By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The tiny bathroom exploded with gunshots.
In the aftermath, one boy, 15-year-old Juniores Ray Mahan, was dead. Three others were critically injured, and one girl, a 16-year-old, played dead at the bottom of the tub and miraculously escaped the bullets.
The gunmen fled. They'd recovered only a few hundred dollars--chump change by crack-house standards.
The attack, which came to be known as the bathtub shooting, marked the beginning of the end of the Jamaican era as much as anything. Dallas police were successfully building cases against the West Indians and scrubbing out some of the most crack-infested apartment complexes. (And sometimes literally razing them. Police would work in conjunction with code enforcement, which would hold owners accountable for the dumpiest sites.)
Three men inside the bathroom--Larmond, Edwards and Brown--were convicted of murder and given long sentences. Brown, who says he didn't fire any shots, is in prison today along with the others. But Soldier wasn't charged. Police knew he was there; Edwards and Larmond placed him inside the apartment in their statements to police, and if he was indeed there, he could have been charged with murder under the law of parties. But statements from co-defendants weren't enough to gain a conviction, and none of the survivors was able to identify Soldier in police lineups.
Brown speaks openly about Soldier's involvement today, and his recollections generally match what Edwards told investigators. (Edwards declined two interview requests from the Observer.) "They [police] knew he was involved," Brown says. "Soldier was in the apartment, but he had nothing to do with the shooting. He was basically the one who grabbed up what drugs were found and the few guns they had." Larmond had recently made a connection with Soldier, he says. "He'd been hanging out of late with us," Brown says. "He had some business with Uzi [Larmond]. He had a reputation for shooting. When you move in those circles, they talk about you."
Soldier, witnesses say, was the one who got away. Investigators, however, never spoke to Tree Tree, who observed the events leading up to the attack and heard Soldier plan a robbery and leave her apartment building with a submachine gun. And they didn't question Toni Thomas, for whom the crime would unfold slowly and horribly. She admits she unwittingly delivered food to the bathtub attackers at Soldier's request while they were hiding out in Dallas motels after the shooting. She stopped, she says, when she saw the suspects' pictures on television and realized something: "John, you used me."
Soldier, she says, confided in her within a day of the deadly shooting. "They call it the South Dallas massacre," Thomas says. "I'll never forget that. And his words were, 'Toni, there was a bloodbath.' I mean, I learned a lot of things that were not worth learning being with him.
"I realize that he was bragging to me," she says. He specifically mentioned the girl who'd emerged untouched by the bullets. "He said, 'I told the bitch before I left, you say something, I'm-a have your head.' And I said, 'How could you do that? How old were these people?'"
His answer, according to Thomas: "'Old enough--fucking.' That's what he said. He is sick...
"He said, 'You know...we were taking over territory, and these young punks, I had told them I was gonna come over there...and they didn't want to leave...When we take over territory, you have to let them know who's who and who's what,'" Thomas says. "And he said somebody ran out, or somebody ran, and he said he stacked them up in the bathtub."
Soldier seemed proud of his role in the mess.
"Mastermind," Thomas says. "He bragged on that at home. And it made me sick. Yeah. That's why I say that was the last straw."
Two months after the bathtub shooting, Dallas police would finally catch up with Soldier. Investigators put Thomas' apartment under surveillance, and, if she's remembering the same arrest, found John hiding in a wash basket of dirty clothes. Thomas says she was dumbfounded: He'd apparently sneaked into her place and lived there undetected for two days while Thomas went to and from work. Police knew he was there, Thomas says, because he made the mistake of answering the phone.
Soldier was charged with murder in July 1990. But the crime was something from the past, the nadir of an especially bloody week at the Briarcliff apartments.
Thomas recalls a terrifying night that seems to coincide in many ways with some of the events in late summer 1988. One night at Briarcliff, she says, John ordered her to go home immediately--he seemed to have a sixth sense for when trouble was going to break out. "I'm at war with Baby Shine and Mega," she says he told her, "and somebody told me they're headed here now to shoot up the place." Thomas drove off down Legendary Lane. "I remember going down a side road," she says, "...and hearing, like, just claps of gunshots." She found out later that a "baby" had been killed. On August 23, 1988, in fact, at 3 a.m., a 2-year-old boy was shot while he slept in the back seat of his mother's car at apartments on Legendary Lane. His mother and her boyfriend had gone there to buy crack.