In five decades growing up and living in Baltimore's crime-plagued west side, Gordon Wilder had never lost a relative to violence. The news in May that his first-born had been gunned down in a secluded area during a robbery sent a paralyzing jolt through his body, bringing him to his knees.
In recent weeks, Wilder has been trying to come to grips with another shock: His son's killer, police say, is another one of his sons.
Detectives arrested 26-year-old Brandon Wilder last month along with three others and charged them with conspiring to murder his half brother, Ramon Wilder. Police say the group lured Ramon, who was 29, to the 3400 block of Wilkens Ave., where Brandon shot him several times with a revolver.
The motive police offer can't be compared to Cain and Abel, or the tale of King Claudius in "Hamlet." There is no indication that the killing was about jealousy, a woman or a father's love. Instead, Brandon is charged with killing his brother for clothes, cellphones and a rental car that was abandoned a few miles away.
Gordon Wilder has spent his life working with his hands, which have the toughness of heavy-grit sandpaper. Though the boys were raised in separate households — he has six children with four women — he secured them jobs at his worksites and auto shops, an effort to not only keep them off the streets but to provide them with a bond. He wonders what he could have done differently.
"I've had my angry days, my sad days, my mad days, my guilty days," Gordon Wilder said in an interview at his Southwest Baltimore tire shop. "If I had been a different father, if I had been a college-bound guy … would my kids have followed my footsteps? All of these questions; it makes you wonder: Would they still have done this?"
In a brief phone conversation, Ramon's mother, Theresa Green, said her son was a "very happy, positive person, always willing to help the next person."
"This is very tragic, all the way around," she said.
Shamia Wilder, Brandon's mother, said she wants to see the evidence. Her son has yet to have a court date, and no attorney is listed in court records. "I have to give my child the benefit of the doubt," Shamia said, adding that she believes Brandon's troubles can be traced to his father.
"If his father was around and in his life, I don't think Brandon would have started getting in trouble as a teenager," she said. "I'm his mother, but I can't teach him how to be a man. His father was not a strong influence in his life."
Gordon says he was around his kids often. He drove Brandon when they worked jobs together, for instance. He was closer with Ramon, however, calling him every morning, if only to say hello.
Gordon said he was not aware of any animosity between his sons. But in the days after Ramon's death, rumors started to fly, and Gordon didn't hear from Brandon for days as his family grieved.
Gordon said a friend intimated that Ramon didn't trust Brandon, telling the friend: "If something happens to me, it was my brother."
They grew up in separate homes, but Gordon Wilder insists his boys were close. "They were raised as brothers," he said.
Though Gordon has never done time in prison — "One thing I never displayed to my kids was that jail [expletive]," he said — his sons found themselves in trouble frequently.
Ramon had multiple drug-dealing convictions, lured by the "easy money," Gordon said.
But Ramon always had a job from a young age and was motivated to succeed, his father said. Ramon had obtained a commercial driver's license in the past year and was working at night hauling trash. He had one child and another one on the way.
Gordon can't recall Brandon ever articulating a goal. Brandon has four children, the youngest born this year. "He was in and out of jail so much," Gordon said. "He would say he wanted to get himself together but never said what he wanted to do."
Before Ramon's death, Brandon was in trouble again. Records show that a warrant for his arrest was issued May 6. Gordon said Brandon cut off a home monitoring device, which records show was required as part of his probation in a 2008 assault case.
On the morning of May 9, Gordon was downtown and heading into a court hearing for missing child-support payments when he received a call from Brandon, from a private number, asking for Ramon's phone number. It was odd, though Gordon didn't think much of it at the time. Gordon quickly told Brandon he'd have to call him back and powered off his phone so it wouldn't ring during the hearing.