Out of the Ashes

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No sooner had Ketrick gone to sleep, it seemed, than Bernard was waking up him and the girls, shouting that the house was on fire. Ketrick's big sister, Demetra, didn't believe it at first. But the smoke had begun to seep into the bedroom. Ketrick says he and Bernard ran down the hall into the living room, only to be driven back by flames. They tried to bust into their grandmother's room, but the door was locked.

All of the kids ended up back in Demetra's room. "It was just real hot and smoky and dark," Ketrick says. "Every breath you'd take was hot. You could hear a lot of screams and hollers. I told my little sister, 'Stick your head under the covers.' She tried that, and she said, 'Keke, it's too hot.'"

Demetra and Ketrick broke the bedroom window, trying to reach fresh air, but they couldn't go any farther than the padlocked burglar bars. Ketrick leaned on the windowsill and pressed his face against the bars. The smallest children had already passed out. "I went into a state of shock," Ketrick says, "and fell out right there."

While Ketrick says he remembers the fire "like yesterday," he couldn't offer much help to investigators in 1988. He never got a good look at the faces of the men on the porch and isn't certain how many were there. "It's hard to get a lot of information out of someone who's on morphine," Carlin says. "Frankly, I don't think Ketrick wanted to remember a lot about that night, and I can't blame him.

"I remember talking to him one time a couple months after the fire, and we were talking about his family. He said, 'I can't think of them all at one time. I can only think about Ericka right now. It hurts too much to let all of them in my heart at one time. Only Ericka's here now.' Ericka was the closest to him."

Within a few months of the fire, investigators were stuck with little more than a list of goofy street names. Some teenagers knew about the Jamaican presence in the neighborhood, that Bernard was selling drugs for them, but they were too scared to put their names on witness affidavits. By then, Carlin had found out enough about the ruthlessness of Dallas' Jamaican posses that she wasn't surprised. "You had someone go into a home and burn up children," she says. "They had to know those kids were in there. They didn't care. They had no respect for human life whatsoever, and they sent a very clear message: You mess with us, we get you back."

Ketrick Jordan's family was laid to rest on October 1, 1988. A Dallas Times Herald photograph shows five white flower-draped caskets arranged end to end at the front of Carver Heights Baptist Church, with 2,000 mourners looking on.

The arson case itself would lie dormant until a murder suspect looking to cut a deal began talking. He eventually got probation because of a "mitigating factor," Loboda says; the other man had stabbed him in the neck with a screwdriver. Since the case was reopened, Dallas police have interviewed more than a half-dozen people with some knowledge of circumstances before and after the fire. The case suffered a setback in May 2001 when homicide Detective Dan Trippel died of a massive heart attack, but Loboda picked up the loose ends and plowed on. With the Jamaican narcotics presence in Dallas long gone, they found several people willing to talk for the first time.

The Dallas Observer spoke with some of those witnesses. None of them agreed to be identified. The following details of the crime are based on the recollections of those witnesses, details provided by police and fire investigators and an affidavit for an arrest warrant filed in Vincent Thomas' capital murder case.

The witnesses' recollections center on two notorious dope-dealing locations in South Oak Cliff--a crack-infested motel on Lancaster Road and the Regency Village apartments in the 2100 block of East Ledbetter Drive. Three young Jamaicans who went by the street names Curly Diamond, Silky and Freddy Krueger ran drugs out of those places, with various lookouts, runners and street-level crack peddlers in their employ, most of them local teenage boys. The trio, known on the street as the "three evil kids," worked, in turn, for two older Jamaican men named Coolie and Soldier.

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Julie Lyons
Contact: Julie Lyons

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