WASHINGTON - Norman Rich, a father of three, was found shot and killed inside his D.C. home 27 years ago this week. His body was discovered by the mother of his children.
People were questioned and potential suspects emerged, but over time, as many as four different detectives have been unable to crack the case. Has someone buried the truth? Or is it as simple as a case getting lost in a city under siege?
When Rich was killed inside the bedroom of his home on March, 28, 1990, D.C. police had already investigated more than a 123 murders. Rich would be No. 124.
The crack epidemic had the city in a vice grip and murders were taking place nearly every single day. The killings were so bad that FOX 5 launched a nightly program called “City Under Siege” focusing only on the mean streets. But when program came on the air that night, there was no mention of Rich.
"Typical day,” said Sekeithia Tyler, the victim’s sister. “I was running late but I went to work and I remember my aunt – she was outside with her shades on waiting for her daughter to pick her up. I went in and a co-worker said, ‘Sekeithia, I'm sorry to hear what happened.’ And I said, ‘You are sorry to hear what?’
[The co-worker said], ‘I'm sorry to hear what happened to him.’ [I said], ‘You are sorry to hear what happened to who?’ And then she looked at me and said, ‘Sekeithia, Semo was killed this morning.’ I said, ‘What?’ and I just went to the floor.”
Tyler recently told FOX 5 that story while sitting on the sofa inside her Capitol Heights home. Everyone knew her older brother as “Semo” and his murder is still tough to take 27 years later for Tyler.
The moment their mother found out about Semo’s death was captured in an image by a Washington Post photographer and featured on the Metro section's front page.
"After I finished crying and I got myself together, I got up and I said, ‘Mother, where is Sheila?’ She said the detectives took her downtown to question her further,” Tyler recalled.
Sheila Brown is Rich’s girlfriend and the mother of their children.
According to Tyler and the original lead detective in this case, Brown said two men had come to the door that day looking for Semo. What happened next has been in dispute for years.
Here is the version of events Tyler said Brown told the family.
"I want to say by eight o'clock, I got up and I got the kids ready for school and I’m listening,” Tyler said. “She said that there was a knock at the door. She said there were two guys at the door. She said I recognized one of the guys as Ducky, the other guy I didn't know. He had a brown paper bag underneath his arm. So she said, ‘Semo, Semo, there are two men down here to see you.’ And she claims she left the two men on the outside, locked the door and went about her business. That's what she said.”
Brown said she went to the store before getting her hair done. According to Tyler, when Brown returned, “The door was wide open. She thought it was strange.”
507 M Street in Northeast D.C. is gone now. It was razed for development and a new condo. But back on March 28th, 1990, the little row house was swarming with police. Some of them worked the scene while Detective Ruben Sanchez met with Brown.
"We started down to homicide to get a statement from her and she gave a statement – very reluctant, she was combative,” said Sanchez.
Brown told police she would help them with a composite of the two men she said came to the house that day. But Sanchez, the original lead detective who is now retired and living in Florida, said he thinks the answer to the case lies with the family.
"To me, she was lying all the way,” Sanchez said.
FOX 5 reached out to Brown for her side of the story, but through a family member, she declined to comment.
“To me, my personal opinion is that the answer to this case is within the family,” Sanchez told FOX 5. “When they put out a reward for $25,000 and nothing comes out, believe me, people come out and provide information. Not a bit of information I got.”
He said he remains haunted by the case. He said it is an investigation that just got lost.
"People didn't understand that we were overworked, not enough people,” said Sanchez. “We just had time to mark and move to the next case.”
Over the years, police have investigated other theories – that Semo may have been shot and robbed for money he had won gambling but nothing has ever turned up.
All these years later, the case and all of its details swirl through Tyler’s mind as she visits the cemetery where her big brother is buried. He lies in a grave side by side with his mother who died a year later.
"I'm here because I want justice for my brother,” she said. “This is not the first time we tried to get someone to hear the story. Somebody needs to know. Someone out there knows what happened to my brother. I know it. I feel it."
Tyler said Semo was a good man with a kind heart who left this Earth way too soon. She said her family wants justice.