She was Miss Sadie to most, a soft-spoken 78-year-old woman from the South who watched the rise and fall of her beloved neighborhood from the back porch of her house on North Gilmor Street.
It was here in West Baltimore's Sandtown neighborhood that Sadie Mack ruled over a boisterous house full of seven children, living alone after her husband's death three years ago, save for the frequent visits of her children, 20 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
It was also here that an unknown assailant entered her apartment and strangled her last week, police said. Her body was found by one of her sons Friday morning, and her death was ruled a homicide a day later.
"She loved this neighborhood," said Roy Mack, 50, one of her sons, sitting yesterday in the small, two-story rowhouse where he grew up. "She never felt like she wasn't safe."
No arrests have been made. Police declined to disclose any additional information yesterday.
"It's very unusual in Baltimore City to have an elderly woman the victim of a homicide," said police spokesman Matt Jablow.
Family members say their mother was found lying on the floor of her first-floor bedroom, hands bound, with bruises on her neck.
They said she was in her nightgown and that the house was left untouched except for cash they think was stolen. They said there was no forced entry into her bedroom.
Jamesena Jennings, a daughter, said she spoke to her mother Thursday night about 10:45 p.m. as she was preparing to go to bed. "If she didn't know you, she would not let you in the door," said Jennings, 51. "It had to be someone she knew."
She added, "It would be difficult if we came in here one day and found her" dead. "But to think that somebody actually came in here, invaded her house and then took her life: How dare you?"
Yesterday, Jennings sat in her mother's house and reminisced with her brother about the woman whose living room is filled with more than 50 pictures of weddings and graduations, family reunions and baby pictures, a testament to her love for her family, they said.
Born in South Carolina, Mack moved to Sandtown with her husband in the 1950s. While raising seven children, she was a nursing assistant and worked for an upholstery manufacturing company.
Shortly after settling in Sandtown, then a stable, middle-class neighborhood, Mack joined Simmons Memorial Baptist Church down the street. It was a place she returned to at noon every Thursday and at 11 a.m. every Sunday, her Bible in hand. Church members said she was a fixture, always sitting in the same left aisle seat, eight rows back.
The Rev. Duane Simmons had a ritual of kissing her hand at the end of each Thursday's service, a gesture she eventually started reciprocating.
"She was like one of the mothers of the community," said Simmons. "Such a sweet, sweet woman. This is just a tragedy."
Mack was a creature of habit who rose to get her mail and sweep her stoop, filling her afternoons with her favorite soap operas, friends and family members said. "We knew not to call her between 12:30 and 4 p.m.," Jennings said with a laugh.
She remained active despite a stroke and two kneecap replacements, visiting some of the few longtime residents of the neighborhood and walking to church when she had to.
But above all, she reveled in spending time with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. On Christmas, the whole family would pack into her small house, savoring her specialties, including a three-layer pineapple and coconut cake.
Old friends knocked on the door yesterday to give their condolences to Sadie Mack's family.
"She was just a pillar," Jennings said after hugging an old neighbor. "She was one of the last ones in this neighborhood. If we thought it had been that violent here, she would have been out of here."
Roy Mack, who said he is too angry to properly grieve, is helping plan Saturday's memorial service.
"On my way to the funeral home, I was thinking, 'What can we do for her as a last thing,'" he said.
He came up with having her hearse circle the neighborhood for one last ride, an idea that brought him to tears. "She would like that," he said. "She loved her neighborhood."