Mays on Twitter

Business Ventures

Joseph Randolph Mays' Make Money With Eye Earn blog

Joseph Randolph Mays' Making Money Online Daily site

Another Joseph Randolph Mays business venture/blog

Joseph Randolph Mays' page on Homebasedbusiness.com

Poetry

Mays' book God Is in Control: A Collection of Spiritual Poems

Read Mays' poem "The Watcher"

Read Joseph Randolph Mays' "God Has Kept Me Here For A Reason"

Our Readers Say

It's amazing that someone approved that photo for the cover of a major publication. It looks like someone gave a disposable camera to a three-year-old. It's no wonder CP went bankrupt.
Since when did it become ok to feature pictures of child victims to crimes? Simply because the little girl lived, doesn't mean she wasn't a victim.
Allan: We asked the family permission to take pictures at the public event.
Adam you actually made a comment about a picture that's on the cover of this paper? Its not about the picture yet about what's inside. You ever heard of not judging a book by its cover? By no means am I a photographer so the picture is fine to me, but this story that was written was about a terrible tragedy that happened to a mom and two sons. Let's look at the BIGGER PICTURE here which is what's informative to readers not actual pictures. U want a perfect picture on the outside of a paper create your own paper and have it be of nothing but pictures. See how much feedback you will get back
First off Janice Quintana needs to be fired. Although she has made some improvements in the Office of Unified Communications it just isn't enough.
Often people answering our 911 calls are both rude and ignorant or just poorly trained and thus allowing it to show.
Quintana isn't capable of getting control of OUC and it is now clear that her lack of enough positive changes shows every day. The lack of proper training, suggests to me that the proper oversight is missing much of the time.
One has to challange the initial call taker and ask for a supervisor which often responds in a way that they really don't wish to be bothered.
I have personal conversations with Janice Quintana and found her to be helpful and yet challenging on what you are speaking to her about. It is difficult to get her to admit a serious mistake by her people and thus you can bet most often then that it won't be addressed properly.
The serious issue here is the first call being considered a child prank!

Secondly, MPD and their response seems to be both timely and showing just concern. West ofered the door broken down and he was valient to do so.
It appears that no time was wasted with MPD and their courageous attempt to get inside and face the music with what ever they might have found. It was clearly a horrible scene and one that no one should have to witness. I think more should have been done in advance of the call for police. If Child and Family Services had done their jobs, and OUC had acted properly it is very much possible that lives might have been saved.

I can only hope that the OUC person that initally thought the first call to be a Child prank has been fired. This person is of no use to our city and to the long over due positive changes that we need to see from this agency.

I think that Janice Quintana could well be the first to go in this case due to the many mistakes her agency continues to make and the fact that Fenty has to begin to clean up some of these messes, afterall he is running for re-election.
Quintana is a good place to start.

Keith Jarrell
Janice Quintana should be fired! She has failed to properly train her people to respond in a timely, professional and proper manner.
At the end of the day, this case along signifies that enough has not been done to bring our OUC to the level it should be working at.
The mayor needs desperately to step up to the plate and fire Ms.Quintana and begin to bring this agency under better control.

Keith Jarell
great story
The story was very well written, though deeply disturbing. I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Peters and two of sons last year when they walked with us during a unity rally for the Langston, Carver and Trinidad communities. I asked Ms. Peters to walk with us to promote neighborhood safety and she did not hesitate, bringing two of her sons. Mr. Mays also joined us and I remember thinking he was a little strange and controlling, though I never suspected he was violent. When we got to Bladensburg Road, he grabbed Ms. Peters by the hand and stated they had to leave. Ms. Peters complied and they left.

I believe this horric incident did not just happen without warning; there was clearly ongoing disturbance in the Peters home. Neighbors are in the best position to know when something unusual or violent is erupting next door and we have a duty to call the police. We must be good neighbors and get involved in a reasonable way to help those that live near us. Doing so may save someone's life.

When we hear about tragic events like the Peters' murders and the Banita Jacks murders we are all affected and deeply saddened. As horrible as the tragedies are we must use them as catalysts for positive change. We have the power to prevent situations like these by simply picking up the phone to call the police and Child and family Services. I understand the reluctance to get involved; but get involved we must. Going forward, all of us should resolve to get involved and look out for our neighbors. That simple intervention could save somone's life.

Kathy Henderson
Ok Cherkis

this was a good article. You have redeemed yourself from your many articles rooted in fluff. Keep up the good work.

Big Tony Approves this message
Being new to the City Paper, I just wanted to comment on the fact that it's nice to read a real piece of journalism again. I'm so used to catching errors in grammar and spelling in most AP "stories." It's good to know that there are some real journalists left out there and, while the subject matter of this - and most news-worthy stories - may be disturbing, it's good to know that people are still taking an interest in the regular people of this city. Their stories are worth telling, and worth telling properly.
While I understand some of the commenters frustration at the Office of Unified Communications, I would hope that you do not jusge all of the employees the same. I have been employed at the OUC for some years now and I would like to think that there are some of us who are very conscientious about the job we do. I would be the first to admit that yes, there are some employees that need to be retrained in telephone ettiquite and some that need to consider how they would feel if they were on the other end of the phone.
I apologize for the rest of my collegues because our first priority is to take the call and be the calming voice at the other end of the call.
In reference to the "child screaming on the phone", it was not a flippant response. When we take a call where there is no caller on the line, we have to record what we hear in the background. Oftentimes, we get prank calls where there is a child screaming in the background and that is what has to be put in the event record. We put possible prank call because if we don't know, we don't know. We send out all calls for service from all phones;landline, cell (if we have an address) and payphones (in some instances as with the landline phones, we call them back and sometimes we don't get an answer and more often than not, it IS a child playing on the phone.
We are just men and women charged with doing a very stressful, thankless job. In fact, most of us wear 3 hats, doing a job that actually requires 3 different people. For those of you who do not know (or care) to judge all of us just by the experience you had with one or two calltakers is just wrong

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