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.
When Gordon turned the phone on later, he had a text message from a longtime friend of Ramon's: "I'm so so sorry for your loss." Then came another message, this time from Ramon's mother, urgently asking him to call.
The news brought him to the ground. He could not move. A stranger stayed with him until relatives arrived.
"I wish that on nobody," Gordon said. "When that pain hits you, it's to the core."
Gordon later drove to the scene, behind a Wilkens Avenue repair shop, where the owner directed him to the bloody patch of gravel where Ramon's body was found. "Why him?" he said. "Why couldn't it have been me?"
Gordon said he had a dream that night, in which Ramon spoke to him.
"Daddy," Ramon told his father in the dream, "Think."
In the ensuing days, a viewing and funeral was held. Brandon never showed.
Gordon figured Brandon was afraid of being captured on his warrant, and, frankly, Gordon preferred that his son's burial be free of that sort of drama. He also was hearing the whispers that Brandon was somehow involved in Ramon's death.
Five days after Ramon's funeral, Gordon received a call from Brandon. He wanted to meet, and Gordon suggested the parking lot of Mondawmin Mall. Gordon tried to call the detective on the case, but he was on vacation. He decided to go alone.
Brandon was with his girlfriend, 26-year-old Labria Paige, and their 2-month-old child. They embraced. Brandon was a "mess," Gordon said. He was living hand to mouth, and he was injured: his arm was torn up, the result of flipping a vehicle on Martin Luther King Boulevard. The couple needed money for gas and baby food. Gordon gave them $20.
At one point, Brandon acknowledged the rumors that he was involved in Ramon's death. "Man, people talking," Brandon said. Gordon let it go.
Two weeks later, detectives called Gordon. "We have good news, and we have bad news," he recalls the detective saying.
They had solved the case, but the suspects included Brandon Wilder.
Charging documents detail a witness account of scheming over several days. Ramon had been in Atlantic City, N.J., on May 8, on a day trip with friends, when his phone rang. It was Paige and she was telling him that she was never really interested in Brandon and wanted to be with him instead.
Detectives say the conversation was being directed by Brandon and his friend, Theodore Grice, 34.
Investigators allege that earlier in the day, the group had hatched a plan to rob Ramon, and Paige would be the bait.
After the phone call ended, Brandon continued to text Ramon, using Paige's cellphone, and some of the messages were sexually explicit. The messages continued through the night and into the morning, urging Ramon to come meet her, according to charging documents.
At 2 a.m., Ramon returned from Atlantic City, and Paige directed him to meet her on Wilkens Avenue. According to police, Brandon and Grice were lying in wait.
When Ramon pulled up and approached Paige, who was sitting in her minivan, Brandon emerged from the shadows and began firing, according to charging documents. Ramon fled across Wilkens Avenue screaming, witnesses told police. His body would not be found for another two hours.
According to police, Brandon Wilder, Paige, Grice and Grice's girlfriend, 23-year-old Breauna Diggs, loaded items from Ramon's vehicle into Paige's minivan and dumped his vehicle at an Extended Stay America hotel. Surveillance video captured Brandon and Grice parking and walking away at the hotel, according to charging documents.
At some point, police say, Grice and Diggs sold Ramon's cellphones, and Brandon is shown on video wearing one of Ramon's shirts.
Police have also charged Brandon and Grice in other criminal cases. Three days before Ramon was killed, they are accused of sticking up and carjacking an Oxycontin dealer in Southwest Baltimore's Westside Shopping Center. And on May 24, police say Brandon deliberately ran over a man in the Lakeland neighborhood. The third case accuses Brandon of striking Paige repeatedly as they drove through downtown.
The four were indicted this week on first-degree murder, murder conspiracy and robbery charges, and are scheduled to be arraigned July 24. No attorneys are listed in court records, and other family members couldn't be reached to comment.
Gordon said he does not plan to visit Brandon in jail or seek an explanation.
"I gave him life, and he took life from me," Gordon said.
Gordon Wilder said he tried to be there for his sons. Now, he promises to be there for the two children Ramon left behind.