Whether it was over an impromptu bushel of steamed crabs or around the Christmas tree she always put up in October, Charla Melvin loved bringing her family and friends together.
When her cousin Thomas Davis, Jr. was released from prison, some other family members kept their distance, said a mutual cousin, Damon Fisher. But Melvin, a feisty 5-foot-1 woman known as “Cha-Cha” to her family, allowed him to stay at her house in Windsor Mill, Fisher said.
“Her heart was too big sometimes,” said Fisher, 48, a barbershop owner who lives in Mount Washington. “She accepted him in spite of his flaws and his faults."
Melvin, 50, was found stabbed to death in Southwest Baltimore on Saturday after being reported missing earlier this month. Investigators suspect Davis in her killing; he was found dead by apparent suicide in Easterwood Park near Carver Vocational-Technical School last week, according to police.
Davis was found guilty of robbery with a deadly weapon, theft and assault in 1986, according to Maryland court records.
Police have not released a motive in Melvin’s killing. An autopsy is expected to be performed this week. Melvin’s Hyundai Santa Fe was found Monday in Northwest Baltimore, and it will be searched for evidence, police said.
Melvin grew up in West Baltimore’s Reservoir Hill neighborhood, graduating from Frederick Douglass High School and working in customer service for a decade at the Maryland Transit Administration, and later for PayPal, according to her cousin Dena Fisher, Damon’s sister.
The two saw each other as sisters, constantly playing, drawing and singing together as children, Fisher said.
Once, after an argument — Fisher no longer remembers what it was about — she tried to give Melvin the silent treatment. But Melvin wouldn’t let her.
“I was really upset with her,” she said. “She just worked her way back into my heart. ... She taught me a lot about the power of forgiveness.”
Melvin, a mother of two and grandmother of four, loved any excuse to bring people together, often inviting friends and family to her house for occasions, or for dinner at a moment’s notice.
“I’m about to get a bushel of crabs," she’d say, according to family members. "Y’all wanna come over?”
Even when Melvin’s friends gathered to support her after a difficult medical diagnosis, she’d constantly fret over her guests instead of herself, said her friend Shawnte Thompson, who met her through a mutual friend.
Melvin welcomed new guests to her cookouts and parties with a warmth that felt like she had known them her whole life, Thompson said.
“There aren’t too many people that walk in this city that have the amazing spirit she had," Thompson said.
Plans for services in Melvin’s honor are incomplete.
Meanwhile, the sight of a man’s body hanging at a basketball court in Easterwood Park — within view of Carver Vo-Tech — disturbed and upset students and neighbors. While some reported seeing it early Monday, many others saw photos of the scene that circulated on Instagram.
Students who saw it froze in their tracks like deer in the headlights as they crossed the park on their way to school, said Tracy Coleman, who lives on Bentalou Street across from the park.
“I couldn’t have made it through school seeing something like that," she said.
Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, president of the Matthew A. Henson Neighborhood Association, took issue with comments by a police spokeswoman to The Baltimore Brew that students had not seen the body before it was covered. He pointed out Matthew A. Henson and Calverton elementary schools are nearby.
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“It’s just unbelievable that they would say no child saw it,” he said.
Cheatham said it took police 24 hours to respond to his request for information on his neighbors’ behalf, which he called “unacceptable and unprofessional. He said he has invited Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and Major John Webb to the neighborhood association’s meeting at Henson Elementary on Tuesday night.
Without clear information about what happened, students said, rumors circulated wildly. Some heard the man who died was a Carver student; others heard he was someone’s grandpa.
Shanice Andrews, 19, graduated from Carver last year and still lives in the neighborhood. She takes the bus to work every day, from the stop across the street.
She said that a lack of official information spurred rumors. Neighbors and students assumed the worst, including that the man’s death was a homicide.